Born to what was considered a royal Hasidic family — a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov — Abby Stein was raised as a boy in one of the most gender-segregated societies on earth. From an early age, she knew she was a girl and when she, at the age of 4 years, expressed this to her mother, she was given the very clear message that this was never to be spoken about again. Throughout her childhood, she rebelled, against god, against her restrictive society, and against a world that did not allow her to be herself.
This memoir was so detailed and heartfelt – until it wasn’t. We hear about every moment in Abby’s early life. Her journey from one yeshiva to the next, from one rebellion to the next. There are very intimate passages, revealing her first love for a young man who is obviously struggling with his own sexuality. This episode is quite tenderly written and the reader feels such empathy for these two who cannot pursue their love in the restrictive society in which the two “boys” live. We hear about the details of the study in which Abby immerses herself, how she advocated to learn about law and ultimately about mysticism. And some of the details about Hasidic life are quite interesting. And we hear about her marriage to Fraidy, which is actually quite sweet and hopeful, to some degree.
But suddenly, when she describes Fraidy giving birth to their son, and all of a sudden, it is as if she drops off a cliff and, POOF! she is a woman. There is little to no mention of how she disengages from her prior life, with the exception of an epilogue, which tells only of how she tells her father she is a woman. We do not hear about her connection with her child, we do not hear about she experiences the transition from her insular world of Hasidism to the outer world, we do not hear about much of anything else. This I find unbelievably disappointing and a sorely missed opportunity. After hearing so much detail, the absence of detail is astounding.
I did learn from this book, but I was disappointed by the ending. On the other hand, I do hope that Abby finds peace with her family and can connect with them. She obviously loves them dearly and they do her. I hope they can find a way to see that she is exactly who she always was.