Did Deborah Feldman Lie?
The author of the much ballyhooed memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” which was published earlier this week by Simon and Schuster, claims that a 13-year-old Satmar boy was murdered by his father who, Feldman claimed, cut off the boy's penis and slashed his neck with a jig saw in the basement of their Kiryas Joel home because he caught the boy masturbating. Feldman further alleged that Hatzolah and Kiryas Joel leaders covered up the murder and buried the boy within 30 minutes of his body being discovered. She also said police were not called and that there was no death certificate issued. But all this appears to be a lie.
Hella Winston reports in the Jewish Week:
With allegations of communal cover-ups involving child sexual abuse dogging the haredi community over the past several years, it may not be much of a stretch for some readers to believe a gruesome story that appears in a new memoir about growing up in, and leaving, the Satmar community.
The story, recounted by Deborah Feldman in “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” (Simon and Schuster), involves the alleged mutilation and murder of a boy by his own father — supposedly for masturbating — and the subsequent cover-up of the crime by Hatzolah, the community’s volunteer ambulance service.
The only problem, however, is that based on information obtained by The Jewish Week, the seems not be true.…
The Jewish Week notes that Feldman first wrote about this story on her anonymous blog Hasidic Femenist in December 2008.
The Jewish Week also lists the names of the two state police officers who responded to the call about the boy's death and it cites the death certificate, which it has a copy of:
Further, a death certificate obtained by The Jewish Week indicates that the death — which it noted occurred in a “storeroom” on a Friday afternoon in Kiryas Joel around the approximate date Feldman’s blog alleged — was ruled a suicide by coroner Thomas A. Murray, and lists the cause of death as “partial decapitation, severed carotid arteries due to circular saw.” The deceased’s age was listed as 20.
Several e-mails to Feldman and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, seeking comment did not receive a response.
So the 13-year-old was really 20-years-old, he killed himself and his penis was not cut off.
A relative of the victim told The Jewish Week:
“I cannot understand how a person could possibly find it within themselves to fabricate such a gruesome story and slander a completely innocent, grieving and tragedy-stricken family in such a horrific way. The facts are that the boy had a long history of mental illness, and his family and the community did a lot to try and help this individual. It was a very tragic end to a life full of suffering.”
Read the entire report here.
Update 2:25 pm CST 2-23-2012 – The Jewish Week finally reached the New York State Police. Here is what they said:
Lt. Glenn Miner, a spokesman for the NY State Police told The Jewish Week the incident in question "was investigated by the state police and was determined not to be a homicide."