Thursday, March 1, 2012

The unraveling of Deborah Feldman's fable "Unorthodox"

The problem is that much of her memoir may not be true, according to ardent critics. These include family members, neighbors and even New York State authorities.

In the book, Feldman charges her mother – who was apparently burdened by the pressures of Satmar life – with a “mysterious disappearance” when Feldman was a toddler.
In fact, it takes about 30 seconds to find Shoshana Berkovic on both Twitter and Facebook. She is a science teacher at New Utrecht High School and does not appear to have ever left Brooklyn. She did divorce her husband, as court records indicate. But that was in 2010, more than a decade after Feldman accuses her mother with leaving her behind. (Shoshana Berkovic / Facebook)


  1. So move her books from the non-fiction to the fiction section of the store. Done.

  2. The part getting lost in all this hallabaloo is that a girl from a dysfunctional home, by being told to shut up in school rather than coddled and other such incidents grew into this hateful person.

    We failed her, among all the other kids at risk. We could cry "liar", for whatever anyone other than ourselves would care. But we could also look to see what her perceptions of our world can tell us about what we did wrong, and what we should change to help the next girl.

  3. Micha,

    Perhaps you ought to investigate Stalin or Hitler's childhood issues too, to understand what caused them to become the hateful people they were.

    Evil is evil. Same here.

  4. 15% of American O teens are at risk. Of which, 82% - 95% return (published studies vary). So, we're talking something like 1% of our children. I don't know what that comes to across the Orthodox world, but Satmar's schools systems alone are 300,000 children, meaning something like 3,000 departures. So how many tens of thousands among the rest of us?

    Wouldn't you like to know what we're doing that turns them off? What kind of impression we make on those children whom we've failed?

    We aren't making thousands of potential Stalins, that there is any benefit to knowing how he was produced.

    Yes, evil is evil, and acknowledging that mistakes were made in someone's childhood doesn't mitigate their guilt, at least not in beis din shel matah.

    But turning a blind eye to the effects of our mistakes is just counterproductive. In the rush to point out her lies and identify the problems of the other, we miss the lessons for ourselves.

    Even looking through a distorted fun-house mirror, we can still see what issues proved critical when we alienated Ms Friedman. What are her monomanias? Hiding internal scandals rather than resolving them. Sexual tabboos -- of which she only knows silly rumors and little din or minhag. And that an inquisitive girl, who had no one at home to turn to, was shut up in school rather than nurtured.

    <sarcasm>Because, as we know, the frum world is doing everything perfectly, and has no flaws for someone else to notice. Right?</sarcasm>

    As Chazal put it, sheqer has only one leg. It can't stand, but it is generally built around a kernel of truth. The issues she raises in interviews -- I wouldn't try to read the book -- are ones often discussed here and elsewhere. They are real, even if she exaggerates and distorts them to the point of libel.

    1. "Wouldn't you like to know what we're doing that turns them off? What kind of impression we make on those children whom we've failed?"

      Micha, while I am convinced that this is always a valid question to ask, and a community can always search for ways to improve, I think Jay has a point--his hyperbole aside.

      Society is filled with dysfunctional individuals, even when reared under the best of circumstances. There are many individuals out there who suffer from issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia (and its variants), perhaps even personality disorders, in spite of having a fine upbrining. Many of these people engage in personally irresponsible, self-destructive behaviors, and often themselves bring children into this world. Many of these children, in turn, suffer at the hands of dysfunctional parents, and end up growing up to be the Deborah Feldmans of the world. I don't think Satmar extremism is necessarily the primary issue here, as we can see the ravages of mental illness/socially dysfunctional behavior in all strata of society.

  5. Micha,

    There is significantly less than 1% OTD non-return rate among Chareidi children. Satmar may have 300,000 children currently in their school system, but nowhere remotely close to 3,000 Satmar children from the past 13 years (about how long a child is in a school system) have become non-frum.

  6. Micha,
    I'm also interested in any sources you may have in your possession regarding these OTD stats for the orthodox community. I was actually heartened to see that a majority of them seem to return in some way.

  7. I got those numbers from a talk R' Wallerstein (of Ohr Naavah) gave at last year's AJOP conference. YU collected at risk rates, but have yet to publish anything about the returns.

    " I don't think Satmar extremism is necessarily the primary issue here" -- me neither. I think my earlier comments were quite clear that I'm expecting it's an issue true in all our communities.


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