I, too, am a female member of the Satmar community in Williamsburg, but I am not writing to bash Deborah Feldman for using Yiddishkeit to dump her miseries on; I leave that to others who seem to be doing an admirable job of speaking out.
Rather, I feel compelled to share my personal opinion, based on my own experience in a dysfunctional upbringing similar to Feldman’s, in the same Satmar community. My childhood was spent with a mentally ill mother, as my father watched helplessly from the sidelines.
In the interest of preserving the dignity of my close kin, I will skip over the details and trust readers will understand my reluctance to provide them with entertainment at the expense of good people. Suffice it to say that eventually, like Deborah, I ended up living with my grandparents who gave their life to me and saved my sanity.
Like Deborah, I got married at a relatively young age. My marriage didn’t last, but in all honesty our “differences” had no bearing whatsoever on my background, religion or age.
The main point I’m driving at is that I actually thrived in the aftermath of my divorce — in no small part due to the warmth and kindness shown me by my community in every way. I was, moreover, never made to feel like a pity or charity case.
To set the record straight, divorced men or women here are in no way, shape or form made to feel like second-class citizens. On the contrary, the outpouring of compassion and love that surrounded me in my time of need makes mine a story with a happy ending. Today I am married to a wonderful man with whom I am baruch Hashem raising a beautiful family — right here in Williamsburg where we continue to live a blissful and fulfilling life, where I count my blessings daily.
While I am not writing this to sing my praises, I do give myself credit for keeping true to my faith and staying strong in the face of hardship. Blaming my religion, school or community for my life’s misfortunes was never an option and is a cop-out of an excuse for any mature human being.
I could have chosen to leave my faith and gone on to write a best seller, but thankfully I never even entertained the thought. Just goes to prove that, as we are taught, Hashem leads one in the direction the person wants to go.
Proud to be of Satmar Heritage
You start off by saying that you and Deborah share a similar upbringing in the same community. I offer that you share a similar personality trait as well: that of a steely determination — which can be used to one’s advantage or to one’s detriment. Personally, I am humbled by people of your stature and applaud you for your strength, maturity and courage.
Plenty of commentary and opinion has surfaced online regarding the current fiasco, but I find one in particular to be most noteworthy, both for intelligent and coherent content. I take the liberty of quoting the concluding paragraphs of an op-ed article by Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt, written as an open letter to Deborah Feldman, that appeared last week in The Jewish Press:
Deborah, you are a woman who has crossed a river. You are free, entirely able to live your dreams. What are your dreams? In which moral community will you find a home?
Will it be a community in which people care for each other? Will it be a community in which people make sure that no one falls through the cracks? Will it be a community in which even the weakest are provided for? Will it be a community infused by a desire for closeness to God? Will it be a community in which gala weddings are made for the needy, even those who can’t pay for them themselves?
And when you find the community of your choice and raise your son to maturity, I pray you will be bold enough to look back and recognize and appreciate all that a community did for you when you were young and had nothing.
Indeed, Satmar has a lot to teach you.
As an American of Italian origin, I imagine I am not one of your typical readers. Though you wouldn’t guess it from my outward appearance, I strongly identify with your people and have enjoyed a close camaraderie with those of the Jewish faith for many years now.
Some years back I had the privilege of working closely with a number of Hassidim who always impressed me with their exceptional warmth and generosity. I even visited their homes on occasion and met with their beautiful families. Thus I was most dismayed by the twisted view presented to the world by a young woman who has an ax to grind.