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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots Hardcover – February 14, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 961 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


One of O magazine's "10 Titles to Pick Up Now"

“Deborah Feldman was raised in an insular, oppressive world where she was taught that, as a woman, she wasn’t capable of independent thought. But she found the pluck and determination needed to make the break from that world and has written a brave, riveting account of her journey. Unorthodox is harrowing, yet triumphant.”—Jeannette Walls, #1 bestselling author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses

“[Feldman’s] matter-of-fact style masks some penetrating insights.”—The New York Times

“An unprecedented view into a Hasidic community that few outsiders ever experience. . . . Unorthodox reminds us that there are religious communities in the United States that restrict young women to marriage and motherhood. These women are expected to be obedient to their community and religion, without question or complaint, no matter the price.”Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Riveting . . . extraordinary.”—Marie Claire

“Eloquent, appealing, and just emotional enough . . . No doubt girls all over Brooklyn are buying this book, hiding it under their mattresses, reading it after lights out—and contemplating, perhaps for the first time, their own escape.”—HuffingtonPost.com

“Deborah Feldman has stripped the cloak off the insular Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, offering outsiders a rare glimpse into the ultraconservative world in which she was raised.”Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Compulsively readable, Unorthodox relates a unique coming-of-age story that manages to speak personally to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in her own life. Feldman bravely lays her soul bare, unflinchingly sharing intimate thoughts and ideas unthinkable within the deeply religious existence of the Satmars. . . . Teens will devour this candid, detailed memoir of an insular way of life so unlike that of the surrounding society.”—School Library Journal

“[Feldman’s] no-holds-barred memoir bookstores on February 14th. And it’s not exactly a Valentine to the insular world of shtreimels, sheitels and shtiebels. Instead, [Unorthodox] describes an oppressive community in which secular education is minimal, outsiders are feared and disdained, English-language books are forbidden, mental illness is left untreated, abuse and other crimes go unreported . . . a surprisingly moving, well-written and vivid coming-of-age tale.”The Jewish Week

“Imagine Frank McCourt as a Jewish virgin, and you've got Unorthodox in a nutshell . . . a sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[Deborah Feldman's] is an extraordinary story of struggle and dream. . . . Both her escape and her decision to tell her story are magnificent acts of courage.”—Anouk Markovits, author of I Am Forbidden

“Unorthodox is a fascinating book . . . Feldman’s voice resonates throughout.”The Jewish Daily Forward

“Denied every kind of nourishment except the doughy, shimmering plates of food obsessively produced by her Holocaust-survivor grandmother . . . books nourish [Feldman’s] spirit and put in her hands the liberatory power of storytelling. As she becomes a reader and then a writer, Feldman reinvents herself as a human being.”Newsday (New York)

Unorthodoz is painfully good. . . .Unlike so many other authors who have left Orthodoxy and written about it, [Feldman’s] heart is not hardened by hatred, and her spirit is wounded but intact. . . . She is a sensitive and talented writer.”—JewishJournal.com

Unorthodox is consistently engaging. And the very fact of it is touching. For years . . . [Feldman] examined library shelves, marveling that there were so many men and women who believed in their ‘innate right . . . to speak their mind in whatever way they saw fit.’ That she has joined their ranks is remarkable indeed.”—BarnesandNobleReview.com

“Feldman gives us special insight into a closed and repressive world. . . . Her memoir is fresh and tart and utterly absorbing.”Library Journal

“Nicely written . . . [An] engaging and at times gripping insight into Brooklyn's Hasidic community.”Publishers Weekly

“A remarkable tale.”Kirkus Reviews

“Feldman’s evolution as well as her look inside a closed community make for fascinating reading … her storyteller’s sense and a keen eye for details give readers a you-are-there sense of what it is like to be different when everyone else is the same.”Booklist

About the Author

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Fourth Edition edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439187002
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439187005
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (961 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I start with this title, because after reading many of the reviews below, it seems that most people have not, and there is a not so subtle battle ensuing as people are defending their belief system against those that offend it. The reviews below remind me of those surrounding "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, which simply became a battleground of athiests vs believers. Take most reviews and ratings with a grain of salt.

About the book:

1) This is a rare glimpse into the Satmar world, unique among books because a)The author is the rare person who got out b) She had the courage to write about it c) Has the decent enough English skills to do so (Yiddish is the first language for Satmar Jews)

2)It exposes the darker side of the Satmar sect, where religion is more a matter of appearances that true spiritual growth. It shows religious hypocrisy at its worst.

1) While the book is most certainly authentic in a general sense, I wonder about how much exaggeration there might be. The author is passionate and clearly has a very personal agenda. It remains a question how much the author allowed her emotions to stretch the truth at times. The incredulous murder story, (since debunked?) certainly lends some credence to these doubts.

2) The book seemed to delve into detail when such detail was boring, but often devoted only a short paragraph to matters that begged for more. Overall, there was too much on her childhood, not enough on the story of how she left.

3) While impressive for an ex-Hasid, it is not written particularly well.
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This is a very intriguing book because it gives an insight into growing up in the Orthodox Jewish Hasidic community of Satmar. Although I was familiar with other Hasidic sects, the Satmar were new to me. She explains it mostly through the eyes of a child so I had to do a bit of on-line research to learn more about them. The biggest surprise is their complete opposition to Israel - they believe they must wait for the coming of the Messiah to return to their homeland - but much of the daily life seems similar (to me) to other Hasidic communities. From childhood, she longed for more in both learning and reading. She had to sneak to read English language books as they were forbidden but her hunger drove her to take the risk and she became fluent in English. This would help her professionally but also cause her to keep questioning what she saw around her. (Perhaps her elders were right - English leads to trouble, particularly for women!)

I know there will be criticism from some in the Jewish community who consider Ms. Feldman an apostate for leaving Orthodoxy, but leaving aside those ideological issues, there is a lot to learn from this book. I think she is careful to write very kindly of her grandparents (who raised her) even though her leaving must have been a great blow to them (she does not write about that) but she is frankly critical of the rigid rules and some of the hypocrisy she saw. I admire her honesty. And in her defense, this kind of expose could be written about many other closed groups - Amish, Morman, Christian fundamentalist, Muslims, Catholic monasteries, etc. In such an insular environment anyone who rebels against the group must appear to be a traitor to those who remain.
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Format: Hardcover
Ms. Deborah Feldman's memoir drew me in immediately and held my attention throughout. Eleven-year-old Deborah is living in Williamsburg, NY in the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community with her grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy, who have raised 11 children, and aunt, Chaya, as primary care givers at the time this tale begins. Her father is mentally disabled and her mother is not in the picture at this point. Deborah is in the "smart" sixth grade class at the Satmar girls' school, where her aunt is principal of the elementary division. As the story continues to unfold throughout Ms. Feldman's teenage years, it becomes clear she is being groomed like the other Hasidic girls to marry at a young age, raise a large family and submit to the will of the elders in the church and community. She is an inquisitive child who loves to read a variety of secular books, something that is forbidden. She relays fond memories of working in the kitchen and talking with Bubby. Though she also has fond memories of Zeidy she recalls his severe frugality, forbidding her grandmother to buy new things to replace those that are worn out, such as threadbare carpets, even though he is a wealthy man. We learn that Bubby is a Holocaust survivor "near death from typhus by the time liberation came" and "whose every relation was brutally murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz while she labored in the factories of Bergen-Belson." Deborah graduates early without a New York State high school diploma, "for I will never be allowed to find work beyond the few positions available for women in our society." She does get a job teaching sixth grade in the girls' Hasidic school, while her aunt and grandparents undertake the search to find a husband for Deborah employing the services of a matchmaker.Read more ›
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