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Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls Hardcover – November 26, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0814751923 ISBN-10: 081475192X

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (November 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081475192X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814751923
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,793,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This absorbing ethnography acts as one subculture's corrective to Reviving Ophelia, in that it offers a refreshing portrait of adolescent girls who are far from insecure. In this refreshing portrayal of girls who are far from insecure, Levine presents a contrasting path to that of mainstream adolescent girls. While a graduate student in American studies at Harvard, Levine spent a year living as a "participant observer" in the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, entering with the following assumption: "The possibility that these girls' lives could be anything other than the Platonic essence of feminine subjugation seemed as unlikely as a suckling pig on a Shabbos table." What she found instead is that Lubavitch culture nurtures most girls' inner and outer voices. Though they are not immune from adolescent concerns about fashion, weight, looks and cliques, the Lubavitch emphasis on each person's godly mission to bring the Messiah deepens their spiritual outlook; the single-sex environment in which they mature helps develop vibrant, expressive personalities. Those who clash with Orthodox strictures, however, experience intense and painful struggles. From interviews with 32 girls ages 13 to 23, Levine found "downright juicy" material and culled seven portraits of girls (disguised in name and background) in their "idiosyncratic splendor." The essays are sometimes repetitive within the context of the entire book, as if Levine wrote each to stand on its own, but her bright, lively narrative compensates. Levine invites readers to share the "pure delight" of knowing these girls, and challenges us to draw on Hasidism as an unexpected source in helping our own girls develop into secure, confident adults.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers presents a comprehensive snapshot of women's experience in Crown Heights . . . Levine's personal response to the Lubavitcher way of life weaves itself into each chapter and is one of the book's most engaging aspects."
-Eric Caplan,CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

"Stephanie Levine's book is full of surprises."


"In an age that is at times overly concerned with girls' self-destruction, here is a welcome sign of girls' strength and healthy development. Levine teaches an important and seldom taught lesson: we may find resilience where we least expect it. Her unprecedented insight into this hidden culture is an important addition to the growing body of work on girls.”

-Rachel Simmons,author of Odd Girl Out

"In an era seemingly plagued with sex, anorexia and depression among our nation's girls, a page from Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers is a refreshing peek into the possibilities for growth, strength and self."

-The Jewish New Weekly of Northern California,

"Lively tales of girls who long for the lives of male scholars, and rebels who visit strip clubs, smoke pot, and dream of high-powered careers."

-Books to Watch out For,

Customer Reviews

It was very interesting to read the stories presented in this book.
Baya Dee Walls
In her book, Mystics, Mavericks, & Merrymakers, Stephanie Levine tells the stories of seven teenage Hasidic girls from the Lubavitch sect of Judaism.
It was inspiring to me as a mother of a girl as well; I want my daughter to have some of the passion and commitment displayed in these pages!
R. Dragon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Mike Adams on October 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I loved "Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers." Levine portrays a wide range of Chassidic teenage girls with depth and respect. Rebels, mystics, popular girls, and geeks all come to life on these pages. I had so much fun getting the inside scoop on the Lubavitch community and the girls' various thoughts and adventures.

"Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers" entertains like the best novels, but the fact that it's nonfiction gives it even more power because we're reading the truth (Levine does explain that some aspects were fictionalized in order to maintain the girls' privacy). The pages abound with perceptive characterization, rich description, and a wonderful sense of place.

My favorite part of this book involves wonderful chapters that describe individual Chassidic girls. Also, I was amazed how much I learned about Orthodox Jewish observance and Chassidic thought from reading this book. Dietary laws, prayer, holidays, dress codes, sexual relations, Chassidic philosophy, and so much else comes up.

What really surprised me was how much insight this book gives into the lives of teenage girls, and people in general, outside the Chassidic world. In the introduction, and more thoroughly in the conclusion, Levine discusses how surprisingly well-adjusted many of these Lubavitch young women are, and she offers thoughtful, sensitive suggestions about what this community can teach the rest of us. But she never lets us forget that the community is terribly hard for the girls who can't or won't fit in, like those who stop believing, or who lack the desire to become Chassidic wives and mothers.

What impressed me most is this: "Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers" describes a small pocket of the world in a way that makes it seem universal.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By F. Orion Pozo on April 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book as a non-Jew who was interested in Hasidism. This particular book attracted me because I am the parent of two teen-age daughters. Having close contact with the problems my daughters face in the modern world I felt would help me understand the issues of Hasidic young women. Although the book is not designed to give a rigorous introduction to Hasidism, I am quite delighted by Stephanie Levine's work and the chance it has given me to have a glimpse into the spiritual and mundane issues of modern Lubavitch Hasidism.
Far from being a broad review of young Hasidic women, Levine focuses on the Lubaticher sect of Hasidism and its community in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. She spent over a year living with and interviewing the students, teachers, and parents associated with the Bais Rivka Lubavitch high school, a girls-only school.
Hasidic girls have very little contact with males outside their immediate families. Their religious beliefs allow them only the slightest contacts with the world outside their community. Popular videos and music are not allowed and dietary restrictions only allow eating in the most kosher of restaurants. The "mavericks" part of the title has to do with the rebellious response that the young women sometimes bring to these severe restraints.
The "mystics" aspect of the title has to do with the deeply spiritual aspects of Hasidism where every thought and action of an individual's life has cosmic implications as the community does all it can to bring about the coming of the messiah. The last chaper of this book, "Into The Future," begins with a wonderfully clear and concise description of Lubavitch mystical beliefs.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Wahler on December 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
MYSTICS, MAVERICKS, AND MERRYMAKERS is an incredible read. Who would have thought that Hasidic girls would be so diverse, or that one writer could capture each one of these teenagers' spirits with such depth? I'm still thinking about the young women: the charismatic but hard to control kid with passionate faith, the brilliant nonconformist who flirts with suicide, the intense nerd who is so religious her peers have trouble understanding her, and so many others. This book is a masterpiece of creative empathy-it's incredible how well the author communes with each girl's hopes and struggles.
Levine's writing is exquisite. I still have lovely phrases of hers etched in my mind. I can't remember when I last read a book that taught me so much in such beautiful language. The conclusion's ideas about how readers could learn from the Hasidic community as they try to negotiate their own lives are fascinating-this book really has wide relevance beyond Hasidic borders. Levine's analysis at the end of what it all means will blow you away.
Levine is a wonderful storyteller; I got engrossed in these girls' lives. It was incredible to see how different they were from most Americans, with their strict laws and intriguing rituals, and yet how well I could relate to their struggles, thoughts, and triumphs.
When I say this book is fabulous, I mean it as a sincere and honest critic. I can't recommend Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers highly enough.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having been Lubavitch, I read Levine's book as both former insider and outsider. Her portrayal of the Lubavitch world captured its essence, and her description of the variety of personalities within it was also apt. Unlike an earlier reviewer, I considered the deliberate care taken to obscure the identities of the girls to be important and in keeping with academic ethics.

The Lubavitch world holds within it a certain comfort and certainty, simply because all the answers are there. Unfortunately, as we read in the cases of several of the girls portrayed in this book, there is little to no place for the girl or woman who thinks critically, questions the tenets of Chabad-Lubavitch, or who is called to higher education. For example, I wonder if one of the women portrayed ever completed her medical training.

An excellent study that offers the reader insightful glimpses into the world of Lubavitch girls.
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More About the Author

Stephanie Wellen Levine's first book, MYSTICS, MAVERICKS, AND MERRYMAKERS: AN INTIMATE JOURNEY AMONG HASIDIC GIRLS, has attracted considerable attention. It received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, followed by enthusiastic reviews and feature articles in a wide range of publications throughout the United States, Israel, and the UK. Stephanie has spoken about her book on several television and radio programs, including CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and the Leonard Lopate Show. She has also done many public lectures at universities, synagogues, churches, community centers, libraries, and other venues. Stephanie loves talking about her book and welcomes queries about future engagements. MYSTICS, MAVERICKS, AND MERRYMAKERS has won the 2004 Moment Book Award, sponsored by Moment Magazine, and was selected for the Hadassah Book Club reading list.

Stephanie holds an A.B. from Brown University and a Ph.D. from Harvard's American studies program. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, MA.

Since her first book came out, Stephanie has very much enjoyed speaking with people who have read it. She would like to thank all of you for your interest in her work. Of course, she hopes you'll read her future books as well and will keep you posted on any new developments.

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Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls
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