Hush by Eishes Chayil
This fascinating book gives readers an inside look at the sheltered ultra-orthodox Jewish community living in Brooklyn, New York. Gittel is a seventeen-year-old girl, about to graduate high school and be matched up with her future husband by a local matchmaker, or ” shadchen” as they are known within the Community. She will probably ending up teaching to support her family while her husband spends his days studying the Torah. As long as she add lots of children to this equation, she will be considered a righteous woman and a success in her community. The rules in her insulated Orthodox community have been the same for hundreds of years, developed originally in the shetels of Poland. Nothing ever changes, and the modern world is viewed as evil and unseemly. The beginning of the book explains Gittel’s Chassidic culture and lifestyle for readers, many of whom will be unfamiliar with it.
Her story is told in alternating voices: the ten-year-old child who witnesses a horrifying tragedy, and the young woman at seventeen about to be married. When the book begins, the reader meets Devory, Gittel’s best friend. The girls were born on the same day in the same hospital and are more like sisters than friends. During a sleepover when they are 10, Gittel sees Devory’s older brother climb in her bed and push on her under the covers. Although the naive Gittel doesn’t really know what she’s witnessed, Devory’s behavior become more and more disruptive over the next few weeks until she finally breaks and commits a her last desperate act.
Because of what she saw, Gittel is convinced that she somehow caused her best friend’s eventual suicide. No one will listen to her when she tries to tell what she saw Devory’ brother do; sexual abuse simply does not exist in their community, especially if it is never even acknowledged. In the second half of the book, the married Gittel tries to bring the crime to light, but can’t get anyone in the Orthodox community to listen to her or bring the issue out in the open. Readers’ hearts will wrench as they watch her inner struggle and growth as she learns that she has to listen to her own heart if she is to survive emotionally.
Even though this was a difficult book to read, I adored it. Although I am familiar with the Orthodox Jewish community and admire it in many ways, I found Gittel’s life fascinating, a true glimpse into a world not many of us see first hand. I recommend this title to readers interested in stories about growing up and readers interested in stories about sexual abuse. Readers of Push and A Child Called It will be engaged in this powerful story.