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Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and…

Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home

by Leah Lax

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A very dysfunctional family life pushes Lax to seek love, community and purpose among ultra-orthodox Jews. She mostly enjoys the feeling of belonging, and being part of a way of life with clearly defined rules, roles, and guidance to spirituality. But even from the beginning a number of restrictions, i.e., women not permitted to sing among men, do rankle her. She rationalizes these annoyances away, believing the benefits far outweigh the lesser negatives.

Lax has become adept at pushing away her feelings, including those she doesn’t quite understand: a sense of attraction to women, dreams about women, and discomfort with dresses and skirts.

Pushed into marriage before she and her “chosen” are truly ready, she, like most women find reality doesn’t meet expectations. Again, she doesn’t receive the love she has sought all her life. Levi, her husband, rigid, and cold, has high expectations of himself and of Leah. On her part, perhaps out of modesty, Leah doesn’t communicate to him her need for affection, physical closeness and friendship. She is left unsatisfied and unfulfilled over and over.

Then the babies start coming. Leah does give and receive lots of love but she is disappointed and upset Levi is more concerned with his job and providing for his growing family, than with helping her raise them or bonding with them. She knows it would help if she could share her feelings with other women. But she has learned that among what she thought was a close-knit community many women are reluctant and even discouraged from expressing their disappointments, hurts, problems, doubts and feelings. Doing so would reflect poorly on their skills managing their families, on their level of belief and religiosity, and bring doubt as to their compliance to husband and obedience to G-d. And possibly even discourage future marriage matches for her children.

As years pass, she acknowledges her feelings, slowly realizing she wasn’t living her own life but one she had permitted others to prescribe for her. She guiltily knows she has continued the lie with her children, allowing them to be indoctrinated as she had been. She begins taking baby steps out of the community, disguising her actions; transitioning into more assertive behavior until there is no going back. During this time life becomes strikingly dramatic as she helps Levi cope with his life-changing illness, learns a dormant truth about her father from her older sister, comes to terms with her sexuality, and re-connects with her mother.

Uncovered is a well-written, very readable autobiography about life’s hopes, dreams, disappointments, love, growing up, and correcting mistakes. I’m very glad Lax has taken back her life. ( )
  Bookish59 | Jun 14, 2016 |
A moving, compassionate life story by a woman describing why she was drawn into ultra-conservative Judaic life, what that life was like, and how she slowly rejected it.

Leah Lax is an excellent writer, one who is able to write about her own life with clarity and grace. She brings readers inside her experiences, allowing us to empathize with choices that seem strange and exotic from the outside. The story she tells is fast-paced and full of tension as she conveys the inner contradictions with which she lived.

The book opens with Lax’s wedding and her farewell to the life she had known as the daughter of a successful Jewish family in north Dallas. From there Lax flashes back to her earlier life and the dysfunctional family that she saw as leaving her ill-equipped and helpless as an adolescent in the 1960s. When she encountered Hasidic Judaism with its extensive rules, she felt she had found the father and mother, the ordered family, she had never known. This section of the book is particularly well-written, identifying the distress of many young people in recent generations who feel adrift and respond by seeking authoritative groups.

After her marriage, Lax found much she cherished in her religion and its rituals. She particularly loved the distinctive music, sung in public only by the men. Her new religion taught her that she would be safe if she simply obeyed all its rules, a claim she later came to doubt. It also required her and the other women always to be “covered,” in body and in voice. She even covered her beloved cello. While attentive to her faith, Lax observed and resented the ways she and other women are excluded and humiliated in the religious community. At first her husband was kind and attentive until he got caught up in his own need to do everything right and to make enough money to support their ever-growing family. She became pregnant eight times in ten years. When the seventh infant was premature and she was dangerous ill, her doctor advised her against having another child. When she got pregnant again, the thought of an abortion left her torn between the unborn infant and the needs of herself and her existing children. Anyone who issues blanket condemnation of abortion needs to read this section.

As Lax moved through her internal and external crises, she gradually came to challenge the demands patriarchal religions made on her, particularly as a woman. Only after her children are grown was she able to leave the cocoon of her religion. Even then she moved slowly. Part of her way out is finding fulfillment in her long-buried lesbianism.

In a recent interview, Lax fleshed out some of the points in her book and provided some clues about why the book is so good. She had started writing before leaving her husband and community, but as she put it, she waited until her anger had cooled enough for her to write about the people in her life in three dimensions to finish and publish. She urged women who felt bound in restrictive religious communities to realize that deciding to leave is a slow process. She advises them to start by reading books by women, making one small step at a time, and finding a supportive woman friend outside the group.

I was initially hesitant to read this book group choice because I expected it to be grim and oppressive. The life described is so different than my own that I doubted that I would be able to relate to the author. I was wrong. Although my life has taken a different path, I understood all too well what Lax was saying about patriarchal religion and the need to make difficult moral choices yourself. And this is a warm, loving book in which pain is faced and deep spiritual growth takes place.

I gladly recommend Uncovered to other readers, especially those who care about women’s spiritual journeys in patriarchal religions. it is an important book that deserves to be widely read. ( )
  mdbrady | May 18, 2016 |
Uncovered by Leah Lax is extremely intense and personal telling of Leah Lax’s life. In the 1970's she was younger than most in her college classes but also very naïve. She wanted to escape her parents because her mother was distant and self-centered and her father hurt his daughters in an unforgiveable way. She was drawn to the Hasidic life by the promises of home, and rituals and customs that seem to give love. For the first third of the book, I was having trouble understanding her. I wanted to scream at her, you have more than two choices in life, and you can find your own way.

There were lots of changes that she had to make from superficial ones like wearing a wig and obeying the many rules like no electricity on the Sabbath much more challenging was facing the fact that she was not going to receive the kind of love that she had wanted from her husband and also understanding his strict obedience to the rules. He chose everything, she had no decisions left to her. I loved reading about her seven children and the joy that she found taking care of them. She embraced the life totally and later started to question it. Many parts of the story must have been very difficult to write about. She is unusually honest in her writing. She had to ask herself hard questions. Many people might have reacted differently and swept the questions away continuing their lives as before.
I could not stop reading once I got past the part about preparation for her arranged marriage.

I highly recommend this book for all who like books that make them think and feel.

I received this finished copy from the publisher as a win from FirstReads but that in no way influenced my thoughts or feelings in this review. ( )
  Carolee888 | Sep 15, 2015 |
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