In Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels, Hella Winston takes us beyond the beards, wigs and modest attire of Hasidic Jews and offers insights into what is systemic in those communities that inspires “rebels” to yearn for a different type of life. Through interviews with those struggling to find themselves and an identity outside the insular world of Hasidism, Winston offers a thought-provoking and often heart wrenching glimpse into life inside a world unknown and often foreign to outsiders.
Ms. Winston has accomplished no small feat in penetrating the tight-lipped communities of Satmar and other lesser known Hasidic sects. She becomes privy to the frustrations and yearnings of those tortured by Kafkaesque conflicts between the dogma of their upbringing and culture and their individual wants and needs. Hampered by a lack of secular education and an often slipshod ability to communicate in English (many of the Hasidic communities use Yiddish as a means of communicating), these “rebels” face innumerable obstacles in their effort to try to immerse themselves in a non-Hasidic world.
Although the concept of trying to escape and reach beyond the confines of one’s upbringing and family values is certainly not novel, the difficulty that the Hasidic “rebels” encounter in attempting to exit the fold appear to some to be unbearable. These individuals have been raised with a clearly articulated mantra that any challenge to the stringent religious and communal rules results in sharp condemnation and a rebuke to “get back in line.” Confronted with disdain by their families and communities and threats that siblings will be unable to find suitable matches, these “rebels” often find the attempt to find meaning and purpose outside the cocoon of their communities a battle too difficult to fight successfully.
Winston’s objectivity and ability to enable her subjects to share their most mundane as well as philosophically complex thoughts join together to take the reader on a soul searching journey.