A young man I know was raised to be a Hassidic Jew. As a young adult, he started reading secular books and was soon gobbling up whatever he could find on history, politics, and economics, like tools to grasp a world he didn’t know. He decided to go to college, which wasn’t socially acceptable and wasn’t a small undertaking without a high school diploma, but he got into Brooklyn College and later, Columbia Law. This isn’t a story of a religious boy who becomes someone else, because he kept his beard and yarmalka. Of course his education informed his new views on many things, but he sought, and felt he found, enough flexibility within his religion to hold on, so soon he was a Hassidic boy who was comfortable on the internet, watched television, dabbled in liberal politics, continued to read, and had non-Jewish friends he met up with after class for a beer. He didn’t match the norm, but he was still a Hassidic boy.
The problem was, he couldn’t get a job. He watched classmates get that requisite second-year internship and secure lucrative jobs, but firms want employees that present themselves like a blank slate on which clients can project what they need, and interviewers felt this young man would put off clients who would perceive him as harboring specific views and possible prejudices. Even though his views had changed, he had a beard, part of who he was, and he couldn’t get a job.
My memoir, has a beard. It, too, was born of Hassidic life but doesn’t fit the mold. Editors have told me that their boards feel only those very few readers who have direct contact with Hassidim will be interested. Uncovered isn’t a Hassidic book, and neither am I Hassidic today, but my book has a beard.
Uncovered is a delayed coming-of-age story, about a woman finally discovering her consciousness. Uncovered does what almost no book in the world in English has done, because it is the voice of a covered woman from a fundamentalist society. She could be Moslem or fundamentalist Christian or whatever, because the patriarchal structure and the covering and silencing of women are all the same. Oh, there are a few memoirs out there by women who left such societies, but virtually all left quite young and at a run. Uncovered speaks with authority of years of female silence in a religious world, living like a tool for others .
Carolyn Heilbrun once wrote that, in male-dominated societies, if women don’t confide in one another, they never find a voice. In our community, we didn’t dare, and so finding a voice to speak even to myself and then the courage to leave is still, to me, looking back, miraculous.
Uncovered is dedicated to my covered sisters everywhere. When it is finally published, you’ll be the first to know.