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Hush by Eishes Chayil February 24, 2013

hush bookHush is story of Gittel Klein, a young girl living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the largest community of Orthodox Judaism outside Israel.  From a very early age, Gittel has been brought up to become “Eishes Chayil” or a “woman of valor.”  This means following the strict rules of her community and becoming a wife and mother.  Life in this insular community is different, but it is all she’s ever known.  The novel takes us back in time as Gittel reminisces about her family, her neighbors, and her best friend Devory.  We follow her as she celebrates Purim, sneaks kosher candy-that may not be kosher enough, and listens to her father’s stories.

When Gittel is ten, she witnesses something terrible.  Devory is raped by her brother Shmuli while Gittel lies in the next bed. Unsure of what she really saw, Gittel is confused and upset.  No one, not Devory’s parents or her own, believe that such a thing could occur.  Devory’s erratic behavior continues to escalate.  Constantly trying to stay with Gittel, she is always forced to return home-where her attacker waits.  One day, Devory commits suicide by hanging herself in Gittel’s home.  A tragedy, this is all best forgotten.  Gittel is forced to put the memory of her friend in the past and move on with her life.  Devory’s family moves to Israel and life in Borough Park goes on.

Fast forward ten years and Gittel is now eighteen – graduated and married.  Attempting to push her memories of Devory out of her mind, she can no longer ignore her feelings.  The ghost of her friends begins haunting her dreams, forcing Gittel to confront the issue.  She risks everything by going to the police and telling them what happened to her friend all those years ago.  Why did this have to happen to Devory?  Why will no one acknowledge the ugly truth?  Will Gittel avenge her friend and lay to rest the nightmares she’s been carrying around for the last decade?

Hush is an incredibly powerful book.  The author, writing under a pseudonym, gives us a deeper look into the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.  I was entranced by the rules and rituals Gittel followed.  The author delicately describes the community, not holding back.  The sense of devotion is intoxicating while the extremities are at times alarming.  She was able to capture a complete picture of Chassidism, good and bad.  I was familiar with some of the rules, but what stood out to me was the role of women. Responsible for carrying on the traditions by giving birth, they are second-class citizens.  Gittel’s only option beyond marriage and motherhood is to become a teacher.  I was surprised at the level of glaring ignorance on the subject of sex and reproduction, not just from the women but the men as well.  Gittel’s confusion over what happened to Devory is compounded by the lack of information in the community.  They have no word for “rape” therefore it could not have happened.  Hush, don’t say a word.  It will all just go away.  Eishes Chayil has shed light on a darkness that is plaguing us all over the world, not just Borough Park.  No longer should victims be silenced.

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