Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent

Leah grew up in a Yeshivish household, her father a rabbi in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Her dream for her whole life was to marry young and have a dozen children. She wasn't allowed to touch boys or even be alone in the same room with one until she was married. Her mother did everything her father asked without question, and Leah felt loved and comforted in her home. But when she was a teenager, she went to England to live with cousins for a while before entering a prestigious girls seminary (Yeshivish girls don't go to college.) There, she met and hung out with another girl whose family was not as strict. And she hung out with the girl's brother. He was cute and he had radical ideas, like that if a girl wants to go to college, she should. Leah was never the same.

Although she never consciously decides, "I disagree with this religion and I'm not going to do what they say," she subconsciously does just that. But because it is subconscious, it is more complex and more drawn-out. She continues to try to fit in, visiting her older sister in Israel, until her letters to the boy are discovered, causing such a shocking scandal that her family basically casts her out and treats her like she's dead. Her parents arrange an apartment and a job that doesn't quite pay for the apartment in Brooklyn, and then write her off. Even when she's been admitted to the hospital for a suicide attempt, her parents refuse to help or visit. And while she does attend college and wears jeans for the first time and learns who the Beatles are, she still dreams of marrying an ultra-orthodox husband and having a large family. What is difficult both for Leah and for the reader to realize for a long time, as Leah stumbles around blindly in the secular world, is that simply casting off a belief does not mean that she will fit in or understand. She has to in some ways start over, learn what the normal secular world is like and how people function in it.

The book is at times harrowing, at times humorous, and always honest. Leah tells stories where she doesn't come across well at all, and yet you empathize with her innocence and misguided trust, her complete lack of guile, and her sad lack of friends. I wanted to befriend her and help her navigate through her new reality, and I really wanted to punch her parents. This was a very fast read giving a peek into a normally closed and secretive community, Leah seems to have come out the other side and I for one am cheering for her to continue to prove to her family that she isn't evil and nothing bad will happen to her, just because she disagrees with them and has different beliefs.

I checked this book out of the library.

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