Tag Archives: Williamsburg

Bill de Blasio, the Anti Semite?

I think it is fair to say that anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence these days would say that Covid-19 has forced all of us to adjust how we live. I think that it is also fair to say that given the current crisis, it would behoove those in the halls of power to work together.

Last night was the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who according to press reports, died from complications from Covid-19. As is the custom in Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism, the funeral was public with thousands of mourners crowding the streets in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. In normal times, this would be a non-news issue for all but the local community. But we are not living in normal times.

According to an article in Gothamist, the Police department knew about this before hand. But yet, Mayor Bill de Blasio accused the entire Jewish community of New York City of breaking the social distancing rules.

The problem that I have with his accusation is that instead of specifically pointing the finger at those in attendance, he blamed every Jew in New York City. I am a Jew and I live in New York City. Was I at this funeral? No. He should be putting the blame on those who were there, not on all practitioners of that particular religious identity. He should have also spoken to his police officials before making this kind of accusations.

Last week was Yom Hashoah. Given our current political climate, the recent climactic (and bloody) events in Jewish history and the extreme rise in antisemitism, I would think twice before making such a comment.

Which is why I did not vote for this man and will be more than happy to see him out of office when his term ends.

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Unorthodox Review

We live in a world which demands that we conform. If we do not conform, the consequences are numerous.

Unorthodox recently premiered on Netflix. Based on the book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, the four part series follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro (nee Schwartz, played by Shira Haas). Married at 19 to Yanky Shapiro (Amit Rahav), Esty is unprepared for the pressures that come with being a married woman in the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When the pressure becomes too much, Esty escapes to Berlin where her estranged mother, Leah (Alex Reid) lives. Taken in and befriended by music students, she begins to see that there is life outside of the world that she was born into. But when her husband and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch) arrive in Berlin to find her and bring her home, it becomes a game of cat and mouse.

I found this series to be fascinating and human. Its easy to live within the confines and the rules of the community, especially if you are a woman. It is infinitely more difficult to make your own way in the world. Two things stuck out to me as I was watching. The first was that although we see the world through Esty’s eyes, the judgement is not as harsh as it appears to be. The second is the relationships between the characters. Regardless of the societal, cultural and religious beliefs that the audience member holds, there is a universal quality to the the story being told.

I recommend it.

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Unorthodox Book Review

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Exodus, the second book by Deborah Feldman. Yesterday, I finished reading Unorthodox, Ms. Feldman first book.

Deborah Feldman was raised in the insular ultra-religious Jewish Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After her parent’s marriage ended, she was raised by her grandparents. Feeling trapped by the endless series of rules and traditions, she rebels by reading secular books and finding kinship with the characters within the novels.

As is tradition within this community, her husband is chosen for her. By the time she is 20, she has been married for two years and has a son. The internal tension of Ms. Feldman’s personal desire for freedom, while trying to be the good girl that she is expected be, forces her to make a decision that will forever alter her fate and her son’s fate.

I liked this book. Having now read both books, I understand her. The ultra-religious Jews are no different than any other ultra-religious community. There is a fear of the secular, outside world. The traditions provide comfort, simplicity and a barrier to the outside world that is very different from their own world.

I recommend this book.

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Exodus: Lost and Found

In 2009, Deborah Feldman was a wife and mother living in the insular ultra-religious Jewish Satmar  community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Feeling trapped, she took her young son and left the community, her family and her husband for a new life.

Her memoir, Exodus , a sequel to her previous memoir, follows Ms. Feldman’s journey as she travels to previously unknown parts of the United States and Europe. In Europe, she travels to birth places of her Holocaust survivor grandparents while in the company of several men, one of whom is a grandson of a Nazi.

I haven’t yet read Unorthodox, so I can only go by Exodus. I suspect that Ms. Feldman’s journey is no different than anyone whose who raised in an insular ultra religious community and makes the choice to leave their family and community. I did enjoy the book, but I would have liked to see a balance of her rebellion from her roots and her acceptance of her roots.

Do I recommend this book? Maybe, but only if you have read her previous memoir.

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The Sisters Weiss Book Review

There is always something about an ultra-religious insular community that always seems to intrigue the less religious, more modern secular world.

Naomi Regan has made a career of writing about women in the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of Israel and New York. I’ve read Jephte’s Daughter, Sotah, and the Sacrifice of Tamar, but it’s been a few years since I’ve delved into the her novels.

Her latest novel, The Sisters Weiss, tells the story of two sisters and the very different paths their lives take.

Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1950’s, Rose and Pearl Weiss are raised in a loving ultra-orthodox family. At the beginning of the book, Rose is the good girl, favored by her parents over her  younger trouble making sister. When Rose meets Michelle, she is exposed to the outside world and begins to slowly rebel from her parents and her community.  The night before Rose is supposed to marry a boy chosen for her, she runs away, affecting everyone in her family, including her younger sister.

40 years later, Pearl’s youngest daughter, Rivka is eager to experience the world and runs away. Her mysterious and unknown Aunt Rose seems to be the best person to run to. Rose has been exiled from her family. Because of Rivka’s actions, both Rose and Pearl must not only deal with the world they were raised in, but also the consequences of their actions.

Since it’s been a number of years since I’ve read Ms. Ragen’s books, I’ve forgotten what an incredible writer she is.  These characters could be very stereotypical, but they aren’t.  The relationship between the sisters seemed real, no different than any other sibling relationship.  I could understand Rose’s rebellion, but I also understood Pearl’s need to cling to the life and the beliefs that she was raised with.

You don’t have to be religious or Jewish to enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it.

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