In the tiny, ultra-Hassidic (Skverer) community of New Square, author Shulem Deen dared to question his religious practices and belief in God. Born in Brooklyn to a different sect of Hassidism, he chose this community because of his impression that it was welcoming and that it espoused the spiritual essence he was searching for. He studied in the yeshivah there and in time was married off to a girl he’d met only once before his wedding. He tried to make a life for himself, studying, working (or trying to, in spite of the minimal secular education he was provided), and even fathering children. But his doubts began to niggle at him as did his curiosity about the outside world (of which he knew almost nothing).
This is not the best-written or the most gripping story, but it is very human and very heartfelt. More importantly, it also gives the reader an insider’s view into this terribly insular ghetto. More than almost any other sect of Judaism, this group of people consider any exposure to the outside/modern world (television, newspapers, etc.) a doorway to sin. There is no such thing as discussion or debate, unless it is related to the study of Torah. Anyone who questions the Rebbe — the ultimate leader believed, in a sense, to hold a direct line to God — is one who must be punished and abolished from their midst. And this is the ultimate fate of Shulem.
Sadly, this is another example of how religious extremism promotes hatred, intolerance, and cruelty toward anyone who is perceived as different. Poor Shulem was just another victim of this.