A Chassidic rebel goes public


By Miriam Shaviv
July 17, 2008
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The cover story in New York magazine this week is a must-read. It features Gitty Grunwald, a Satmar Chassid who lost religion, left her husband, and is now fighting her former spouse for custody of their daughter, Esther Miriam, 4:

In early 2007, Gitty fled Kiryas Joel for good, taking Esther Miriam with her. At first, they lived in the relatively relaxed frum (Orthodox) community of Monsey, New York, then moved to Brooklyn. “It was just the two of us. I loved it,” Gitty says. Then in January of this year, as Esther Miriam was walked with her class to a Flatbush playground, she was taken, says Gitty, who believes her husband was behind the act.

“Some KJ guys snatched her off the street. Esther Miriam said they were wearing masks. All she remembers was crying, crying so hard,” Gitty says, calling it the worst day of her life. “When they told me what happened, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was being suffocated. I still do.”

The article is told exclusively from Gitty's point of view, without any attempt at telling her husband's side of the story. Nevertheless, there are plenty of insights to be gained - such as the role of blogs in cementing her desire to rebel (a point which was made quite clearly in Hella Winston's book The Unchosen, about Chassidic rebels, several years ago); the problems faced by children of ba'alei teshuvah, or returnees to the faith; and the difficulty Chassidic renegades experience coping with the outside world, once they leave their community. 

But my real question is this. To what extent is New York magazine taking advantage of Gitty by featuring her story in this way?

Her custody battle is still ongoing, and there is no question that the publicity in this article cannot help her case; nor can it do anything to help her relationship with her former husband or give him any sort of incentive to come to an agreement with her. Her new lifestyle - including experimenting with drugs - is  revealed openly. Some of the pictures of Gitty in the article - such as the one of her changing into her 'Chassidic' outfit - may be artistic, but are not exactly modest. And her language, speaking of her former husband and community, is not very diplomatic. How exactly is any of this in Gitty's interests, while her daughter's fate is still being decided?

Throughout the article, Gitty, still only 23, is portrayed as extremely unworldly and sheltered. She is unfamiliar with basic aspects of secular culture, has no qualifications or job prospects - she can't even get a job as a waitress. I can understand that she may have had many reasons for wanting to tell her story - desperation over her daughter; emotional venting; perhaps even revenge, of sorts. But it seems to me that doing so, in such a public forum, is just another aspect of her dreadful naivete.

Even if it is too much to expect New York magazine to turn away such a great (and apparently willingly told) story, it is a shame no one - her lawyer? her friends? - stopped her, for her own good.

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