All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

by Shulem Deen

Book, 2015



Call number



Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, 2015


Shulem Deen was raised to believe that questions are dangerous. As a member of the Skverers, one of the most insular Hasidic sects in the US, he knows little about the outside world--only that it is to be shunned. His marriage at eighteen is arranged and several children soon follow. Deen's first transgression--turning on the radio--is small, but his curiosity leads him to the library, and later the Internet. Soon he begins a feverish inquiry into the tenets of his religious beliefs, until, several years later, his faith unravels entirely. Now a heretic, he fears being discovered and ostracized from the only world he knows. His relationship with his family at stake, he is forced into a life of deception, and begins a long struggle to hold on to those he loves most: his five children. In All Who Go Do Not Return, Deen bravely traces his harrowing loss of faith, while offering an illuminating look at a highly secretive world.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MartinBodek
In my humble opinion (though the data is likely available if I look for it), the lion's share of "OTD" (an offensive phrase; all "D"s are individual paths) non-fiction memoirs are written by women, and fiction by men. If true, I'll leave it to sociologists to explain why this is so.

For now we'll
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focus on an interesting exception to the above. When can you remember a popular non-fiction ex-frum (a slightly better term than "OTD") written by a male? Foreskin's Lament comes to mind, but it is not a how-did-we-get-from-there-to-here telling like the recent spate of memoirs, and even if it was similar in style, betwixt and between and prior has been nary a one.

And what a book it is. It's a great one. And a heavy one. And an important one (in that sense, just like all the others). And a serious one.

Where Deen succeeds where mostly others fail (most notably with Feldman's "Unorthodox") is giving the reader a clear understanding of how the writer got from where they were then, to where they are now. Nothing salient is skipped. The narrative does not fast-forward through the "good" parts. It pauses at junctures that require illumination and explanation.

This is highlighted when the matter of custody is discussed. In most other works along these lines, this subject is entirely glossed over. The reader is left wondering either how the children were lost, or how in the world the protagonist managed to maintain strong relationships with their children despite not adhering to the former (un?)chosen past.

There's no real anger to be found on the pages. That doesn't seem to be Deen's makeup. Blame is not his way either. He seems accepting of the fact that he was a square peg who simply couldn't retrofit his upbringing into his adulthood. There is plenty of sadness, however. It seems as if on the Kubler-Ross Model, he dispensed with the first A, focused on the second D, and lives in the last A (note that in the other books in this class, much time is spent on the first A).

As for the quality of the writing itself, Deen is quite disciplined. The text reads as if every Writing 101 rule was strictly adhered to, including allowing for a single instance of starting a sentence with a proposition, and also allowing himself a single quasi-neologism.

I should preach at this time that parents should never excommunicate their children. Deen's parents never did, which is probably why his heart is filled with so much forgiving and love. He, in turn, did not do any such thing to his children. It is, therefore, my prayer - and expectation - that his children will embrace him again. May it be so.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Shulem Deen gives us a solid view behind the curtain of the life of a Hassidic Jewish man, but leaves the other side of the equation blank. Most non-Jewish readers will be totally mystified by the rigorously cruel restrictions placed on the lives of boys who live to study and are forced into
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marriages to complete strangers in their late teens, in order to sire multitudes of children to repopulate the post-Holocaust world. The impoverished families (especially poor if their parents cannot assist financially), whose head of household usually holds no job but spends all day studying and debating Torah, accept welfare and food stamps but show complete disdain and contempt for the world outside their throwback communities. Shulem's journey towards "apikorus" (heresy) starts with his joy at watching the silly dog movie Beethoven and ends with his banishment from the suburban NY Hasid village of New Square, his wife Gitty, and their five children. I have heard stories of the joy of Hassidim, their love of music and dancing, their joy in the love of God, but there's none of it to be found in this memoir. Their studies center around ancient arcane laws (how to slaughter an ox) and both sexes are taught to treat sex as a scheduled duty, avoiding pleasure and fulfillment completely (sinful). Women are treated so badly that calling them second class citizens hardly describes the work they put in with their wigs, cooking, baking, shopping, not learning to drive, not reading nor listening to music, being smothered by ugly,modest clothing, caring for scads of children and elderly parents, all the while curtained off from the privileged males.

Deen is to be admired for his persistence in recognizing that he is not of the Hasid world and for his struggle to release himself into the secular world when his faith disappears. However, without much input from women in the same position, his journey also seems to be empowered way beyond what the results would be for a wife and mother in the same circumstances - she would most certainly loses custody of her children (although Deen's formerly loving children are taught to shun him, and when his eldest teenage daughter is married to yet another teenage boy she's never spoken to, he is powerless to stop the same mistake from occurring and is not invited to the wedding).

Lately headlines have been made by haredim who disrupt airline flights by refusing to sit next to "strange women". How is this any different than Sharia law?

Deen's memoir proves that religious extremism is harmful to everyone - especially women. There is much to be learned here - the differences between the various Hassidic sects, the miserably oppressive environments of their cheders (schools), the constant punishments for the most minor of offenses, and the myriad daily decisions that comfort the faithful and appall everyone else.

Deen is welcome back to the world, and I hope his book will be used to persuade other Hasids, especially women, to escape the incomprehensively abusive Orthodox Jewish environment.
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LibraryThing member raizel
This book was recommended to me by a friend and I read it soon after reading I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, a novel about a different ultra-Orthodox sect and two women, one who stays and one who leaves; Ms. Markovits left the Satmars to avoid an arranged marriage.

SPOILERS: Mr. Deen was an
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outsider who chose to join the Skverer Hasidim because a tisch he attended was so inspiring; his parents were ba'alei teshuvah. As he begins to have doubts about his faith, he hopes that a friend who has come to believe in a rational faith will be able to convince him that he can still believe. But, alas, no. I was reminded of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and a story by Zenna Henderson in which a woman released from an insane asylum misses the structure and grandeur of her delusions.
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LibraryThing member Bookish59
Deen is either a phenomenal writer or he lucked out with an exceptional editor. If All Who Go Do Not Return was only the story of Deen’s life as a Chasid, from childhood to adulthood, from being single through marriage, to father of 5, it would be compelling. What makes this book uniquely
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forceful is Deen’s loss of faith over many years, the thoughts behind his reasoning, the deprivation he felt without the familiar religious fervor with which his life was immersed, and his efforts to recommit himself to the stringent requirements of the cloistered Skyver sect.

But learning the truth about the world from reading, internet research, watching television, movies, working in the real world, meeting non-religious Jews, non-Jews, and never being permitted to ask questions of the Chasidishe world in which he lived was too powerful for this bright, independent, sensitive and thoughtful man. Deen describes the long painful process of leaving a non-forgiving insular, nearly autonomous community, and building a new life with very limited access to his children in heart-breaking details.

Excellent read.
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LibraryThing member lawrence
I just finished this extraordinary book. I find it is written with great insight into both his own thoughts as well as those of the community he left/was expelled. The detailed progression of this thoughts from observance to atheist is believable and compelling. This is not a story about waking up
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one day and wanting to throw it all away. There is an arc to his narrative that made me want to keep reading to the last page. Because of this, I consider Deen's book to be literature and belongs among some great writers.

If that is not all, the story itself is amazing. A person who spoke little English, had little, if any secular schooling, and spent his formative years in a highly restrictive ultra religious environment -- a childhood that would mark anyone for life with a handicap in terms of social ability and language skills, has emerged and has found an articulate, thoughtful, insightful voice. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member LivelyLady
A young, married Hasidic jew is expelled from his community. This is his account of his life and how he got to that crossroads. It continues with life after. There was a lot in the culture about which I know nothing, but even taking that into account, this is a fantastic book.


Original publication date



1555977057 / 9781555977054
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