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Thursday, June 14, 2012

So Where Are The Subtitles?

Some readers have complained that there were no subtitles for the videos of ScienceReasonIsrael (my previous two posts). Truth is...captions are turned off by default for the benefit of the Hebrew speakers.

Just click CC like this and the subtitles should appear!

Now, enjoy the two videos below!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Torah from Sinai: True or False? Part 2

With thanks to Ephraim for the translation and to Elad from Science Reason Israel for uploading the subtitles to their video.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Kofer Video Series In English

With great pleasure I announce that we translated part 1 of the great video series by Science Reason Israel called "Torah from Sinai: True or False?"

Let me know what you think and we may continue translating and captioning the other parts of the series:

With special thanks to Ephraim, Pinny, Shira, Benjamin and Science Reason Israel for making this happen!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Novel "I Am Forbidden" Published

A new ex-Satmar woman's novel was released today with raving reviews. Amazon's book description:
Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbiddenbrings to life four generations of one Satmar family. 
Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.
When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.
A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now.
From the review in the Huffington Post (by Ilana Teitelbaum, how ironic!):
Religious tradition has the power to enrich one's life -- or to destroy it. That is the message at the core of I Am Forbidden, a novel that sheds light on some of the most destructive -- and least discussed -- tenets of ultra-Othodox Judaism, in the cloistered world of the Satmar Hasidic community. In this multi-generational saga spanning pre- and post-World War II Transylvania, Paris, England and Brooklyn's Williamsburg, Anouk Markovits explores the double-edged potential of religious conviction in the lives of two women who choose paths that are diametrically opposed -- until tragedy brings them together again.
When Mila Heller's parents are shot by Nazi soldiers, she is adopted by the rabbi of their Transylvanian village and becomes a sister to Atara Stern. As the daughters of a revered community leader, the girls enjoy a status akin to princesses, yet Atara chafes at the restrictions of her Satmar upbringing. In contrast, Mila looks forward to achieving the one goal that she believes she was born to achieve: marriage and children in a home built on the foundations of ultra-Orthodox tradition. But, in a twist of irony, it is that same tradition that will threaten to destroy Mila's dreams of happiness. 
To Markovits's credit, I Am Forbidden does not read like a contemptuous, unidimensional exposé of ultra-Orthodox Jewish life. With poetic grace, she succeeds at depicting the culture from the inside out, conveying the way in which a life of limitation and law can provide a bulwark of meaning. Those outside a religion tend to see it as a collection of petty rules; Markovits -- who was raised in the Satmar community -- demonstrates that to those within, these laws are written on "a scroll of fire," imbued with incredible power to save and destroy. Compounding this power is the proximity of Mila and Atara's story to the Holocaust, which gives the characters even more cause to see the world as a Manichean play of righteousness and evil, dark and light.
Markovits best captures this theme in her tender depiction of Mila's marriage to Josef, the love of her life. Living within the codified parameters of "forbidden" and "permitted," the alternating flows of blood and ritual immersion, Mila and Josef embody a love story that is real and deep. By avoiding the easy cliché of the cold arranged marriage, Markovits intensifies the emotional heft of the story -- and forces the reader to be moved by the characters' fates.
On the writer's website, it says the following about the writer:
Anouk Markovits grew up in France, in an ultra-orthodox Satmar home. She attended a religious seminary in England instead of high school. After she left home at the age of nineteen to avoid an arranged marriage, she attended Columbia University's School of General Studies. She has a Master of Architecture from Harvard and a PhD in Romance Studies from Cornell. She has worked as an architect and as a set designer on major films, including The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Her first novel, Pur Coton, was written in French (Gallimard). I Am Forbidden is her English-language debut.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Israel Is In A Pickle

From Life in Israel (excellent blog), Quote Of The Day:
Because I have a "chiyuv" to daven for the amud, I found myself yesterday leading the services for mincha when I went to pay a condolences call by the prime minister. To my surprise, the prime minister joined me at the end of the services to say kaddish. The two of us stood there and said "Yisgadal v'yiskadash shmei raba". At that moment I did not think about this, but afterwards I thought to myself that there was something great that had happened - two people who competed for the leadership announced together who is really the leader...
-- Moshe Feiglin

Can You Argue With That?

Quote from a comment on my 'real' Facebook page, by a Rabbi in Lakewood that I know (don't ask me how he got on to Facebook):
"Thinking independently?! A yid doesn't think independently, we have a Mesorah for that, we have our Rebbeim for that." 
Case closed, all of ye kiruv clowns!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yaron Yadan's Story Now With English Subtitles

For the first time, Yaron Yadan's fascinating story is now available in English subtitles (there is some background noise but all-in-all a decent-quality video):

On his Daat Emet website, there are many fascinating articles in English as well.

Highly recommended.

Monday, March 5, 2012


A review by SkepticalYid (guest post)

There has been significant controversy generated about Deborah Feldman’s memoir: UnOrthodox. Rather then focusing primarily on the various issues raised by the Satmar community, I’d like to discuss Feldman’s missive as well as the editorial style of her new book.

As an initial disclosure, the readers deserve to be aware that Deborah and I did exchange several emails about 8 months ago regarding a prospective video project she was considering. There was no fiduciary relationship between us. Since that time, we’ve had no contact.

Since I grew up with close ties to several Hassidic communities, including Satmar, much of what Feldman wrote came as no surprise to me. She provides a huge amount of detail relating the plethora of customs, superstitions and religious practices that govern Satmar life on a daily basis.

It’s interesting to note that Feldman provides this background as part of the stream of consciousness that compromises this work. Each fact is revealed to the reader in its appropriate time as her life’s story unfolds. In a sense, she allows us to learn about Satmar life and religious practice as if we were a part of that world. From the earliest chapters, we begin to quickly understand what it is to be kosher, to keep the Sabbath and to be cloistered from the surrounding world.

As Feldman matures, we are introduced to an ever increasing volume of restrictions and practices. It’s impossible to fully explain the rationale behind Satmar practices in a 252 page memoir. An endeavor of that magnitude could easily encompass a number of anthropological or sociological treatises. Consequently, her obvious effort to make the reader comfortable in the terminology and dialogue of her world is commendable.

She also invites us into her memories, feelings and perceptions. In many respects I found that to be the most revelatory part of her story. Feldman is brutally honest about the how significantly her upbringing deviated from the norm in her community. She relates the impact this had on her both in the immediate experience and in the long term.

Some have criticized her for not providing a broader based view of the positive aspects of Satmar life. I tend to disagree with that assessment. We can see through her eyes how conflicted she becomes. She longs to fit into the community like her friends and family , while struggling to maintain her individuality as well.

Since Feldman was raised by her grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, she was very much a 2nd generation child. In and of itself this is sufficient to set her apart from her peer group in many respects. Children of the 2nd generation tend to have many of the same psychological issues as their parents (or in her case, grandparents). They are prone to anxiety, depression, alienation from their peer group and are often suspicious towards authorities.

When this is coupled with the fact that she was the child of an absent mother who left the community and a mentally disabled father, she was put at a tremendous disadvantage in her world. Satmar Hassidim place tremendous importance on family status, particularly as it relates to job opportunity and marriage prospects. Consequently, Feldman was marginalized to some degree and treated as if she were a lower caste woman.

Her struggle to find her personal identity and to retain it in the face of an unrelenting pressure to conform is engrossing. It’s probable that almost everyone has faced it at some time in their life. However it’s rare to come across someone in our world who has faced such tremendous disadvantages in that respect.

My primary qualms about Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots are the style and editing of the book. A lot of information is vague and deserves more explanation. In a recent posting on her website, www.deborahfeldman.com, she explains that the book’s chronology begins at age eleven. That’s a very relevant point and deserved to be in the book.

Additionally there are many Yiddish and Hebrew terms used in the book that are given cursory translation and explanation. Sometimes there are none at all. A number of the online reviews of Unorthodox have suggested that the book rambles and is disorganized. I suspect that this perception arises from the lack of critical detail about these points.

Feldman has been accused of falsifying information and outright lying about a number of events. As I read the allegations against her, I checked each one directly. There is yet to be a single point raised against her that I found to be valid. In every case, it was a misreading of the text or an unjustifiable conclusion. There has also been an organized and coordinated effort within the Orthodox community to delegitimize Unorthodox and to slander Deborah.

This is hardly surprising considering the venom directed towards individuals who leave Hassidic communities quietly , much less with such public disclosure. It is also quite ironic when one considers that their objections are of a similar nature.  One Rabbi went to such extremes as to publish a critique of the author comparing her to the nazi propagandist Goebbels. To my mind, this validates Feldman’s observations and conclusions about Hassidic life. The hysteria and vituperative language that have engulfed her are exactly what one would predict from such people, based on a reading of her book.

Given the inevitability of this outcome, I was surprised and dismayed to see deficiencies in how her book was edited. Deborah related her own unique life experience. Had the editor advised her to add a bit of additional information regarding some of the events that were included as she did recently on her site, her detractors would have had much less latitude in their revisionism; and she would have retained more credibility then might otherwise be the case.

Feldman shares an interesting and distinctive story with her audience. If there is a reprinting of her book, I hope that Simon and Schuster does it justice and expands the text appropriately.