A heartfelt and inspiring personal account of a woman raised as a Lubavitcher Hasid who leaves that world without leaving the family that remains within it.
Even as a child, Chaya Deitsch felt that she didn’t belong in the Hasidic world into which she’d been born. She spent her teenage years outwardly conforming to but secretly rebelling against the rules that tell you what and when to eat, how to dress, whom you can befriend, and what you must believe. Loving her parents, grandparents, and extended family, Chaya struggled to fit in but instead felt angry, stifled, and frustrated. Upon receiving permission from her bewildered but supportive parents to attend Barnard College, she discovered a wider world in which she could establish an independent identity and fulfill her dream of an unconfined life that would be filled with the secular knowledge and culture that were largely foreign to her friends and relatives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As she gradually shed the physical and spiritual trappings of Hasidic life, Chaya found herself torn between her desire to be honest with her parents about who she now was and her need to maintain a loving relationship with the family that she still very much wanted to be part of.
Eventually, Chaya and her parents came to an understanding that was based on unqualified love and a hard-won but fragile form of acceptance. With honesty, sensitivity, and intelligence, Chaya Deitsch movingly shows us that lives lived differently do not have to be lives lived apart.
In this heartfelt and honest memoir, Deitsch shares the story of her tumultuous journey to find her own way while keeping ties with her family intact. Torn between loyalty to her family, practitioners of Lubavitch Hasidism, and her own growing unhappiness with the rules and restrictions placed upon her, Deitsch recounts the vicissitudes of living a life filled with internal conflict. Although she doubts much, she feels the power of the Lubavitcher rebbe, the brilliant spiritual leader whom she fears can see her "dark and secret thoughts." She lives an untenable existence: "Unable to escape, however, I float in a middle space, a psychic refuge." Her story from childhood only through college graduation, leaving readers wondering what has become of her in the decades since (besides a brief afterword) is permeated with discontent, but never disrespect, and laced with love for and from her family. It is perhaps Deitsch's parents who are the real heroes of this story, straddling expectations of family and community while stretching to accept their daughter's needs.