Born into one of the strictest sects of Judaism, the Satmar Hasidim, Deborah Feldman experienced a life of shelter and repression. Now she writes about her experience as part of one of the most impenetrable religious sects in America in her upcoming book Unorthodox (SOHO Press).
The Satmar Hasidim was founded in the 1950’s by Rabbi Teitelbaum in Williamsburg, NY. The movement boasts stricter rules than other Hasidic sects to prevent even the glimmer of assimilation to the rest of the world. Women are married young and are expected to have children and attend to their husbands while the men study Talmud fervently, never getting a formal education. This is the world that Deborah rejects.
From a very young age, Deborah had a spark of rebellion in her. At the age of twelve, she would sneak off to the public library in Brooklyn. Books became a nonthreatening way for Deborah to experience the way others lead their lives, especially other women like Ann of Green Gables or Jane Eyre. Soon, her love of literature blossomed into a love of writing. “My actual voice became a dangerous seductive tool, I learned to whisper instead of shout, and I began to write instead of speak, using the language of my library books to convey all my hopes and fears in a way in which they could never be criticized.”
At the age of 17, Deborah was married off and not long after she gave birth to a son. It would seem that her fate was sealed, but in an act of courage that most of us could not even imagine, she left it all. “I drove away from my marriage, and my religion, for good on the one eve of my 23rd birthday, with nothing but my son and some garbage bags filled with clothes. I changed my phone number and address and didn't tell anyone where I was.” It is hard to imagine what it is like to leave behind everything for a new life, especially one where everything is unfamiliar and new. Not long after she left, Deborah enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College where she is currently pursuing her degree. Her book Unorthodox detailing her life growing up in and eventually escaping her Hasidic community is forthcoming in 2012, SOHO Press.