Distressing

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"Unorthodox:" A Woman's Journey from Repression to Freedom | Love + Sex - Yahoo! Shine

Growing up, Deborah Feldman had to wear skirts that covered her ankles and high-necked blouses made of woven fabric so they wouldn't cling to her body. She wasn't allowed to read books in English because her grandfather, with whom she lived, said they were written in an "impure language." When she was twelve, she suffered a sexual assault, which she kept hidden because she had been taught that men's lust was ungovernable. This was supposedly the reason her world was segregated by gender.

At 17, Feldman's grandparents pushed her into an arranged marriage with a virtual stranger, but she had never even heard the word "sex" spoken or learned about the very basics of human reproduction. Once married, she was expected to shave her head and wear a wig—something she rebelled against after a year because she found it so depressing. Seven years later, despite the fact she knew she would be hated as a pariah, she abandoned her community and started life over.

You might be surprised that Feldman didn't grow up in a far away country with repressive laws against women, but in an ultra-conservative Jewish enclave in New York City. "They've passed more laws from out of nowhere, limiting women—there's a rule that women can't be on the street after a certain hour," Feldman told the New York Post describing the Hasidic Satmar community in which she was raised. "We all hear these stories about Muslim extremists; how is this any better? This is just another example of extreme fundamentalism."

Feldman explained the roots of Satmar Hasidism to the Daily Mail. She describes a Jewish sect that has largely turned its back on the modern word, which she says is, "a reaction to the atrocities of Holocaust." Most of the members are descendants of Holocaust survivors who fled from Hungary and Romania during the Second World War. She continues, "Hasidic Jews in America eagerly returned to a heritage that had been on the verge of disappearing, donning traditional dress and speaking only in Yiddish, as their ancestors had done." The community emphasizes family life and reproduction in order to, as Feldman puts it, "replace the many who had perished and to swell their ranks once more. To this day, Hasidic communities continue to grow rapidly, in what is seen as the ultimate revenge against Hitler."

Deborah chronicles her journey from her repressive childhood in a tight-knit section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to finding the courage as a young woman to leave it all behind in her upcoming memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots."
In her book, Feldman describes a community that had become so oppressive and insular that paradoxically, it put its children at risk. "There was this old man on my street who, every day on my way to school, would be sitting on this bench, and would call out to me and offer me candy," Feldman told the Post. "I told my grandfather, and he said, 'Well, he's older than you, so you have to talk to him out of respect.' The guy was, like, a pedophile," Feldman continues. "And we were taught to respect him." As a kid, she was told all outsiders hated her, and that if she spoke to anyone non-Hasidic, she "risked getting kidnapped and chopped to pieces."

It was concern for her own young son that ultimately pushed her to escape. She writes about a "lackadaisical" attitude toward health and safety fueled by the idea that "God will protect you." One night, speeding down the highway on thin tires she got into an accident and her car flipped three times. She says that no one ever made kids wear seat belts. She realized that her son would have been killed if he had been with her. She had been asking her husband to change the tires for months and when he met her at the hospital, she announced that she was leaving.

Feldman was enrolled part-time at Sarah Lawrence College and a classmate took her in. In fact, in one of her history classes, while studying the art of the memoir, a seed was planted that "one person can make history." From that moment she thought, "I might be able to make a mark or have my voice heard."

She says she is an outcast now and that her family sends her hate mail. "They want me to commit suicide," she told the Post. Her husband has been pushed to the fringes of the group. Feldman says he's less religious now and has trimmed his beard short and wears jeans. They share custody of their five-year-old son.

Although she made the break with her community two years ago, Feldman says she's still "very careful" and hides her address. She calls her book a kind of insurance policy against being harmed by her relatives because "they are terrified of their having their actions become public." Nevertheless, Feldman herself is moving toward forgiveness. In "Unorthodox," she writes of her grandmother, "I'd like to hold her responsible for everything I went through…but I am too wise for that. I know the way of our world, and the way people get swept along in the powerful current of our age-old traditions."
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This happened, and is still happening, right here in the U.S.A., in an enclave rife with hipsters and one time urban pioneers.
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Last edited by ninja dog; 02-07-2012 at 04:13 PM.
I grew up very close to a large population of these particular Hasidics. This doesn't surprise me at all, sadly.
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Join Date: Mar 2008
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To me, the challenge is to remain "in touch" with your particular culture (if you wish), without being consumed to the point of lunacy and retroactive oppression.

Do you think stories like this indicate that we've gotten away from the idea of America as a cultural melting pot, or that such things have always happened here? Or perhaps both?
Join Date: Mar 2008
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Horrifying. Putting this on my kindle list.
Originally Posted by Like.Australia
I have the urge to say, "Oh, Honey --- no."

Just read happy things. You're pregnant.

(Is that sexist? It's not like I think it'll harm the baby. It just seems sad to me to feel appalled while you're expecting. I'm imagining lots of happiness hormones buzzing around in your system.)
Horrifying. Putting this on my kindle list.
Originally Posted by Like.Australia
I have the urge to say, "Oh, Honey --- no."

Just read happy things. You're pregnant.

(Is that sexist? It's not like I think it'll harm the baby. It just seems sad to me to feel appalled while you're expecting. I'm imagining lots of happiness hormones buzzing around in your system.)
Originally Posted by ninja dog
I've got plenty of happy, easy reads on the list too. If it gets too intense, I can always save it for later. Believe me, I've put aside a bunch of "too intense" books even before this whole pregnancy thing. I always have a special interest in stories like this one though.
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Where does the special interest come from?
Religious fanaticism All told, I think religions have done far more harm than good. I will skip the book which would just make me ill.
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The hassidic community in general makes me very sad. I wish I could say the satmar community is the only one like this.

I grew up near a modern orthodox community (my dad prefers it while the rest of my family goes to a conservative synagogue, and I went to and worked at chabad day camps) and it's a world of difference.
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Religious fanaticism All told, I think religions have done far more harm than good. I will skip the book which would just make me ill.
Originally Posted by curlypearl
I feel like every time I make peace with myself about where I stand in regards to religion, I come across something like this.

What's most troubling to me about the community described is their determined, willful ignorance. Any time your family would prefer your death over non-adherence to faith......

And yet, religious tolerance means they're all fully within their rights, and we agree that religious tolerance is a good thing, so, what's the solution?
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The hassidic community in general makes me very sad. I wish I could say the satmar community is the only one like this.

I grew up near a modern orthodox community (my dad prefers it while the rest of my family goes to a conservative synagogue, and I went to and worked at chabad day camps) and it's a world of difference.
Originally Posted by Hropkey
The one thing that fascinates me about the orthodox (and I don't mean to be flippant) is how the men train their side hair into ringlets just by twisting it on a regular basis.
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To me, all these fanatic religions are virtually interchangeable. They all think they are "the ones" and they know "the answers." Supreme arrogance.

I don't know the answer to the question about religious tolerance and what should be done. Good point, though.

Your comment about the ringlets the men wear made me giggle. I wonder if they are cg?
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You know, as I wrote that, I started wondering if they use some sort of wax or paste. And if it has to meet certain standards, just like cg products.
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We should find out. Might be the next hot product! Sorry, I am hijacking your thread. I just find this too funny. We need to find a name for this product.
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Well, my family's Jewish, so there's that. But I'm just interested in sociology topics in general.
Well, my family's Jewish, so there's that. But I'm just interested in sociology topics in general.
Originally Posted by Like.Australia
I'm the same way. I find this Facinating. I also plan on reading it.


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I think it would upset me too much if I read the book length, detailed version.

I posted because I feel we should be aware that this kind of treatment is still happening to women, right in our own backyards.

Sometimes in our own neighborhoods.

And sometimes, next door.
The hassidic community in general makes me very sad. I wish I could say the satmar community is the only one like this.

I grew up near a modern orthodox community (my dad prefers it while the rest of my family goes to a conservative synagogue, and I went to and worked at chabad day camps) and it's a world of difference.
Originally Posted by Hropkey
The one thing that fascinates me about the orthodox (and I don't mean to be flippant) is how the men train their side hair into ringlets just by twisting it on a regular basis.
Originally Posted by ninja dog
Oh wait, I thought they used curling irons. Don't they?

Anyway, that story is fascinating.
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Religion always sucks for women. ALL of them. Every.single.one. They're usually pretty good for men though...which I presume is why religion is still around.

I hope I live to see the day when women the world over will stand up against religions.
Yup. Lots of reports recently about women sitting in the backs of buses, etc., too. These aren't new practices for the community, but they've been widely publicized latel,y largely due to media moneymongering toward the world-wide conerns about the Settlements.

Israel's Haredi population, which has become quite large, is going through many of the same problems (and often behaving strangely)as some of New York's Hasidim. These strict rules are really not very different from behaviors of any extremist religious groups, or cults.

They usually twist for curls. No curling irons on Shabbat!

Please keep in mind that the aforementioned book is one woman's story, and one woman's point of view. It sounds like she has some nutjobs in her family...and don't we all?! Poor woman, and her poor son! There are so many horror stories like this...too many delusional people, that's for sure.

Like.Australia: Congrats, mazel tov, YAY! on your pregnancy!
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Last edited by gardencurls; 02-10-2012 at 05:03 PM.

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