In the High Peaks

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An Absurdly Long Interruption and Books

It may seem as though I've walked off the edge of the earth, but I am still in residence. I have been overwhelmed by home issues that have flared up and preparations for a major family reunion, which will take place following my mother's memorial service. It's hard for me to realize, but my brain has been so crammed with duties and errands that I've had nearly no space to reflect, to read, to be.

I have taken up knitting again, as a means to calm myself, and as I knit, I've taken to listening to audiobooks. Currently I'm listening to Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's memoir, and it's a gem! Springsteen is the narrator, and I'm certain he wrote the book, though it's possible he had an editor help with structure. I can assure you there was no ghostwriter here!

Springsteen writes and narrates in the same passionate language as is present in the lyrics to his songs. His childhood is fascinating--as  the oldest grandchild, he lived with his grandparents until they were too old to cope, and only then did he move in with his parents, who lived a few blocks away. I'm less than halfway through, but his memoir also reveals the music scene of the early- to mid-1970s beautifully. I'm not yet beyond that era and am just now reading about the magic of the Born to Run album, an era that changed everything for Springsteen and his band who had labored so hard for years and years in the backwaters of New Jersey.

Have you ever wondered what life would be like living as a woman and a mother in a Hasidic Jewish community? This is the universe I discovered when I listened to Leah Lax's  Uncovered:How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home.

Hasids are ultra-orthodox or ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Jews. The largest community in the U.S. resides in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. Other communities are scattered throughout a number of major U.S. cities, and although  the memoir did not discuss this, there are also communities in Europe. (Hasidic Judaism originated in eastern Europe early in the 20th century.) If you have ever read the best-selling classic novels The Chosen and The Promise by Chaim Potok, these novels portrayed conflicts in Hasidic life among young people raised in the culture, growing to maturity, then you are familiar with this way of life and religion.

Leah Lax was born into a Jewish family that did not practice the faith of their parents. They scarcely permitted themselves to ascribe to the views of  liberally-minded Reformed Jews. In the early 1970s Leah became extremely interested in conservative Judaism and sought out many opportunities to learn more about it and to practice her faith with other conservatively-minded Jews. Later, in college, she attended North Texas State University in Denton, which is where she really began to orient herself and commit herself to "God's Laws" as practiced by the Hasidic Community. At the age of 19, she agreed to an arranged marriage and began her life as a Hasidic wife, woman, and mother.

She portrays her life, her profound loneliness, the endless childbearing and housework, and, eventually, her realization as her seventh child grew up, that her soul and spirit were suffocating in this  life. 


  1. I find audio books relaxing when I'm feeling stressed - hope they work for you. Good luck with all you have on your plate right now.

    1. Hi Diane,
      Yes, audiobooks do indeed relax me, and the knitting, too, while I'm listening. A wonderful combo.
      And thank you so much for your good wishes with what' going on now. It helps a great deal.
      You know, I'm so looking forward to a real break. It's on the horizon, I know, but hard to believe it at the moment. Best to you! Judith

  2. Interesting. I would suffocate in a Hasidic community.
    I met a young woman who looked liek she was 16 years old with her baby in a doctors' office. I asked her about her child, assuming he was her first. She told me that he was her third of fourth. She was a member of a Hasidic community.
    The New York Times magazine had an article about a support group with social workers for people who have left the Hasidic communities in which they were raised. They're bereft of their families and friends when they lave and have no one.
    But this organization really helps them with so much, and helps to end the social isolation they feel.

    A lot of Hasidic families in my city won't let their children use the Internet, fearing it will teach them about life outside the community, about science and much more.

    1. Some couples seem to thrive living in Hasidic communities--it seems, according to Leah Lax, that many of them grew up with parents and grandparents who were Hasids.
      Yes, young people (and older folks, like Leah Lax) who leave Hasidic communities can be terribly isolated.
      It sounds like that at least in New York City, the site with the largest Hasidic community, there is help for those who step away. It must be so much harder for those in other cities where there is no such help.
      It was a fascinating book.

  3. I would love to read Born to Run - I like memoirs like this and it does sound interesting. I think audio with Springsteen narrating would be wonderful!

    The only Potok I've read is My Name is Asher Lev, but I've read it twice and it's terrific. However, Uncovered sounds quite depressing and oppressive.

    1. Jane,
      Springsteen's memoir is unforgettable. As I said in my most recent post, I think it sets a new standard. Very introspective, in a good way, and in a way that illuminates both his music and the times he has lived in.