Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Author Takes Fire for Memoir

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Author Takes Fire for Memoir

Article excerpt

A firestorm erupted in Brooklyn after the publication earlier this year of Deborah Feldman's memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots."

It's easy to see why. Feldman, now in her mid-20s, dives deep into the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community of Williamsburg, in which she grew up and chafed against from early childhood.

The strictures of the ultra-Orthodox life, she writes, include prohibitions on girls and women for education beyond a year or two of high school; on reading, even of the Torah; on wearing clothing that is revealing of any aspect of her body; on knowing anything at all about one's sexuality; on being an equal partner in a marriage.

The Satmar community stands in stark counterpoint to the lights of Manhattan sparkling to the west, and Feldman cannot resist the draw.

Feldman at 17 married a young man with whom she had few meetings between the official introduction of their families and their wedding some months later. Despite vague pre-marital lessons from one of the elder women in the community, she was completely ignorant of what to expect on her wedding night. Her new husband, also a virgin at 22, knew just as little. It took them a full year to consummate the marriage; in her retelling, their son was conceived the first time they successfully had intercourse.

But their sexual inability (and evident incompatibility) is really the least of the problems in the marriage. "Corrupted" by the literary heroines she has snuck out of the New York Public Library, Feldman desperately wants more from life. She persuades her husband to move away from the closed Williamsburg community, learns to drive and enrolls in continuing education classes at Sarah Lawrence.

A car accident on the Tappan Zee bridge that Feldman almost miraculously escapes unharmed proves the tipping point of her break from the Hasidic community. …

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