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Hush – Book Review

My copy hasn’t come from the publisher yet, so here is Eliyahu Fink‘s review of Hush.

This is a review of the book Hush by Eishes Chayil (pseudonym). I paid for the book and received no compensation for this review. (Nor do I want any.)

Last week, my friend Heshy Fried told me about a new book called Hush. Curiosity piqued, I immediately purchased the book from Amazon. It was delivered to my door on Friday afternoon.

After our Friday Night Dinner, I tucked my elder son into bed at 8:30 PM. I sat down with the book and began to read. Three hours later (and several tissues later) I completed the book. The best determination of a good read, is whether I can put the book down. I could not put down Hush. If you stop reading now, just buy the book and read it yourself. (You can buy the book by clicking on this link: Hush)

Hush is a novel about an ancillary victim of sexual abuse in a chasidic community. But it’s not really a novel. The anonymous author writes that the story is based on her own story. Truthfully, the book is based on hundreds of stories and not just stories from the chasidic world. The same story, with a different backdrop can be told by many victims of abuse from almost any insular culture. This includes, inner-city communities, Catholics, Amish and Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The backdrop for this story is a fictional Chasidic sect in Borough Park. The fictional sect is in the style of the major Chassidic branches in the New York metropolitan area like Satmar, Ger, Vizhnitz and Skver.

The story is mostly told through the eyes of a nine year old girl. To me, this is the charm of the book. Victims of abuse say that their lives can become frozen at the age of the abuse. The nine year old perspective is so innocent on the one hand, so damaged on the other hand, so naive on yet another hand and disturbing on all hands.

There are plenty of villains in Hush, there are plenty of victims too. But only a few heros. This is how it is. Sexual abuse can ravage a community, but it takes a very strong person to be a hero in the face of abuse. Strong people like that are rare and the book demonstrates this sad reality wonderfully.

One of the heroes in Hush is a chasidic newspaper publisher. To me, he represents the bloggers who have done the dirty work of exposing this harm and its perpetrators. On behalf of everyone, thank you. The publisher in this book exposes abuse at his own peril. It shouldn’t be that way. The other hero in the book is the main character’s husband whose unconditional commitment to his wife gave her the strength to prevail under extremely trying circumstances. Enough so that she felt like an Eishes Chayil, a woman of valor, as the pseudonym implies.

Hush has a surprisingly light tone to most of the book. As it is seen through the eyes of a nine year old chasidic girl, the names and places in the book have cute and funny names that ring true to Orthodox Jews. I found myself laughing out loud many times throughout the book.

As to the “meat” of the plot. the community’s approach to allegations of sexual abuse are all too familiar. Insular communities all share a distrust of governmental authority and prefer to self-police. Unfortunately, there is no self-policing of abuse in the book.

Crying is to be expected as one reads Hush. There are moments of heartbreaking sadness and moments of emotional triumph. The book will move its reader to tears throughout the book and by the time the reader is at the climactic ending resistance to crying is futile.

Hush is important. It gives real life victims a voice they can relate to. The voice of the main characters of Hush are familiar to any victim of abuse. In this respect, the book is relevant to victims of abuse in any community.

I am only somewhat familiar, not intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies and foibles of the chasidic community. But Hush does a spectacular job of drawing you into their community. I can only assume that what is written is accurate. (I would love if a chasidic reader would read Hush and get back to me about the accuracies of the depiction of the chasidic community in Hush.) The worldview portrayed in the book is absolutely terrifying. Anyone that is not exactly like “you” is an enemy or at best a heathen. The self absorption and ignorance about almost everything is shocking. Characters in Hush describe any custom they have as “The Torah say”, even when the Torah certainly does not say the thing they are quoting. Characters in Hush subscribe to every possible superstition Jewish culture has to offer. And perhaps worst of all, every kind of prejudice about “outsiders” that I am sure outsiders can sense in their real life interactions with the community. Characters in Hush have no working knowledge of what most communities call common sense and the facts of life.

Upon reflection, I wonder if these characteristics of the chasidic community, real or imagined for the book, contributed the trauma of sex abuse. Is abuse so horrible that the milieu plays a negligible role? Or perhaps is the abuse exacerbated when you have been trained to think that your community is vastly superior to others in every possible way, that God prefers you over anyone else and misinformation is so prevalent that one has to wonder if it is a vast ignorance conspiracy to maintain allegiance?

It is a question that may not have an answer but I think it is the broader question that is raised in Hush.

I cannot possible give a bigger endorsement for Hush. I recommend you click one of the links on this review and buy the book immediately. Read it. Feel the pain and hurt. Share it with a friend or a spouse and hopefully slowly, together, we can slay this dragon that has been harming our community for far too long.

(This book is for adults. I am not recommending this book for teens. Parents, use your own discretion.)

{ 41 comments… add one }
  • A Reader November 26, 2010, 1:33 AM

    I love how prejudice the author of this review is, in his attack on the hasidic communities…
    To quote:
    “I am only somewhat familiar, not intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies and foibles of the chasidic community.”

    Yet he goes on to say
    “The worldview portrayed in the book is absolutely terrifying. Anyone that is not exactly like “you” is an enemy or at best a heathen. The self absorption and ignorance about almost everything is shocking. Characters in Hush describe any custom they have as “The Torah say”, even when the Torah certainly does not say the thing they are quoting. Characters in Hush subscribe to every possible superstition Jewish culture has to offer. And perhaps worst of all, every kind of prejudice about “outsiders”
    Which with due respect, is based on what the book portrays.

    BUT, he does make an assumption that at least some of this is fact, when he continues the paragraph with
    “that I am sure outsiders can sense in their real life interactions with the community.”

    • E. Fink November 26, 2010, 2:03 AM

      My friend,

      There is no prejudice or malice here. You haven’t uncovered a secret agenda either.

      I am not intimately familiar with the INSIDE of the chasidic world. But I am ver familiar with the outside. And what it feels like as an outsider.

      • Anonymous November 26, 2010, 2:07 AM

        Dude you;re from Monsey and you’re fairly yeshivish, that would qualify you as pretty much inside.

        • E. Fink November 26, 2010, 12:37 PM

          1. I lived in Monsey from age 7 to 14. Then I went to Yeshiva and was not in Monsey for more than 2 weeks at a time until I got married.

          2. Living in Monsey does not make one an insider. The chasidic community is absolutely isolated and independent from the non-chasidic community. I have seen plenty of chassidim but I have zero first hand insight into their milieu.

    • Mechy August 2, 2011, 6:28 PM

      You are so dumb and illiterate, you don’t know how to read an article and differentiate between what the author/reviewer “learned from the book” and what he knows for fact.

  • ghottistyx November 26, 2010, 3:44 AM

    More inside than me, I was only born in Borough Park. Though I’ve spent many a shabbos in Monsey, Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Me’ah She’arim, been to my share of tisches, gone shteible hopping, and even gotten my share of “shera’in” from Rebbes, I am by no means intimately familiar with the intricacies of a Chassidic sect.

    He’s no more an insider of the Chassidic community in Monsey than I am of the Yekke community of Washington Heights (where I currently live) or the Russian community of Fair Lawn (where I grew up).

  • elana November 26, 2010, 7:34 AM

    Abuse doesn’t take place because we are Jewish Catholic or otherwise, it takes place because we are human. To be insulted because you think this topic is giving Frum Jews a bad name is asinine,when all the Catholic priest abuse came to light what was everyone else saying? Thank G-D this doesn’t happen in our community? Come on, this happens everywhere,one because people are sinful,two because the abuser may have been abused and never got help, and three, in my opinion because in the Catholic community they forbid priests to get married, it creates a breeding ground for sexual immorality. Where it gets tricky is when people are allowed to govern themselves and forgo the law,look at the Warren Jeffs followers, child brides, babies being born to fourteen year old girls? Abuse, but it’s easier to make them villains because everyone thinks they are weird. So stop getting insulted on how abuse looks for the community and do something about it! We KNOW all priests arn’t abusers, we KNOW all orthodox Jews arn’t abusers,so get a grip, stop worrying about reputation,and protect the innocent,really. @ A Reader

    • E. Fink November 26, 2010, 12:39 PM

      This is correct.

      The difference is in the reaction to the offender as well as in the reaction to to victims. (You should check out the follow up post a victim sent me on my blog…)

      • elana November 26, 2010, 3:01 PM

        I did read that, and I’m glad she survived!

  • Anonymous November 26, 2010, 8:38 AM

    This book must’ve been written based on a late 19th century era story, cause almost all chasidish community of the 21st century expose and address this issue very publicly, and Im an insider

  • raquelle November 26, 2010, 10:33 AM

    there is a great ethnography/totally readable book about chassidic young girls and women. not abuse, but their experiences in general written by ayala fader, sociologist, called “Mitzvah girls: bringing up the next generation of hasidic girls in brooklyn” no political agenda, a more scholarly book, i highly recommend it, a real window into that world.

  • Joe February 1, 2011, 2:17 PM

    This book is a farce
    The author is Judy brown
    She is a frum person,
    Who hates frumkeit she is a liar was never abused
    And will probably not be frum in a few months
    The sad truth is she is full of hate and skewed perception

    • sammydavisjrjr August 2, 2011, 11:38 AM

      And you know this, Joe, because?

      • David June 23, 2012, 11:48 PM

        um, she never claimed to be abused. read the book and the author’s note at the end.

  • Yiddishemama February 5, 2011, 9:42 PM

    I’m an insider & it’s all true. Pedophiles, molestors, child abusesrs find a safe haven in all frum communities . In Chassidishe ones all is hushed up & at best the perpetrator is sent away.

  • debby June 4, 2011, 2:24 PM

    i read the book.
    and i can tell you that i was totally disgusted.
    such terrible lies!
    first,i come from a very chassidishe house,
    so i know all the ins and outs…
    the whole way she describes the marriage is such rubbish!
    my brothers and sisters are the most chasiddesh that exist!
    and none of them got engaged in a way that she describes in the book including the int-inmate parts of marriage…
    i can agree with one part of the book, and that is the sexual abuse.
    its true that when something like this happens in the community, instead of taking proper care of it every one is busy hushing it down,
    what a dread full mistake!

    but the rest book is completely false!

    • sammydavisjrjr August 2, 2011, 11:43 AM

      Not everyone has the same experiences in life. What you and your brothers and sisters experienced does not necessarily make her a liar. At best you can say her story isn’t typical, but in order to dispute her story you’ll need better evidence than you and your siblings. From my personal experience I can say that you might not even know the truth about the experiences of your siblings because a lot of things are HUSH HUSH in chasidishe families.

      • debby August 2, 2011, 3:33 PM

        your nothing but a hater of chassidim!
        (and the funny part is, that most of you who consider themselves modern orthodox/yeshivish/open minded or whatever, have got chassidishe roots…)
        i know very well whats going on in our house, and in our chassides.
        and as i said, the sexual part of the story is true,
        (not the actual story but the hushing part)
        but the rest parts, the shidduchim, engagements, marriage,
        if i wouldn’t be angry I’d sit and laugh, it’s hilarious
        go find me a family, in the entire chassidishe world,
        that when a girl meets a boy, she doesn’t know details like: exactly how old he is,or whats his name etc etc.
        come on!?

  • Tzirel August 2, 2011, 3:48 PM

    I was sexually molested from the age of about 9-16 by a day school teacher who served as an Orthodox Hazan in my community. This abuse wrecked my life and he made me feel like a piece of dirt. Here was my Humash teacher molesting me in the boiler room of the school. How could a Torah observant Orthodox Hazan do this to me? He was teaching me Torah, Mitzvot and all things that were God related. I was terrified of this man and was terrified that I wasn’t being a good Jew because of what he did to me. His being Jewish and a Hazan had nothing to do with it. He was an evil person. No one knew what was going on because no one was looking. Nobody wondered where I was because they weren’t paying attention. Most people we know are good people and there are evil people within every community.

    I’ve worked long and hard to get to a better place in my life. It’s amazing to me that given what happened to me I’m a professional Jewish educator and one of my goals as an educator is to see that my students feel safe in school.

    Kids are little, they don’t have the tools to protect themselves from abuse of any kind. When kids are abused they’re told to keep it a secret and if they tell, something bad will happen.

    Anyone who says that sexual abuse doesn’t happen in a Chassidic community is simply wrong and needs to take the blinders of his/her eyes. Sharing the information w/a rabbi isn’t enough. If abuse is suspected, go to the police. The objective is to protect the child!!

  • Janice Gelfand Weinstein August 2, 2011, 8:55 PM

    First, let me preface this by saying I am a Conservative Jew; this does not make me any less Jewish than an Orthodox Jew. Tzirel, I am so sorry for the abuse you endured for seven years by your day school teacher, an Orthodox Chazan. It is a testament to your inner strength, and perhaps a very good therapist, that you persevered and grew up to be a professional Jewish educator. Unfortunately abusers exist in every religion, every ethnic group, every socio-economic group, etc. They blend into the community and unfortunately are not easily distinguishable by their dress or outward behavior. They are sick people comparable to sociopaths, in that they seem to lack a conscience. And, unfortunately, you can not learn or build a conscience and therefore should not be allowed any contact with children, who are innocent and unable to protect themselves from such predators. However, it is important to note that the Chasidic community described in the book, which I assume is the same for most Chasidic communities, an insulated community populated almost exclusively by Chasidics, suspicious of the secular world and the people who comprise the secular world, often refraining from listening to the radio or watching television and under the misconception that they are therefore safe and protected from the “evils” of the outside world need look no further than the horror of what happened to Leiby Kletzky.

    In response to Joe, who wrote on 2/1/11 that Judy Brown (who very recently revealed her true identity as the author of Hush) “…is a liar and never abused…,” if you had read the book, you would know that it was not the author who had been abused, but the author’s childhood friend. Before attacking an author or a book reviewer, it might behoove you to read the book first. You remind me of the people who are in denial that such a shunda could happen in their community and therefore blame the object of their anger (in this situation, the author herself who brought this to light). The book is not a farce. Judy is frum and will continue to be frum. She does not hate frumkeit and is not full of hate. On the contrary, it is not her who has a skewed perception, it is you. You need to wake up and see the writing on the wall!

  • hebrewgirl August 5, 2011, 4:53 PM

    I hope that people are reading Hush. It is a powerful, compelling book which deserves praise and attention. Thank you Heshy and Rabbi Fink for writing about it.

  • Mindy Friedlander-Schaper June 20, 2012, 8:42 PM

    I loved the book Hush and think this review was excellent. I come from a Chassidish family in Boro Park but not one as insular as the one described in the book- however, some of my extended family and many of my former neighbors live that way. Much of what she says rings true for my own experience and I can also see that my family and neighbors live more in the way that she describes. Att the commenters who think the author is bashing Chassidim- she very clearly is not. The book shows the family as human, that’s all, with many positive and negative traits. No one is saying Chassidim are worse than any other particular group of people. Every group has its own problems and this book is pointing out one of them, and I think for a very constructive purpose, as opposed to another more recent book, UnOrthodox, which I think was written just for the juicy gossip and was not intended to actually positively impact the frum community.

  • Sarah Gordon September 7, 2012, 8:45 AM

    In no way is abuse limited to so-called “insular communities” or religious groups and in no way do they react to it differently that any secular group. There is abuse going on right now in houses, schools, sports and recreation groups. There are huge complaints by women of sexism and abuse going on in New Left and Anarchist Movements, by men who claim to be as “holy” in their own secular way (more evolved, better beliefs) and claim they are feminists! The teacher that led the Peace Group in highschool had a string of underage lovers at every school he went to. Not until the next school was he caught and the kids in the group didn’t want to believe it was true and said the girl must be lying, until a second one came forward from another school. I knew immediately she wasn’t because one of my closest friends at my school had been one of his “special students” and had admitted it just before he left. I had to keep her secret because her parents were violent alcoholics and she would have been beaten for it.

    Every group likes to divide the world into us and them with all the bad stuff on the outside. Being able to admit that it DOES happen within the group is only half the battle. Lot’s of people are willing to accept that IN THEORY but balk when they see signs of abuse in reality.
    Nobody wants to tear the group apart by accusations, especially if they might be vague or difficult to prove. Everyone might take sides and begin to fight. It’s easier to look away, dismiss what you saw or minimize it. Even when it’s so obvious you can’t do that, it’s easier to sacrifice one or two victims and dismiss the impact on them than risk the whole group. It’s not unusual for victims to be shunned, dismissed or attacked for speaking up here either….it disturbs the status quo.

    One of the witnesses to that big sex abuse scandal in the sports world walked right in on the perpetrator in the shower with a kid. He just panicked in embarassment and walked out and said nothing. The perpetrators wife knew he was bringing boys home and showering with them, one kid said he screamed while being raped while the wife was just upstairs of them. These weren’t “religious fundamentalists nuts who are taught that sex and the body are dirty and shameful” as per what ignorant people blame the matter on.
    I had very nice neighbours on both sides of me in a row house and could hear their tvs and talking just fine. Did any of them ever call the police when they could hear me screaming over a period of years, with small children in the house. No.

    I’ve called the police on my neighbour beating his wife a dozen times since I lived here. The guy under them told me he stopped bothering to call years ago as the police never take him away. They don’t bother because he has friends in the courts who always get the charges dropped for him. My former manager had teeth damaged from a boyfriend hitting her with a hammar. One of my old friends had chipped front teeth from being tied up in a chair and having a drill put in her mouth. That happen a lot in the Hasidic world?

    None of the stuff that happened to me, or that I’ve heard through friends happened in “religious communities” and as far as I can tell a lot of the most extreme abuse is rarer in religious communities. That poor little kid who was killed WAS truly shocking and his killer was definately very abnormal and sick. Before everyone points them up for being so horrible and hypocritical people need to understand not to compare them to a romanticized notion of the Liberal secular world. They ignore stuff right in front of their faces and attack the victims too.

    It only makes the papers when it CAN’T be ignored any more, so people outside the circle can point fingers and feel smug that THEY would neverbe so blind/ callous to ever let that happen in their circle. That’s why Liberals and seculars LOVE when it happens in a religious community….so they can point fingers and blame religion instead of dealing with their own dysfunction. That’s why everyone flipped out and started tweeting about the sports scandals….genuine shock. They expect it to happen to religious people, they didn’t REALLY expect it to happen to them.
    (this one has details of all the players rushing to support the accused coach….very nice)

  • David Broida June 26, 2014, 12:56 PM

    I couldn’t agree with you more, on every point you raise. Gittle’s very personal story, + the social fabric of the Chasidic community make for riveting reading. I especially like the storytelling – I expected Shmuli to reappear – I was happy to be surprised by Gittel’s search for Devory’s grave, for her bestowing Devory’s name on her child. The author took me to a place unexpected. No pat endings here. AND —- from a pretty secular Jew – me – from everything I’ve read, every page rings true. Baruch Hashem. (I wonder why the author chose – p 156 – to name a character “Broida”).

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