Deborah Feldman reflects on Hasidic upbringing, life as a writer in Berlin

Photo courtesy of Deborah Feldman


Deborah Feldman’s bestselling memoir, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots,” recounts growing up in, and eventually leaving, her conservative Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. Feldman relates her story to the experiences of oppressed women not only in religious societies, but in sects throughout the U.S., and is wary of religious freedom taken too far “to the point where civil rights only have limited reach.”

The writer now lives a completely different life in Berlin, but sees some parallels between Germans and the Orthodox environment she was raised in. Growing up in a community founded by Holocaust survivors, the trauma was “omnipresent, although no one ever talked about the details.” Germans, too, “can’t get away” from this chapter of history, Feldman says, but finds the dialogue about it underdeveloped and in some ways irrelevant to her generation.

Feldman is currently working on a long essay that takes on this rigid discourse surrounding the Holocaust in Germany as well as a novel based on a family secret she recently discovered, while at the same time “dabbling in a million other things.” The author says moving to Berlin has allowed her to cast a wide net, creatively speaking. “Berlin is a city where just so much is going on and everyone is just doing everything at the same time,” and unlike her native New York, “that becomes possible without sacrificing.”

Photo courtesy Deborah Feldman.