Rebel, Rebel

Imagine having to sneak off to go to a library and hiding books under your mattress.  Imagine having your future husband selected by your grandparents after a half hour visit.  Imagine learning wedding night mechanics from a bald, overworked matron you don’t want to become, just weeks before your marriage.  Imagine wearing long sleeves and skirts and woolen stockings in the summer heat.  Imagine living in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001 and not knowing about the terrorist attack until 4:00 that afternoon.  In her book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,  Deborah Feldman describes growing up in her grandparents house in the insular community of the Hasidic Satmar sect, an especially conservative branch of Orthodox Judaism.  As a toddler, Feldman experienced her mother’s abandonment of her and the community; her mentally disabled father was never really a part of her life.  So perhaps the seeds of doubt were planted early.  She bristles at the freedom males enjoy while, for women, there is no end to work.  Dreams of college and career that are out of reach.  Despite cultural pressure, she manages to escape to the occasional movie and keep her reading addiction hidden.  When she meets him for the first time, she confides to her future husband that she is “difficult.”  Marked by her unfortunate parentage, she discovers the spirit to transform her shame into the courage to pursue the path to which she is drawn.  Feldman gives a rare glimpse inside a culture that most of us know little about and the story of a woman who was brave enough to step outside.

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