Hasidic Hell: Married at 17, Girl Runs From Her Orthodox Roots


"What a curse it is to not feel safe in one's own body, when everything else is going wrong." Feldman writes. "My body should be the one thing I can rely on; instead, it has become my worst enemy, undermining my every effort."

A friend confesses to her that she was sent to the hospital with a ruptured colon, after her new husband "went into the wrong place."

After finally losing her virginity, Feldman subjected herself to a humiliating monthly ritual under the prying eyes of her new in-laws and aunt.

Like other Hasidic women, she was obligated to have sex during the first two weeks of her menstrual cycle, then after her period, required to lay twice-daily cotton squares on her bed to ensure she was "clean" enough to resume her marital duties.

The turning point came with the birth of her son.

While she was pregnant, a kabbalist from Israel made the prescient remark: "With the birth of your child, everything shall unravel. The truth will surface. You shall come to know yourself through your son."

"I saw my future all mapped out," she said after the birth. "He would go to Satmar yeshiva and be just like his father. I freaked out at the knowledge that I have the responsibility and guilt of putting everything I saw as my oppression into an innocent person."

As her anxiety escalated, Feldman lied and told her husband she wanted to take business classes so she could supplement his meager income as a copywriter for a local Hasidic newspaper.

She said she "made a beeline" for a college degree to connect her with the outside world. Feldman had been a star English pupil and had gone on to tutor students.

One class at a time, she began to speak out and "open my mind." She began to wear jeans and high heels for the first time in her life.

Finally, she moved out and lived for two months with friends, consulting with top lawyers to make sure she didn't lose custody of her son.

Since 2006, Feldman hasn't seen or spoken to any of her family.

"I get letters," she said. "They are threatening -- 'Your grave is ready. When you are ready to kill yourself, let us know."

Still, in a strange way, she misses her home.

"Nothing is ever black and white," said Feldman. "So many things I remember fondly, but nothing worth going back for."

Today, she lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and is working on two more novels. Her son, now nearly 6, attends a Jewish private school.

Feldman said her husband was "humiliated" after the divorce and his family cut him off.

"He was angry and was convinced in a few years I would come back," she said. "He begged me ... it was definitely not a clean ending."

Now, Feldman says her husband has "changed a lot" and loosened some of his religious views. "He started wearing jeans."

The couple shares joint custody, she said. "We try our best to maintain somewhat of an amicable relationship, which is best for our son. Our worlds are not as different now."

She has slowly developed a relationship with her mother, a public school teacher.

Even after time has passed, she cannot go back to Williamsburg without facing judgment.

"Everyone recognizes me and knows me," she said.

Feldman has a sequel to write and dreams one day of setting up a shelter for other women who want to leave Williamsburg and get help.

"I wanted someone like me when I was younger," she said. "I just wanted somebody to stand up for me."

"I'm scared and I worry about being public," she said. "On the other hand, being public is my safety net. I guess I want to be a trailblazer."

"If it has to be me, let it be me," she said. 'But I won't be the last."

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