I have been dying to get my hands on Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman for a while!
I got a copy of the book recently, and was absolutely delighted to see that Unorthodox compared itself to Escape by Carolyn Jessup, since that is a book that I recommend to soooo many people (and if you haven’t picked up Escape, I’m recommending you to do so now)!
Anyway, on to the book itself.
Deborah Feldman grew up in a strict Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. Her grandparents raised her because her parents were outcasts from the society. Rules were strict and relentless, and included such topics as clothing, haircuts, what was allowed to be read, etc.
As Deborah grew into her own, she started questioning and wanting more freedom, which was highly looked down upon. She married young, and because of this unhealthy marriage, developed severe anxiety.
At the age of 19, when she had a child of her own, Deborah found the courage to make some changes in order to secure her own happiness and the future of happiness for her child.
I was raised in a conservative Jewish household. We kept Kosher, I went to Temple, had a Bat Mitzvah, went to Hebrew School a few times a week. But I grew up able to wear shorts, have a proper education, go to college, and marry who I wanted to (who happens to not be Jewish) with plenty of happiness from my family.
I cannot imagine growing up in a strict household where the majority of the choices made on a daily basis were not my own. And once Deborah Feldman was able to look more critically at her own life, she realized that she did not want to either.
That doesn’t mean that being a strict religious Jewish person is a negative thing, it’s just that it wasn’t for Deborah. Just like my career choice of being a teacher isn’t for everyone.
Unorthodox allows you to enter the world of the Hasidic Jewish community of Satmar in Brooklyn. It also tells the tale of a woman brave enough to make changes in a life that she was unhappy with.
Here are some of the powerful quotes that spoke to me:
“I am not aware at this moment that I have lost my innocence. I will realize it many years later. One day I will look back and understand that just as there was a moment in my life when I realized where my power lay, there was also a specific moment when I stopped believing in authority just for its own sake and started coming to my own conclusions about the world I lived in.” – p. 29
“Bubby scoffs at my question. A Jew can never be a goy, she says, even if they try their hardest to become one. They may dress like one, speak like one, live like one, but Jewishness is something that can never be erased. Even Hitler knew that.” – p. 96: When Deborah as a child and her grandmother are discussing Jews and non-Jews.
“For a while I thought I could un-Jew myself. Then I realized that being Jewish is not in the ritual or the action. It is in one’s history. I am proud of being Jewish, because I think that’s where my indomitable spirit comes from, passed down from ancestors who burned in fired of persecution because of their blood, their faith.” -p. 251
I will recommend this book to others, both Jewish and non-Jewish, because in essence, it is a tale of breaking away from a strict society.
Have you read any other “breaking out of the mold” books?