This is my first post of possibly three for The Literary Others, a month-long reading event in support of LGBT History Month: October 1-31. Hosted by Roof Beam Reader, you can find posts and reviews of books on Twitter-#theliteraryothers-and at the master list.
Title: Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home
Author: Leah Lax
Publisher: She Writes Press
Device: Trade Paper
For a plot summary
When someone in the LGBT community is struggling with their faith tradition’s acceptance of them, it is easy to ask, “Why do you stay if they can’t accept you and if you can’t accept things the way they are?” The answer is complicated as Leah Lax shows in this spiritual memoir of her life as a Hasidic Jew struggling to do God’s will amidst the inner conflicts that plague her life in this strict Jewish sect.
Lax chose to enter Hasidic Judaism after graduating high school, where unquestioning allegiance to the Law gave no outlet for doubts. The rules governed the minutiae of everyday life, which made it a refuge against her chaotic and disordered childhood. There were no gray areas if uncertainties trickled into her mind. Group think and fear of gossip purged any thoughts of rebellion. When Lax married at 19 she hoped her home and religious convictions would mitigate the loneliness that troubled her since childhood.
She dutifully fulfills the command from her Rebbe to “build an everlasting edifice of a Jewish home and family,” and in a succession of years has 7 children. Her husband, unable to show her affection or take any interest in her, works long hours and then comes home to study his holy books.
Profoundly disappointed that marriage was not the healer she had hoped, she is awakened many nights by panic attacks unable to breathe. To add to the discomfort of these nightly assaults into her subconscious is the confusion that they portray her as a man. Though a gnawing sense that her decision to enter this marriage is fraying around the edges, she continues to stay and raise up her children as models of the tradition.
It is only after she hears of the suicide of a young yeshiva boy, who she believes jumped off the roof because he couldn’t live with the knowledge that he was gay, does Lax allow the questions about her own sexuality and doubts about her faith to rise up. Still, she “holds on for the kids” and it is several years before she can truly break free and live an open life.
It is easy to assume someone in the LGBT community should just leave a religion that doesn’t want them and can’t accept their sexual orientation. Yet, Lax shows us how seriously any deeply committed person of faith takes their religion. Because if you truly believe this faith tradition is God’s will for your life, you fight with everything inside you to stay, no matter the questions, the doubts, the personal toll. As long as you can find answers to your questions of confusion, discomfort and disappointment, you will sublimate or ignore even the most deep innate feelings you know about yourself. But once those answers are not good enough and stop making sense, the chinks become cracks, become wide open routes that show you the way out.
I found this book so compelling in its openness and honesty that I read it straight through. I appreciated Lax’s attention to the details of her inner and outer life that reflected her conflicts as a lesbian living as a married Hasidic Jew, how she tried to reconcile those very different things, how she tried so very hard to make it work and then ultimately why she couldn’t.
The book ends with a description of her successful life on the outside as a writer, dog lover and with the new home she has created with her partner. Her children have accepted her new life and she says they were not surprised when she came out to them.
And I was finally able to breathe!