Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Meeting of November 26, 2012





The meeting was hosted by Beth.  She had some wonderful cheese, pâté and crackers including a lactose-free cheese along with olives and a date and amond cake.  With tea and coffee we had a very nice stollen and quite decadent cupcakes.  

The book discussed this month, Carla's choice is Unorthodox - The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman.  This is a memoir in which Ms. Feldman describes her life in the Hasidic community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn NY.  She was born in Williamsburg and raised mostly by her grandparents after her mother left the community.  Her father was the mentally disturbed son of her grandparents. 

Hasidic Judaism is a Jewish religious movement that originated in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. The Hasidic tradition is a constant striving for an intimate give and take relationship with God in every moment of human life. (see link above).  Satmar Hasidism is a Hasidic movement composed mostly of Hungarian and Romanian Holocaust survivors and their descendants. They believe that the Holocaust was punishment from God because Jews had become too secular and that the state of Israel was blasphemy because Jews had to wait for God to create the Holy Land.  Most of the Jews praticing Satmar Hasidism are in the Brooklyn community, Williamsburg and Kiryas Joel, New York.  There is a small community in Montreal and some scattered elsewhere in the state of New York. 

The initial comments from the group were divided.  Some of us found the book to be very interesting and a page turner and a couple of us found it boring and difficult to finish.  However, the discussion was quite animated and all of us enjoyed an excellent discussion.  Many enjoyed her narrative of life growing up with her grandparents her ability to remember childhood memories in such detail. It is a coming of age story.  We learned a lot about the rules and regulations and traditions of Orthodox Jews and more specifically about the Hasidic Community.  Some such as the demeaning treatment of women and the blame that was put on women for men's weaknesses were upsetting.  Ms. Feldman describes an insular community with its own police and paramedics that allow crimes such as sexual abuse and maybe murder to be hidden.   

From articles and reviews that have been written about this memoir it is very evident that Ms. Feldman wrote her own perception of life as a Hasidic Jew and left out details of her life that she believes were not relevant to her story.  For example, we learn from articles that she had a younger sister and that she lived some time with her mother and attended a public secular school for the first few years of elementary school.  Some of us questioned the veracity of her story. How could a young teenager who was curious enough about life to sneak off to the library and enjoyed reading in English as much as she did not be curious enough about her own body to know she had a vagina?  Had she really not consulted a biology book at the library to satisfy her questions about the first night of mariage?  It is also evident that she is very young and in writing about some of the incidents may not have thought through the impact on her family and community.  She changes all the names but puts in the book photos of her family allowing easy identification of who is her family.   She is surprised by the negative reaction of the community. However a more mature person would have known that no community likes to publicize its dirty laundry.  

There is an article in the Jewish Week written by Samuel Katz, a young man who also left the community that gives some credibility to her story.  However, Mr. Katz's hope that her book would begin an open discussion about the community has not happened because of the doubts about her story.   

Beth read a poem Autobiograhical by the Canadian poet A.M. Klein  who grew up in Montreal's Orthodox Jewish community that paints a much more positive picture of growing up in an Orthodox community.  

So though not all members of the group enjoyed the book, we certainly had an excellent discussion.  Thank you Carla for this choice of book.  


2 comments:

  1. I was sorry to miss this meeting. I enjoyed the book. It reminded me somewhat of Hirsi Ali's book Infidel that we read a couple of years ago. The blame on women for men's problems is troubling. But I found it fascinating to see a parallel world existing within our own that can remain so separate. As you know, there are Hassidic Jews in Montreal that may have similar characteristics.

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  2. Sorry I couldn't be there tonight. I knew the discussion would be lively. Here are a few comments of my own: I enjoyed learning more about Jewish culture, partly because of my interest in the Bible. The photos added authenticity for me, though I do see Beth's point about the lack of anonymity. More than that, however, I was really disappointed to learn after the fact about all the controversy, which has made me doubt the truth of the story. I was also skeptical at one point about how a murder could have been concealed within the community, yet be so well-known as to be written about in this book. The event, if it occurred, was not the focus of the story, of course, but certainly should have been handled differently, both by the author and by the community itself. Jolene

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