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Here and There
Cover of Here and There
Here and There
Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family
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A heartfelt and inspiring personal account of a woman raised as a Lubavitcher Hasid who leaves that world without leaving the family that remains within it.

Even as a child, Chaya Deitsch felt that she didn't belong in the Hasidic world into which she'd been born. She spent her teenage years outwardly conforming to but secretly rebelling against the rules that tell you what and when to eat, how to dress, whom you can befriend, and what you must believe. Loving her parents, grandparents, and extended family, Chaya struggled to fit in but instead felt angry, stifled, and frustrated. Upon receiving permission from her bewildered but supportive parents to attend Barnard College, she discovered a wider world in which she could establish an independent identity and fulfill her dream of an unconfined life that would be filled with the secular knowledge and culture that were largely foreign to her friends and relatives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As she gradually shed the physical and spiritual trappings of Hasidic life, Chaya found herself torn between her desire to be honest with her parents about who she now was and her need to maintain a loving relationship with the family that she still very much wanted to be part of.

Eventually, Chaya and her parents came to an understanding that was based on unqualified love and a hard-won but fragile form of acceptance. With honesty, sensitivity, and intelligence, Chaya Deitsch movingly shows us that lives lived differently do not have to be lives lived apart.

From the Hardcover edition.
A heartfelt and inspiring personal account of a woman raised as a Lubavitcher Hasid who leaves that world without leaving the family that remains within it.

Even as a child, Chaya Deitsch felt that she didn't belong in the Hasidic world into which she'd been born. She spent her teenage years outwardly conforming to but secretly rebelling against the rules that tell you what and when to eat, how to dress, whom you can befriend, and what you must believe. Loving her parents, grandparents, and extended family, Chaya struggled to fit in but instead felt angry, stifled, and frustrated. Upon receiving permission from her bewildered but supportive parents to attend Barnard College, she discovered a wider world in which she could establish an independent identity and fulfill her dream of an unconfined life that would be filled with the secular knowledge and culture that were largely foreign to her friends and relatives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As she gradually shed the physical and spiritual trappings of Hasidic life, Chaya found herself torn between her desire to be honest with her parents about who she now was and her need to maintain a loving relationship with the family that she still very much wanted to be part of.

Eventually, Chaya and her parents came to an understanding that was based on unqualified love and a hard-won but fragile form of acceptance. With honesty, sensitivity, and intelligence, Chaya Deitsch movingly shows us that lives lived differently do not have to be lives lived apart.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One It's been a few months since my grandmother's passing, and I'm in my office, typing away, when I happen to glance at the clock at the bottom of my screen. It's three thirty on a Friday afternoon. I do a quick calculation—mid-December means Sabbath candle lighting is early, a bit past four o'clock—and I call my parents' house. These pre-Shabbos conversations are a ritual with us, a demonstration of my peculiar brand of filial dedication, but I cringe as the phone rings. My father picks up.

    "Hi, it's me," I say.

    "Hi," he says. "Are you home yet?"

    "No, but I'm out the door." My heart sinks with the lie that we both know I've just told him.

    "What are you doing for Shabbos?"

    Every week, it's the same question, from both of my parents. As if this time I will finally give them the answer that they've never stopped hoping they will hear: That I'm planning to attend services at a nearby shul, where I'll meet the "Stu Schwartz, DDS, of my dreams," as my sisters and I have named him. That a Crock-Pot has materialized on my cramped kitchen counter and is cooking a cholent for tomorrow's lunch. I toy with telling the truth for once: that I'll be at work until six and then plan to meet a friend for a movie, and that on Saturday I'll go to the gym and then shop for shoes. But I don't, of course.

    "Oh, nothing really," I say. "Just the usual."

    A moment of silence from my father. "Okay, then. Have a good Shabbos."

    "You, too. Same to Mom."

    When it comes to the particulars of religious observance, my parents and their adult children operate under a strict don't-ask-don't-tell policy. By tacit agreement established back when each of us went off to college, we keep the various aspects of our lives WASPily compartmentalized to avoid the mess of confrontation with our parents. But we're also a tight group, fiercely protective and acutely, if not always accurately, sensitized to one another's moods and silences. To the chagrin of my brothers-in-law, my four sisters and I are in constant communication, relaying news about whom we saw and talked to, and what we're eating, watching, wearing, reading, and worrying about. When Ella broke a tooth skiing, the rest of us knew about it practically before she'd unzipped her parka. My parents are looped into the network for the most part, but with the controversial bits edited out or replaced with religiously acceptable alternatives: Saturday travel is moved to Sunday, new trousers morph into skirts, a steak at Peter Luger's becomes cocktails with work friends, and relationships with inappropriate men simply don't exist. It hurts to think about the wedge these fabrications drive between my parents and me, and the self-diminishment of my life, but difficult truths seem to stick in my gullet. I'm not fooling them, I know, but I can't bear to say difficult things.

    Friends have remarked wistfully on my family's closeness. We were not ever thus, I hasten to assure to them. As children, we fought and argued as all siblings do, jostling for emotional and physical territory, for sole parental attention. And being the eldest, I surely grabbed, or at least demanded, more than my fair share. Today, I know how fortunate I am to have the family relationships that I do, but I also know that clannishness has its price: subsuming the self for the good of the collective. In fact, this type of intense bonding isn't unusual in our circles. As with most Lubavitchers, loyalty and obedience have been hardwired into our brains, spooned into us like pabulum since birth.

    The practice of Orthodox Judaism today encompasses a web of variations that may seem like...
About the Author-
  • CHAYA DEITSCH graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in English literature and received her M.A. from Columbia University. She has held editorial positions at Viking Penguin and Little, Brown, and now works as a financial writer in New York City.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 10, 2015
    In this heartfelt and honest memoir, Deitsch shares the story of her tumultuous journey to find her own way while keeping ties with her family intact. Torn between loyalty to her family, practitioners of Lubavitch Hasidism, and her own growing unhappiness with the rules and restrictions placed upon her, Deitsch recounts the vicissitudes of living a life filled with internal conflict. Although she doubts much, she feels the power of the Lubavitcher rebbe, the brilliant spiritual leader whom she fears can see her “dark and secret thoughts.” She lives an untenable existence: “Unable to escape, however, I float in a middle space, a psychic refuge.” Her story—from childhood only through college graduation, leaving readers wondering what has become of her in the decades since (besides a brief afterword)—is permeated with discontent, but never disrespect, and laced with love for and from her family. It is perhaps Deitsch’s parents who are the real heroes of this story, straddling expectations of family and community while stretching to accept their daughter’s needs.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2015

    Deitsch, a financial writer, grew up Lubavitcher Hasidic yet never felt a strong sense of religious belonging. She was rankled by the position of women in traditional Judaism, even as she loved spending time with her extended family. While many such stories would end in ostracism, this book is about how the author found her own way while maintaining family and community relationships. Owing to her parents' attitudes and the general nature of Lubavitchers toward outreach, she was able to explore the wider world without being fully engaged in its practices. At the same time, this meant that she had to compartmentalize her life to do so safely. Ultimately, Deitsch exists in the secular environment and keeps close ties with her loved ones and neighbors. Writing this memoir allowed her to reveal her desires to her family. Warm, funny, and genuine, Deitsch's style makes her story relatable, since we all have experienced difficulty disclosing parts of ourselves. VERDICT A very enjoyable debut for fans of Jewish life memoirs.--Margaret Heller, Loyola Univ. Chicago Libs.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    November 15, 2015
    There have been several recent books about people leaving an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and the heartache that such a transition entails, often with the fallen away having to cut all family ties. So it's refreshing to read a memoir in which, though the author struggles internally with her decision, her family accepts her choice. We know this because the book begins as Deitsch returns to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the epicenter of the Lubavitcher movement, for a funeral. She's been trying to write a history of the remarkable women in her family but realizes the story she needs to write is her own. From childhood, Deitsch felt at odds with her Hasidic community, where life revolved around rules and the Rebbe's pronouncements. Even after her family moves away and adopts a more liberal life, Deitsch feels aggrieved. There's nothing very dramatic here, and the most surprising element is the lack of opposition she faces. Since the book ends before true adulthood, readers get only hints of how family acceptance evolved. But Deitsch writes engagingly in a smart, true voice that makes readers want to know even more.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

  • Ari L. Goldman, author of The Search for God at Harvard "Like the clothes they favor, Hasidic Jews are often portrayed as black or white. Either all-in or all-out. Live by the community strictures or separate. In this brave, honest, and forthright book, Chaya Deitsch shows us another path, as she navigates between her need to be free and her longing to stay connected."
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