In her bestselling memoir, Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman recounts the story of her apostasy from the Satmar community of Hasidic Jews in which she was raised. The daughter of a mentally disabled father and a mother who fled the scene, she grew up with her grandparents in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, among a large extended family who, she says, looked down on her and waited for her to follow in the shameful ways of either parent. Feldman describes the role she assigned herself as a child: “I am most certainly a good girl, and I will make everyone proud of me. If I can make this work, all my shame can be erased.”
She always hungered to know more than she was “allowed,” she writes, and her book movingly captures the feeling of living with a secret self, of trying to make herself believe even when it was difficult to do so. “The first and greatest Satmar Rebbe said that if we became model Jews, just like in the olden days, then something like the Holocaust wouldn’t happen again, because God would be pleased with us,” she recalls. “But how are we pleasing him with our little efforts, the thicker stocking, the longer skirt? Is that really all it takes to make God happy?”
About the Author
Tova Mirvis is a novelist whose books, The Ladies Auxiliary and The Outside World, offer portraits of Orthodoxy and its relation to modernity.