In Friday’s Required Reading, we featured a short article by Gavriella Lerner on “ex-frum” stories and the implications they have for Orthodox Jews. The article follows the publication of “Unorthodox,” the story of a young woman who flees a Satmar Chasidic community. The book is gaining momentum in the public eye. But Lerner’s not sure it’s for the best.
Feldman’s book is described this way on Amazon.com:
“The tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until, at the age of seventeen, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she had met for only thirty minutes before they became engaged. As a result, she experienced debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to immediately consummate her marriage and thus serve her husband. But it wasn’t until she had a child at nineteen that Deborah realized more than just her own future was at stake, and that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.”
So, where does Lerner come in? In the opening to her piece, Lerner writes:
“With all the press coverage over the last few weeks, I can’t even count how many of my classmates have asked me if I have any hair under my hat or if I shave it off. For the record, I keep it long. Still my answer doesn’t do much for the weirdness factor. But I guess we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so; it’s nothing new.”
Sure, people can be insensitive (even when they’re meaning well). And finding oneself the brunt of stereotypes and broad assumptions plainly sucks. But “we’ve been the weird ones for 4,000 years or so” just tastes strange to me. If there’s going to be hubbub at all, shouldn’t it be about the victim, the person sharing her harrowing story?
Lerner argues that this form of press has negative repercussions for well-meaning Orthodox Jews. I agree; people use stereotypes to build walls, not to tear them down. But does that mean ex-frum Jews (and those who have fled other rigid lifestyles) must keep quiet for the sake of sparing others the jibes of ignorant people?
Lerner goes on by saying, “Orthodox life is not for everybody, I get that. I only ask that in return that women like Feldman and Reich respect those of us who find beauty and meaning in our rituals and way of life.”
I have to respect that last bit. No one wants to wake up one morning to see their philosophies the subject of a scathing critique or “horror story.” And we can agree that many who live in Orthodoxy (whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) don’t ever experience abuse and hardship in their lifetimes. Of those who have chosen to leave Orthodoxy, many don’t necessarily do so because they are victims of some untold crime.
Even so, for those who have be injured or manipulated by a rigid religious lifestyle, sharing their experiences openly can be freeing, therapeutic, and healing. This is more than being an individual with “chips on their shoulders” who has “gone to the media.” It would have been preferable if Lerner made that distinction in her article.