A former member of an extremely insular Hasidic sect tells his story of becoming curious about the outside world—and the consequences of that curiosity.
Unpious magazine founding editor Deen was raised in the Hasidic sect known as “the Skverers,” an offshoot of Orthodox Judaism that shuns the outside world. Radio, TV, newspapers, the Internet—these are all gateways that, once opened, let forth a flood of sinful thought and action into one’s heart. The author knows the story of how New Square, in Rockland County, New York, came to be and the travails faced by those seeking to establish it; he knows that even among strict, rigid devotees of Judaism, New Square is considered a place where the real fanaticism takes place. Like some who went before him, Deen’s intellectual curiosity led him to pursuits considered borderline sacrilegious. As a young boy, he was scolded for reading Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume, and as an 11-year-old, he would sneak off to read Hardy Boys mysteries. Turning 13, however, meant putting those texts behind him and focusing more on religious studies. Deen did so, but his interest in the world outside New Square followed him into adulthood, marriage and children. In equal measure with his interest in how others lived was a growing dissatisfaction with some of the practices within the Skverers—how on one hand, the elders would speak of the importance of offspring, but when Deen’s children arrived, it was treated as irrelevant. When instructed as a teacher to fudge the progress reports—to ensure continued approval that they were teaching, along with religion, the arithmetic and reading required—to the government, the author felt this untruth to be a betrayal.
In this moving book, Deen lays bare his difficult, muddled wrestling with his faith, the challenges it posed to everything he thought he knew about himself, and the hard-won redemption he eventually found.