Just as I came late to the whole BLOG party, I also arrived late to the “Unchosen” party. And I’m really upset that I did, because this book touched me. The problem is that I read it over a month ago and I don’t remember the details so clearly anymore. I kept on pushing off posting about it, because I wanted to be able to do it real justice, better than my typical hastily written posts. At this point, I’m reaching the “better late than never stage” so here goes.
I was totally blown away by this book. (And so was my non-skeptic wife, but more about that in a later post). For those that joined the party even later than I, this book is about the lives of some Chasidim who either no longer wish to stay in the fold or decide to lead double lives within the Chassidic fold. And just like the characters I come across in Blogs, the characters in Unchosen each have their own story, their own path to the world of Skepticism. The real colorful ones have an emotional bent to their tale and others are more intellectually driven. In any event, I found myself identifying with and pitying some of these poor souls.
Take Yossi, who is the protagonist of the book. While he does have serious emotional problems, I can’t help but shake the feeling that his emotional issues are exacerbated due to his being stuck in world he no longer cares for. Or take a Rabbi Fein (not real name) that remains in the system as a popular Chassidic Lecturer.
As difficult as my situation is, it pales in comparison to these individual’s plight. Those that stay in a double life, are trapped in a much tighter web than I find myself in. And those that want to leave find they are unprepared and lack the social and educational skills to live in the secular world.
The book also discussed “Footsteps”,
an organization run by a Malkie Schwartz, herself being an Unchosen. The organization is devoted to providing support for those Chassidim who wish to enter or explore society outside their current boundaries. I believe Footsteps could use volunteers, so if you're in a position to help, check out their website.
I was so moved by this book that I contacted the author, Hella Winston. My first Email to her included the following:
“You have uncovered a deep truth about our society (Chasidic and Non-
Chasidic), namely that peer pressure and public opinion plays a deep
role in many peoples development.”
Well, after several Emails back and forth, I had a long telephone conversation with her. She was, to date, the only verbal contact I’ve ever had with anyone about my situation. Let me now take a step back. Hella, while Jewish, is not from a religious background. Yet, she managed to gain insight and access into the workings of this subset of the Jewish Community. She was amazingly sympathetic and understanding of my own plight and the bind that I’m in. I am grateful to her simply for listening.
If you have not yet read this book, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
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