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.