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Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  930 Ratings  ·  113 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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Jul 09, 2007 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
Aug 04, 2012 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 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 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 11, 2013 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 02, 2013 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 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 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
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Commendable for the primary research done, but ultimately vapid and fails in the attempt to portray the dense psychological and spiritual tensions at issue. A kind of underground Hasidic travelogue more than anything.
Rebecca Coleman
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
A very good insight into the lives of a group rarely investigated by the outside world, the Satmar Hasids.
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this book; truly couldn't put it down. Well written case studies of Hasidic Jews who, in one way or another, stepped outside the mold
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
Jan 17, 2016 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
Yitzchok Lowy
Jan 18, 2015 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
Mar 21, 2009 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.
Apr 13, 2009 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.
Jul 13, 2010 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.
Jun 27, 2013 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.
Apr 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
I feel very confused. I want to hate this book and yet I don't.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and disturbing book. I had prior knowledge that the Hasidic community is very insular and of themselves. Started mostly by refugees from Europe after Hitler and WWII, apparently what they have created is a self imposed ghetto of their own. In my experience any religion or movement that says you must do things our way without thinking about it on your own is more a cult than anything else. I understand that Ms. Winston interviewed Hasidic people that were many times not content with t ...more
Susan Grodsky
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I could certainly find things to criticize about this book. But I'm going to resist carping this time.

I'm just so grateful to have heard some voices from the Hasidic community. I can only wish all of these brave, confused people good luck in finding a comfortable niche. It's never easy to become an adult but these folks have a much steeper climb than most.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it liked it
She's got one good subject and a few ancillary examples; interesting, but hollow
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Hella Winston has written an engaging book about people that are unhappy in, or have left their Hasidic communities. The feelings these people had about the fundamentalist lifestyle they were raised in are not different from those raised in Amish, Pentecostal or even suburban communities and find them restricting. Too many times articles like this work so had at justifying the rejection, that the story becomes about everything wrong with the group instead of the unique needs of the individual th ...more
Oct 03, 2016 rated it liked it
very quick read about a few individuals who left/feel disillusioned about hasidism. not super deep and a little sensationalist if you have no background knowledge. some new perspectives though.
Aug 19, 2015 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
Oct 08, 2011 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
Dec 28, 2014 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
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
Jan 04, 2011 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
Oct 02, 2012 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
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