My Rosh Hashanah gift to myself was the luxury of lying in bed for hours at night reading Shulem Deen’s riveting memoir, All Who Go Do Not Return. Deen writes with a simple and elegant style of his journey into and ultimately away from the ultra-Hasidic Skverer sect in New Square, New York. This book deeply touched me because of my own struggle to understand and accept ultra-Orthodox Jewish practices, so different from my own beliefs in a more open and inclusive form of Judaism. A shared heritage seems to increase the stakes for coming to terms with cultural differences.
What’s so impressive about Deen’s memoir is his ability to describe the tragic consequences of his loss of faith and exit from the Hasidic world without bitterness or contempt. The reader comes away so impressed with this effort that despite being appalled by many of the Skverer practices he describes, it would be a dishonor to allow hateful feelings to surface. It’s refreshing to encounter such a calm and measured voice while so much of the world is awash in the politics of hate. What better book to read for the Jewish New Year than one that shows how it’s possible to confront cruelty with integrity.
Deen’s book also gave me the inspiration to continue with my own memoir writing and Book Project on Restored German Citizenship. As the number of submissions and my list of publishing contacts have slowly grown, I’m still seeking to refine my voice and writing style. I’m just finishing up a new draft of my citizenship story for the book and am inspired to continue working on it until it fully captures my personal journey.