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on 29 March 2012
I bought this book and managed to read it over two days (gone are the days when I was young, free and childless enough to complete it in a single day). I have given it 4 stars, because I think 3 were not enough but I think 3 1/2 would be closer to the mark - call me a pedant if you like! I am very well versed in reading books written by young women (usually, but not exclusively, Muslim) who escape from unsatisfactory lives due to abuse or overly strict familial interpretation of religion or a combination of both, so for me the genre was more of the same but the ethnic background (in this case Hasidic Jewish) was a refreshing change from that which I am used to.

Deborah describes her Satmar Hasidic Jewish upbringing in Williamsburg, New York City. Her mother had left her in circumstances which are not completely made clear to her until later life, and her father wafts in and out of her life owing to him being unable to care for Deborah as he suffers from enduring mental health problems. She is brought up by her unemotional grandparents who are survivors of the holocaust, and her upbringing is strict - no TV, radio, no books other than those she studies at school, and little interaction with others outside of her family and certainly not with the wider community outside the Satmar neighbourhood where she lives.

However Deborah has a mind that cannot be constrained by the limitations of her faith and from an early age she finds herself mentally questioning some of the tenets of Judaism. This sometimes manifests itself in acts of rebellion such as borrowing books from the library or buying them whenever possible - both acts would be considered morally reprehensible by her community; first books on Judaism in English which help her make sense of what she only learns in Yiddish or (to her) incomprehensible Hebrew, and later novels by Jane Austen and Roald Dahl amongst others, which she must read in secrecy. These works open up a whole world of ideas and possibilities to a very cloistered teenager, and she sees herself reflected in the protagonists of these books.

She details how she is introduced to her husband by family members and her subsequent marriage to a man she only gets to meet twice before their wedding. Her reading has led her to have high hopes for at least some romance with the man with whom she would spend the rest of her life, but his lack of backbone in the face of interfering, gossip-mongering family quickly dashes these hopes. Her description of the mikvah or ritual bathing undertaken by brides and married women is harrowing in how demeaning and and domineering other older women can be and how they can try to assert their power over still-adolescent girls.

What shocked me the most was Deborah's friend Golda's description of her wedding night;

"There was blood everywhere-on the bed, on the walls. I had to go to the hospital." Her face creases suddenly and I think she is going to cry, but she takes a deep breath and smiles bravely. "He went into the wrong place. It ruptured my colon. Oh, Devoireh, you can't imagine the pain. It was so bad!"

To imagine any young person going into marriage totally ignorant of their own anatomy or the act of sex in the 21st century is beyond belief and to keep anyone this innocent does not strike me as sensible or endeavouring to keep children and youths 'pure' but almost barbarically cruel. I would like to read more about the Hasidim generally to get a balanced view, but I'll never forget Golda's experience.

I would have liked to have seen a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms used in the book as very few of the phrases are translated and thus many concepts can be lost as a result. The book is not very fast-paced and the early-life chapters do plod along rather, but in a sense this adds to the sense of a lonely, rather boring childhood and of course I never bought Unorthodox expecting action packed memoirs, but just to warn you really of the slow pace. Again, if anyone reads this expecting a positive review of the Hasidic community or even a unbiased opinion, you're not going to get this from someone who spent the first 2 1/2 decades of her life trying to leave!

Deborah was very obviously born a 'thinker' and I think it shows that no matter how people may argue that religious indoctrination is wrong, the human spirit will always rebel against what it considers to be instinctively incorrect. I found that some of Deborah's conclusions regarding God according to the confines of a particular faith tallied with conclusions that I myself have drawn. She is clearly a very intellectual lady, and the book encapsulated her spiritual growth (or decline, whichever way you choose to see it) perfectly and concisely.

I wish Ms Feldman the best of luck in life for both her and her son, and I just hope that she does not suffer at the hands of those she has left as a result.
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on 15 March 2013
This book gives the reader great insight into the Hasidic community and their culture. I was struck by the parallels between the Hasidic and Muslim cultures in the repression of women, even down to the concept of covering up. I don't see much difference between the hijab and the wigs and dowdy clothes these women are forced to wear. The notion that a woman's place in life is to produce children and serve her man is so antiquated and made me feel so lucky to have been born into a secular society where equality and freedom is a right that is not dictated by my sex.
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on 29 April 2013
I expected to learn something about women’s lives in such an orthodox community and was not disappointed. The author does not only focus on herself but also includes other women and the different ways they chose to live or simply were pushed into. The concept of "purity" is all over the place and defines everything. This is a great read for anyone interested in social history and ethnology and I am sure there are many similarities to be found in other closely-nit segregate communities of whatever origin.
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on 13 March 2012
I am a Chasidic young man who is a qualified psychotherapist. I found the book very hard to put down after I started reading it! Unlike other critics, I wasn't bothered by fact that 'not everything was factually correct.' I was touched by 'her version and subjective experience'.
The writer seems to have 3 goals 1) To shout out from the rooftops the pain and hell she experienced, which in its own right is very `therapeutic' and cathartic and deals with her trauma, 2) To mock the lifestyle she was brought up in, which deals with her guilt. 3) And finally to sexualize the book which obviously will make a hit and sell as many books as possible! IMHO she succeeded on all fronts! Hence I gave her top rating.
Being a therapist in the community, I agree that many of our `dark parts' exist and it is just a matter of time when we will be brave enough to admit them. That said we also have as a community a lot of `protective' factors which cannot be dismissed.

A 2005 research paper by Professor Stephen Frosh, Professor C Loewenthal, and Dr Caroline Lindsey called `Prevalence of Emotional and Behavioural Disorders among Strictly Orthodox Jewish Children in London Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry10, 351-368' find that "Although the strictly orthodox Jewish community shows many of the features normally associated with childhood psychological disturbance (especially poverty and large family size), high rates of emotional and behaviour difficulties were generally not found." (p19)

They conclude: "This raises the possibility that protective factors could be operating. The strictly orthodox Jewish community has features that may serve in this way -notably, very high levels of marital stability plus an unusual degree of social and family cohesion and support, a strong emphasis on spirituality, and on good interpersonal qualities, including helpfulness."

Like Dedorah, I struggled as well to get my masters degree given that I didn't have a solid English education, but I made it!
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on 31 January 2014
This is a very insightful memoir that raises mixed feelings. It is written with passion and portrays the way of life of the Hasidic Satmar community in New York in ways that I did not know before. It also gives one a better understanding of Hasidim Judaism not only in America, but in Israel and Eastern Europe where it originated. I did further research after reading this novel, so I applaud it for piquing my curiosity. This book might not be considered by some people as a masterpiece, but it certainly is the best I have read so far on the subject. Like Disciples of Fortune, it touched an aspect of Judaism many people are hazy about, or even consider mysterious. I hope books like this come out telling the word about other mysterious sects and practices found in the different religions. The world needs it, especially in our times.
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on 22 July 2015
Firstly, I found it a good read but one sided and a little immature. I know a little about the Satmar community and I live near Stamford Hill where many live - Feldman's depiction is too negative. These people help each other out a lot. Secondly, there are a number of people who have come forward to say some of her story is untrue. Apparently she had a younger sister who stayed with the mother, she did not go to Satmar schools until 10 yrs old and it was well known by many she was going to college to state a few contradictions. Also she was much older than she states in the book when her mother left her marriage. This troubled me so it led me giving it 2 stars. An autobiography should be honest!!!!
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on 30 August 2014
This was such an interesting book. The Hassidic community in Brooklyn in the 21st century, so thoroughly exotic and strange, yet the author- a bold, curious modern woman like me.For a woman, reading it was a bit uncomfortable, all that blame, somehow, in that culture, women are always at fault.
" If you let a man see your leg by accident in the street ,you make him sin, and the responsibility is yours. How ridiculous.Yet, there was also explanation on why the post Holocaust community might think what they do, the isolation, the attitude toward " the others".
I loved the character of Bubby, the grandmother, but learnt to sympathise and feel sorry for some of those male characters, like the author's grandfather or even her husband.It is not simple.
The book was very well written, and I will most likely read the sequel, too.
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on 28 May 2013
I am Jewish myself but not very familiar with the ultra orthodox side of my religion. I found this a very open and enlightening book, although quite difficult and upsetting to read in places. I became so immersed in it I found it very hard to put down.

Deborah, whom I feel I have come to know, is a truly courageous and very strong young woman and I wish her and her son every happiness in their new lives.
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on 1 July 2012
I saw this book in the library and took it home but it was so massive I ran out of time so I bought the book on Kindle and checked what page I'd been on and am now almost finished it.. I can't sit and read all day but love to relax in the afternoon or late evening with my Kindle in hand

I was brought up on a fairly religious Jewish house and as Granny lived with us, I spoke Yiddish and new all the laws of observance. I found Deborah's story fascinating if a bit extreme. She didn't have much love about her which upset me because love is central to Jewish Family life.. I spent hours playing the the Rabbi's children and didn't see them unhappy or sad.

In fact I have never heard of Satmar before but there are Kollel and Lubavich families in out community. They are strict but nothing like Satmar. I was horrified to read of her treatment in the Mikvah before and her wedding and her problems before she became pregnant. The Mother in Law was too interfering and discussed the young couple's private lives with everyone. I felt so sorry for Deborah and her husband.

It's good that they moved to another neighbourhood.

I've not finished the book yet but it's a fascinating life into ultra orthodox life...
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on 2 December 2013
I would agree with the reviews that this book was slow to get into and then really just as it got interesting, to the part when Miss Feldman left her husband and all that she had known, it was over in just a few pages. Miss Feldman's rejection of her upbringing and how she copes in the world outside Satmar was the part I was looking forward to the most, which meant that the book was hugely disappointing. Perhaps this was done on purpose with a view to a sequel!

I do feel that this is an interesting book though for say a book club, as Miss Feldman raises some interesting moral dilemas which may provide interesting discussion.
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