This week, the Forward will publish the first in a series of essays by Judy Brown, a 32-year-old author and journalist from the Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park, in Brooklyn.
Brown is in the process of leaving her community, and her series, “Inside Out,” is the narrative of her Hasidic life and her departure from it. The essays are based on true events, but her characters’ names and identities have been changed; some are composites, comprising several real-life people.
Brown is writing at a moment when the ultra-Orthodox are in the spotlight. Their numbers are surging; nearly three-fourths of all Jewish children in New York City are born to Orthodox families.
The increased visibility has been accompanied by public defections. Brown is one of several rising authors who have turned a critical eye to their neighborhoods. But unlike some of her peers — take Deborah Feldman, author of the recent “Unorthodox” — Brown writes with warmth for her community, wondering at the myriad idiosyncrasies of Hasidic life.
Readers might recognize Brown by her pseudonym, Eishes Chayil, under which she wrote “Hush,” a 2010 novel about sex abuse and suicide in Boro Park. The moment she started to write about her own world, she began to drift away from it, she said. “It was the slow process of self-reflection. A process that begins a journey somewhere else.”
A little more than a year ago, Brown revealed her name in an article for The Huffington Post. (Her legal name is Judy Braun, but she goes by the surname Brown.) She said the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, at the hands of another Orthodox Jew in Boro Park, sparked her disclosure.
In shedding her pseudonym, Brown said she was standing by the victims of violence and abuse in the ultra-Orthodox world. But she was also marking herself as a voice worth listening to, one whose outrage never obscures her perspective or her humor.
Brown’s essays will be accompanied by the artwork of Lisa Anchin, a Brooklyn-based illustrator.
Contact Naomi Zeveloff at firstname.lastname@example.org
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.