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Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots

Deborah Feldman was born into the Satmar sect of a Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her memoir addresses her coming-of-age and eventual departure from that community. The book’s publication created a flurry of publicity.

An author video, available on Feldman’s homepage, shares a bit of what she was hoping to achieve and how attending college, in secret, helped give her courage to change her life. Her February 14th appearance on The View created quite a bit of controversy.

FELDMAN, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. 272p. map. photos. S & S. 2012. Tr $23. ISBN 978-1-4391-8700-5. LC 2011001386.  Unorthodox

Adult/High School–“An empty vessel clangs the loudest.” Outspoken, insolent women in the Satmar Hasidic sect of Judaism are likely to be spiritually hollow. From an early age, this adage is repeated to intellectually curious, always questioning Devoiri Feldman. Her oldest aunt, controlling, take-charge Chaya, constantly reminds her to obey, as do her teachers and her Yiddish textbooks. Feldman carries a stigma of shame in the Satmar community of Brooklyn, NY. Her father’s childlike behavior and lack of personal hygiene leave him all but unemployable. Her mother flees her untenable arranged marriage, leaving young Devoiri to be raised by her strict paternal grandparents. She yearns to take control of her future even as she knows the restrictive path her religion dictates. Compulsively readable, Unorthodox relates a unique coming-of-age story that manages to speak personally to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in her own life. Feldman bravely lays her soul bare, unflinchingly sharing intimate thoughts and ideas unthinkable within the deeply religious existence of the Satmars. She finds solace and inspiration in the pages of forbidden novels like Little Women that she keeps hidden beneath her mattress. At 17, she is completely unprepared for the intimacy and strictures of her own arranged marriage. After giving birth to a son just over two years later, Feldman musters the courage to take the steps that will ultimately sever her ties to this community. Teens will devour this candid, detailed memoir of an insular way of life so unlike that of the surrounding society.–Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Had Ms Feldman at least attempted to balance her many chapters filled with negativity by pointing to some of the many virtues and benefits existing in her former lifestyle and admit that even though she doesn’t agree or believe or doesn’t have innate discipline, there’s much to be admired in this lifestyle and it has many gainful attributes, she might have deserved some respect. After all even a broken clock is right twice a day. Orthodoxy has to have some advantages, even to those who choose not to practice. Personally, I believe there are many advantages even in Chassidism, even though I’m very far from Chassidic.

    No such thing. In her eyes, a religiously observant lifestyle is all nonsense. She really doesn’t differentiate between Chassidism and modern day Orthodoxy, whose followers are mostly highly educated with advanced degrees, such as Jack Lew, Obama’s Chief of Staff and Senator Joseph Lieberman, and hundreds of thousands doctors. lawyers and judges, worldwide. There are great differences. She feels she’s the brilliant enlightened heroine, who can transform the lives of everyone who is religious and naive, if they’d only experience the sweetness of her freedom. She has the key to the door of true happiness.

    I pity her for her pain and confusion and newfound aimless free fun, but I pity her son more, for having to live with and learn life’s lessons from a hateful, guiltless, vengeful person, who smugly chooses to mock, ridicule and falsely smear. Id love to read a book authored by her son in future years, detailing what it was like growing up with her as a mother. It would be especially interesting if he ever decides to be religious. It could happen. The movement serving returnees to Orthodox Judaism is alive and kicking, mostly with highly educated and intellectual advocates.

    With all this negativity she hopes to come out looking like a saviour for her efforts. A modern day saint.

    No, this is absolutely not a book limited to her personal troubled saga, this book details her perceptions of an entire community, as if most in the community secretly agree with her and are envious of what she’s become. Her income perhaps, otherwise, no. Not true. Had she or the publishers clearly stated that the “facts” offered in the book relate to her family only, that might have been different. Wouldnt have sold too many copies though. Multiple reviewers have pointed out the many untruths and exaggerations, partnered by the author and Simon & Schuster, both eager to make a quick buck with this book.

    Kardashian she’s not. No beauty. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Einstein she’s not. No genius. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Joan Rivers she’s not. No comedienne. Not her fault, not her choice.
    Just a babbling buffoon, a seethingly hateful person whose uppermost goal is fun.
    And that IS her choice.

    She is an example of what not to become, what not to aspire to be, capitalizing on hate, mockery, meanness and exaggeration.