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3.7 out of 5 stars
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2012
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2012
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 felt were unfounded and/or demeaning. The author’s introspection and inimitable spirit were remarkable – particularly during her school years. I didn’t agree with some of the language of the book; for example, if she used the term Shabbos (identifying the Sabbath), I would expect her to refer to the autumn holiday as Sukkos (rather than Sukkot). Likewise, when referring to the plural of Hasid, the author would use the term Hasidim rather than Hasids. These discrepancies interfered with what was otherwise a very pleasurable read. In my heart, I celebrated Deborah’s ability to seek freedom from her oppressive past, her penchant for reading “forbidden” literature, and her desire to dress like a “normal” American woman. The photograph of Deborah with a cigarette rankled me – It showed me that although she had spent so much energy on starting a new life – she’s now on a path of to self-destruction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2014
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 not know before. It also gives one a better understanding of Hasidim Judaism not only in America, but in Israel and Eastern Europe where it originated. I did further research after reading this novel, so I applaud it for piquing my curiosity. This book might not be considered by some people as a masterpiece, but it certainly is the best I have read so far on the subject. Like Disciples of Fortune, it touched an aspect of Judaism many people are hazy about, or even consider mysterious. I hope books like this come out telling the word about other mysterious sects and practices found in the different religions. The world needs it, especially in our times.
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on August 23, 2014
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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on July 31, 2013
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.
I felt for her every step of the way and although not everyone will agree with me, I'm happy for her because she has her freedom. There's not "one size fits all" in our religion and life is all about choices.

I saw the book as a story about one courageous woman's journey to live her life the way that she wants. Too bad that she had to make some painful sacrifices.
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on October 21, 2012
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. Parts of the book give a really good insight to what goes on behind closed doors in this community and parts of the book are specific to her experiences. I will read this book again one day. I've already lent it out twice. I wish her well and commend her for taking the steps she needed to take to have a chance at a real life. This is one of those books that will stay with me.
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on January 14, 2015
I think because I just read I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, which deals with similar issues of the Satmar Hassidic community, I may have judged Unorthodox more harshly than I might have. Not to discount the horrific experiences of Feldman within the Satmar community, but much of the book felt forced and distant. In the final chapter, with her sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette, Feldman comes across more as petulant than triumphant, which undermines the entire purpose of this memoir.
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on April 13, 2013
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 escape. It felt incomplete near the end when we read and afterword about a writing group/class/friends whom she thanks for helping her find her voice. That journey would have made a great component within the book.
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on November 14, 2013
I was enlightened by the facts in this story of an Orthodox Satmar girl growing up in her confined community in New York. The Author taught me many things I did not know about that community. Very interesting book.
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