Cover image for Mystics, mavericks, and merrymakers : an intimate journey among Hasidic girls
Mystics, mavericks, and merrymakers : an intimate journey among Hasidic girls
Levine, Stephanie Wellen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiv, 255 pages ; 24 cm
Introduction : what I sought, what I found -- The community : a cultural and psychological tour -- The cast -- Esther (Estie) Gutman : wild times and holy designs -- Rochel Lehrer : evolving, not rebelling -- Nechama Dina (Dini) Rockoff : chutzpah and holiness -- Chaya Jacobson : strip clubs and soul-searching -- Gittel Kassin : medicine and marriage -- Malka (Malkie) Belfer : miniskirts and the messiah -- Leah Ratner : mystic and maverick -- Into the future : adulthood and insights from the Hasidim.
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HQ798 .L49 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Follows the journeys of Hasidic teenagers as they grow up and grapple with culture, family, and religion

From the ardently religious young woman who longs for the life of a male scholar to the young rebel who visits a strip club, smokes pot, and agonizes over her loss of faith to the proud Lubavitcher with a desire for a high-powered career, Stephanie Wellen Levine provides a rare glimpse into the inner worlds and daily lives of these Hasidic girls.

Lubavitcher Hasidim are famous for their efforts to inspire secular Jews to become more observant and for their messianic fervor. Strict followers of Orthodox Judaism, they maintain sharp gender-role distinctions.

Levine spent a year living in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, participating in the rhythms of Hasidic girlhood. Drawing on many intimate hours among Hasidim and over 30 in-depth interviews, Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers offers rich portraits of individual Hasidic young women and how they deal with the conflicts between the regimented society in which they live and the pull of mainstream American life.

This superbly crafted book offers intimate stories from Hasidic teenagers' lives, providing an intriguing twist to a universal theme: the struggle to grow up and define who we are within the context of culture, family, and life-driving beliefs.

Author Notes

Stephanie Wellen Levine holds an A.B. from Brown University and a Ph.D. from Harvard's American studies program. She teaches at Tufts University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Carol Gilligan is University Professor at the NYU Steinhardt School of Education and author or editor of numerous books

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This absorbing ethnography acts as one subculture's corrective to Reviving Ophelia, in that it offers a refreshing portrait of adolescent girls who are far from insecure. In this refreshing portrayal of girls who are far from insecure, Levine presents a contrasting path to that of mainstream adolescent girls. While a graduate student in American studies at Harvard, Levine spent a year living as a "participant observer" in the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, entering with the following assumption: "The possibility that these girls' lives could be anything other than the Platonic essence of feminine subjugation seemed as unlikely as a suckling pig on a Shabbos table." What she found instead is that Lubavitch culture nurtures most girls' inner and outer voices. Though they are not immune from adolescent concerns about fashion, weight, looks and cliques, the Lubavitch emphasis on each person's godly mission to bring the Messiah deepens their spiritual outlook; the single-sex environment in which they mature helps develop vibrant, expressive personalities. Those who clash with Orthodox strictures, however, experience intense and painful struggles. From interviews with 32 girls ages 13 to 23, Levine found "downright juicy" material and culled seven portraits of girls (disguised in name and background) in their "idiosyncratic splendor." The essays are sometimes repetitive within the context of the entire book, as if Levine wrote each to stand on its own, but her bright, lively narrative compensates. Levine invites readers to share the "pure delight" of knowing these girls, and challenges us to draw on Hasidism as an unexpected source in helping our own girls develop into secure, confident adults. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Levine did much of the research for this book as a graduate student in American studies at Harvard, working under Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice), who provides a foreword. Spending a year living as a participant observer in the Lubavitcher Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Levine sought to discover whether adolescent girls raised in strict religious orthodoxy had what could be called a free voice. Indeed they do, and Levine found that the girls she studied had a refreshing liveliness and freedom of expression. Seven of the girls are portrayed here in-depth. Levine concludes that the single-sex atmosphere in which the girls are raised until they marry, along with the Hasidic philosophy instilled in them that teaches them to attend to and cultivate the divine spark within them, enables the girls to grow up with vibrancy and chutzpa, energy and spirit. A useful companion piece to Making Connections: The Relational World of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School (edited by Gilligan and others) and a vivid portrayal of the Lubavitcher community, this is recommended for social science and Judaica collections as well as for YA girls.-Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Levine (Tufts Univ.) takes readers into an unfamiliar world of girls who were raised in the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. They are part of an insular community of Orthodox Jews who follow their leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (now deceased but still revered). Levine lived among these young girls for a year, visiting their classes at the Bais Rivka School and socializing with them. Using the participant-observer approach, she explores how these women negotiated adolescence while staying within the boundaries of a strict religious orthodoxy. Though Levine stresses the individuality of each of the girls she interviewed, she believes that they offer readers insights into how young women develop their unique voices. One intriguing paradox she explores is how these girls created distinct personalities while living in a very closed society. Gender roles are carefully prescribed among the Lubavitchers, yet many of these girls adapted and interpreted their cultures to suit their particular needs. Those interested in intellectual pursuits tried to satisfy them within Hasidism, though a few had to leave the community to achieve their goals. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. J. Sochen Northeastern Illinois University

Table of Contents

Carol Gilligan
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Forewordp. xi
Introduction: What I Sought, What I Foundp. 1
1 The Community: A Cultural and Psychological Tourp. 27
2 The Castp. 67
3 Esther (Estie) Gutman: Wild Times and Holy Designsp. 73
4 Rochel Lehrer: Evolving, Not Rebellingp. 87
5 Nechama Dina (Dini) Rockoff: Chutzpah and Holinessp. 107
6 Chaya Jacobson: Strip Clubs and Soul-Searchingp. 124
7 Gittel Kassin: Medicine and Marriagep. 139
8 Malka (Malkie) Belfer: Miniskirts and the Messiahp. 158
9 Leah Ratner: Mystic and Maverickp. 175
10 Into the Future: Adulthood and Insights from the Hasidimp. 191
Notesp. 231
Selected Bibliographyp. 235
Indexp. 241
About the Authorp. 255