Ear­li­er this week, Leah Lax wrote about the lone­li­ness of leav­ing Hasidut and cop­ing with com­ing home to the world of her child­hood. She is blog­ging here all week as a Vis­it­ing Scribe on The ProsenPeo­ple.

It hap­pened again. Some­one friend­ed” me and her pro­file pic­ture was of a smil­ing woman in hijab. Since my book Uncov­ered is about leav­ing the Hasidim, this wasn’t a com­mon expe­ri­ence. I was pleased: I see my mem­oir as fem­i­nist, as an act of sol­i­dar­i­ty with cov­ered women everywhere. 

I didn’t always see it that way.

Back in 2010, I went to Hedge­brook, a retreat for women writ­ers on Whid­by Island. We were each giv­en a small cab­in in the woods big enough for one per­son. I had just sent off a final draft of my mem­oir to my agent and was eager to delve into my new novel.

I saw no one else that first day, need­ed no one else. I hung up clothes and set up my writ­ing space, ready to go to work. But first, a quick email check — and there was my agent’s name in the inbox. 

She said she felt the lat­est rewrite was a mis­take; it was slow and tinged with self-pity. She reject­ed it. 

I paced the next few hours. All of my plans lay in shreds on the floor.

I was the last to arrive to din­ner at the farm­house that evening. I wasn’t exact­ly in the best frame of mind to meet the peo­ple who were to be my com­pan­ions over the com­ing month. The oth­er six were already around the table, with one seat left. I took it, and sat down next to Glo­ria Steinem.

It’s an unwrit­ten rule at such retreats to stay low-key about anyone’s achieve­ments. A retreat is pri­vate space, work­space, care­ful­ly bless­ed­ly sep­a­rate from out there. I’d been twice to Yad­do, where there were always a few major fig­ures at din­ner sprin­kled among us wannabes. But this was Glo­ria Steinem.

Table con­ver­sa­tion was already under­way. We were writ­ers of screen­plays, stage pro­duc­tions, libret­ti, poet­ry, fic­tion, and non­fic­tion. We were white, black, Chi­nese, Japan­ese-Amer­i­can, and of a vari­ety of faiths — all this among only sev­en of us. 

In the same way that she influ­enced the nation­al con­ver­sa­tion, Gloria’s very pres­ence infused ours with social con­scious­ness. I lis­tened, shy, try­ing to take it all in. But some­where along the way, a beam of light struck, a moment of clar­i­ty like you have only a few times in your life. 

I was raised a Texas Jew­ish girl, grand­child of immi­grants, child of lib­er­als. I joined the Hasidim at six­teen in 1972, just when the fight to rat­i­fy the ERA was under way and the Women’s Polit­i­cal Cau­cus con­ven­tion was about to take place in Hous­ton. I spent the next thir­ty years liv­ing as if the roil­ing, cre­ative, polit­i­cal­ly charged world of my child­hood was a dis­tant, two-dimen­sion­al scene on the oth­er side of a veil. 

I looked at Glo­ria and thought, I missed an era. I thought, I’ve been try­ing to write a fem­i­nist mem­oir when I don’t have the language. 

After din­ner, I went back to my cab­in and faced start­ing the mem­oir over again. As I turned to that first page, I was deeply aware of the oth­er women work­ing in their cab­ins around mine, their lights glow­ing through the night for­est. An owl glid­ed past, then rose above my sight. I thought of how deeply I’d been affect­ed by social and polit­i­cal events when I was young. I thought about the posi­tion of women in Amer­i­can soci­ety and among the Hasidim and how it had shaped my story.

I had many con­ver­sa­tions with Glo­ria that month. We took long walks. She rec­om­mend­ed books — among them the work of Car­olyn Heil­brun, a slim vol­ume I will always asso­ciate with the par­tic­u­lar light fil­tered through trees at dusk in the woods. 

In that tiny Hedge­brook set­ting, I began to feel deeply con­nect­ed to the women all over the world who are required by reli­gion to cov­er them­selves. One night at din­ner Glo­ria said, I thought of a title for your book.” Uncov­ered. Now her words are on the cov­er: A sto­ry that mil­lions will rec­og­nize, told with courage, spir­it, and honesty.” 

Uncov­ered is mak­ing its way into the world, but this part of how it came to be is most essen­tial to where I am now. I have ded­i­cat­ed the book to my cov­ered sis­ters every­where.” I wel­come that con­ver­sa­tion. Per­haps it will come.

Leah Lax is the author of Uncov­ered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Final­ly Came Home, now avail­able for purchase.

Relat­ed Content:

Leah Lax’s work has been pub­lished in Dame, Lilith, Moment, and Salon. Lax’s work for stage has been reviewed with acclaim in The New York Times and broad­cast on NPR. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Houston.