Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
Published by Simon & Schuster
Deborah Feldman grew up in the ultra-conservative Satmar sect of Hasidic Judiasm, and as such her entire life was scripted and dictated by rules – what she could wear, eat, read, and who she could and couldn’t interact with on a daily basis. When she found herself in an arranged marriage as a teenager, in a life she couldn’t imagine being trapped in forever, Deborah decided that enough was enough and she made the decision to drastically change her life.
I am fascinated with religion of all kinds, and I am the most fascinated by religions I can’t quite wrap my brain around, so I knew that Unorthodox would be an incredibly interesting read for me. For the most part, that was absolutely the case. I definitely hung on to Feldman’s every word, anxious to learn more and more about this religion that I have difficulty comprehending, and excited to find out when, why, and how she would finally get out of this world. While the book did have a few pitfalls for me, overall it was well worth my time and very interesting.
Feldman spends the vast majority of her memoir describing for the reader what life was like for her growing up in a Hasidic Jewish family. She details the rules, the rituals, everything she hated about it, but also she isn’t afraid to talk about what she did find comforting and happy about growing up in this life. Not going to lie, there wasn’t much Feldman enjoyed about her growing up years, but she was definitely loved as a child and she’s able to see that and show it to the reader. The older Feldman got, the more distressing her religion became for her, as the rules and restrictions get stricter as young girls become teens and young adults. She found that so much of her religion was confusing for her, and she explains to the reader why as a child much of what she was taught simply didn’t make common sense to her. I was shocked by a few of the things Feldman described but mostly I was just fascinated by this entirely foreign (to me) religion and way of life.
Feldman spends very little time talking about her life after leaving the religion, which makes sense since she wrote the book shortly after leaving. I would have liked a little more in terms of analysis and going a bit deeper into her thoughts and feelings, but I can understand why there wasn’t as much of that as I would have liked – she was still incredibly raw from her childhood when she wrote the book. The memoir was more like a detailed account of what happened throughout her childhood than anything else, which is okay, and like I said was definitely interesting, but I guess I would have liked just a bit more. I think it’s because of the way Feldman wrote the memoir, but I never felt particularly close to her or connected with her in any real way. I just think the book would have been a bit more enjoyable for me had Feldman established a stronger connection with the reader.
Having said that, while I can admit Unorthodox had its drawbacks for me, overall it was still a memoir I can solidly recommend. Especially for those of you who (like me) are fascinated by all things religion, this is a great choice. Feldman details her childhood growing up in a Hasidic Jewish family with respect but with the honesty her experiences deserve. The book is also well-written and compelling. Recommended!