Friday, February 24, 2012

Op Ed: My Indian Prayer

Indian Prayer: Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor without walking a mile in his moccasin.

Having read all web content relating to this story, and having analyzed all sides and angles of this debate, I find myself feeling quite despondent. There seems to be no middle ground and no consensus or understanding on either side of the isle.

On the one hand there is the issue of many of her claims as being fabricated or at least highly exaggerated. There is also the issue of disclosing highly personal information about her ex and close family members. While both of these may be infuriating to people who know the facts to be otherwise, personally I concur with the viewpoint that Deborah Feldman has written a Memoir, and as such she is describing her personal experience. Whether it is exaggerated or not does not detract from the way she perceived events.

Granted.  I will not judge Deborah Feldman. Thank God I belong to a very cohesive ultra-orthodox Chassidic family and as such have never experienced the neglect, abuse, and confinement that Deborah claims was her unjust allotment in life. Hopefully she will create for herself a life of happiness and fulfillment for both herself and her child.

But here’s my beef. It may be true that once someone leaves our communities , perceptually, they aren’t bound to its rules and mores.  They may even choose to express the pain they experienced while in it. However, no man or woman who boldly assert to have found the forbidden nectar of enlightenment, will spout prejudice as a virtue, and racism as an achievement. I find paradoxical Deborah’s claim of freedom and enlightenment when the direct effect of her memoir is one of communal damnation. 

Even a cursory perusal of the reviews and comments on Amazon and the likes will tell you a sad tale. Basically every negative review is automatically viewed as “one of those Hasids sitting in a room with an alert on Deborah Feldmans name with an axe to grind”. The conspiracy has even been captured on screen shots from Face Book.  Ironically it is many in the ex-hasidic community who have expressed their pain at the consequences of this stabbing memoir. However the bill has already been passed. “No credibility is to be granted to any dissenting voice”.  Hasids, yes its those hasids at it again, trying to tear down poor Deborah”.

My message to Deborah: Don’t perpetuate your sojourn of suffering and misery by delivering even more people into the vices of prejudice. Yes Deborah, stereotyping hurts.  Do not do to others what you didn’t want done to yourself.

“If you give me that licorice I’ll be your friend” works only for children; for cognitive comprehensions that haven’t developed enough to differentiate past black and white. For adults though, relationships become complicated. There are too many details involved to sum it up in a piece of licorice. People foreign to a culture, and in this case Hasidism, view it with childish perceptions of  black and white. And how can they not. Did they walk a mile in the Hasidic moccasin? Of course not.  Is it fathomable for someone who didn’t grow up in a Mennonite community to comprehend their inner system of logic? Perceptions of right versus wrong? Their spiritual experiences?

When Humans meet Martians from zones yonder they ask but one question. “Do these otherly beings  give us our licorice? Do they agree with our  concept of right and wrong?”  No. They dont. Period. End of discussion. Hasids, yes its those hasids at it again, trying to cover up their oppressions”.

There are those bloggers and commenters who are saying “They haven’t even read the book, this is a book about coming of age and the people Deborah knew in her life, not an indictment on religion or Satmar”. And that’s where it hurts. Western life is all about marketing and perceptions. What counts is not what you said or wrote, what matters is how people will perceive you. The buck stops at the window of perception. And this time Simon and Schuster zoomed their peeping-tom cameras in lewdly.

The perception out there, from uptown Bloggersville downtown to Orthodoxsville, is that a fading stereotype has once again been resurrected. Oh Lord.

It is to the eternal credit of great men and women of spirit that racism and prejudice have been greatly contained in the 20th century. It still exists, however, albeit in different formats. We can’t call you the N word so we find other creative ways. We say “they are all hasids trying to protect their oppressive lifestyle, hey, look at their writings, it IS full of spelling mistakes and errors.”

For shame. The great legacies of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rabbi Abraham J Heschel have been dealt a blow.

Objectively speaking are bloggers and commenters doing something wrong? I think not; you cannot expect people to be super human, neither secular people nor Hasidim. People are people. Most of us aren’t philosophers or saints, we are just average Joes, Deborahs and  Joels trying to be as good as humanly possible. Power however comes with a price; power corrupts.

My message to Simon and Schuster:  Are you a beacon of justice for the oppressed, or have you become so high and mighty that you have evolved into the new aggressor? You milked an ex-Hasids past for publicity and a few bucks. For shame.

I’ve self-righteously condemned and blamed everyone else, now let me take myself and my fellow Chassidic brothers and sisters to task. Yes it hurts when we feel that the criticism leveled at us is not intended to be constructive. We do ourselves no favor, however, when in our battle for self-defense, we deny that there is much to be improved in our communities. Times are changing and what has worked in the past does not carry an infinite pass of effectiveness. Many obstacles lie before us in adapting our Chassidic lifestyle to a modern age, so that we maintain its vast benefits, without losing our spiritual message.

My prayer. l pray that we will carry an iconic vision of “Deborah” with us and never underestimate what emotional issues and neglect can drive a person to do. There are many, many of us who lead fulfilling lives, have pursued an education, and have found ways to deal with disturbing cultural habits. It is our obligation to share wisdom, warmth and compassion to those struggling amongst us.  And for those waiting to pounce on me that “you see, all they want is to keep their own locked in”. You are correct; we believe that we have the most chances of leading successful lives under the Torahs guidelines, somewhere relatively close to the family structures we have been raised in. Yes, you may disagree, but please be so respectful as to not write a book glorifying those that  escape this 'evil mindset'. That having been said, “The Torah” is vast indeed; there are many options available for those seeking to educate themselves and to help themselves overcome emotional traumas and difficulties. The cries of our anguished brethren behoove us to grow and share together.

And that my friends, is my take, on the takeway.



    Not meant to step on your toes, but meant to step it up a bit more. #2, I was getting tired of posting comments to other people on her FB page and then having her, not only erase what I wrote, but ban me from writing. I advertised you webpage the first post.

  2. Perhaps Simon and Schuster can next publish an expose on the naivete and/or evil mindedness of the likes of Joseph Lieberman and Jack Lew, two of hundreds of thousands of proud Orthodox Jews. (ha)

    It might make the bestseller list.

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  4. Nicely written Mr Shimanowitz!

    I would like to make 2 obvious points.

    1)You are not a UTA graduate.

    2)You may have read all reviews but you did not read the Book.

  5. I have to concur to Ban Bag Bag's points. Specifically the second. How can you, without so much as a glance at the book, write a full-blown review of the book with messages to Ms. Feldman and Simon & Schuster? How do you even propose they (or any other objective reader, for that matter) should take you seriously?

    I also have to point out tha in two Yiddish internet forums where Feldman's book was discussed, participants were urged to post negative reviews on Amazon. See here and here. Interestingly enough, Ms. Feldman's book was rated five stars and was the 5th most best sold book on amazon before the two mentioned threads started, and only two days later it was down to 3.5 stars, with over 20 new reviews, all of them negative.

  6. I cant imagine why the ratings sunk so low!!!!

    Its an amazing five star work of fiction!

    To begin with:
    Women graduate school at a 4th grade level-false.
    Women have a curfew-false.
    Women cant go to restaurants-false.
    I can go on and on.

    Had she attempted to balance her often false or exaggerated negativity by pointing to some of the many virtues and benefits existing in her former lifestyle and admit that even though she doesn't agree or believe or doesn't have innate discipline, there's much to be admired in this lifestyle and it has many gainful attributes, she might have deserved some respect. After all even a broken clock is right twice a day. Orthodoxy has to have some advantages, even to those who choose not to practice. Personally, I believe there are many advantages even in Chassidism, even though I’m very far from Chassidic.

    No such thing. In her eyes, the Orthodox lifestyle is all nonsense. With all this she hopes to come out looking like a saviour for her efforts. A modern day saint. Abandoning religious observance totally became her key to happiness. She feels she’s the brilliant enlightened heroine, who can transform the lives of everyone who is religious and naive, if they'd only experience the sweetness of her freedom.

    She doesn’t differentiate between Chassidism and modern day Orthodoxy, whose followers observe the Torah similarly, but are highly educated with advanced degrees. There are great differences.

    No, this is not a book limited to her personal troubled saga, this book details her perceptions of an entire community, as if most in the community secretly agree with her and are envious of what she’s become. Her income perhaps, otherwise, no. Not true.

    I pity her for her pain and confusion and newfound aimless free fun, but I pity her son more, for having to live with and learn life’s lessons from a hateful, guiltless, vengeful person, who smugly chooses to mock and ridicule Orthodox people, with the ugly title of her book, hundreds of thousands of whom she has never met and never will. Id love to read a book authored by her son in future years, detailing what it was like growing up with her as a mother. It would be especially interesting if he ever decides to be religious. It could happen. The BT movement is alive and kicking, mostly with highly educated and intellectual advocates.

    Kardashian she's not. No beauty. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Einstein she's not. No genius. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Joan Rivers she's not. No comedienne. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Just a babbling buffoon, a seethingly hateful person whose uppermost goal is fun.
    And that IS her choice.

    She is an example of what not to become, what not to aspire to be, capitalizing on hate, mockery, meanness and exaggeration.

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  8. Is Ms Feldman negatively impressed with Jack Lew, Obama's Chief of Staff and Senator Joseph Lieberman, two highly admired Orthodox Jews, among hundreds of thousands worldwide? Does she even know who they are?

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  10. Abe99:"Is Ms Feldman negatively impressed with Jack Lew, Obama's Chief of Staff and Senator Joseph Lieberman, two highly admired Orthodox Jews, among hundreds of thousands worldwide?"

    No, she's highly impressed with them. What relevance does it have to her book, to the alleged lies therein and to the discussion?

  11. This is the first review on the book i have seen written from the frum side of the aisle with out personall attacks and condemning the autor, or her life choices. You so eloquently brought out the Torah response to this entire controversy without the usual mudslinging
    Kudos Rabbi shimanowitz!
    We need more people like you in our community

  12. I think that despite all our comments and blogs, there will be no media coverage of our response to the shocking allegations, slander and defamation of our community; and our attempt to set the record straight. The false portrayal of our people remain in the minds of the many impressionable readers of the book and inevitably impacts us negatively. The way to stop this gross injustice is to publicly shame those who partook in it. By taking out a spread in the New York Times etc. chastising Simon & Schuster and Barbara Walters etc. for their inefficiency in their respective fields by not verifying its authenticity first and not properly investigating the facts and thus enabling such a horrific assault on our community.

    1. Miry, Barbara Walters has NO shame. As far as the WORLD is considered, they believe that the media, especially Hollywood, the entertainment business (publishing included), is OWNED and controlled by US, Jewish People. That is one of the most common stereotype of US Jews besides the fact that we all have money and are stingy. IF we want people to think differently of us then we need to tell and show them. However there will always be those that will never listen because they have been taught to hate and WE are their preferred targets - note I did not say victims. To imply that we are like lambs being led to slaughter or blindly going along with the open hatred being spewed by people all around the world by any form of media that anyone is willing to listen to or read, including the internet. Hatred among Jews should not be our focus or rallying point. United we stand, divided we fall.

  13. Having just finished reading this book, and although a Jew, NOT in the Chassidic community and never was(probably canceling me out by all of you IN that community), can't this author's memoirs be just that, her memoirs? She has the fundamental right to express her opinion which seems to be the oppression of females in this religious sect. I see no slander, no sensationalism, no antisematism, because this is a memoir. Period. Lighten up people.