A Precis of Any One of Several Recent Novels Featuring Former Chasidic Women Who, for Remarkably Similar Reasons, Have Left the Fold and are Suffering Innumerable Self-Inflicted Spiritual Punishments, Which the Writer Shares in Excruciating Detail
By David Hartley Mark
Barbara, nee Brucha, awoke from a drug- and alcohol-induced slumber. Wearing the sheerest of teddies, she partly flung off the Isaac Mizrahi silken sheets that covered her recumbent, voluptuous form, nourished by any manner of trafe delicacies—foods that, years before, as a granddaughter of the renowned Farbissiner Rebbe, she would have died, rather than allow them to pass through her lips. Looking over, she saw dark hair and beard, and heard gentle snoring—who was it?
Was it Achmed, her classmate from the Institute for Worldwide Spirituality, whom she darkly believed to be a secret spy for the SISI International Terrorist Network, and whom she suspected of having seduced her in order to gain the secrets of the Farbissiner Chasidic Dynasty’s ability to organize Jews, worldwide?
Was it Rolfe, international playboy and gambler, whom she had met at the gaming tables in Monte Carlo while there on a Chasidic Women’s Kosher Cooking Tour to promote her cookbook, Chasidic Cooking Done Continentally, and whose diamond-sharp, flashing eyes had caught hers while she was playing the casino’s only rabbinically-approved roulette wheel—one which provided separate numbers for men and women?
“You’re not just another roll of the dice, Brucha,” he had whispered into her ear after deftly lighting her English Oval with a gold-toned Zippo. Later, in bed in his suite overlooking the harbor, he told her that his real name was Raphael, and that he was actually an Israeli double agent, there in Monaco to follow the trail of Arab petrodollars financing a string of arms dealerships from Russia to China to Saudi Arabia….
Was it—? But she turned over, away from the mysterious bedmate, and saw before her, spread over the pages of The Times of Jerusalem, a quantity of white powder, along with a thousand-shekel bill—before she could stop herself, she snorted a quantity of what she thought was the finest Bolivian marching powder, this side of Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn….
--and began sneezing violently, having forgotten that her suitor, whoever he was, had a terrible tendency to chafing, and that he had applied a liberal amount of Mennen baby powder to his delicates, prior to dropping off, like her, into a drug-induced sleep.
The phone rang. Forgetting her resolution not to pick up any phones when her brain was aswirl, she reached out and picked it up. The sound of heavy breathing immediately gave it away: it was her Aunt Lolly, who had raised her from birth, after a sinister Havdalah assassination, in which a renegade Mallomar Chasid had penetrated the Farbissiner enclave during Maariv, the Shabbos-departing Evening Service, and sprinkled a lighter fluid-fertilizer-mix on her rabbi-father’s ceremonial candle, which exploded, tragically doing away with Farbissiner Grand Rabbi Onan Tembel-Farmisht, his Rebbetzin Bankiss, and several of their eighteen children. Only Barbara, then known as Brucha, remained, having been invited to participate in a Women’s Tsena-Rena All-Night Study Fest, Siyum-HaSefer Party Following at dawn, featuring the Chai-Lites, the world’s only Chasidic Women’s Punk-Goth Band—Men Cordially Not Invited, since Hearing the Voices of Women Singing is Forbidden to Men.
For her own safety, Brucha had been spirited away into the secretive worldwide Farbissiner Chasidic Network, and, after she was allowed out of the gunnysack-picklebarrel protective-traveling-device in which she had been spirited, found herself in London. She spent the next three years under an assumed name, colored her hair, and lived in a Modern Orthodox women’s seminary in Manchester. These extreme measures were, the Farbissiner Rabbinical Board decreed in the absence of a Chief Farbissiner Rabbi, necessary due to its being a matter of life and death—Pikuach Nefesh, in the Biblical and Talmudic sense.
Alas, the Moderdox mode had a tragic effect on the formerly-cloistered Brucha, who began sneaking out with her sister scholars to enjoy such temptations of modern life as the Manchester Mall, the cinema, and the circus—this latter being known, since the Roman Era, as a powerful tempter of innocent Jewish Womanhood. Eventually, the young heir of the Farbissiner Empire was drawn, first to Moderdoxy, then to left-wing Moderdoxy—she even toyed, for a time, with becoming a MaHaRaT, or Female Orthodox Rabbi—but, finally, she took the fatal step of buying a maxidress of American Denim, and became a hotsy-totsy girl.
Brucha—who took the name of Barbara, regarding her Hebrew-Yiddish name as a “slave name”—began smoking, wearing modern dress, associating with—horrors!—gentile men, and, eventually, moved back to New York City, where her personal exodus out of Chasidism—indeed, out of Judaism—became complete.
“After all,” reasoned this remarkable young woman, “how could I go on worshiping a G-d—excuse me, God, not a G?d, G!d, or G*d—who could have allowed my dear parents to perish, while they were in the midst of performing one of His mitzvote, and, at the hands of yet another Chasid? I cannot continue to embrace such a cruel Deity, if such a Being exists.”
And so, our heroine set out to discover her own Truth—if she were able to do so, in a space of some two to three-hundred pages, on the way meeting with any and all manner of men, and not a few women, for a variety of liaisons, spiritual, physical, and (of course) sexual, with a plethora of historical references, flashbacks to the Middle Ages, her education, her beloved parents and siblings, and, of course, the Holocaust.
We could ask for no less….
Good luck, Barbie! Or will it be Brucha? Who knows?