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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots [Paperback]

Deborah Feldman
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012
The instant New York Times bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.

As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. It was stolen moments spent with the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott that helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, for the sake of herself and her son, she had to escape.

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Review

One of O magazine's "10 Titles to Pick Up Now"

“Deborah Feldman was raised in an insular, oppressive world where she was taught that, as a woman, she wasn’t capable of independent thought. But she found the pluck and determination needed to make the break from that world and has written a brave, riveting account of her journey. Unorthodox is harrowing, yet triumphant.”—Jeannette Walls, #1 bestselling author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses

“[Feldman’s] matter-of-fact style masks some penetrating insights.”—The New York Times

“An unprecedented view into a Hasidic community that few outsiders ever experience. . . . Unorthodox reminds us that there are religious communities in the United States that restrict young women to marriage and motherhood. These women are expected to be obedient to their community and religion, without question or complaint, no matter the price.”Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Riveting . . . extraordinary.”—Marie Claire

“Eloquent, appealing, and just emotional enough . . . No doubt girls all over Brooklyn are buying this book, hiding it under their mattresses, reading it after lights out—and contemplating, perhaps for the first time, their own escape.”—HuffingtonPost.com

“Deborah Feldman has stripped the cloak off the insular Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, offering outsiders a rare glimpse into the ultraconservative world in which she was raised.”Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Compulsively readable, Unorthodox relates a unique coming-of-age story that manages to speak personally to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in her own life. Feldman bravely lays her soul bare, unflinchingly sharing intimate thoughts and ideas unthinkable within the deeply religious existence of the Satmars. . . . Teens will devour this candid, detailed memoir of an insular way of life so unlike that of the surrounding society.”—School Library Journal

“[Feldman’s] no-holds-barred memoir bookstores on February 14th. And it’s not exactly a Valentine to the insular world of shtreimels, sheitels and shtiebels. Instead, [Unorthodox] describes an oppressive community in which secular education is minimal, outsiders are feared and disdained, English-language books are forbidden, mental illness is left untreated, abuse and other crimes go unreported . . . a surprisingly moving, well-written and vivid coming-of-age tale.”The Jewish Week

“Imagine Frank McCourt as a Jewish virgin, and you've got Unorthodox in a nutshell . . . a sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[Deborah Feldman's] is an extraordinary story of struggle and dream. . . . Both her escape and her decision to tell her story are magnificent acts of courage.”—Anouk Markovits, author of I Am Forbidden

“Unorthodox is a fascinating book . . . Feldman’s voice resonates throughout.”The Jewish Daily Forward

“Denied every kind of nourishment except the doughy, shimmering plates of food obsessively produced by her Holocaust-survivor grandmother . . . books nourish [Feldman’s] spirit and put in her hands the liberatory power of storytelling. As she becomes a reader and then a writer, Feldman reinvents herself as a human being.”Newsday (New York)

Unorthodoz is painfully good. . . .Unlike so many other authors who have left Orthodoxy and written about it, [Feldman’s] heart is not hardened by hatred, and her spirit is wounded but intact. . . . She is a sensitive and talented writer.”—JewishJournal.com

Unorthodox is consistently engaging. And the very fact of it is touching. For years . . . [Feldman] examined library shelves, marveling that there were so many men and women who believed in their ‘innate right . . . to speak their mind in whatever way they saw fit.’ That she has joined their ranks is remarkable indeed.”—BarnesandNobleReview.com

“Feldman gives us special insight into a closed and repressive world. . . . Her memoir is fresh and tart and utterly absorbing.”Library Journal

“Nicely written . . . [An] engaging and at times gripping insight into Brooklyn's Hasidic community.”Publishers Weekly

“A remarkable tale.”Kirkus Reviews

“Feldman’s evolution as well as her look inside a closed community make for fascinating reading … her storyteller’s sense and a keen eye for details give readers a you-are-there sense of what it is like to be different when everyone else is the same.”Booklist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Deborah Feldman was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She attends Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City with her son.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unorthodox, indeed! Dec 11 2012
By S.B
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I did a fair amount of reading on Judaism and different Jewish cultures, history and practices. I sifted through literature trying to understand what does it mean to be Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrachi, Maghrebi, Haredi or Beta Israel Jew. However, when it comes to the daily life of Haredi or Hasidic Jewish communities, literature is almost silent. Yes, there is some light shed on the general practices of Ultra-orthodox sects but beyond that, nothing much. My curiosity towards ultra-conservative jewish sects is not tainted with judgement. I just wanted to learn about their culture. Who am I to judge anybody anyway? Ms. Feldman paints a vivid picture of what is it like to be a girl in a Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn. She brilliantly describes the preparing for and rituals of the sabbath, Yum Kippur and numerous other occasions the Hasidim celebrate zealously. Their lives are dedicated to studying the Torah and Talmud from an early age. The little things that we usually overlook like how to be modest, talk, behave, read, watch, preparing meals, keeping kosher, going to yeshivas, marriage arrangements and many other things from the Hasidim perspective. Ms. Feldman got a lot of criticism from Jews and non-Jews such as Shmarya Rosenberg about the content of the book. You can read both points of view and judge for yourself. The criticism does not undermine the value of the book, however. If you're interested in the costumes and daily life of the Hasidim, this the book is for you. A little background of basic Jewish costumes helps a lot with reading this book. I enjoyed every page and emerged with more info about this overlooked sect. @shakirbahzad
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... June 10 2012
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Unorthodox" chronicles Deborah Feldman's childhood and adolescence. Raised by her grandparents, members of the most insular Hasidic sect, the Satmars, Feldman becomes a bride at 17, a mother at 19 and a divorcee at 22, at which point she enrols in Sarah Lawrence University and cuts ties with the Satmar.

Feldman provides a measured and thoughtful accounting of growing up Satmar and invokes the reader's pleasure through mutual discovery of new worlds. As Feldman discovers the forbidden pleasures of Narnia and Roald Dahl, we in turn discover her world: the traditional girls school, the isolated summer camp, and her education in the religious laws of modesty and purity that govern dress, menstruation, and sex. The author shares her intimate thoughts, struggling to reconcile her independent mind with the conformity that is expected of her. We hear her giggles, gripes, doubts, critiques, and challenges to the status quo, which she accomplishes without wholly skewering the people around her. Her accounting of her past is remarkably frank and compelling.

The quality of Feldman's writing is especially remarkable, given the fact that this is her first book, which she wrote in a non-native language. However, the final chapter disappoints as it lacks craft and makes too many proclamations with little substance. Ultimately, she leaves too many loose ends: how does she support herself and her young son? Does she maintain a relationship with her grandparents? Does she continue to practice Judaism? Perhaps a follow-up memoir will provide much needed closure.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but some gaps in the story Aug. 23 2014
By ER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For me the most interesting thing about this book was getting a peek into this extremist group of religious zealots. As a Jewish woman, I had no idea we even had sects like this in our religion. For me, I found this disturbing revelation to be the reason the book was interesting to me. The story itself was okay but I found there were so many holes in her telling of why she felt so different, why her views differed so much, it just didn't feel particularly believable. Overall I still think it's a worthwhile read but the story itself could have been more textured and detailed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars amaizing June 19 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Love the book !!! I had reconnection or flash back with my own childhood, even thought I come from different culture.
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Format:Paperback
As a Gentile or "Goya" and grasping that Jews are either God's Blessings or examples to the nations(For example 25% of Nobel prize winners are Jewish though only representing 1 10th of 1% of earths population) , yet not having not heard of Hasidic Jews before, I read a little bit of this book at a friend’s place, and next visit I just kept reading. It was interesting to hear about a segment of Jews that turn out to be similar in the bottom line to semi Christian groups that break away from mainstream branches with their own heretical private versions or interpretations of the bible.

Like Jehovah Witness that refuse the Godhead of Christ, Catholics that put Mary as Queen of Heaven, and intercessor instead of Christ and The Mormons complete replacement of the bible with their own non biblical fantasies and traditions(Book of Mormon), these Hasidics reject the Torah’ clear statement of Aaron’s Priesthood in favour of someone I’d never heard of before to justify Priests and Rabbi’s that don’t come from Aarons lineage. And like these other segments of Religious society, they come up with sectarian and cultic practices that further distinguish their religions from mainstream groups, often in extreme ways. And as is all too often the case with Religions that don’t quite align with the biblical word, adherents become increasingly frustrated with what become blatantly obvious flaws in the religions they are forced to adhere to and eventually reject them wholeheartedly, often throwing out the baby with the bathwater in the process. So in this way this book was fascinating to see from a Jewish Woman’s perspective.

However from her marriage point onward this book went downhill fast, and got downright bothersome.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad upbringing of children
Very sad that this exists. I am a Christian and love the Jewish people. But according to the Bible, that is no how God wants children to be raised. We have a loving God.
Published 7 months ago by Elisabeth Janzen
4.0 out of 5 stars Truly scandalous
This is a very insightful memoir that raises mixed feelings. It is written with passion and portrays the way of life of the Hasidic Satmar community in New York in ways that I did... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Susie Njiks
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in the Orthodox world
I was enlightened by the facts in this story of an Orthodox Satmar girl growing up in her confined community in New York. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Barbara O
2.0 out of 5 stars No depth
There was something about this book that struck me as shallow and insincere. It was interesting what the author omitted - such as information about her relationship with her mother
Published 14 months ago by esther caplan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great reading
It took a lot of courage for the writer to tell us the inner workings of the Hassidic Sect. There were a lot of things that I didn't know about even though I'm Jewish. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Patti
4.0 out of 5 stars Eyeopening view of a community
Her isolation from the outside world is very well told. Brought up with distant love and unprepared for what adult life was to bring, she tell a compelling story of growth and... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Cottage guy
4.0 out of 5 stars BEEN THERE ... DONE THAT ...
How I identified with Deborah Feldman! Having been raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, I too detested its rigid rules, and over the years, have abandoned those restrictions that I... Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2012 by wwGINCHww
2.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, but I'm unsure.
As I've mentioned here before I was born to a Jewish mother and an Anglican Newfie father. While that made for some hilarious contradictions growing up, it did result in a feeling... Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2012 by vivalakt
4.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable!
A little slow to start but once you understand where she is coming from, the rest of the book will knock you socks off. I could not get over some of what went on in her life. Read more
Published on Oct. 21 2012 by Angel
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