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Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  791 Ratings  ·  101 Reviews
Honorable Mention in the 2012 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism

When Hella Winston began talking with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for her doctoral dissertation in sociology, she was surprised to be covertly introduced to Hasidim unhappy with their highly restrictive way of life and sometimes desperately struggling to escape it. Unchosen tells the stories of these "rebel"
Paperback, 216 pages
Published November 15th 2006 by Beacon Press (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Jul 09, 2007 Clidston rated it really liked it
Riveting. Engrossing. More a collection of anecdotes than an academic, formal sociological study, Winston tells the story of Hasids, ex-Hasids, and soon-to-be-ex-Hasids who for one reason or another could not live within the rules of the Satmar community (usually because they wanted to watch movies, wear different clothes, read secular books and newspapers, etc). In a review of a book called "A Hope in the Unseen" about an affirmative-action student who struggles and then succeeds at Brown Unive ...more
Oct 02, 2013 Sue rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaism, nonfiction
I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from this study of a particular subset of Jewish Hasidic communities in New York.

Not long ago, after reading Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman, I learned that Feldman's memoir is riddled with timeline distortions and omissions that bring her full credibility under suspicion. With help from Hella Winston's fair, loving and critical research into the same communities and under a similar historical timeframe, I
Dec 22, 2009 Jake rated it it was ok
The two major blunders Hella Winston commits in the writing of "Unchosen" have deprived her of any respectable following. The first error concerns her research design; the second, her failure to compensate for what is clearly a lack of knowledge about the concepts she chooses to discuss. In opting to exclusively interview a community's malcontents (really, several communities, whose relationship to each other is never explained, save they are all somehow "Hasidic"), one would expect to find a we ...more
May 21, 2007 Tamar rated it it was ok
This book was full of inconsistencies and it seems to me that the author never fully understood the people or the community that she was writing about. She tried, I give her credit for that, but the writing was naive, and not very good either.
Eli Mandel
Apr 19, 2014 Eli Mandel rated it it was amazing
The first thing I have to say is that this book is well written, you wouldn't know it was written by a sociology major.
Winston blends her academic knowledge of hasidic history and development seamlessly with the narratives she's telling. Even smoothly correcting Yossi when he proclaims that the forced ignorance in which the community members are kept is an evil ploy by community leaders to keep them under control.
Another thing that sets this book apart from others like it is Winston's solid gras
Apr 04, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, non-fiction
Because nearly every Jew I know is college educated, Ms. Winston's descriptions of Hasidic communities seem closer to to the lives of some Christian Fundamentalists neighbors and distant relatives. The requirement to avoid learning about the outside world through reading, television or radio is much closer to the lives of Mormon youth while on their missions than to the lives of the my intellectually curious Jewish friends.

Many books about fundamentalist communities are written by those who left
Elaine Meszaros
Dec 03, 2014 Elaine Meszaros rated it really liked it
I LOVE books on insular, orthodox religious groups. No idea why. They just fascinate me - Amish, Hutterite, Hasidim, Mormons. Why? Perhaps, as Winston points out in her introduction, we are both fascinated and revolted by the idea of living in such a close-knit, rule-ridden community because of the complete "otherness" of this life. On one hand, to live in a closed community can seem so appealing. You know your path in life, the rules are clear and easy to follow. Live a good life and support an ...more
Sep 08, 2008 Cheski rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the subject of kids at risk or the chassidic world.
Recommended to Cheski by: Amazon ;)
The book Unchosen is a lucid and interesting read about Hassidic youth on the fringe. A lot is still to be learnt by the parents who obviously are so unaware of the world around them as to have no clue how to deal with this matter.

Intimadation and suppression often ensues, driving the person away even more. The emotional turmoil drips from every page.

Positive points:

- An important book that should be read by all who deal with kids at risk (I can also recommend the book "Off the Derech")
- Pleasa
Feb 01, 2016 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
The last two books I've read have been about people leaving fundamental religious communities. This was not planned. It just turned out that way. The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim is fiction. Unchosen is non-fiction, written from a PhD. dissertation. In reality leaving one of these communities is more difficult than depicted in fiction. (Not too surprising.) There are already set-in barriers to discourage leaving, along with other unwanted behaviors. The most obvious deterrent is fear: fear of Go ...more
Rebecca Coleman
Jan 27, 2009 Rebecca Coleman rated it really liked it
A very good insight into the lives of a group rarely investigated by the outside world, the Satmar Hasids.
Yitzchok Lowy
Jan 18, 2015 Yitzchok Lowy rated it liked it
Nice stories written from a more objective viewpoint. The author's interest in this starts out as her dissertation subject but it seems in the end that's just one more story and we don't get anything in the way of research or insight. But in context of the sort-of-genre of OTD books this would be classified in it is probably the one book I would reccomend to a stranger who wants to hear this story. It has more just human storytelling and less of the excessive narrative creating and excape-the-ev ...more
Subtitled "The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels", Winston introduces readers to young adults raised in Hasidic (also known as, ultra-Orthodox) Jewish families in Brooklyn, New York who are struggling within the confines of their community and the decision of whether to stay or leave. Winston's interactions with the Satmar sect, who do not evangelize with the outside community the way the Lubavitch sect does, originated as a doctoral dissertation in sociology, but her plans to write about how Satma ...more
Dec 28, 2014 James rated it it was ok
I wanted to enjoy this one, but the prose is stilted and one never gets the sense that the author really understands her subject matter. Like a lot of recent popular nonfiction, this feels more like a blog in book form: the author had occasion to meet some interesting people, have some interesting experiences, and write about them from a dilettante's viewpoint. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but a reader looking for some real insight into the workings of this insular community won' ...more
Mar 30, 2009 Staci rated it it was ok
UPDATED! I finished this and didn't change my original opinion of this book. The content is really interesting but the writing is AWFUL. It's written as if for a "tween" audience, or like the author wants to create a story in her writing style when the content is quite interesting enough. The writing style is actually distracting from the content. I had high hopes for this book--it seemed like the subject matter would be so interesting. Maybe someone else will tackle this topic someday.
Jul 13, 2010 Alessandra rated it it was ok
Knowing many of the people in this book, I can say that Winston oversimplified their stories and folded them into a mind-numbingly dumb account of what *some* ex-Hasidim go through after they leave their ultra-orthodox communities behind. A good book for the Orthodox Jewish neophyte in theory, but anyone with half a brain will be too distracted by the awful writing to soak up the little substance the book has to offer.
Apr 20, 2009 Keri rated it liked it
Like some other reviewers, I agree that the writing style left me confused. The material was riveting, but I couldn't seem to understand who the intended audience was. I think I expected something more academic. While I applaud the level of primary research, I think the result ultimately fell flat and turned into a character study of a few people. It was an interesting read, but I expected something far more dense.
Mary Leonard
Jun 27, 2013 Mary Leonard rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about the lives of some Hasidics who leave their sheltered Brooklyn sects and try to navigate the freedoms offered in the big city. The book highlights the ignorance about sex and education, and also discusses the history of this culture. I would highly recommend this sensitively written book to anyone interested in learning more about Hasidic life.
Feb 03, 2015 Bess rated it it was ok
I was so disappointed... I had just read "I Am Forbidden" and this came up as a suggested book, so I went for it. It started out with such promise, because I understood from the introduction that she would be speaking with members of the community (Satmar chasids) who were committed to living within the community but who might not have found it to be he ideal it was purported to be. Instead, it turned out to be the (sadly, very few) stories of those who had chosen to leave, or at least live on t ...more
Apr 14, 2007 Alisha rated it really liked it
I feel very confused. I want to hate this book and yet I don't.
Jackie Griffin
Mar 25, 2014 Jackie Griffin rated it liked it
These are stories of people who are struggling to live in ultra-orthodox communities. Women and men who want to live their lives a little more fully, a little less rigidly. However, they love their religion and they love the families that they may well lose if they leave. And, in ultra-orthodox communities, a rebel may well cause their siblings to lose their chance at marriage, the most important event in their lives.
The book was interesting but felt thin as if the author couldn't quite get unde
Carianne Carleo-Evangelist
The reviews for this book are all over the map so I went into it with minimal expectations. Although I skimmed some chapters, I found it quite the compelling read. I wanted to know more about Malkie's work (at the time of her work with the author, she hadn't officially founded Footsteps), about Yossi's progress and how Dini was managing. WHo else has Chaim (appropriate pseudonym!) helped? Not the read for people looking for scholarly research into those leaving the fold, but a good inside look a ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Dale rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
So rarely is a doctoral thesis as intimate and yet still academic as this book. I have significant issues with many aspects of these insular communities - the community peer pressure, the hiding and secrecy of unacceptable and immoral acts upon children, the exploitation of government welfare, and most of all, the relatively common belief that the Holocaust was a punishment from G-d onto his own chosen people for assimilating into the countries they lived in, to any degree, in order to be able t ...more
Jennifer S. Brown
What an interesting look at people who choose to leave the Hasidic lifestyle. I found this book quite compelling and it brought up situations that never would have occurred to me. I had no idea that in my Hasidic communities in the U.S. people spoke Yiddish primarily and that English is very much a second language. The problems people face when they try to leave seem almost insurmountable, so it's amazing that anyone does leave.

Winston follows a handful of people as they try to leave their Hasid
Jul 11, 2012 Dana rated it really liked it
In this book, Hella tells the story of Yossi, a 25 year old Hassidic Jewish man who rejects the Hassidic lifestyle along with the stories of several other men and women who have also left the insular communites and/or lifestyles of the Hassidic Jews living in New York. As she met more and more people from that community she learned how their belief in separation from the world and their own religious educational system leaves people emotionally scarred and lacking in knowledge of the outside wor ...more
Oct 10, 2011 Donna rated it really liked it
The subject matter of this book was absolutely fascinating, but I found the constant jumping about from one person/topic to another very disconcerting.

All the various threads - and really, they were extremely interesting - they just weren't woven together very logically or efficiently, I felt. It was all over the place which was quite distracting.

It would also have been good to have more direct quotes from all the people she interviewed. There was too much of "this happens" and "that happens" i
Fascinating, though the book I read has only 185 pages including the glossary, acknowledgements and notes. everything else about the edition matches.
the lives of these rebels are complex and I do not envy them their choices. I can see how much simpler it would be to follow the neighbours and keep your head down. All the time I was reading my head kept saying "and these rebels are straight! what does a GLBTIA person do? "
Dec 08, 2012 Teresa rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I don't usually like "losing my religion" stories; but since devout, contented Hasidim aren't writing too many books about their lives, I read "Unchosen" to gain some insight. I was impressed with the objectivity and respect shown by this admitted non-observant Jewish author. I was also surprised by a few Goodreads reviews that criticized her for poor writing. I am extremely critical of poor writing, and I found her writing to be fine. I took the book for what it was: an account of the personal ...more
Oct 02, 2012 Renee rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look a the very closed society of Hasidic Jews and those who question the rules. The author writes with great respect for these people and shares the stories of several who chose in one way or another to reconcile what they feel, with what is taught in the community. The Hasids are a group of VERY Orthodox Jews. Much of what I read was not new to me, but there was some new information. (Who knew it mattered what shoe was put on first?)

Overall there was very much the concern of it w
Barbara Pearlman
Sep 24, 2015 Barbara Pearlman rated it it was amazing
This is an absolute amazing non-fiction book about what happens when members of the Ultra Orthodox Hassidic Sects lose their faith and decide to leave. It is well researched and makes for fascinating reading.
Patrick Aleph
Jun 21, 2014 Patrick Aleph rated it liked it
I was hoping this book would have more demographics/data. Or profile a bigger variety of people. Instead it focused primarily on one person. Still a good read and worth getting from the library.
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