Tag Archives: Williamsburg

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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