Sunday, March 11, 2012
By: Vickie J. Rubinson
The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious tradition that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.
The child of a mentally disabled father and a mother who abandoned the community while her daughter was still a toddler, Deborah was raised by her strictly religious grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy. Along with a rotating case of aunts and uncles, they enforced customs with a relentless emphasis on rules that governed everything from what Deborah could wear and to whom she could speak, to what she was allowed to read.
As she grew from an inquisitive little girl to an independent-minded young woman stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Aloctt helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. She had no idea how to seize this dream that seemed to beckon to her from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but she was determined to find a way.
The tension between Deborah's desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until at the age of 17, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she had met for only 30 minutes before they became engaged. As a result, she experienced debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to immediately consummate her marriage and thus serve her husband. But it wasn't until she had a child at 19 that Deborah realized more than just her own future was at stake and that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path--for herself and her son--to happiness and freedom.