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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Deborah’

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Dear Readers,

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.

Dear Deborah,

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 Mom

What Satmar Chassidim Can Teach The Author Who Trashed Them

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Dear Deborah,

Your book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, has touched a lot of nerves and unsettled a lot of hearts in the Orthodox Jewish community. It is not every day that a Satmar woman divorces her husband, moves to Manhattan and writes a tell-all book about the experience. It is not every day that a Satmar woman writes about her chassidic experience with derision and her intimate relations without inhibition.

My wife’s family is from Satmar, too. Her great-great grandfather was the shochet and chazzan in Satmar, Hungary, serving Grand Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum before World War II. Her great-grandfather left Satmar in the 1930s and moved to Portsmouth, England, where he served as the Orthodox pulpit rabbi of a less than observant congregation. His wife wanted to raise their children in a more modern environment and he went along with that decision. He never trimmed his beard or payos in Satmar but did so in Portsmouth. His wife shaved her hair in Satmar but didn’t do so in Portsmouth.

They didn’t write a book about the ordeal as you did. They respected their parents’ insular ways even if they couldn’t follow the path themselves. They wouldn’t – out of self-respect and human dignity – deride those who gave them life, God, and an eternal connection to Jewish destiny.

Deborah, our families share much in common. Chassidic life is not for us. In our view we should not be insular; we should make it our mission to inspire the world. But we part ways, fellow Satmarite, when you approach every Jewish law with cynicism and see sexual subjugation in every chassidic custom. I think you are writing yourself into the text.

I have no doubt you believed all you wrote to be true (including your allegation of castration and murder in Kiryas Joel which has been proven to be false). I wonder, however, if you are open enough to consider that your processing might be uniquely personal – defined through an emotionally scarred and spiritually detached lens that has affected the way you see the Jewish laws and customs that have inspired and unified your people for the past 2,000 years.

Your book became an immediate sensation. What is it that made it so popular? Is it an intellectual treatise, a work of authority? It is not. You write passionately but anecdotally, poignantly but subjectively.

You left your husband and heritage, choosing instead secular values. I have read books much more profound than yours by women who rejected secular culture, seeing its lifestyle as hedonistic, Godless, and disrespectful of their feminine dignity. They saw in secular culture a society that defines the perfect body as the perfect virtue, the undress of female as art, the augmented female figure as the appropriate trophy on the arm of the rich and famous. They chose chassidic Judaism instead.

But their books weren’t featured on “The View.” Their stories weren’t highlighted in newspapers across the globe. They didn’t receive a call back from Simon and Schuster. Why do you think that might be?

It is the alleged window into the chassidic bedroom that made your book sensational. And that is because there is so little about sex in the secular world that is private, dignified and feminine anymore. It is all so public, aggressive and masculine. When a woman is provocative she is not feminine but masculine, having traded relationship for sex. Perhaps the last frontier of feminine dignity is in the religious bedroom. And you besmirched the most wonderful, intimate experiences of a community by presenting your sad personal experience as the norm.

The women of “The View” ate it up. Deborah, it is not you they like. It is your validation they seek.

Leaving Satmar may be your defining moment. But it is a door, not a destination. What is your ideology? How do you define God? How do you make perfect the relationship between created and Creator, man and woman, man and self? How do you understand human challenge, temptation, frailty, and the longing to connect to an Eternal force?

You haven’t addressed the larger issues that any ideology must. Those who cheer you on celebrate what you do not believe, what you do not do. It would be more interesting and inspiring to know what you do believe, what you do in fact do.

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 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?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-satmar-chassidim-can-teach-the-author-who-trashed-them/2012/02/29/

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