Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unorthodox: Book Review

Unorthodox by Debrah Feldman
I read this book because one of the ladies in our book club wanted us to discuss this book. I wanted to find out what the hoopla was about.

I don't know much about the Satmar community, in Williamburg, NY.  But, I do have some knowledge about the Chabad community because I am Jewish, and living in Myrtle Beach, SC.

I will say, any book that is a memoir, is the author's experience. It is not set in stone that everyone she is talking about is the same.

Debbie's parents have troubles from a arrange marriage from the beginning. Her Zayde, arranges a marriage for his son to a British woman.

The father has some mental issues. It is never said exactly what is wrong with him. But, we do know he can't take care of his daughter after the get(divorce). Also in the community, these things are tucked under the carpet. It is sad, because he never received any kind of help( therapy).

 Usually when a get is arranged, the father gets custody of his children. Her mother leaves the community, and becomes a secular Jew. Debbie is raised in a unloving, strict and dysfunctional home. But, she still loves her grandparents.

It is arranged after her parent's divorce Debbie is living with her grandparents. Not a great situation to be in. Her Aunt, who Debbie is not particular found of gets in the middle of every conflict.

Debbie becomes rebellious, and sneaks off to libraries, to read secular books which is a no-no. They are not allowed to read newspapers, and watch or listen to the radio. They basically are hidden from the world.

There is one situation I do question. Debbie goes into a bookstore owned by Jews in Williamsburg. Where only men are allowed she sneaks in, without anyone's knowledge and buys a Talmud. I don't thinks she would be allowed to buy one. One I don't think the book store owner would sell it to a girl. He would report it, if he did. So, I wonder about the accuracy of this part of the story.

Women, and young girls are treated like nothing. They are not allowed to have a mind and speak out for themselves. The community, doesn't speak English, but speak only Yiddish. The school they go to is not recognized by the New York State board. They do not receive a secular education. They don't receive a high school diploma when they graduate.

What they do receive is religious instruction, and instruction to be modest, and eventually marry. Women's duty is to marry and have many babies in the Orthodox community.

When Debbie, is matched with the young man. Debbie finds out later, that her husband is a wimp and doesn't stand up for him or her. Always running to his parents to tell them intimate things about their marriage..

They have marriage classes after the match is made. They are taught about sex. But, neither one of them has ever touched a girl. In school boys, and girls are separated. The girls, and boys have not spoken or touched except with their brothers and sisters.. I can't imagine what that is like.

Debbie's experience at the Mikvah, five days before the wedding is a disaster. It is suppose to be a spiritual and uplifting experience. It is implied that something happened, that shouldn't have.

On their wedding night, Debbie and her new husband, don't even consummate the marriage. Because neither one of them understand what they are suppose to do. Debbie doesn't even know where the opening is where the Penis goes.

All the things we take for granted because we are not segregated by the world. We can go to a computer, or a school, or library to do research but not this community.

Debbie, has to check to make sure what she is clean, by checking her menstruation. I would be so embarrassed to take the cloths to the Rabbi and make sure you are clean to touch your husband.

While they are living in Williamsburg, where everyone knows your business, even your sex life. The entire community seems to be on the watchful eye of everyone. Debbie and her husband go to a sex therapist, and many doctors to find out why she can't get pregnant.

Finally, Debbie and her husband get a break, after the birth of her son. most people that are not happy with the strictures of the Satmar community are allowed to leave, and go to the community in Monsey, New York.

The first step is moving to Monsey to get her independence from her community. The second is to go to school, and get a education. She doesn't want this for her son to be raised in a orthodox community. She gets admitted to Sarah Lawrence, she doesn't tell her husband the exact truth.  She finally breaks away.

My Review: The writing is ok, not a prize winner. But, learning a few things about the Satmar community opened my eyes.

I have never been in Williamburg, only movie scenes. I remember my father told me once he by accident got lost, and went down the street during Shabbat. The Yeshiva boys were throwing rocks at his car.

I did live near Monsey, New York. When I used to drive in the area. You would see many observant Jews, walking on Shabbat. I did not realize what community they were. When the author spoke about it, I could relate to the area. Remember once or twice going to the kosher market, and the Jewish store.

Most people, even Jews stayed away from them. As I was growing up, it was just known you did not speak to them. Observant Jews, I was taught did not associate themselves to the outside.

This is Debbie's experience. I am not sure if all families come from a cold, unloving family.

I know Chabad is not like that. Once when I was teaching, I was so shocked. One of the Rabbi's daughters was in my nursery class. He came to change his daughter.
To see Rabbi Yossi change his daughter's diaper was awe inspiring moment I will never forget. I was always under the impression. Rabbi's in the orthodox community, had their nose in a book, constantly. Never taking any father duties seriously. I am glad I was mistaken.

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