A Female Member of the Satmar Community in Williamsburg takes Deborah Feldman to task for her allegations in a recent newspaper interview…
She now calls herself Deborah, but I remember her as Suri. We grew up
together and attended the same school from fifth through twelfth grade.
(She was actually my younger sister’s grade mate, a couple of years my
junior.) She came to Satmar when Bais Yaakov of Vien, the most liberal
of Williamsburg’s schools for girls, would no longer tolerate her
Her aunt (whom she refers to as Aunt Chaya in her book and whom she
speaks of disparagingly) was the English principal of our school. A
highly respected, refined and with-it woman, she vouched for her niece
and took upon herself to give Suri the best possible school experience.
Seems like Suri has repaid the kindness in spades. Based solely on
her own dysfunctional upbringing (which has undoubtedly stoked her
rebellious streak), she has shamelessly sunk so low as to trash an
entire community. It boggles the mind… and sadly speaks for itself. What
I can say with absolute certainty is that she did not undergo most of
what she claims she did, and I would like to counter some of her blatant
To begin with, classy and intelligent people do not grant interviews
to tabloid papers, unless they are willing to do whatever it takes to
get publicity. When I’ll be in a forgiving mood, I’ll be dan l’kaf zchus
(give her the benefit of the doubt) that maybe the paper deliberately
twisted her words. But something tells me they were her own. After all,
Deception: Suri lays it on thick when asked to describe a
bathing suit worn in summer camp: “Picture this really shiny nylon
fabric and thick, floppy, long sleeves, and pants covered with an extra
layer of material to make it look like a skirt.” The real thing: At most, a “chassidish”
bathing suit is a short-sleeve dress reaching mid-thigh, made of thin
spandex fabric; quite comfortable, in fact, as well as modest.
Fiction: The subject of (sex) relations was a total mystery
to Suri and her husband, she alleges. A bright, open-minded and
inquisitive girl who managed to hide books under her bed, Suri would
have us believe that she skipped the library’s reading material on
anatomy and sex? Even the most naïve of Satmar girls are pretty much
aware of what awaits them on their wedding night, so spare us the
Falsehood: As a longtime Williamsburg resident and a mother
myself, I can attest that children transported in cars are properly
buckled into their safety seats and that all mothers take their children
for regular visits (and then some) to their pediatricians. If Suri was
ever seated in the front of a car without a seatbelt and was never taken
to a doctor (both of which she asserts), it could well have been the
direct result of her dysfunctional home environment (what with a
mentally unstable father and an absentee mother).
Distortion: Contrary to her assertion that at seventeen she
was deemed to be on the old end of marriageable age, seventeen is, in
point of fact, regarded as being on the young end, the norm being
eighteen to twenty-one.
Invention 1: “Deborah” divulges that chassidish women are
not allowed to eat out. Huh? I challenge anyone to walk down Lee Avenue
in Williamsburg at any given time of day or night where eateries are
packed with chassidish women. We may not be eating pork or crab cake
sandwiches, but we are certainly enjoying the finest in heimishe food
and delicacies. (You’ll find many of us eating out at kosher food
establishments outside of Williamsburg as well.)
Invention 2: Curfew for women? That’s news to me. In my
Satmar Williamsburg world, my friends and I have frequently returned
home after midnight (unescorted by our men), and we have yet to be
stopped or told that this is inappropriate.
A transcript of an ABC review of Deborah Feldman’s book has just
diminished Suri’s credibility to zero in my book. Her claim of being
“subtly molested during a cleansing bath – a mikvah – to ensure her purity” is utterly preposterous. No one gets into the mikvah
water with a woman during her ritual cleansing. As for “the entire
community” being in on her virginal status after failure to consummate
her marriage, well, Suri, that sure is news to me. I had no idea!
Newly married couples in communities such as ours are fortunate to
have a support system if and when needed, but at the same time a married
twosome can just as well opt to maintain their privacy. Presuming
Deborah’s grandparents/in-laws displayed over-protectiveness (a weakness
on the part of many parents of married children across the globe), it
may have been a manifestation of their compassion for a motherless
If Satmar Chassidism was torture for Suri, her amenable husband was
the antidote — a great guy who also happened to be very tolerant of his
wife’s need to be “different.” As a matter of fact, they relocated to a
different neighborhood (a substantial distance from Williamsburg) not
long after they married, where Suri would feel less “stifled.”
She was thus given the opportunity to establish independence from her
supposedly overbearing family and could have eased into a less
stringent lifestyle, albeit still as a practicing orthodox Jew. But Suri
chose rather to immerse herself in fantasies spun by the novels of
which she couldn’t get enough. Her imagination was further fueled by the
support of her new friends and college courses she was taking (such as
And in the process, she did more than unshackle herself from the
“confines of Hasidic Satmar” — she shed her light of spirituality … in
exchange for the darkness of materialism.
Yes, Suri, we in the Satmar community take upon ourselves to live
“beyond the letter of the law” — not in spite of the world we live in
but because of the world we live in, so as to avoid the danger of
getting “to the edge and jumping off” into an abyss. We love our
beautiful way of life (contrary to your ludicrous insinuations) and are
devastated by the distortions and web of falsehoods you have woven into
your “memoir” — fundamentally an attack on all segments of Orthodox
It is hard for me to believe that this woman will get away with all
the untruths and inconsistencies put out there. When called on his lies,
James Frey, the author of “A Million Little Pieces”, claimed to have
literary reasons for his fabrications. He defended “the right of
memoirists to draw upon their memories, not simply upon documented
facts,” but he eventually was made to own up to his untruthfulness in
newer editions of his publication.
I expect the same to happen to Deborah Feldman.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Did Deborah Feldman Misrepresent Her Academic Background?
The author of "Unorthodox" claims to have received a scholarship to study at Sarah Lawrence, and she's said she was admitted without having a high school diploma or a transcript. How much, if anything, of this is true?
Is Deborah Feldman lying about her college education?
Listen to her brief interview (posted below) with Leonard Lopate, which was recorded a few days ago. when you hear it, you'd think Feldman was admitted to a BA program at Sarah Lawrence – without a high school diploma or a transcript! – and was still studying there.
But I'm told that she was admitted to a writing program through the Continuing Education division of Sarah Lawrence. It does not require transcripts or even a high school diploma. (Please see the application posted at the end of this post.)
I'm also told that Feldman has not been a student at Sarah Lawrence since 2010.
It seems Feldman just can't tell the truth.
Please click the gray bar to listen
Posted by Unorthodox at 10:06 AM
Thursday, February 23, 2012
'Unorthodox' Author’s Claim Of Murder Cover-up Rebutted
Coroner’s report lists 20-year-old’s death in Kiryas Joel as suicide.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Special to the Jewish Week
POSTED THURSDAY, FEB. 16, 4:30 P.M.
With allegations of communal cover-ups involving child sexual abuse dogging the haredi community over the past several years, it may not be much of a stretch for some readers to believe a gruesome story that appears in a new memoir about growing up in, and leaving, the Satmar community.
The story, recounted by Deborah Feldman in “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” (Simon and Schuster), involves the alleged mutilation and murder of a boy by his own father — supposedly for masturbating — and the subsequent cover-up of the crime by Hatzolah, the community’s volunteer ambulance service.
The only problem, however, is that based on information obtained by The Jewish Week, the story seems not be true.
Feldman claims she first learned of the grisly crime from her husband who had, in turn, heard about it from his brother, allegedly a member of Hatzolah at the time, who had been called to the blood-soaked scene. Apparently, the boy’s “penis was cut off with a jig saw and his throat was slit too,” Feldman writes.
Feldman recounts that her husband told her his brother “said the neighbors told him they heard loud arguing coming from the house. When he called the [volunteer ambulance] dispatch, they told him to go home and keep quiet about it, that they would take care of it. He said they buried him in thirty minutes and they didn’t even issue a death certificate.”
In a pre-publication interview with Julie Wiener in The Jewish Week, Feldman was questioned about the veracity of the story. Feldman not only insisted that she was not lying, but asserted that the father was known to be mentally ill and implied that he had escaped justice for his crime.
“I worry about his other children,” Feldman told Wiener, “and I worry about people thinking if he could get away with that, then they can get away with anything.”
This is not the first time Feldman has made this allegation. Indeed, in December of 2008 it appeared on her then anonymous blog, Hasidic-Feminist, where it was described as a “Class A secret.” In the blog post, Feldman recounted the story of a “thirteen year-old boy [who] had been castrated with a jig saw and bled to death.”
The incident, according to Feldman, took place “two years ago on an Erev Shabbos in [Kiryas Joel].” She goes on to elaborate that when Hatzolah arrived at the crime scene (a basement) and tried to question the father, “he refused to cooperate, saying only that his son deserved it and that he was a chazar, a pig, because he touched himself.” Feldman then notes that no police report was ever filed and the boy was “under ground” in 30 minutes. “People of KJ,” she warned, “a murderer walks in your midst.”
While some of the 31 comments on the blog post were credulous of Hasidic-Feminist’s claims, several expressed serious skepticism. At least one claimed knowledge that the death was in fact a suicide and that the young man (who, one commenter noted, was not 13 but 19) was well known to have been mentally ill.
“Our community would not have ignored a murder,” wrote a commenter with the screen name Product, “but anyone familiar with Hasidic culture knows that any mention of a familial disgrace such as suicide would be stifled. This explains why the story is so shrouded in mystery.”
A few commenters even chastised Feldman, in the guise of Hasidic-Feminist, for not reporting her knowledge to the police. “[No] one has gone to the police,” she responded to one of these charges, “because no one wants to be publicly outed as a musser — a tattletale. That’s a sin that merits ‘honor killing.’”
However, The Jewish Week confirmed that the state police do in fact have a record of the incident and its office provided the paper with the names of two of its investigators called to the scene, John Van Der Molen and Michael Colern. Calls to the two officers were not returned Thursday.
Further, a death certificate obtained by The Jewish Week indicates that the death — which it noted occurred in a “storeroom” on a Friday afternoon in Kiryas Joel around the approximate date Feldman’s blog alleged — was ruled a suicide by coroner Thomas A. Murray, and lists the cause of death as “partial decapitation, severed carotid arteries due to circular saw.” The deceased’s age was listed as 20.
Several e-mails to Feldman and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, seeking comment did not receive a response.
Privacy laws prevent Hatzolah from commenting on any case, but Moses Witriol, the director of public safety and chief constable for Kiryas Joel, told The Jewish Week that the story was patently false.
“When the first Hatzolah member showed up on the scene, he cordoned off the area and contacted the public safety office, which in turn immediately contacted the state police. Except for them and the coroner, no other people were in the room [where the boy was found]. The state police conducted a full and thorough investigation and interviewed every member of the family.
“If Mrs. Feldman knows about a crime in the village [of Kiryas Joel],” Witriol continued, “I invite her to come forward to law enforcement.”
Reached by phone, a relative of the deceased told The Jewish Week, “I cannot understand how a person could possibly find it within themselves to fabricate such a gruesome story and slander a completely innocent, grieving and tragedy-stricken family in such a horrific way. The facts are that the boy had a long history of mental illness, and his family and the community did a lot to try and help this individual. It was a very tragic end to a life full of suffering.”
Posted by Unorthodox at 2:35 PM
From The Forward
February 20, 2012, 7:00am
By Debra Nussbaum CohenDeborah Feldman. She has written a sensational first book, the memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots,” which is newly published by Simon & Schuster and grew out of an anonymous blog she kept while trying to work her way out of life as a Satmar Hasid. Now questions are being asked about her veracity.
Her story, which The Sisterhood’s Judy Bolton-Fasman wrote about here, is riveting: Left by her mother as a very young girl, Feldman’s father is developmentally delayed, and she is raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by his parents. The confines of a Satmar girl’s life, particularly that of a girl whose family has neither money nor lineage to boast of, are rigid. She is married at 17 to a man she’s barely met and becomes pregnant as soon as they figured out how to consummate their marriage.
It is a life most of us can hardly imagine. And as a result, Feldman has been getting lots of press. In addition to a spot on “The View,” the book has been reviewed in The Forward, and covered by The New York Post and ABC News.
There is much that is shocking in Feldman’s story. Her best friend suffers terrible injury by her new husband when neither of the young marrieds has any idea how things were supposed to work on their wedding night. Another surprise (and I won’t give it away here) is why Feldman’s mother really left her.
Sometimes “Unorthodox” seems written in the voice of a girl still on the cusp of adolescence. And while it is memoir, so of course completely subjective, some of the portrayals of people in her life are so broadly written as to seem like caricatures.
The most stunning of what Feldman writes about is the gruesome murder of a 13-year-old boy by his father, for masturbating, and the subsequent cover up by the Orthodox volunteer ambulance corps Hatzolah. In her book, Feldman says that the boy had his penis cut off and was nearly beheaded by his enraged father, and that the body was buried within 30 minutes after it was discovered in an effort to cover up the crime.
But the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston now writes that the story Feldman tells is untrue. Instead, Winston writes, a 19- or 20-year-old young man killed himself, and the death was reported to secular law enforcement.
I spoke with Feldman about it on Saturday night. She was defensive about Winston’s story. “I don’t have a response. My response is always no comment. I am not a journalist…You read the book, you saw how I portrayed that story. I don’t even know why you would try to engage about it.”
Other people besides Winston seem to have questions about Feldman and her book. A new blog is devoted to “exposing Deborah Feldman,” and the holes it says are in the stories she tells about growing up Satmar.
Whatever the truth, something about Feldman still seems very young, though she is now 25 and the mother of a nearly 6-year-old son. In photos in the Post, posing in a sequined, sleeveless mini-dress, and at pictures on the ABC News website, where she sits on a park bench, wearing high heels, tight jeans and holding a cigarette in her hand, she looks like nothing so much as a young girl posing the way she thinks grownups are supposed to.
She reminds me of 13-year-old girls I see at some bat mitzvahs, teetering around on stiletto heels and wearing minis so short they can’t safely sit down.
Now living on the Upper East Side with her son, she said there is nothing she misses about life in the Satmar community. “Everything I miss I can have,” she said. “If I want cholent, I make cholent. I have it all now. I am just exhilarated by it. There is not even within me even one shred of regret.”
Posted by Unorthodox at 2:34 PM