Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In the vein of Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted, an electrifying memoir about a young woman's promiscuous and self-destructive spiral after being cast out of her ultra-Orthodox Jewish family
Leah Vincent was born into the Yeshivish community, a fundamentalist sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. As the daughter of an influential rabbi, Leah and her ten siblings were raised to worship two things: God and the men who ruled their world. But the tradition-bound future Leah envisioned for herself was cut short when, at sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. Leah's parents were unforgiving. Afraid, in part, that her behavior would affect the marriage prospects of their other children, they put her on a plane and cut off ties. Cast out in New York City, without a father or husband tethering her to the Orthodox community, Leah was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She spent the next few years using her sexuality as a way of attracting the male approval she had been conditioned to seek out as a child, while becoming increasingly unfaithful to the religious dogma of her past. Fast-paced, mesmerizing, and brutally honest, Cut Me Loose tells the story of one woman's harrowing struggle to define herself as an individual. Through Leah's eyes, we confront not only the oppressive world of religious fundamentalism, but also the broader issues that face even the most secular young women as they grapple with sexuality and identity.
I loved Leah's writing style. She clearly and quickly sets the stage by making key points about her upbringing. The ultra Orthodox is a way of life, not just a religion, affection was sparse, minor offenses would ruin the standing of the family if the wandering child was not rejected. The author writes an objective first half of the book, growing up in the culture and quietly questioning, yearning for understanding and wondering about life outside the confines of her group.
Leah's life is turned upside down very quickly. Marriage is the ultimate goal with many children. Education is not for the devout in her religion. This particular sect is based on the suffering of the Russian Jews prior to WWII. There is honor in suffering and denying the pleasures of this world. Modesty is to the extreme and doesn't end with dress but extends to covering hair after marriage, submitting to your husband and living in poverty. The Ultra-Orthodox was invented after the war. The Hasidic Jews are seen as quite liberal in comparison.
The turning point in Leah's life (although there was much that led up to this) was that her aunt found letters she had written to a boy. The episode occurred long before it was discovered but it was a great shame. All prospects of a good marriage are ruined at this point. She can only expect another wanderer or someone severely disfigured. She is rejected from attending Seminary and her parents set her up in an apartment in New York and arrange for her to have a job in Manhattan.
The book takes a dark turn which leaves me somewhat conflicted. First and foremost, I admire the author's courage to admit to her behavior and consequences. Leah is very lonely and has rare contact with her family. There is a phone call every week that lacks affection and is simply perfunctory. She has no friends at work and she knows nobody in the neighborhood. She falls in with the least common denominator and plummets from Ultra-Orthodox to foul talking, ultra sexually active.
Again, I appreciate and admire her honesty but it lacked insight. Her parents stayed true to form and did not suddenly develop an affectionate streak. She was not completely abandoned but she was certainly left to make her own way. I got the strong sense that Leah blamed her parents for Leah's choices. It was her parents' fault that she became sexually promiscuous. When a man that was much older than herself was having an affair with her and gets caught, the wife is upset and yells at Leah. Leah takes no responsibility for it in the book. The man was married. He was committing adultery. She was not violating her marriage vows. He was. The greater insight is that Leah has some serious Daddy Issues and was seeking acceptance by proxy with older men.
Leah's story is fascinating and well written to a point. Perhaps with the passage of time, she will gain greater insight and take ownership of her choices. Her accomplishments speak volumes for her determination. I am anxious to see where Leah goes from here.
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