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The Tragedy of Gitty and Shulem Deen (Reading "All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir")

It is impossible to read All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir.

It is impossible. You want to turn away like it's a bad dream, but it's not a bad dream.

It is a recount that feels so close to the truth it hurts.

Because you were Shulem Deen, once.

The child of parents who believed, but didn't quite belong.

Awed by the light, but a questioner.

Told, early on, that you were rebellious and an evil child.

"All of the questions have already been answered," they reminded Shulem and you, too. "You're not supposed to really ask, not really."

You knew better, because your parents and grandparents are the real thing, that is to say you come from a line of holy and great and pure rabbis stretching centuries and centuries back.

You were Shulem Deen, except Shulem got hit so hard, physically and mentally, that he left all of it. Had no belief left in the system at all.

You were Gitty, too.

Dutiful and convinced in the rightness of the system - somewhere, somehow it must be right.

Believing in your special role because you are a female.

Women are potentially murderers of holiness, the rabbis say and you always believed it. Unless submissive, immoral and tempting a man astray.

That's what they call a man who goes to such a woman - the same thing they call a heretic - one who goes and does not come back.

You were lucky enough not to really be Shulem, or Gitty either.

Your parents believed that keeping minds from sunlight turns fingers to gnarled claws.

That shoving healthy bodies into closed boxes bends their spines irretrievably.

So you were groomed for a secular life as much as for a religious one.

And when you sat for your dissertation, your parents sat there, whistling.

You were one of the lucky ones. But Shulem and Gitty were not so fortunate.

Had they been given the freedom to be secular, maybe then they'd still be married.

Maybe they would be able to hold hands, sit on the porch and watch the sun go down together.

Not trade visits with the kids. Not have to think about the whole community they come from. Watching every moment of their lives, weighing in on every moment and move.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

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