Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

Ditty is a Haredi Jew, the most conservative branch of Orthodox Judaism (sometimes referred to as ultra-Orthodox).  When she and her friend Sarah sneak watching some TV, Ditty discovers the world of dance and is transfixed.  She wants to take ballet lesson more than anything, but dancing is something her family will not allow.  Against her father's and her community's wishes, Ditty secretly begins taking dance lessons.  Can Ditty dance and keep her family?  Or will she need to give one of them up?

This book made me feel uncomfortable.  Allow me to explain why.  Before the story begins, Robyn Bavati notes that she grew up in a Modern Orthodox family, not Haredi, as the community in the book is.  In fact, Ditty's cousin who is Modern Orthodox is portrayed as being liberal and wild.  Bavati also notes that "...the community portrayed in this story is not representative of the broader Jewish community..."  OK, so, I wonder about her choice to set her story in the Haredi community.  Because she felt it would a better, more dramatic story?  Why did she pick a community she didn't actually grow up in?  Why not tell her own story?

The view that Bavati shows of the Haredi community is a very harsh one.  People are portrayed as brainwashed zealots, who blindly follow their religious convictions.  Only Ditty fights against religion, finally breaking free.  I am not saying that there aren't conflicts like this in religious communities.  It is no doubt a common story.  My issue was the incredibly one-sided picture we got of that community.

I think of the incredible book Hush, by Eishes Chayil, which was about sexual abuse in the Chasidic community.  Despite the serious nature of the book, and the realness of the problem, Eishes Chayil was still able to show, in many different ways, the positive aspects of such a community.  The people were not represented as flat, one-dimensional characters.  They were full, complex people.

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