Here and There: Leav­ing Cha­sidism, Keep­ing my Family

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

In the past few years, a new genre of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture has carved out a niche in the read­ers’ mar­ket: ex-frum/ex-Hasidic mem­oirs. Chaya Deitsch’s mem­oir is the­mat­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar to works by Deb­o­rah Feld­man, Leah Vin­cent, Shulem Deen, and Leah Lax. Each of these writ­ers describes the per­son­al jour­ney and thought process­es that informed his or her deci­sion to leave the ultra-Ortho­dox world — a step that often means leav­ing loved ones behind.

Chaya Deitsch’s Here and There: Leav­ing Hasidism, Keep­ing My Fam­i­ly adds a new dimen­sion to this genre: not all par­ents shun their chil­dren who leave the fold. Deitsch’s sto­ry may pro­vide com­fort and res­o­lu­tion to those who still shud­der to think about the trag­ic death of ex-Hasid Faigy May­er this past July, and the pub­lic dis­cov­ery that May­er was excom­mu­ni­cat­ed by her par­ents. By con­trast, Deitsch’s mem­oir depicts a child­hood of love and sup­port, as well as both par­ents’ accep­tance for the path she chose.

The begin­ning of the mem­oir pulls in the read­er as the author describes her affec­tion for her Lubav­itch fam­i­ly mem­bers. Nev­er has she doubt­ed feel­ing spe­cial and loved; through­out her sto­ry, she express­es appre­ci­a­tion of her par­ents for stay­ing con­nect­ed to her despite her choos­ing a lifestyle that con­tra­dicts their own. Dietsch’s dilem­ma is that she does not want to grow up to become a tra­di­tion­al Lubav­itch wife and a moth­er. Rather, she wants the free­dom to be intel­lec­tu­al­ly challenged.

In addi­tion to describ­ing her own jour­ney, Dietsch edu­cates the read­er about the sub­tle dif­fer­ences between the many sects of ultra-Ortho­dox Jews, includ­ing details and insights that can only emerge from an insider’s per­spec­tive. While such tan­gents can be enlight­en­ing, they can also be dis­tract­ing. Per­haps more empha­sis on the nar­ra­tive and less of a focus on descrip­tive details would have made the memoir’s core objec­tives less ambiguous.

Dietsch’s ulti­mate con­tri­bu­tion to this admit­ted­ly new genre stems from her abil­i­ty to have her cake and eat it too, assert­ing her needs while main­tain­ing her rela­tion­ships with her fam­i­ly — a goal to which all of us can aspire. The memoir’s grav­i­tas lies less in the author’s per­son­al strug­gles and more in what the read­er can glean about main­tain­ing fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships even when the stakes are high­er. Dietsch’s par­ents’ uncon­di­tion­al love is both envi­able and heroic.

Dr. Julie Stern Joseph has been edu­cat­ing Jew­ish high school stu­dents and adults for over 15 years. She spent five years study­ing Tal­mud and Jew­ish Law, earned an MA in Medieval Jew­ish his­to­ry from NYU, and holds a doc­tor­ate in Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion from Yeshi­va University.

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