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Unorthodox
Cover of Unorthodox
Unorthodox
The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
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Now a Netflix original series!

Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman's escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel and Carolyn Jessop's Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.
As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah's desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.

Remarkable and fascinating, this "sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is one you won't be able to put down.
Now a Netflix original series!

Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman's escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel and Carolyn Jessop's Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.
As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah's desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.

Remarkable and fascinating, this "sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is one you won't be able to put down.
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    Prologue

    On the eve of my twenty-fourth birthday I interview my mother. We meet at a vegetarian restaurant in Manhattan, one that announces itself as organic and farm-fresh, and despite my recent penchant for all things pork and shellfish, I am looking forward to the simplicity the meal promises. The waiter who serves us is conspicuously gentile-looking, with scruffy blond hair and big blue eyes. He treats us like royalty because we are on the Upper East Side and are prepared to shell out a hundred bucks for a lunch consisting largely of vegetables. I think it is ironic that he doesn't know that the two of us are outsiders, that he automatically takes our existence for granted. I never thought this day would come.

    Before we met, I told my mother that I had some questions for her. Although we've spent more time together over the past year than we did in all my teenage years put together, thus far I've mostly avoided talking about the past. Perhaps I did not want to know. Maybe I didn't want to find out that whatever information had been fed to me about my mother was wrong, or maybe I didn't want to accept that it was right. Still, publishing my life story calls for scrupulous honesty, and not just my own.

    A year ago to this date I left the Hasidic community for good. I am twenty-four and I still have my whole life ahead of me. My son's future is chock-full of possibilities. I feel as if I have made it to the starting line of a race just in time to hear the gun go off. Looking at my mother, I understand that there might be similarities between us, but the differences are more glaringly obvious. She was older when she left, and she didn't take me with her. Her journey speaks more of a struggle for security than happiness. Our dreams hover above us like clouds, and mine seem bigger and fluffier than her wispy strip of cirrus high in a winter sky.

    As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted everything from life, everything it can possibly give me. This desire separates me from people who are willing to settle for less. I cannot even comprehend how people's desires can be small, their ambitions narrow and limited, when the possibilities are so endless. I do not know my mother well enough to understand her dreams; for all I know, they seem big and important to her, and I want to respect that. Surely, for all our differences, there is that thread of common ground, that choice we both made for the better.

    My mother was born and raised in a German Jewish community in England. While her family was religious, they were not Hasidic. A child of divorce, she describes her young self as troubled, awkward, and unhappy. Her chances of marrying, let alone marrying well, were slim, she tells me. The waiter puts a plate of polenta fries and some black beans in front of her, and she shoves her fork in a fry.

    When the choice of marrying my father came along, it seemed like a dream, she says between bites. His family was wealthy, and they were desperate to marry him off. He had siblings waiting for him to get engaged so that they could start their own lives. He was twenty-four, unthinkably old for a good Jewish boy, too old to be single. The older they get, the less likely they are to be married off. Rachel, my mother, was my father's last shot.

    Everyone in my mother's life was thrilled for her, she remembers. She would get to go to America! They were offering a beautiful, brand-new apartment, fully furnished. They offered to pay for everything. She would receive beautiful clothes and jewelry. There were many sisters-in-law who were excited to become her friends.

    "So they were nice to you?" I ask, referring to my aunts and...

About the Author-
  • Deborah Feldman was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. She lives in Berlin with her son.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 10, 2011
    Born into the insular and exclusionary Hasidic community of Satmar in Brooklyn to a mentally disabled father and a mother who fled the sect, Feldman, as she recounts in this nicely written memoir, seemed doomed to be an outsider from the start. Raised by devout grandparents who forbade her to read in English, the ever-curious child craved books outside the synagogue teaching. Feldman’s spark of rebellion started with sneaking off to the library and hiding paperback novels under her bed. Her boldest childhood revolution: she buys an English translation of the Talmud, which would otherwise be kept from her, so that she might understand the prayers and stories that are the fabric of her existence. At 17, hoping to be free of the scrutiny and gossip of her circle, she enters into an arranged marriage with a man she meets once before the wedding. Instead, having received no sex education from a culture that promotes procreation and repression simultaneously, she and her husband are unable to consummate the relationship for a year. The absence of a sex life and failure to produce a child dominate her life, with her family and in-laws supplying constant pressure. She starts to experience panic attacks and the stirrings of her final break with being Hasidic. It’s when she finally does get pregnant and wants something more for her child that the full force of her uprising takes hold and she plots her escape. Feldman, who now attends Sarah Lawrence College, offers this engaging and at times gripping insight into Brooklyn’s Hasidic community.

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    Simon & Schuster
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Unorthodox
The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
Deborah Feldman
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