Jodi's Reviews > Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman
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's review
Aug 12, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: memoirs, non-fiction
Recommended for: Everyone
Read from August 07 to 09, 2012 , read count: 1

I didn't really know anything about Hasidic Jews until my book club chose to read "My Name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok a few years ago. Potok's book is very dark and since it was an older book, I didn't see this culture as part of "modern society" until I read this book about a women growing up and coming of age in the 1990's in a Hasidic borough of Brooklyn in New York called Williamsburg. Since the author is was published in 2012 and the author talks about her 24th birthday, it struck me that this is a group of people that are very much present in modern America along with the Amish, the Mennonites, and Fundamentalist Mormons. I was fascinated to read about this culture but am so glad that I am not a part of it - I too would feel very limited by the choices offered to these women with a limited education, limited career choices, and extreme subservience to men, and definitely having to shave my head to remain pure in the eyes of God!! Wow! It was also amazing to read about the 9/11 attack on our country from the point of a Hasidic Jewish girl. On that day, I never even though about it being the beginning of another Holocaust! However, in her community, that was the fear of the people.

I was interested in reading about the Seder supper for Passoverand felt grateful that our religious education director at our church (a Catholic church, mind you) has educated us about the tradition. As the author talked about making charoses, I was able to get an accurate picture because I have tasted it along with the marror (horseradish)and saltwater. I chuckled as I read that Jewish children aren't any crazier about what they need to eat than the children were at our church this past spring! Hee! Hee!

With choices being so limited for women to begin with and then reading all the things they have to do to be deemed clean shocked me. The concept of having "14 clean cloths" to show the rabbi after each menstral cycle appalled me. Why should a women have to show a religious leader something so personal. Even having to present their underwear to him on occasion. Eek! Total invasion of personal space. Then after the 14 clean clothes having to go to a public bathing house to shower extensively to be clean enough to dunk in the "public" purifying pool shocked me! I was horrified for the author by the treatment by the woman on her first experience - I question if the lady was a bit of a voyeur and maybe even a child molester! Wow! Then, the poor girl contracts a viral rash from the water in the public pool that lasted for three weeks!! Glad I don't need to go through all that for a little intimacy with my husband!

I was shocked too by the extravagance of all the pre-wedding gifts the two families sent each other. Two thousand dollar watches, a $1600 religious book, and such all in over the top wrapping. The girls family lived seemingly at just above poverty level with all hand-me down clothes in a "dirty," run-down neighborhood according to the author and then suddenly there is not enough money to be spent. It really shocked me at how hard the families tried to impress each other.

Another thing that made me feel sorry for the author was that just a few weeks before her wedding at 19 years of age, a special teacher explained "the birds and bees" to her. She was shocked and denied the possibility because of the extreme environment she was raised in. Then the whole family began to gossip about her because she couldn't consummate marriage her marriage for a good year because of her fear of physical contact with men that had been driven into her while growing up. Mind you, she only knew this man for about 30 minutes before she was married to him. She tried so hard and I feel so bad for the girl.

Very interesting book. The author finally leaves this culture behind and finds life in New York very shocking at first but learns to adjust, and writes a book about it. I wonder what the people in her old neighborhood are saying about her............

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