Sunday, March 11, 2012

Deborah Feldman

Deborah Feldman was raised in the Hasidic community of Satmar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She attends Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City with her son.

Her new memoir is Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.

From her Q & A with Tom Blunt at xoJane:

Throughout your story, it’s fascinating to see how even the most private details of a Satmar resident’s life became public knowledge almost instantly, including the details about your wedding night.

There's this Jewish law against gossip, but I don't think anyone in my community loved anything more. It was the one thing that could entertain you or distract you, that wasn't a chore. Especially if you were a woman -- although the men love to gossip just as much, everyone does it all day long. It's the first thing you turn to when you're hanging out with your friends, because it's a safe topic, it's never about you -- you'll only be discussed when you're not there. If someone cheats on their wife or husband, everybody knows; there's just this tacit agreement that no one will call you out on it. Everything you do will eventually become public knowledge, which is why I think a lot of Hasidic people are really afraid to break the big rules: They know there's no way they can keep it a secret. Even if they go over the bridge and change their clothes and end up in a bar somewhere, someone is going to find out.

I was actually in a bar a couple weeks ago on a Friday evening; it was late and I was playing scrabble with friends and listening to jazz, and on my way out I saw three Hasidic men in full regalia, waiting in line to get in. Which is normal -- they try to get in anywhere -- but it was Shabbat, and they weren't supposed to be away from home. They had obviously gone out of the community and gotten into a car and driven there, which is completely against the law. And these are people in the community who are supposed to be very holy and religious! Just as I walked past them, I said in Yiddish that I wished them a good Shabbas, and my friends walking behind me said that the look of panic on the men's faces was indescribable. I run into them everywhere and they look at me and think I'm safe -- that they don't know me -- and when I suddenly speak to them in Yiddish they go crazy wondering "Who are you, and who do you know that I know?"

Is the homosexuality among young Hasidic men that you mention in the book one of those open secrets, or is that tightly guarded?

Everybody knows, it's a big...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue