‘Unorthodox’ With The Facts?
03/06/12
Associate Editor
Photo Galleria: 

Is Deborah Feldman’s “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” the publishing world’s latest fraudulent memoir, on par with James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces?”

Or has the 25-year-old Williamsburg native simply exercised a little poetic license in crafting her tale of growing up Satmar?

The memoir, published less than a month ago by Simon and Schuster, is currently Amazon’s 55th top seller, and its No. 1 top-selling Jewish book. Feldman has appeared on ABC’s “The View,” WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show,” in Salon, The New York Post and The Daily News, to name just a few.

The book has also spurred a cottage industry devoted to dispelling its inaccuracies. Soon after the book came out, this newspaper’s Hella Winston found various holes in Feldman’s allegations of a brutal murder and cover-up in the upstate town of Kiryas Joel. (The coroner ruled the death a suicide, The Jewish Week learned.) Meanwhile, an anonymous blog — “Deborah Feldman Exposed” — has sprung up to respond to the book’s claims (and Feldman’s comments in interviews) about the Satmar world and the author’s family history and childhood.

Aiding in the research — digging up everything from family photos, Feldman’s old blog posts, school photos and Facebook posts of Feldman’s mother, Shoshana Berkovic — is Shmarya Rosenberg’s “Failed Messiah,” a blog that usually focuses on exposing scandals within the haredi community.

Among the findings: Feldman misstates the timing of various news events within the Satmar community and falsely claims that the first Satmar rebbe’s daughter was pushed down the stairs while pregnant (the synagogue where this supposedly happened was not yet built at the time of her death). Feldman, despite claims that her mother abandoned her as a toddler, was apparently in contact with her mother throughout much of her childhood; her parents divorced considerably later than she indicates; she has a younger sister, now 17, whom she neglects to mention in the book; she attended Bais Yakov on the Lower East Side and another non-Satmar but Orthodox school until sixth grade. (Feldman was allegedly expelled from Bais Yakov for telling classmates about sex, a topic that, according to her memoir, she was completely ignorant about until shortly before her wedding.) In addition, Feldman falsely claims that her mother is listed in the closing credits of the 2001 documentary about gay Orthodox Jews, “Trembling Before G-d.

Feldman’s defenders, meanwhile, have insisted the author is simply being smeared for criticizing chasidic Jews, and have pointed to the book’s disclaimer, which notes that “certain events have been compressed, consolidated, or reordered to protect the identities of the people involved and ensure continuity of the narrative.”

Feldman, who declined to be interviewed by The Jewish Week for this article, posted a statement last week on her blog noting that in the book she has “offered the reader experiences that were most important to me, all the while trying my best to protect the privacy of people I cared about. There are those who object to my decision to omit certain aspects of my life. In response, I can only say that there are matters about which I am not confident I know the whole truth, and I prefer to avoid further speculating on the personal lives of people who have not invited the kind of public scrutiny I am allowing for myself.”

Responding to reports that her mother did not abandon the community until Feldman was a teenager, the author writes: “The idea of community in a religious setting is mutable, and Williamsburg is a big place. My mother may have lived within its bounds, but there was a time early in my life that she no longer adhered rigidly to the Satmar way, and was emphatically not living with me, or raising me. As a child I was often the pawn being pushed around by those fighting a bigger battle, and although my family dynamic didn’t always make sense to me, I knew which adults were in charge, and my mother wasn’t one of them.”

As for the now dispelled claim of murder and cover-up, Feldman downplays it: “I do not state that his father murdered him. I relay a conversation that I had with my husband, showing that my mind went to a certain conclusion and stating that my husband urged me not to jump to conclusions.”

However, in an interview with The Jewish Week shortly before the book’s publication, Feldman was more strident in her accusations about the matter, insisting that her brother-in-law was “the first on the scene” and that the Satmar EMT’s director covered up the matter out of fear that a “full-scale investigation” could affect ongoing lawsuits, including the community’s fight “for the right to have an independent village with funding from the state.”

She also told The Jewish Week that the dead boy’s father is “notorious in the community for being a lunatic.”

In that interview, Feldman also made a variety of other allegations that may raise the eyebrows of her detractors: claiming her ex-husband had an affair with Feldman’s cousin, family members e-mailed her death threats, and that in the Satmar community “the rules are just for show” and “all the young people are either ultra-fanatic or they want out.”

 

Last Update:

11/26/2012 - 03:24

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Success of her book only speaks to possible success of Feldmans dissemination of lies and distortions, discrediting the genuine efforts of so many in OTD community to bring knowledge and light, and affect change in expectations, attitude’s and minds.
Reading the reaction against Feldmans book – particularly the thoughtful reactions from the OTD community - I think that she succeeded in portraying herself as a young person driven by vengeance and hate, to the point of departure of sane reason, deliberate lying, disgraceful slander, disrespect of others in her life whom she ought to have treated with cordiality at the very least, and shameful, selfish disregard for the feelings of others.

All that to gain notoriety, sell books and become famous!

Maybe that is explanation for her quick disappearance from the top seller list.

The book was less then 28 days on Amazon top 100, making it the fastest book to fall to the bottom of Amazon top 100 in the fastest time.

The backlash from the so-called fervently Orthodox communities is a reflection of their belief that anyone and anything outside their community is worthless and 'treif'. It thus behooves them to virulently attack anyone who disagrees with their way of life, because not to do so leaves open for consideration the possibility that some of their ways may be wrong.

"The backlash from the so-called fervently Orthodox communities is a reflection of their belief that anyone and anything outside their community is worthless"

Almost every OTDer (except for her close buddies, and those who would like to be that and more ....) agrees that her book is a pack of lies, laced with some truth, just the same as the fervently Orthodox do.

Horrors! You posted this scandalous story with a picture of the writer's face! Don't you know that women's pictures can cause men to get stimulated? Or is that simulated? No matter, what an awful thing to do Erev Purim. At least our co-religionists in the Holy Land don't do such awful things with women's pictures in public. They put them behind brown paper wrappers where they belong. Yes, in the future, I will stick to Yated and the like and avoid stimulation. Or is that simulation? Bye and Happy Purim

The article says that Ms. Feldman “falsely claims that the first Satmar rebbe’s daughter was pushed down the stairs while pregnant.” However, the book states no such thing. The book claims that a rumor exists that the Satmar rebbe’s daughter was pushed down the stairs. Saying that a rumor exists that this occurred is not the same thing as saying that it did in fact occur. Ironically, although the article criticizes Ms. Feldman for inaccuracy, the article itself makes inaccurate claims.

Not only that, but I just started reading the book - first chapters only - and just ran across this article, in a google search, and immediately spotted another *glaring* error. It states:

"Among the findings: ... Feldman, despite claims that her mother abandoned her as a toddler, was apparently in contact with her mother throughout much of her childhood;..."

Wrong, and wrong; whoever wrote this article and fact-checked it obviously had not even started the book in question. In the opening scene of the memoir, set later in her life, a birthday get together with her Mom at an Upper East Side cafe, her mom clearly states that after she had left the 'culture,' when she would return to visit the young Deborah, she felt as if she was being treated, by the other women in the family, as if she was no longer her real birth mother (not an uncommon if sad feeling when anyone's family separates).

Anyway, there it is, at the start of the text, the fact that the Mom in question was still at least visiting the young girl after the separation. Go figure?! If the other charges that are listed against this book are as "closely researched and confirmed" as this charge, then I strongly suspect it is simply a (lazy and sloppy) campaign to discredit it, and nothing deeper than that.

Seems like the otd's, ex-hasid or whatever they call themselves are extremely jealous on Debra Feldman, that they resort to childish tactic to discredit her. It's a bit odd as to why? Is it financial jealousy? Here Carrier? Did she take away the voice from the other so called “voice of the OTD’s? Like failed-messiah / unpious? Most of the otd's are not really successful, because leaving a community takes a toll on your ambitions, without support people lack courage.
In any event I would like to start seeing more articles as to why the ex-hasids are so angry at Debro. All this pagesix style blogs like debra-exposed etc, were definitely not written by current hasids, they don’t have the vocabulary to write this.. I don't believe it’s because of the alleged messaging of the truth. A misquoted date perhaps, small and stupid un-consequential lies that don’t really change the whole story of the book. They sound like religious teachers. Everybody who lives in satmar knows that she more or less described our upbringing, of course there are more/less extreme amongst us, but she is definably not another James Frey, c'ommon. I would like to see some articles exploring the reason of hate of Deborah Feldman’s. what has she done they so aggravated this so-called spokespeople of the otd movement?

"Most of the otd's are not really successful, because leaving a community takes a toll on your ambitions, without support people lack courage"

Honey, unfortunately your spelling and grammar is so poor, its hard to make out what youre saying.

Ofcourse thats the fault af all the Hasidic schools!

How about the hundreds of Lutvaks who barely focus on English in High School and then get a Masters degree with Yeshiva credits, pass the neccessary examinations for entrance to Law Schools and Med schools with flying colors, get into top Law schools and Medical schools, sail through Law School and Medical School, with honors without Footsteps tutoring them!!!!!!!

How did the Twerskys ever graduate Law Schol and Medical School without Footsteps? Perhaps the Twerskys were underground Footsteps members, and we just idnt know? Or their parents tutored them day and night. Ha.

This proves that the OTD crowd is predominantly made up of slow learners, who then are slow or non-earners!

Go crack the books, my friend (that means study!!!)

You're using Failed Messiah as a source?

That's funny.

This is someone who rants, raves, and curses at everyone who questions his all knowing command of the facts.

His blog is a gathering place for all the foul mouthed malcontents who hate religion. Now he spends the majority of his time trying to discredit the book.

It's pretty interesting.

Here someone attacks the community he usually attacks and without resorting to potty mouth techniques - as he does in his comments - accomplishes more with the publication of a book than he could ever do.

Feldman's book is a captivating read. It's convincing. The first page of the book is a disclaimer.

Did Mr. Rosenberg read the book?

No one knows.

He's certainly carrying on as if he didn't.

The incidents pointed out are offered as a teenagers memory of growing up in the Satmar community.

It's scary.

All year long the community treats Satmar as pariahs for their treatment of Israel. Now The Jewish Week races to defend them?

Why?

One comment of Feldman's worth challenging is that she changed facts in order to protect the privacy of her relatives. Yet she included photos of those same relatives while smearing them in the book.
One of her targets is her grandfather. In real life, he wasn't the ignorant, English-hating fanatic she describes. His name is Bernard Berkovic, and he worked as an accountant. He did my taxes for many years, quite competently. His English was excellent, and I continued to rely on him even after I passed the bar and became an attorney.

“The rules are just for show” and “all the young people are either ultra-fanatic or they want out.”

Wo! What a negative woman with a hilarious statement! How does she know everyone's secrets?

Not only did Ms Feldman close the door on anything Jewish in her life, other than what she's obligated to do with her son, she takes whatever Jewish experiences shes had, the same experiences that most Jews derive great pleasure from, gives them a negative bend, and voila, Simon and Schuster gets a best seller out of it, and Ms Feldman says that she now feels more Jewish. Comical.

Ms Feldman has become a poster child for the OTD (those leaving Hasidism/Orthodoxy) movement in the media (even though OTDers are not gladdened by her lies), representing less than one percent of the Hasidic and Orthodox population, no matter what she says.

Then theres the matter of Footsteps, the big players in the OTD movement, the organization Ms Feldman holds dear. They restrict membership and participation ONLY to prospective Ms Feldmans. What are they scared of? What might those who arent prospective Ms Feldmans do to harm anyone?

Ive heard people refer to Hasidism as a cult, because of their wanting to be different and separate, grooming their members to be clone-like. A cult is defined as " a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister." In my eyes Footsteps and their members are cultlike in their so limiting membership and activities ONLY to prospective Ms Feldmans, in cookie cutter style.

Its just one other kind of a restrictive cult.

No Jews who seek to observe Judaism as they please, need apply. Unless the mode of observance they choose pleases Footsteps founders and staff.

A negative woman, book and organization, all together, all the same.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.