Deborah Feldman Nibbles Away at the Hasidic Fringe; Suggests We Can Get Rid of our Pekklech
For the first time since launching her book promotion tour for Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, Ms. Feldman yesterday confronted the haredi fringe head-on in a reading and Q&A session at the Thursday Night Chulent weekly conference on the outskirts of Borough Park.
Uncharacteristically of Chulent, the reading started smack-dab on time at 9:00 p.m., which is early in the night as far as Chulent events normally go. More importantly, the order and decorum was unparalleled with rows of seats neatly laid out for the audience which was listening attentively to her microphone-amplified reading and speech. There was even a small table on the platform decked out and furnished with drinks, where the host, the eminent Isaac Schoenfeld, and his guest could commune, Radio- and TV- interview style.
Ms. Feldman had been skeptical about agreeing to do this event, wary of a hostile audience. In a way she “packed the court”, bringing along an entourage of associates, supporters and friends to ensure that her voice will not be drowned out by her anticipated heckling from detractors.
But most of the regular Chulent attendees were present as well and they seemed genuinely impressed by her highly eloquent and intelligent responses to what appeared to be a hostile host, more so than a hostile audience. A one point an elderly gentleman arose and kindly requested that the host quit arguing with his guest and let her express her views and answer the audience’s questions, to which they responded with a resounding applause.
Some of the clarifications she made during the Q&A session seemed peculiar to the Hasidic audience. To an audience member’s question whether she is advocating un-orthodoxy, as her book title would seem to imply, she aptly elucidated that the substantive “Unorthodox” refers to herself, having taken an offbeat, non-orthodox path in life by rejecting her rigorous, hidebound social structure and traditions. It isn’t her imperfect Jewish legal observance that makes her Unorthodox; it’s her overall trajectory in life. “I grew up Hasidic, NOT Orthodox . I want to make it comfortable and inviting for everyone, even those who don’t fit in”, she quipped.
Another thing the host and some audience members couldn’t wrap their head around was how her husband and community’s betrayal of her through incessant gossip about issues in her private marital life, enabled her to write the book guilt free. “It isn’t tit for tat, it’s the flip side of the coin; if they don’t care about my privacy, then they are sending the signal that their privacy doesn’t matter either” and so she needn’t harbor any qualms about defaming her family and community.
When someone asked about the alleged falsehoods and how those could detract from the her overall credibility, she referred him to the various reporters who have looked into the allegations and have aptly noted that those calumniators are creating a smoke screen. As Jesse Korbluth from The Huffington Post notes, “they didn’t take me up on my main accusation: sexism.”
Other prominent online Deborah Feldman defenders are FrumSatire on such blogs entries as http://www.frumsatire.net/2012/02/21/why-i-believe-deborah-feldman/ and myself on HasidicNews.com in such articles as http://hasidicnews.com/hn/?p=45, which is a rebuttal of the Winston Penisgate “investigation”.
What was arguably the most poignant remark in the session came in response to an audience member’s invocation of the folk saying that “everyone has their pekkel (=package/burden)” and it must be carried and endured forever. Why, she asked, didn’t Deborah simply accept that she was different; that her hailing from a broken family and its concomitant disgrace is something that she just must be accept as her destiny. To which Ms. Feldman retorted shrewdly in the humanistic spirit: what if instead of accepting the pekklech we can get rid of the pekklech? What if we can change that?…the Holocaust happened over 60 years ago.
In response to the oft-repeated accusation that she paints the entire Jewish religious community with one paint brush in one broad stroke, she impressed upon the audience that “the Jewish communiy is as foreign to me as the gentile community, because when I was growing up Satmar, even if you were Modern Orthodox, you were as good as a goy (gentile) if not worse”.
Watch the footage of yesterday’s Deborah Feldman Chulent appearance below.