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Two stories of Jewish identity

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Posted: Friday, April 27, 2012 12:00 am

Who's in, who's out? The very notion of community, despite its benign implication of shared peoplehood, implies a tacit exclusivity that ripples across an increasingly diverse Jewish landscape. What does it mean to be a Jew? To be a Chasidic Jew? To be a LGBT Jew? The definitions of Jewish identity are as varied as the vast variety of Jews and as complex as our shared understandings of community and peoplehood. Here are two books that convey the tortuous path to self-definition that provoke thought about how we realize our potential as Jews and as human beings.

"Zeidy used to tell me that serenity was the most important thing one could achieve in life, that it was the secret to happiness. I don't think he ever felt he had achieved it, but perhaps he came close. For everyone, he said, it's a different journey. Where do I travel to find peace in myself?" So asks Deborah Feldman toward the end of her memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots" (Simon & Schuster, $23 hardcover) in perhaps a thinly veiled apologia. Yet, Feldman, the 24-year-old author of the book, who bravely decided to leave the Satmar Chasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to make a new life, is searingly honest in her depiction of life in the Chasidic world and her longing to move beyond its boundaries.

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