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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Reflection, Rebuke and Reverberations…

An open letter to Deborah Feldman

Dearest Deborah,

Today I witnessed a beautiful event. One of my neighbors had yahrtzeit for his mother and got together with all seven of his siblings, some who had come from as far as Israel, not to mention other states in America.

My memory takes me back some years to when I paid a shiva call to this same neighbor upon the loss of his mother. All of her eight children sat shiva together, all shomer Torah and mitzvos, most of them at the time married with children of their own. It was then that my friend had recalled how his mom would come home from work early on Shabbos day, light a cigarette and relax on the couch before getting up to prepare shalosh seudos for them.

Had I heard correctly? I had, my friend assured me. His parents had been non-observant. I was astounded. How had a non-religious couple manage to raise all eight of their children to be shomer Torah u’mitzvos?

Turned out that his mother had been a rebellious girl from Satmar who had gone off the derech. She left home and went to college where she met a secular Israeli whom she wed.

After their marriage, the couple moved to a remote southern town, where they could blend in and be plain American folk. It was after the arrival of their first child that the idea of Jewish identity began to bother my friend’s mother. This concern grew until she persuaded her husband to move to a more “Jewish” city where they could give their children a Jewish education. All eight children received a yeshiva education, half of them going on to Kollel.

Each child would come home expressing a longing for shmiras hamitzvos. Their mother acquiesced to keeping a kosher home, with all that it entailed — on condition that she and their father be counted out. They had no desire to become observant, even as they were willing to facilitate their children’s spiritual journeys.

This woman left her roots just as you did, Deborah. She had her doubts and issues, just like you. The crucial difference between you and her is that she brought holiness into this world — by allowing her beautiful legacy from previous millennia to continue to survive and to shine through her children.

Unlike you, Deborah, she didn’t malign millions of holy women who love their role as Eim b’Yisroel and didn’t sell out their private and tzniusdik way of life for coffee table talk.

Tonight no less than forty-two B’nei Torah will make a seudah for the neshama of their heilige mama — a woman who scorned her roots, yet brought forth fruit.

Deborah, you can be holy too. There’s no escaping your Jewish soul.

 

Dear Rachel,

A dysfunctional, self-absorbed schnook gets up to make fun of our beautiful holy laws and tradition like we’re some backwards people, and Barbara Walters – along with her staff and audience – applauds and cheers. How appalling!

I humbly suggest that BW interview one of the thousands of baalei teshuvah who have abandoned their secular lifestyle, or one of the many frum professionals – yes, chassids among them – who pursue careers in law, medicine, etc., while adhering to the Torah laws.

We can fill not one book but multiple volumes detailing the accomplishments of our own. Let her visit the hospital’s stocked Bikur Cholim room to start with, and in the process she may even run into one of us mothers of large families, who manage to carve time out of our busy schedules to personally distribute fresh home-cooked meals to patients and their visitors — an ongoing daily practice initiated by none other than Satmar.

My heart aches for Deborah and I hope she wakes up before she wastes her life away. Her disadvantaged background serves as no excuse — a person has bechira and is responsible for his or her actions.

A Proud Bas Yisroel

 

Dear Rachel,

As an avid Jewish Press reader for the past fifty years, and a lifetime resident and member of the Williamsburg Satmar community, I feel the need to clarify that despite Deborah’s unstable parentage, her paternal grandparents are wonderful and very intelligent people.

In our warm, caring and close-knit community we help one another out during difficult times, be they happy or G-d forbid sad, be it with money, time or whatever is needed. How ironic that the widely circulated picture of Deborah, alongside her husband and baby, shows her glowing with chein and happiness! Today she may be giving the impression of being happy with her new lifestyle, but on the inside she knows the truth.

I advise people not to take her book for face value — a lot of it must be verified.

A long-time JP reader

 

Dear Rachel,

Keep up the good work of not being afraid to deal with Klal Yisroel’s sticky situations. You wouldn’t believe what happened to my wife. As an executive at a large prestigious firm, she was wrapping up an important meeting with reps of affiliated agencies when a woman who knows her to be Orthodox approached to speak to her “off the record.” She was curious as to whether my wife felt sexually repressed by her Judaism at home and if Jewish men feel it important to satisfy their wives.

My wife was shocked and offended. She hadn’t yet heard of Deborah Feldman or her book and let this woman know what she thought of her obnoxiousness and idiotic questions. That’s when this woman mentioned she had read this book and was concerned for my wife whom she “cares about.”

My wife straightened her out about real Jewish love dynamics and assured the woman that she was baruch Hashem warmly loved at home, even after more than two decades of marriage.

Rachel, the pain and embarrassment brought about by this young “novelist” (fictionist) extends way beyond those she set out to malign. Holy Jewish women who just want to go about their lives and revel in the warmth and privacy of their special relationships are suddenly forced to deal with their tznius being ripped away from them.

Hurting for our souls…

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com 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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