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.
For now we'll
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.
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.
SPOILERS: Mr. Deen was an
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.
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.