In the last few weeks just about all of us have become familiar with the name Deborah Feldman. Actually, unless we were hiding out in a cave with no human contact, no access to electricity nor to electronic devices of any kind, it would have been next to impossible to avoid hearing or reading about the woman in her mid twenties who left her (Chassidic) family and community, her heritage and her young husband behind in quest of the freedom she, seemingly, desperately sought since emerging from the confines of her mother’s womb.
Here and there we hear an exasperated voice that tries to be heard above the din, arguing, “The more we criticize, take issue with or rant … the more popular she and her book become.” No doubt there’s truth to that sentiment, yet in view of the magnitude of her exposure to begin with (by her own handlers), we are more than justified in defending ourselves against the untruths, mad insinuations and outrageous gossip her memoir contains.
One sure thing the book manages to achieve is to highlight Deborah’s sad lack of comprehension of Judaism. Her ignorance (likely fostered by an unstable family structure in her early years) is stunning. Her observations are clearly those of one who may have been there in the flesh but was absent in heart or spirit. Tragically, all of the effort expended by her magnanimous close kin to imbue her with a love and appreciation for her heritage in her adolescent years, failed.
Deborah was an act. And she continues to pretend, to make believe that she’s in the know.
Pity the confused small child who never grew up. Pity her lost soul.
Indeed, many of us find ourselves torn between feelings of pity and anger, as the following letter from a reader affirms.
Before I begin this letter, I need to ask forgiveness if my style of writing will offend you. Not because of its content, but simply because of my educational shortcomings. You see, I graduated Satmar high school purportedly with a fourth grade level of English, and so my writing may not meet your standard of sophistication. But I can assure you that my message is, at least, far from simple and comes straight from my heart.
When I first heard your story, I was shocked and appalled. That you threw your Yiddishkeit away saddened me, of course, but it was your personal story that got to me.
And then I saw the interview you had with Barbara Walters. I sat in stunned disbelief as your new friends, with the help of their audience and their guest – you – poked fun at a magnified screen picture of you walking to the chuppa with your face ‘badecked.’ I was most distressed.
For a split-second I took a step back to reexamine my own Satmar chassidish lifestyle that I lead here in Williamsburg. Not that I had any doubts, but the nature of our humanity makes us vulnerable.
And then a funny thing happened. I thought back to my engagement. I met my husband once before we got engaged; yet the memory of how excited I was as a kallah still brings a smile to my face. I could hardly wait to get married and to create my own bayis ne’eman.
Walking to the chuppa with my face veiled – a tradition rooted in the Torah from the days of our forefathers – was one of the most exhilarating moments in my life. I recall fervently praying to G-d to grant us a good and purposeful life.
Boruch Hashem, my prayers were answered. It has been a good life. We have raised beautiful children who have grown both in spiritual and worldly ways into fine human beings! B”H, they have successfully met up with their own life partners and have made us very proud grandparents as well!
And B”H, in no small part due to taharas hamishpacha, (the laws of purity that govern our married way of life), the sanctity of our marriage is intact and our bond as strong as ever.
Thank you, Deborah, for reminding me that I live with Hashem ever present at my side, and that our lives are so beautiful, fulfilling and enriched because of all the Torah laws we follow.
You are proud to still have your whole life ahead of you. What will you try to accomplish? With what will you fill your days and what will make you feel fulfilled one day?
I feel so sorry for you.
This past Friday night when peace descended on our homes, with the lighting of the Shabbos licht I said a little prayer for you. I prayed that you should see the beauty in Yiddishkeit again.
Respectfully yours, A Willy MomRachel
About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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