UYC’s Book Club: Unorthodox

Okay, remember when we were going to read Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York back in MAY?  ::hangs head in shame::  Well, here’s the thing…despite it’s great reviews, I just couldn’t get into it.  And boy did I try!  I started and restarted that book several times over the last 3 months and every time just could not understand what the hype was about.  I felt like I was reading a drudging history book of NYC with no plot in sight.  And history books do NOT equal fun summer reads, am I right?

Since we only bring you the best of NY as used by NYers, I didn’t feel right discussing a book on here that I hated.  So…I took it upon myself to find a substitute book that completely ROCKED my inner literary nerd’s world!  I actually picked up a copy when I was visiting the Tenement Museum downtown, and didn’t put it down for 2 days.


The book is the memoir Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman.  Deborah tells her coming-of-age story of growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in a strict Hasidic Jewish community, where she feels like an outsider as far back as she can remember.  In a culture that has strict rules for just about everything, Deborah feels more and more oppressed the older she gets.  There are rules on how you are allowed to dress (conservatively, always), do your hair (after women are married they must never show their natural hair to any man other than their husband, so most shave it off and wear wigs or scarves instead), languages you can speak (English is considered corruptive, so Yiddish it is), when married couples are allowed to have sex (2 weeks out of the month), how much education one can have (anything past high school is a waste for a girl…and even within high school they don’t graduate with an actual NY State diploma…it’s a certificate of sorts their own school system made up)…the list goes on.  And on and on.

When I grew older, I would realize that the dangers that movie presented existed in my own community as well, only they were shrouded in secrecy and allowed to fester there.  And I would come to the conclusion that a society that was honest about its perils was better than one that denied its citizens the knowledge and preparation needed to fend off their approach.

I found this all particularly fascinating because they live in the MIDDLE of NYC.  In BROOKLYN.  It would be one thing to be isolated within your own community in the middle of nowhere, where perhaps you might not see the glaring differences between your own community and the rest of the world on a daily basis.  But being in Williamsburg, literally feet between them and housing projects and high rises and artists and writers and bodega workers and subways that are literally stops away from Manhattan?  One can’t help but wonder if the proximity to all of this helped Deborah realize that the world she was in wasn’t the only option…that there was an alternative…MANY alternatives, and the way out was just a few train stations away.


I had spent my childhood longing for the suburban backdrop of a stereotypical American upbringing because nothing could have seemed more foreign at the time, and later I discovered that those American girls searched vigorously throughout their formative years for unique experiences that would define them as different, a struggle they found endlessly frustrating.

Seriously…fascinating stuff.  I cant wait to gobble up everything else she writes.  #suchafan  Here’s a great little interview with the author:

Have you read Unorthodox?  What did you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


For next month, we’ll be reading Astor Place Vintage by Stephanie Lehmann, so download, buy, or check it out from your local library now!  You absolutely don’t have to be based out of NYC to participate…in fact, the more variety we have in voices, the better!  (That’s me cheering you on, yay!)


We will be hosting this book discussion and posting about it on Monday, September 8th, and would LOVE to have you guys join in on the discussion!  Between now and then, please join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag:


Who’s in?!  Let us know in the comment section below!


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen




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