Book review: Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home, by Leah Lax

Lax UncoveredLax, Leah. Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home. She Writes Press, 2015. 348p. PB. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-63152-995-5

The best fiction takes readers to places they cannot imagine for themselves. But the best nonfiction can also immerse people in various realities that may seem intellectually ungraspable. Leah Lax has achieved this latter feat in her superb memoir, wherein a deeply-observant Hasidic Jewish wife only gradually realizes she is a lesbian, with dreams and aspirations above and beyond the ironclad strictures of her life-in-faith, and ultimately finds a way to become most truly herself—-to become “uncovered”.

Born into a secular Texas home, “Lisa” becomes entranced with Hasidic spirituality as a teenager, and as “Leah,” marries, via arrangement, her equally devout husband Levi at age 19, beginning a daily existence whereby all breaths and actions are dictated by Jewish law. Despite fleeting emotional attachments to other girls in her youth, Leah plunges into her new existence with total commitment, giving birth to seven children within a handful of years.

Leah buries her faint desires to write and to educate herself further, as her days are engorged with homemaking, kosher meal preparation and child rearing, all while she is separated from Levi’s own spiritual world via strict Hasidic practices. As she finally begins to creep towards fulfillment beyond the hearth, Levi is diagnosed with cancer, thus keeping her at “home” still longer.

But she eventually finds her way to personal freedom, a process hastened by her increasing attraction to women. After 30 years of non-questioning obedience, Leah finally escapes her Hasidic world, becoming a published author and writing teacher in the Houston area.

Lax offers a remarkable inside view of daily Hasidic life. The details surrounding meal preparation for the Passover holiday alone make a head swim. Her prose is both down-to-earth and elevated, as she continues to long for a spiritual existence as herself in all her complexity, not as the regulation Jewish wife. But, as she observes: “It was Hasidic life that taught me to build a convincing world through imagination alone. Perhaps those years are the reason I write….It wasn’t God, but my fierce clinging to God, that kept me so encumbered.”

Uncovered is masterful—searingly honest and lyrically rendered. It is recommended for all readers, especially those interested in Jewish religion, history and culture.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library

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