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Location: Brooklyn, NY, United States

02 February 2013

Unorthodox

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman is her story of growing up Hasidic. Born in Brooklyn into the Satmar community of ultra-orthodox Jews, Deborah grew up in a world that few outsiders have ever glimpsed.

Before World War II and Hitler's attempt to murder all Jews, many of the orthodox Jewish communities in Europe were losing people to some form of assimilation. But as a response to the genocide, a few rabbis began new, more stringent communities to fight back against annihilation. One of these rabbis form the Satmar community in Williamsburg Brooklyn.

Many may classify Satmar as a cult do its separation from the outside word and its strict laws and rules about everything - many of which are much more restrictive that the original rules in the Torah. Deborah grew up with very delineated boundaries - where she could go in relation to the neighborhood she lived in (she did not visit Manhattan until high school even though she could see the skyline from home), what she could wear due to modesty, what she could read and what her role would be in society (women's domain is the home; girls are only educated to 10th grade as any more would be a waste).

Deborah knew she didn't quite fit in from an early age. But her whole world was Williamsburg. Her family was there, though her mother had left the community. Everything she knew was there. For a time her only refuge was the books she read when she snuck into the public library. But the stories allowed her imagination to grow eventually allowing her to see a way to another life.

Feldman bravely chronicles her early life as an ultra-orthodox Jew in Brooklyn and her eventual escape into our broader society. She is the first woman to leave the Satmar community and be allowed to take her child with her to her new life. Her book is heart-wrenching and compelling and worth a read.

Feldman, Deborah. (2012). Unorthodox. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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