Thursday, December 17, 2015

Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family / Chaya Deitsch 227 pp.

There are a lot of memoirs out there written by those who have left Hasidism for a more secular lifestyle.  I've read those that have a breathless quality, as if the author had just fled a burning building and barely escaped alive.  Some allege that physical danger and threats accompanied their departure.  What these narratives lack in subtlety they generally make up for in high drama and, at times, a lot of physical detail about restrictive sexual mores and their consequences.  Most of the authors want you to know how daring they are.

Deitsch's book is far better.  She is a grownup, and her strong introduction and opening chapters demonstrate the complexity of her situation as a member of a loving extended family with a strong need to live as an individual.  She understands what she's given up, respects those who choose to live differently, and has the honesty to admit her nostalgia for her particular path not taken.  Later chapters bog down in chronological detail which doesn't glow like the  introductory passages describing her contemporary self sitting shiva with her family.

Deitsch and I are almost exactly the same age and I enjoyed reading about her 70s childhood, in some ways not as different from mine as I would have expected.

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