Goldie Goldbloom’s novel, On Division, features a wonderfully complex example of what it means to be an Orthodox Jew in modern times. Goldbloom is a Chasidic-Lubbavitch woman who is also an activist for LGBTQ Chasidic youth. The burden of this identity is perfectly encapsulated by her protagonist, Suri, whose identity is called into question several times throughout the novel. Through artful storytelling, the reader is able to feel every bit of the anxious suffering Suri endures within the tight-knit and secretive Chasidic community. The traditions they follow are based on the Torah, but the setting is medieval Eastern European, as most of the community still adhere to the dress code and customs of the middle ages.
Goldbloom makes Suri’s character unrelatable, with her bizarre social and religious customs, yet so relatable at the same time. Her first concern, upon discovering that she is pregnant, is that of her social status within the community. Suri already mentioned that she was embarrassed by the man her granddaughter chose to marry. He trimmed his payot and wouldn’t wear the traditional Chasidic garb, which lessens his value as a spouse. Now that Suri is not only pregnant but also about to become a great grandmother, her embarrassment would know no bounds and her family’s marital status would be cursed.
Suri’s attitudes towards her pregnancy highlight the strong disconnect between what the Chasidic lifestyle permits and the views of modern society. Suri shudders at the idea of abortion and knows it’s not an option since her community would never consider or allow it. Her involvement in working in the neighborhood clinic becomes her coping mechanism, where she helps other anxious and pregnant Jewish women and begins to learn the pleasures of being employed.
We can’t help but admire Suri’s self-reflection and growth as she gradually drifts away from her community. While she begins to indulge in thoughts of a different life, she remains loyal to her religious beliefs and traditions. It’s easy to identify with the feeling of safety and comfort in tradition, however, when that stability is met with a glimpse into an entirely different life, we lose grip on that comfort. As much as you feel utter frustration with the decisions Suri makes throughout the book, you cannot help but feel sympathy for a human simply struggling to cope with their long-held beliefs.
Suri’s character offers deep, engaging insight into the life and faith of a person not normally known. On Division audaciously communicates to those unfamiliar with the Chasidic community how they are not as different as they may seem.
Corey Friedman is a Modern-Orthodox student from Woodmere, NY with a bachelor’s degree in Judaic Studies. He is currently studying at Binghamton University as a graduate student, obtaining his MBA.