Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Satmar Woman's Response To Deborah Feldman


A Female Member of the Satmar Community in Williamsburg takes Deborah Feldman to task for her allegations in a recent newspaper interview…
She now calls herself Deborah, but I remember her as Suri. We grew up together and attended the same school from fifth through twelfth grade. (She was actually my younger sister’s grade mate, a couple of years my junior.) She came to Satmar when Bais Yaakov of Vien, the most liberal of Williamsburg’s schools for girls, would no longer tolerate her behavioral issues.
Her aunt (whom she refers to as Aunt Chaya in her book and whom she speaks of disparagingly) was the English principal of our school. A highly respected, refined and with-it woman, she vouched for her niece and took upon herself to give Suri the best possible school experience.
Seems like Suri has repaid the kindness in spades. Based solely on her own dysfunctional upbringing (which has undoubtedly stoked her rebellious streak), she has shamelessly sunk so low as to trash an entire community. It boggles the mind… and sadly speaks for itself. What I can say with absolute certainty is that she did not undergo most of what she claims she did, and I would like to counter some of her blatant fabrications.
To begin with, classy and intelligent people do not grant interviews to tabloid papers, unless they are willing to do whatever it takes to get publicity. When I’ll be in a forgiving mood, I’ll be dan l’kaf zchus (give her the benefit of the doubt) that maybe the paper deliberately twisted her words. But something tells me they were her own. After all, sensationalism sells.
Deception: Suri lays it on thick when asked to describe a bathing suit worn in summer camp: “Picture this really shiny nylon fabric and thick, floppy, long sleeves, and pants covered with an extra layer of material to make it look like a skirt.” The real thing: At most, a “chassidish” bathing suit is a short-sleeve dress reaching mid-thigh, made of thin spandex fabric; quite comfortable, in fact, as well as modest.
Fiction: The subject of (sex) relations was a total mystery to Suri and her husband, she alleges. A bright, open-minded and inquisitive girl who managed to hide books under her bed, Suri would have us believe that she skipped the library’s reading material on anatomy and sex? Even the most naïve of Satmar girls are pretty much aware of what awaits them on their wedding night, so spare us the dramatics Suri.
Falsehood: As a longtime Williamsburg resident and a mother myself, I can attest that children transported in cars are properly buckled into their safety seats and that all mothers take their children for regular visits (and then some) to their pediatricians. If Suri was ever seated in the front of a car without a seatbelt and was never taken to a doctor (both of which she asserts), it could well have been the direct result of her dysfunctional home environment (what with a mentally unstable father and an absentee mother).
Distortion: Contrary to her assertion that at seventeen she was deemed to be on the old end of marriageable age, seventeen is, in point of fact, regarded as being on the young end, the norm being eighteen to twenty-one.
Invention 1: “Deborah” divulges that chassidish women are not allowed to eat out. Huh? I challenge anyone to walk down Lee Avenue in Williamsburg at any given time of day or night where eateries are packed with chassidish women. We may not be eating pork or crab cake sandwiches, but we are certainly enjoying the finest in heimishe food and delicacies. (You’ll find many of us eating out at kosher food establishments outside of Williamsburg as well.)
Invention 2: Curfew for women? That’s news to me. In my Satmar Williamsburg world, my friends and I have frequently returned home after midnight (unescorted by our men), and we have yet to be stopped or told that this is inappropriate.
A transcript of an ABC review of Deborah Feldman’s book has just diminished Suri’s credibility to zero in my book. Her claim of being “subtly molested during a cleansing bath – a mikvah – to ensure her purity” is utterly preposterous. No one gets into the mikvah water with a woman during her ritual cleansing. As for “the entire community” being in on her virginal status after failure to consummate her marriage, well, Suri, that sure is news to me. I had no idea!
Newly married couples in communities such as ours are fortunate to have a support system if and when needed, but at the same time a married twosome can just as well opt to maintain their privacy. Presuming Deborah’s grandparents/in-laws displayed over-protectiveness (a weakness on the part of many parents of married children across the globe), it may have been a manifestation of their compassion for a motherless child.
If Satmar Chassidism was torture for Suri, her amenable husband was the antidote — a great guy who also happened to be very tolerant of his wife’s need to be “different.” As a matter of fact, they relocated to a different neighborhood (a substantial distance from Williamsburg) not long after they married, where Suri would feel less “stifled.”
She was thus given the opportunity to establish independence from her supposedly overbearing family and could have eased into a less stringent lifestyle, albeit still as a practicing orthodox Jew. But Suri chose rather to immerse herself in fantasies spun by the novels of which she couldn’t get enough. Her imagination was further fueled by the support of her new friends and college courses she was taking (such as writing).
And in the process, she did more than unshackle herself from the “confines of Hasidic Satmar” — she shed her light of spirituality … in exchange for the darkness of materialism.
Yes, Suri, we in the Satmar community take upon ourselves to live “beyond the letter of the law” — not in spite of the world we live in but because of the world we live in, so as to avoid the danger of getting “to the edge and jumping off” into an abyss. We love our beautiful way of life (contrary to your ludicrous insinuations) and are devastated by the distortions and web of falsehoods you have woven into your “memoir” — fundamentally an attack on all segments of Orthodox Jewry.
It is hard for me to believe that this woman will get away with all the untruths and inconsistencies put out there. When called on his lies, James Frey, the author of “A Million Little Pieces”, claimed to have literary reasons for his fabrications. He defended “the right of memoirists to draw upon their memories, not simply upon documented facts,” but he eventually was made to own up to his untruthfulness in newer editions of his publication.
I expect the same to happen to Deborah Feldman.


  1. I love the religious people who are enraged by Deborah's honesty. They all sound like they are in denial. At least Deborah chose to educate herself further to better herself. Her story is her memoir. I think anyone who questions rules is far more intelligent than those who blindly follow. By the way, the people who criticize Ms. Feldman seem to have a lot of anger and very mean which makes everything they say worthless. Those people make me laugh at their ignorance.

  2. I am not Jewish but bought Mrs. Feldman's book because I thought it would be interesting. After finishing the book there are a couple of things I would like to say.

    #1 I am very, very sorry for any pain this book caused her family and former community. It isn't my job to apologize but I feel very sad for the people who are mentioned in this book #2 I wound up not liking the author much. In my life, I would have given ANYTHING to have a family and community that actually cared about me. What a treasure that would have been.

    What brought me here was a desire to find out what - if any - response her family had. Now to find numerous sources that say many, many things in the book are false makes me like her less. It harms the credibility of anyone writing a "non-fiction" book when authors lie.

    I feel bad I spent hard earned money buying a book that will ultimately support a woman who really leaves a lot to be desired.

  3. Dear female member,

    I don't know you or Deborah.
    I am not religious although i did grew up in extreme ultra orthodox community. I am not going to read Deborah's book for 2 reasons - i don't care about HER experiences, but i do care that she wrote it in a tone of blaming an entire community, not because i support the community just because i am older and i view the world.

    i dont understand one thing;
    how can anyone here and in other article written against her, dispute what she went through? were you there? was anyone in her body living her life? how can so many people call another person a liar about experiences that OTHER person went through??? i don't know if she lied or not but i wasn't there neither were YOU or anyone else so NO-ONE has the right to call her a liar!!! when and if the day comes when proof of lies rises then you can all party and call her a liar as much as you want! till then GET OVER IT!!!

  4. I am horrified by what deborah feldman wrote in her book. People have gone through much worse situations but didnt take it out on everyone else. To have sucha community that cares is what many wish for..and if she couldnt handle it she couldve lived as a orthodox jew but with less restrictions...she obviously went to the opposite extreme and made a community thats so special sound so wrong and distorted. Most of what she said was false...i am very sad that she had the nerve to take a community that many love dearly and twist it and make it look horrifying! O and btw im a teenager from an orthodox community and i know everything about the world...doesnt make me wanna be like them. I love where i am!

  5. Had she behaved in Beth Jacob of the Lower East Side, and not gotten kicked out, she could have gone the Beth Jacob path all the way and gone to college, as more Beth Jacob girls do today, than not.

    Then Satmar takes the reject in, and she mocks them!

    Anyone have any class photos of her time at the Beth Jacob of the Lower East Side?

    $imon & $chuster did in depth research, obviously, into the info she offered and her omissions (ahem).

    All $imon & $chuster has to say is that the book is a personal memoir. (Doesnt neccessarily have to be an accurate picture obviously. Details and facts can be omitted to increase the salaciousness of the book being marketed).

    Anything for more dough.

    Hey, can I sell $imon & $chuster the Brooklyn Bridge? Perhaps theyd buy it, if they thought they could gain monetarily.

  6. To the Satmar woman who calls Deborah a liar: Of course you are going to refute what she says. You only know what you are taught & shielded from the outside community.. Just like the people in the Middle East who only know what "THEY" want them to know & be taught...Maybe you were a spoiled child in your family or maybe the community put you up to refuting what she says...& also she didn't say she was sexually molested in the ritual bath...Can you read anything but Yiddish???? I am born & raised in Williamsburg. My family goes back in the same house since 1912.. The Hasidic community does not own Williamsburg... Even Kent Ave was made into a one way street b/c of the "scantily clad" hipsters that ride their bikes through the neighborhood....NEWS FLASH: you don't own the right to call Deborah a liar . You did not live her life.. Where's the compassion you were taught?? Don't you know people in general portray themselves outside the family differently than behind closed doors???? i.e. Her "supposedly" wonderful aunt. Of course she's nice to all the students in the school.How she conducts herself at home is one thing you or I will never know....really....This is common sense. She's right about a lot of things but one thing in particular. The community sweeps things "under the rug" & does not let the rest of the world see the infractions i.e. child molestation....If you think that's false then really you are a hopeless case...And furthermore what's you're idea of tabloid vs. non-tabloid???? If it's not in the yiddish newspaper then it's false??? Everything in this community is censored!!!!! Wake up!!!! Woman are second class citizens in the Hasidic community. Men come first. They rule weather right or wrong. Last time I checked this is the year 2012..... Yes this is a close knit community & everyone helps each other. People who want out of this way of life, just like the Amish, are shunned..Is that right to do that to another human being??? After all, does God want us to be cruel to others??? "Staying" is more secure for a woman b/c without her family's support how would she live on her own???/ So the only option is to stay.....

  7. How can you judge a persons life??? Only God can.

  8. I am Jewish and very proud of it. My family is from Russia and unfortunately my grandparents did not start practicing after the war. I respect all Jewish comminities (eventhough I am sure Satmar community would not consider me Jewish). I read the book and I understand her point of view as well as yours as a member of that community. It seemed to me her husband was making sacrifices for her, yet I do not know in detail their relationships and the fights they had. I feel bad for her and for her family, but I hope you know my family and friends respect your community very much for preserving religion.

  9. I am currently reading the book and I find it very interesting.

  10. ...imagine no religion

  11. I just finished reading "Unorthodox" and chose to find out more about Deborah Feldman and the Hasidic community, which is what led me to your post here.

    As a religious person myself, and after hearing Deborah's account of things, I have tried to take the viewpoint of the scorned members of the religion. I have actually experienced this myself with my own religion - people have left and made false accusations and it infuriates me.

    That being said, I was willing to read your blog post and hear your viewpoint. It was awfully hard to do so, however, because it is painfully obvious that you have not been able to view the situation analytically - only from your still-incensed viewpoint. It mars your writing and it makes it difficult to get through your article. It actually discredits YOU. If you were able to write factually, without spewing insults, you would be believable. I regret to say that your article has not helped your cause - because whether you write truth or not, it's obstructed by your rage.

  12. God isn't a prescription. And the sickness of ritual isn't prayer.

  13. I think Deborah is very courageous. It must've been a difficult decision to leave her community. I believe her story. I am Catholic and was never raised to believe my religion was better than anyone else's. I live in Monroe and worked in the hasidic community for 6 years. I find it sad how the women are treated in their community. I would like to know more about what happened after she left

  14. Im so happe for Deborah that she got out of that hell. You satmar people think that your the only "right" jews in this world... And it is so funny how you all hate israel, and still you live there?? Come on.. I am SOO happy that we don't have any Satmar in my country, Denmark, 'Baruch Hashem' for that!

  15. This is everything and more that had needed to be said about this craziness. I also knew her in our teen years and was not surprised by the lies and the attention seeking behavior. Anyone that knows "Deborah" knows this is right on track for her.

  16. It sounds like 'Deborah' didn't have the kind of upbringing to allow her to understand the restrictions of the Satmar life and the novels she read just opened her up to a false view of the outside which was very attractive. Clearly she did have a dysfunctional upbringing and had some issues. I have some problems with people who 'tell their story' in this way and seem to need attention from it. Perhaps she had the experiences she chronicles, but I don't believe for a moment that they were in any way 'sanctioned' by Satmar custom and practice (other than for niddah). If you don't like, don't stay, but you don't have to be bitter and vindictive about it. JMO and for the record I'm not Satmar, and according to Orthodox Judaism I'm not even Jewish.

  17. Why do Hasidic women need to have their marriage arranged by others?


  18. before I start I would like to clarify that I did not read Suri (Debora) book, not for lack of access, but for total disinterest in it (sorry, I can't take lies).I will respond on the little tidbits of info I collected from nibbling around her blogs. I know Suri from way before, as I grew up on the same block just a few houses down. #1 she grew up in a absolutely TOTALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL HOME, a far cry from the Average normal home. #2 her extended family might be satmar but her mother was not satmar or chasiddish looking or behaving at all (c'mon how many satmar family's do you know that own a cat??). Her aunt and grandparents (such fine good people, far from the extreme ones in the community) did everything to give her somewhat of a normal life, but I guess the product of such a broken home is beyond repairable, which makes a lot of sense to me, (accordingly to what went on in that house.) I grew up in a little more restricted home than her, what should I tell you, I LOOOVE being Jewish! with all its laws and restrictions. I am PROUD to be Satmar! I ADORE my lifestyle! I CANT get enough of my husband and kids!! LIFE IS BLISS, THANK GOD!! and NO noone is forcing me to write this and NO I dont feel restricted at all! and so do all of the dozens of people I know feel. All you can sum this up to is that her childhood traumas sadly made her into who she is today (not surprisingly) not because she was sheltered or restricted, (because in that house of hers nothing mattered you were free as a bird to do whatever you wished ). Just to finish off, come to think of it Deborah is 1 out of appx. 10,000 satmar women out there saying all this. Inf you have a little brains and seek the truth think if it makes sense to you.

  19. on your ? as to why our marriages are arranged, let me clarify you one thing ( I would love to clarify you the whole process but that would be too long). Most of us marry our spouses by choice, Yes we are set up with whom to meet but at the end of our meetings we have the option to say yes or no or request another meeting. We are not married by force to anyone except maybe in extreme cases of abuse. And to prove that point to you, a very close relative of mines said no to a girl after meeting her and his parents didnt bother him once about it.

  20. Disparaging someone's truth and experiences is crass.