By: Yossi Gestetner
Court documents dated late 2003 which followed a custody request, challenge the authenticity of the recently best-selling memoir, “Unorthodox,” which was authored by Ms. Deborah Feldman.
In the book, the author fails to mention that her mother, who according to the book left the Hasidic Community latest 1990, actually gave birth to another girl in November 1994. When challenged as to why she omitted the existence of a younger sister that was born to the same set of parents five years after the mother ‘abandoned’ the family, the author responded (in a March 2nd blog post) that her sister is still a minor and therefore she did not mention her.
This feeble answer left many people wondering why the author didn’t allude to this fact by simply stating in the book, “I have a younger sister that (until several months ago) lived with my mother.”
Well, the reasons for this omission are surprising:
1) The author notes (pg. 4) that before writing the book, she asked her mother why she did not take her to live with her after she left. The author laments that the mother said “she had no money [to fight] and my father’s family threatened to make her life miserable if she tried to take me away.” This is contrary to what happened with the author’s younger sister who did live with her mother until late 2011. Had readers been aware of this little fact, they would wonder how Deborah’s mother had money to fight for her younger sister and not for Deborah and why the father’s family “threatened to make her mother’s life miserable” only if she fights for Deborah and not her younger sibling. By avoiding to mention a sister, Deborah paved the way to create falsehoods as to why she did not leave to live with her mother and to paint her family as radically anti-women; who suppressed a lesbian-woman who chose to leave for freedom.
2) By omitting the existence of a younger sister that was born in late 1994, Deborah can perpetuate the all important component of a drama story: The mother ‘abandoned’ the family when Deborah was a mere toddler, which is to say latest 1990. But of course, with a sister born when Deborah was seven-eight, the falsehood flies out the window. Besides, Deborah’s mother attests in an internet post in the summer of 2010 that she left the family “seven years ago,” which is to say in late 2003 when Deborah was sixteen. Finally, how did Deborah show up in this photo at age seven standing in front of smiling parents if her mother had “abandoned” her a few years earlier?
3) Most explosive of all are court papers dating back to late 2003, signed by now-former Judge the Honorable Paul Grosvenor. It shows clearly that the mother who – according to Feldman ‘had no money to fight’ – actually dragged the father to court asking for custody of BOTH children! This means, she had money to fight; and to fight for both, and was not an ‘abandoning’ person to begin with. After back-and-forth proceedings, both sides came to a court-approved agreement which stipulates that the Zaidy and his son, the father of Feldman, got the two things they wanted: a) The younger sister, then only nine years old, should continue attending a Jewish school and b) that the father should have visiting rights. The mother as part of the willful deal agreed to both, but as for the latter, she wanted a third party to supervise the visitations. The third party was to be… The Zaidy! Apparently, the mother had no issue that the Zaidy, this supposed abuser who ‘threatened to make life miserable,’ should be the one overseeing the visits.
The likely reason why Deborah’s mother did not put up much of a fight for Deborah is she was sixteen-seventeen at time of the court proceeding with a mind of her own. But more importantly is an event which dates back to the second half of the 1990s when Deborah was 10 or 11: Her mother hit her so severely that she ran down the flight of stairs to Bubby and Zaidy’s who lived on flight below. Deborah resolutely stated that she does not want to go back to her mother. Her extended family, which was always there for her, took her in to live with them. From then on, Deborah did not have much to do with her mother except for when her mother came down from the above apartment to check on Deborah and to visit the husband’s extended family.
This undisclosed fact of Deborah life at age ten likely also explains why Feldman conspicuously starts detailing her memoir only from when she was age eleven: It a) permits her to omit the real reason why the family got involved in her life and how she landed up in the care of Bubby and Zaidy, and b) by omitting life before sixth grade the author can sell a narrative of being raised in an extreme Satmar family who wanted to control her and thus the aunt placed her into Satmar school to ‘keep tabs’ on her.
However, as class photos prove, the author actually attended two different schools before her aunt took her into Satmer. She attended Adas Yereim, the most liberal Hasidic school in Williamsburg, and then, until age ten, she attended Bais Yakov of Lower East side, a non-Hasidic Orthodox Jewish school outside of Williamsburg. No extreme Hasidic family sends their kids to either of these schools. Deborah landed up in there because her family is of the most liberal in Williamsburg, and the only reason she ended up in Satmar is because she was likely expelled from both schools. As a result, Satmar the school where her the ‘bad’ aunt was the long-time principal, was the only school willing to accept this troubled girl into their system under the wings of the aunt.
By omitting these important details, Deborah successfully distorted history to suit her needs. Indeed, no good deed goes unpunished.