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Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My…

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood

by Leah Vincent

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This was so disappointing! I love stories about people who emerge from the yoke of fundamentalism, and I love a good memoir, and this has been on my TBR since it came out. I had a number of problems with the book, but the primary problem is that it was boring. Really boring. There were many things Vincent could have explored in her complicated life story that would have been edifying and interesting. Instead she gives us an uncontextualized litany of events that make no sense.

Great memoirs tell us about the key characters. Some well-regarded examples, "The Tender Bar", The Glass Castle, and Angela’s Ashes illustrate this. We have a clear POV from the author, but we learn as much or more about the people around them, so we can understand and empathize with the ways in which everyone's actions impact everyone else. Bad memoirs focus entirely on the memoirist, making us read along as they climb so far up their own asses that we and they both pass out from lack of oxygen. As you read this ask yourself if you know anything about Vincent's parents. They may have been bad reasons, but these people had reasons for the decisions they made. The decisions are simply incomprehensible without any character development. Do we learn anything about the modern orthodox boys who begin to lead Vincent astray? About her sister who revels in the opportunity to ruin her life. About her aunt who cast her out as quickly as her parents? Are they just all psychotic? According to Vincent she did nothing but pass some non-romantic notes with a boy and buy a sweater, but we are to believe that her mother, father, sister and aunt cast her out and treat her with spite. I am not justifying their actions. There is no defensible reason to withdraw love and support from a 14 year old family member. But I am saying unless we know something about these people, there is nothing to ponder or engage with. We are left with what amounts to a series of sad diary entries.

There are a couple other things which affected my opinion of this book. Several reviewers call this pornography. I suspect they've not read pornography. For better or worse, there is nothing titillating here. There are several ill-advised and fairly clinical sexual encounters. If that makes you hot, be warned. For the rest of us, it’s just some mostly unsatisfying penetration. A second note, I have known some Hasidic women in my life, a few have been my friends, and all of them, every one, has spoken comfortably, and even hung out casually with non-Jewish men on a regular basis. They would not touch these men, that much is true. But they don't hold themselves apart. In law school, one of our (coed) study group members was an unmarried Satmar woman. We all had serious discussion, and joked around on break, and I never saw her be even slightly uncomfortable with the men. Also, she was in law school, as were a number of other Hassidic men and women (I went to Brooklyn Law.) My favorite professor, Aaron Twerski, is Hassidic. One woman, Naomi, was in labor with her 5th or 6th child during the NY bar exam, she left the exam, took the subway from the Javits Center to a hospital in Brooklyn, and 2 hours later had the baby and she PASSED (total bad ass!) My point here is that Vincent's family was Yeshivish, a less restrictive form of orthodoxy than that practiced by the Hassids (she says this herself in the book) but the behaviors she describes as getting her kicked out of the fold would have been acceptable for a Hassidic woman. The story doesn't ring true, and at very least is missing a lot of valuable information.

I don't question that Vincent was traumatized by her upbringing, and I am happy for her that she found what sounds like a very good life, but I think maybe her sense of betrayal rendered her unable to maintain any sense of objectivity, which is necessary to tell a story, even a memoir. ( )
  Narshkite | Mar 20, 2016 |
Painfully honest. I wish she'd spent more time on the redemption side, and less on the pain and broken side. She was brave to write so openly and honestly about her downward spiral and craving for love and attention. This memoir beautifully underscores the challenges that ultra-religious teenagers and young adults face, and just how hard it is to transfer into the secular world. ( )
  Abby_Goldsmith | Feb 10, 2016 |
Within the Yeshivish (Ultra-Orthodox Jewish) community Leah's parents demand total obedience and conformity from their children. Because Leah criticized her father's racism, (despite his father supporting the Civil Rights Movement), she is sent away from home to relatives and yeshivas in England and later Israel. When they learn that Leah had written letters to a boy she knew and liked, she is virtually ostracized and provided with little support. Her beloved father completely stops speaking with her!

Leah tries her best at school and at work, now having to support herself. She is angry, hurt confused and tired. She acts out but then regrets it, trying to improve herself to get back into her family's good graces, and find a good Shidduch and start a family. But the ongoing neglect from the family whom she misses desperately, and her mother’s rare calls critically lacking in love, filled with spite and malice push a naïve teen into depression and risky behavior.

Cut Me Loose describes the details of Leah’s coping; struggling, rebelling, working, learning and changing her way of life, identity and priorities. Mostly sad, often shocking, but always a compelling read. ( )
  Bookish59 | Oct 24, 2015 |
Of the massive and burgeoning recent trove of "OTD" (a troublesome term; what is this standardized "D" they're all "O" from? Who sets the standards of normalcy? A debate for a different time) books, this one is not necessarily the highest art (some of the other represented wordsmithery are electric-fantastic), but in my opinion, the most important, because it contains within it the greatest lesson of all:

Don't ever push your kids away or throw them out of the house or excommunicate them, for any reason whatsoever, because you are responsible for what happens to them, you stupid buffoon.

The casual way in which her family shoves the author out of the way is so troubling, it moved me. It is well known that discipline for teenagers, ideally, is to push away with one hand (fostering independence) and draw them closer with the other (for the reassurance of love, duh). Yet, her parents hold her away with the four arms they have available. What did they think was going to happen?

And to think, she was shoved away despite her curiosities, questions, desires, musings, and reflections being absolutely, totally and completely NORMAL in every which way. Yet, her regular D is considered deviant, while her families odd-yet-accepted shifted-off-humanly structured D is considered the correct one.

The book is written with an air of longing and true-to-the-core sweetness, because Vincent remains an innocent child, longing for parental approval, no matter what life brings her.

I feel so much empathy for her, partly because her story has a concrete trust and realness to it. She employs a method used by Solomon Northup in hish book 12 Years a Slave: that is, to record minor details, so that an inquiring sort could confirm truths claimed and confer upon the tale utter credibility. This is in contradistinction to Deborah Feldman, who is a truth-omitter at best, and prevaricator at worst. The book is written in a way that I believe everything contained therein - which makes the reading painful, but necessary.

I should say the packaging of the book is marvelous as well. The cover image is stark, and draws the eye, while "Cut Me Loose" is also a quadruple-entendre and therefore quite clever.

One niggling point to make, though: these female-written "OTD" memoirs all seem to portray men as set on autoscrew. Is this the reality? Was I neutered along the way that I'm not familiar with this behavior? Or is this a reality I just haven't been privy to, while these women are, in spades? ( )
  MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |
N.B. I received a free copy of this book through the First Reads program.

Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Yeshivism or its relationship to Judaism. Most of the members of the tribe that I know are part of the Reform branch. As such, it was quite interesting to me to learn about a sect that I didn't know existed. Now, I will say that I would like to learn more about the sect as this presents a very biased anti-yeshivist point-of-view (quite understandably from the experiences of the author, though).

This is the author's memoir and is very much about her reactions and thoughts to her experiences. That leads to a very biased, one-sided approach to the issues involved. That's not meant to be a knock against the book, just a simple set of comments. She had a rough set of experiences and you definitely feel for her throughout the memoir. I really enjoyed her style of writing and did not want to put the book down. It was a very easy read, though the emotional roller coaster was not easy. I am glad that she seems to have escaped what seemed so inescapable for her and others that were mentioned in the story. I understand that she has fought against yeshivism and has been trying to raise awareness to help support those who want to leave yeshivism.

I definitely recommend picking up this memoir, though I'm not really sure of to whom specifically to recommend it. I think that this could be a good book club book, though, as it does seem like it would lend itself to discussion easily. ( )
  nivek1385 | Feb 26, 2015 |
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With gratitude to Phineas and for Leahchke as promised
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My father, Rabbi Shaul Kaplan, was a short, stiff-shouldered man with flat, sad eyes and a high forehead that faded into a bald pate.
My parents were not literate in the language of human emotion.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038553809X, Hardcover)

In the vein of Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted, an electrifying memoir about a young woman's promiscuous and self-destructive spiral after being cast out of her ultra-Orthodox Jewish family

Leah Vincent was born into the Yeshivish community, a fundamentalist sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. As the daughter of an influential rabbi, Leah and her ten siblings were raised to worship two things: God and the men who ruled their world. But the tradition-bound future Leah envisioned for herself was cut short when, at sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. Leah's parents were unforgiving. Afraid, in part, that her behavior would affect the marriage prospects of their other children, they put her on a plane and cut off ties. Cast out in New York City, without a father or husband tethering her to the Orthodox community, Leah was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She spent the next few years using her sexuality as a way of attracting the male approval she had been conditioned to seek out as a child, while becoming increasingly unfaithful to the religious dogma of her past. Fast-paced, mesmerizing, and brutally honest, Cut Me Loose tells the story of one woman's harrowing struggle to define herself as an individual. Through Leah's eyes, we confront not only the oppressive world of religious fundamentalism, but also the broader issues that face even the most secular young women as they grapple with sexuality and identity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:50 -0400)

Recounts the author's experiences after her fundamentalist Jewish family cut her off at the age of sixteen for exchanging letters with a male friend traces her downward spiral into promiscuity and self-destruction in New York City.

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