Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: My Sister's Weiss

The Sister's Weiss
By Naomi Ragen
My own copy

I have read several books by Naomi Ragan. I was expecting her newest novel to be the same subject that many Jewish author's tackle.  A rebellious daughter leaving the Ultra Orthodox enclave.

It is a bit, more. The Sister's Weiss takes place in Brooklyn, New York in the l950's. The two daughters, Pearl and Rose are very close. Their parents live in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Williamsburg.  Rose is the eldest daughter.  She is a very obedient daughter compared to her other youngest sister, Pearl.

All children in the ultra orthodox community are expected to be obedient to g-d, and obey his commandants. One of the commandments is to obey your mother and father.  Rose tries very hard to obey. But as Rose gets older, she realizes she wants something more.

Years ago, she was given a camera. She is curious about photography and she curious about photography and wants to learn about it.   She is asked to do a mitzvah, to tutor a french girl in her class.  Rose goes home with her, and learns about how the other half lives.  The girl's father gives Rose a photography book.

When her parents learn that Rose has a "filthy book", they send her away to her grandmother. While there, they are unaware that Rose has secretly enrolled in photography classes.  When they find out what she has been doing they have her come home.  Once she comes home, she is of the age to find a match-arranged marriage.  She has no say, who she will marry. Her marriage is limited because of the rumors of her disobedience.  Once the match happen's Rose feels trapped, and runs away.

We fast forward now forty years later. Rose is a mature older, successful photographer, with a daughter, Hannah.  Rose has become a secular Jew.  Rose is not wanted in her family since she ran away. Pearl's daughter now grown up. Asks her Aunt for help( she has never seen her aunt.)  and cousin for help.  She wants more out of getting married and having children. She wants the freedom to choose her own destiny.

It is during the second part of the book, we learn about how Rose survived, after she runaway from her parents. Rose's niece is very naive, she wants to have the chose of where her life will lead.  She has made some terrible choses, but she doesn't take responsibility for her actions.  Rose, intervenes at every turn for her niece. But finally, she can't take that her niece doesn't realize there are responsibilities with having freedom.

Sister's Weiss is a fast moving novel. I enjoyed reading very much. At first, I thought to myself another novel about the rebellious daughter goes bad in a observant Jewish family. But, it is a bit more than that.  There is not a happy ending, but there isn't a happy ending when your family has pretty much thrown you out.

I am not a observant Jew, I was raised conservative.  But this is my take what I got out of the novel. If there are children that don't want the ultra orthodox lifestyle, what are the girls options? Is there a place for help for them? It is terrible that their parent's throw their children out. They are worried about their reputation, and their other marriageable children.

They don't care about their child, and what happens to them.  Some of the children are resilient and are able to get their life together others, are not as successful.  I was researching to find out if there were resources for children of ultra orthodox families. I could not find anything. If anyone knows if there are, I would like to hear about it.

Here is a update while researching. I did find a resource for young orthodox adults. Either they were thrown out of their home, or they are trying to find where they fit religion in their life.  The program is called Footsteps. It is the only one in the country, which is a shame.  What about other town's and cities where they live. Or the other thought do these children know where to get help? probably not.

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