The following is excerpted from Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home, available August 2015 from She Writes Press.
Another day, another midnight, I edge open the back door and try to make sure it doesn't creak. I put the car into neutral and slide down the drive with the driver's side door ajar. Once in the street, I ease the door closed and start the motor so that I could be anyone, a passing car that stalled, a Hasidic mother escaping to her lesbian lover.
Hands on the wheel, foot on the pedal, I have no thought, no sense of moral outrage, no nausea about my subterfuge or about any of the other fruitless duplicities that will come. I won't let myself imagine the betrayal that will linger in my children's eyes for years. Soon, I will tell myself that I do this as a matter of survival, pikuach nefesh, that like Levi scrubbing his hands even on the Sabbath when he had cancer, the Law stipulates that survival supersedes the Law. I will soothe myself with this justification even though I have had little regard for the Law outside of our home for some time. That's how I will feel, when I can finally think, that I go to Jane to survive.
But right now, as I roll through the sleeping Hasidic neighborhood, there's only a reptilian kind of instinct propelling me forward, a body scream. I hide the car in Jane's garage and let myself in her back door with her key, into the house where she now lives alone. Inside the door, I pull off the scarf, shake out my hair. Through the kitchen, the dark still den, down the hall, fingertips along a stippled wall. I peel off all my clothes, let them fall on the carpet in a pile, slide into her warm sheets and pull her sleeping body against my form. She wakes and turns to me, takes me in her arms.
There in her arms, I cry. For Levi (which she doesn't appreciate). For lost years. For thinking I could live without knowing the simple peace of . . . this: Warm bodies that echo one another. Steady breath on my hair in the night. Silent, constant warmth roused to electric in the morning, then back to tandem being before I slip out for home just after sunrise.
For now, this is all that matters. I imagine that won't be true for long.
Jane has a collection of polished stones, smooth and brilliant, in a shallow copper bowl on her vanity, among them royal-blue sodalite, green malachite, deep-red carnelian. One morning, I find her holding a handful to the early light. She stands, quiet, tilting her open palm this way and that, marking the way light shifts and dances on the polished surfaces. "Look," she says. "Look!" Her face is full of keen observation and wonder. Colors leap. It's a simple moment of stillness. Earth, stones, color. Being. The sensory world out there so long spurned, rises into three glorious dimensions.
But, day-to-day, I don't live in a three-dimensional world. I live in a world of words. Holy pronouncements. Sarah is preparing to leave for yeshiva. I don't want to send her into the life I've lived all these years, but Hasidic life is who she is, and I can't imagine cruelly shaking her identity just as it's forming into adulthood. Look at her, I think -- taller than me, shining brunette hair in an elegant wave. She just graduated from the Hasidic school, where she stepped up to the podium as valedictorian and addressed the community with maturity and polish far beyond her 14 years. I could almost hear the crowd draw in their collective breath.She's been formed here.
So has my mothering. My job has been to steep her in the Law, inspire her to faith, and none of that has anything to do with my own opinions, which before the huge old stream of history seem meek and newly formed. I don't understand yet that I could gently redirect my daughter, that it's not all or nothing, don't understand that my presence at her side coupled with her own young vision and the excitement of new freedom could turn into a tandem adventure. I don't even understand that instinct can be a mother's greatest guide. We rise, we rise, the group still says, above our natures. Only God's Word within us has validity.
"You'll be leaving soon," I say to Sarah the afternoon before her departure. I sit down next to her on her bed.
She grins and nods.
"Listen," I say. "There's something I want you to remember."
"Our life, Hasidic life, even when you're away at school -- it's a gilded cage. You'll make friends and have fun there, and they'll keep telling you every day that it's a perfect life. But it's only good if you never need out, if you never need more. You might need more someday. If you ever do, that will be okay. I'll help you."
"What do you mean?" Sarah says. She looks uncomfortable, puzzled. I take her hand.
But at that moment, Levi comes in. Together, her loving parents present her with a necklace of curved links in three colors of gold. Sarah stands, and Levi blesses her with a life in Torah and gives her an awkward hug. "Wear this and remember what I told you," I say as I close the clasp at the back of her neck.
How deeply I want to believe in this moment that my young daughter will remember what I said through all her coming years away from home, that as she matures she will come to understand my warning, that over time the cage of the Law around her will come into focus. But Sarah is looking to Levi, her face suffused with ineffable love.
I will live with this: that I sealed my daughter into Hasidic life at this turning point so that she will think this life her purpose, into the joyful, exhausting, endless mothering and workload and silence and lack of choices she will bear. She was born, and all I did was make the bed and spread the sheets, and she's gone.