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.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Club Guest Vist: Jean Naggar

This morning we discussed the book, Sipping From the Nile by Jean Naggar.

I tried to sway the book club to discuss the book, before Jean called in( all arranged by her publicist-Wiley). But, it was not meant to be.  Instead, it was 5 minutes of discussing the book before the author called in, and then became a social conversation, about everyone and everything. But, it turned out ok.

Jean, I am sure is a marvelous speaker. By, the questions, we all asked her. She was so informative, which filled in the gaps of the book.

What was interesting was the Ashkenazi experience vs. Sephardic experience in the United States when she moved here as a young bride. She did tell us she did not expect her memoir, to do anything except be a legacy left to her family. She was surprised at first to hear the response of other older people are thinking of their own legacy.

  She was not aware of the political turmoil growing up in Egypt. Which was caused by the Muslim Brotherhood during the Suez Canal Crisis. Does she worry about the political arena in the presidency race in the United States?  What does she think about fundamentalists VS. Moderate Muslims? Jean, told us not to forget there are the Fundamentalists that are fanatics, and the moderates just like in the United States.

 What I had heard, and Jean confirmed was, that anti- Semitism blossomed after the Holocaust. Jews, and Muslims lived side by side without incidence before that. But, after Israel became a independent state, this caused problems for Jews living outside of Israel.

She talked about her growing up years, and her memories how vivid they are, or were confirmed by her cousins, and other relatives. How Egyptian Jewish families, wanted their family to stay with their own kind. It was not about the families wealth, by about the culture differences.

The interesting stories about the early days to impress her husband cooking, the traditional Egyptian recipes and stir up the memories was a joy to read.

The most unique I recall, her family had their own  synagogue, on their property.   Her family was not observant, but traditional in their Jewish ways, and rituals. That was different. I wish I had asked why did her family?, and why did the family feel the need to have one? Did other people in the community use it? or not?

You can visit Jean on her website.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sipping From The Nile: Amazing Life

Sipping From The Nile
 I was wondering, why would I be interested in a wealthy Egyptian Jewish family? of course, I am Jewish but why else?  There isn't any thing out of the ordinary. There wasn't any abuse, or financial crisis, there isn't any psychological, drug, or alcohol, or rape, incest.

  So, why write this book? Or was it a  legacy to leave for her children. They would be the only ones that would connect to her memoir. Because her story seemed to be what her children, and grandchildren would be interested, not the general reader.  But, once she leaves childhood and grows into the teenage years, and adulthood, you become immersed, and flooded(into the Nile) with emotions especially toward the end.

  Jean Naggar, was raised in a very prestigious, privileged  family, with great wealth. Did you know that the Jewish Egyptian's were the wealthiest people in the middle east( interesting)?
 She comes from a long line of Sephardic Jews from Italy, on one side, and the Middle East on the other. She writes extensively, about both sides of the family. It becomes a bit tedious.

Jean is born to privilege she travels to different places, and goes abroad to Manchester England to boarding school.  She talks about her grand home, and the maids, and the help that take care of the home.  I enjoyed reading about her Aunt Helen and her grandmother's ( grand matriarchs of the family) 

I wondered, this story can't just be tedious about growing about and talking only about herself, and the riches that surround her. She keeps talking about herself and her family. But, it does go with the story because, her family is tightly knit. I would have liked her to write about her friends, and experiences, Egyptian life, less about herself and her family.

I think as a young girl, I was thinking she in a fairy land. You remember when you were growing up you idolized your parents, and your parents could do no wrong. Everything they said, was law and you believed them. She was wearing rose colored glasses.  This is how I took her memoir as a child until she grew up, and discovered the other world.

Then in 1956, the Suez Canal Crisis took shape. The British, and the French colonized Egypt for years. In 1956,Britain, France, and Israel tried to take control of the Suez Canal. Because Egypt would not allow Israel to use the canal.  There was bombing by Israel, Britain, and France.

  When this happened, Egypt made conditions terrible for the Jewish Egyptians. They had no other alternative but to leave.  After, Israel became a independent state, 1948.   The Jews of Egypt were treated differently. The German's influenced the Middle east to treat Middle Eastern Jews with hatred, and not to tolerate them. This started anti-Semitism in the middle east.

During the fall out of 1956, there was rioting in the streets. Jews had no access to their money, and their finances, to their homes, trying to get a visa was impossible. Some of Jean's family did stay on, but did eventually left.

I enjoyed reading her experience when she came to the United States. How did she ever fit in with the rest of American society? How did she fit into the Ashkenazi Jews vs. Sephardic Jews? That is interesting.

 Because, when I moved to Myrtle Beach there is a Ashkenazi community and Sephardic community. I always thought if I was Jewish you can fit anywhere. Not true, when I was go to a Israeli restaurant, or Chabad which are mainly Israeli's they treat you differently. I am sure it was the same way for Jean.

I enjoyed reading about her first time in her American kitchen, cooking a traditional Egyptian cookie. I had to look it up online, be hold it was on youtube. I wish we had acess to multiethnic foods here as much as in New York City( my home), but it is not to be. It would have been nice to get the traditional cookie for our book club on Monday.

Jean, writes beautiful prose about her adult life in the United States, and her older years as a grandmother. As you read this, it stirs up your own memories. Thinking about your children, and grandchildren if you are one.

Once you get past the family line, and she writes about the Suez it is all uphill. Many times I wanted to toss it aside, and thought I can't do that. I am the one that recommended Sipping From the Nile. I am making everyone else read this, it is only fair I read it.  I am glad I did not abandon it and kept reading. My book test is usually 50-100 pages. It took a bit longer, but worth the read.

I was not expecting to change my view of the book. I imagined it was going to be a terrible book review. But, thank g-d the experience turned around for me.   If you are interested in cultures, and history, you will enjoy reading.

Jean will be calling into our book club this coming week. I am looking forward to chatting with her. I would like to thank Wiley, in the first place for getting in touch with me. He asked me to review this marvelous book. then arranging for the books to be shipped for our book club, and arranging a chat with Jean.  Tune in Monday, when I post my blog live about the book discussion.

For added pleasure, I made the book interactive. Which may be the way of digital books. I made links to you tube, for the Suez Canal Crisis, and when she was describing how she made a traditional Egyptian Cookie. There is a interesting guest post on JWA( Jewish Women's Archive) This enhanced the book. Some day that may be the wave of the future and selling

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Flowers in the Blood

Gay Courter
Flowers in the Blood

Flowers in the Blood, is a book that was written over 20 years ago. I picked up this book because of the book discussion next week. I doubt I would have picked up this novel. But, that is why that is why there is a book club. Books you would not have picked up.

Flowers in the Blood is based on historical events in India in the late 19th century( during the Industrial age). Where Britain has taken power over the countries, for the products they have, in India, and China it is Opium.

The Sassoon family are a Jewish wealthy, successful, and powerful family in India. Her father is the owner of his opium business for trade. It is legal during this time.

He has a young daughter, Dinah and two brothers. Her mother, gets herself in trouble with bedding strange men, and smoking Opium.. Dinah, witnesses her mother's murder. Her father is away on business. Her mother is carrying on a affair with another man, and is using Opium, and other things a young women would not do. . They catch the man that murder's her mother, but for some reason he gets off.

When Dina gets older, her father takes her to far away places to learn about the Poppy flower, that is manufactured into Opium. . She is traveling with her father, and her curiosity about the business of the Poppy flower,  leads her to learn the business, and become business savy.

When she becomes of age, it is time to arrange a marriage, and a dowry. Unfortunately, Her father searches for a match, but because of her mother's reputation, the suitors and families turn away.
Her father is forced to find suitors that that are farther away, and isn't aware of her mother's  reputation.  Fortunately, her father finds a match, Silas. The son, of a man that owns a tea plantation and spice plantation.

Her family agrees to the marriage. He has he's own wealth, and business.. He only marries Dinah to please his father.

Unfortunately it is discovered that he likes to be with men.
He feels bad that it has come to this, and she leaves him and returns to her family.

Again, another marriage is arranged. She is absolutely, head over heals over Edwin. They marry, and live outside of Calcutta with he's family.

During one of his trips Edwin is away, one of he's friends tries to seduce her. She refuses. She takes it, that he is out of he's head with Opium.  Because he's family is a very wealthy and influential family. They are afraid of what trouble he will stir up. They decide to return to her family.

Dinah's father gives Edwin a job, and discovers that Dinah's uncle is skimming the books of billions of dollars of Opium. During this time, Silas, her ex-husband dies. He leaves her everything, a large income, the business, everything he owns.

Dinah, has a hard time dealing with what kind of business her family is in. Especially since they are becoming wealthy, from Opium. her mother died from the exposure of it. She hates people using Opium. Edwin for years was denying ever using Opium, but then one day she catches him and gives him a ultimatum.

The rest you will have to read your self, how she saves the company from ruin. Does she go back to Edwin?

One thing you have to realize is that Opium is legal as you read this. Because as you read, some of the things that are done, you would think twice now. But, in the late 1800's it was legal to grow, sell, distribute, and find buyers.

This is not my type of book to read. I love historical fiction. But, not when it is bogged down in facts. I like a novel, that is historical when it is not based on people. I like to read on different places and time periods when I have to do my own research.

Besides, I am not the type of person that reads long books. It gets tedious to me. The last part of the book was about the business end and the financial part of the business.  I was not interested and lost interest. I was getting irritated, it was tedious till the last few pages. Then she tied the string together for a happy ever after.  I don't like books that are romance, and I would consider this as one.   But, I would not say, I hated it. Just not the type of book I like to read. The author does have a website, and it full of resource material. I did contact the author for discussion questions. She was kind enough to send to me.

The book captivated me for the first 350 pages and then lost steam.
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