By Eishes Chayil
Walker Books for Young Readers
List Price: $16.99; Amazon Price $11.55
Rape and sexual abuse is everywhere. We read about it every day and it happens in the most surprising and even sacrosanct communities. The Hasidic community is no exception and thanks to the bravery of one author, Eishes Chayil (pseudonym, meaning “Woman of Valor”) we learn about the horrors and consequences of remaining silent and ignoring these terrible crimes.
Hush takes place in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, one of the largest enclaves of ultra-orthodox Jews in the United States. The story, aimed for both young adults and older readers, is narrated by Gittel Klein from the ages of eight and nineteen.
Gittel, as a pre-teen, writes about her friends, her community, her family, and about her best friend Devory, a troubled and rebellious girl. At this point in Gittel’s life it’s all about the innocence of childhood, but after one sleepover at Devory’s house that innocence is shattered when she witnesses Devory’s rape by her brother Shmuli. Things to turn from bad to worse for Devory when the trauma of her sexual abuse drives her to hang herself in Gittel’s bathroom.
The suicide and the sexual abuse is swept under the carpet, Devory’s family moves to Israel, and life goes on as usual in this insular community. Until Gittel is visited by Devory in her dreams. Gittel feels the pain of keeping silent and writes letters to her dead friend for forgiveness, but the haunting images of Devory appear to her nightly.
Hush is a disturbing novel in part because of the rape and suicide of a young girl, but even more troubling of how the community reacts and shuts down by ignoring that sexual abuse happens even among Hasids. Readers might be put off by the comments made about the Christian world, and also shake their heads and wonder how it’s possible that girls, even in such an insular community, can be so naive about sexuality. Yet, the story has a hypnotic pull and draws the reader into a world that’s a throwback to the pre-Holocaust shtetls of Eastern Europe and serves as a primer what life is like for 21st century Hasidic girls.
Although marketed for young adults and older, Hush easily makes an impression on adults. It’s a story that needed to be told and one that is unforgettable.