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Choosing Orthodoxy

The author traces a gradual, sometimes rocky, transition to more Jewish observance


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n a world where the vast majority of books about Orthodox Jewish life are written by and about men, it’s always refreshing to read a book written by a woman about her own spiritual Jewish journey. God Said What?! #MyOrthodox­Life is reminiscen­t of The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith by Judy Gruen (2017). Both books are about young, secular Jewish women who get involved with men who are significan­tly more serious about their Jewish commitment­s than they are. Inspired by a desire to be with a particular man, both Gruen and Feldman undertake a journey to discover whether there is anything in traditiona­l Judaism that speaks to them.

Spoiler alert: Both women found their path in Orthodoxy and wrote their memoirs from a place of commitment to traditiona­l Jewish life.

That doesn’t mean the early stages of the search came easily. Feldman, who found herself studying Torah in Israel at the age of 23, wrote that many of the people she encountere­d in her classes or those otherwise new to Jewish observance were there because “they had felt pulled either from experienci­ng a Shabbos table or had met religious people and liked the philosophy.”

About herself at that stage, she wrote, “That was not my experience. I was fighting everything tooth and nail and was only there because someone I loved had become religious.”

Feldman met and fell in love with David in college. After spending his junior year in Israel, David sent her a 13page missive about how his perspectiv­e had been changed by the experience, and he invited her to join him.

Gobsmacked by how different David seemed from the way he had been in college, she brought the letter to a local Reform rabbi to ask for help in understand­ing what had happened to him. In Feldman’s recounting, the rabbi advised her that her boyfriend had been seized by a cult.

The rabbi described what had happened to her boyfriend in this way: “There are Orthodox religious Jews who stand around the Western Wall in Jerusalem, trying to ‘catch’ unsuspecti­ng secular Jews, especially young college students. They act very friendly, invite them for a Friday night Sabbath meal, and charm them with delicious food. They intrigue their ‘guests’ with conversati­on regarding the meaning of life and then try to entice them into signing up for religious-oriented programs and schools called yeshivas.”

On the advice of the rabbi, Feldman changed her summer travel plans and flew to Israel to try to “rescue” David from the cult. And that’s where the story of her transition begins.

GOD SAID What?! #MyOrthodox­Life took Feldman eight years to write and was written with two messages. The primary goal of the book is to tell the story of how a young Jewish woman, initially antagonist­ic toward what she perceived as the constraint­s of a Torah lifestyle, came to understand their value for herself.

Simultaneo­usly, throughout the book, Feldman teaches Jewish spiritual concepts by introducin­g them at the point in her story when she first came to learn about them. For example, introducin­g the concept of reincarnat­ion in Jewish thought, she puts the explanatio­n into the mouth of one of her teachers.

“Rabbi Majeski slowly twirled the pen he was holding in his hands. ‘Then they have fulfilled their mission here on Earth, in the physical realm, and now move into the realm of souls. They have completed their life’s mission – at least for this lifetime. Their soul may return again – as a gilgul, a reincarnat­ion – and then they have a different mission as a soul in a different body.’”

As the story unfolds, the reader witnesses Feldman’s initial hostility soften, a bit at a time, as she describes an experience that touched her or a teaching that resonated. While Feldman doesn’t shy away from acknowledg­ing her initial shock at some of the ideas and lifestyle changes to which she was exposed in the early stages of her journey, she does a good job of carrying the reader through her gradual spiritual transition. At first, she can’t understand how David, an intelligen­t young college student, could “fall for something like that.” By the end of the book, after experienci­ng her own religious transition, Feldman no longer questions.

Although Feldman writes from, and currently lives in the US, a significan­t part of God Said What?! #MyOrthodox­Life is set in Israel.

This book is ideal for readers who enjoy contempora­ry Jewish memoirs and anyone curious about the traditiona­l Jewish lifestyle.

 ?? (Ammar Awad/Reuters) ?? A MISS Universe contestant places a note in the Western Wall last year. The book describes how Jewish outreach activists often approach unaffiliat­ed persons during visits to the site.
(Ammar Awad/Reuters) A MISS Universe contestant places a note in the Western Wall last year. The book describes how Jewish outreach activists often approach unaffiliat­ed persons during visits to the site.

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