“Unorthodox” Belongs in the Fiction Section
by Issamar Ginzberg
Who would have guessed that Anti-Semitism could lurk in the allegedly autobiographical words of a young Jewish woman? But they have, in ‘Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots’, the memoir of Deborah Feldman, with stories she tells about growing up as a Satmar Hasid.
I don’t think that Feldman meant to create this monster, yet the intentions, for good or bad cannot stop the destruction this creation is causing. Many in our community say we should let it slide, to ignore it because it will go away in a few weeks and is not worth giving a platform to. I vehemently disagree. I think if we don’t address this lie we are no better than Ms. Feldman because we are allowing the lie to spread.
If we allow a New York Times bestseller filled with half-truths, untruths and outright lies to be the uncontested representation of the truth of our lifestyle and a butchery of Halacha (Jewish law), we are doing ourselves a disservice of the highest proportions. Joseph Goebbels, The Nazi minister of propaganda, used to repeat Hitler’s “Big Lie,” which paraphrased over time simply says, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.”
While some encourage those in our community to ignore it, saying, “Why don’t you let it slide into oblivion?” the big lie is repeated and repeated and repeated. Obviously even negative PR plays into the hands of such a book, because any controversy is good for book sales but by not contesting the truth and speaking out, a larger evil grows—that of the “Big Lie.”
As of today “Unorthodox” is a New York Times best seller, and I’m not surprised. It’s a book about religious Jews, with our Yarmulkes (skull caps) and traditional dress, our religiously protective and seemingly mysterious lifestyle. We do seem somewhat enigmatic to the general population. Many of those reading this book already think we are all extremely wealthy. They whisper all kinds of rumors about how we conduct our personal lives, what we believe, how we live—all based on the stories of a young girl who admits she hated, resented and rejected everything about her faith, her people and her community. To look for her to deliver a fair and balanced perspective of Orthodox Judaism is to expect an atheist to describe religion in a positive manner.
This is a direct attack on the Ultra Orthodox community, on the Torah (Bible), and on all that we hold dear.
I do not doubt that Ms. Feldman grew up in a tremendously difficult environment. I do not contest the fact that her decisions and her perceptions in life are hers to make. We must all live with the consequences of our decisions and I feel that it is important to point out how her actions have affected others.
I am not attacking Ms. Feldman. I am championing truth. Look around and see how the beautiful, family-values-based kosher lifestyle is being portrayed to the average American’s consciousness in the most degrading way. If left unchecked, that image will change the way practically every non-Jew perceives the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.
I don’t know how I ended up being the person to write this but someone has to step up to the plate—to take a stand. This is not the time to be reticent.
The coals of the fires of Anti-Semitism have been banked since WWII, but they have never been fully extinguished. I believe that those who fanned the flames of hatred against the Jews half a century ago, can quickly fan the flames again.
There are enough well written pieces and reviews of the book, detailing how its author has essentially written a compelling work of fiction that should cause concern. ‘Unorthodox’ provides a narrative to those who would depict orthodox Jews in the same fashion that allowed the perception of ‘Jews as evil’ to persist in the middle of the 20th century, leading to genocide.
All mighty oaks grow from small acorns. A liberal media, and a world of readers hungry for criticism of Orthodox Jews are watering the acorn that this young woman has planted. The well-written and positive reviews of this book are fertilizing an idea, a perception, a fear and a hatred of Jews among nations who do not know us.
This is why our community must not bury our heads in the sand and wait for all this to go away. We need to come out and forcefully say, “This is not us, at all.”