Jewish Book Council and The Neighborhood joined The Center for Fiction for a special literary program featuring Felicia Berliner, author of the debut novel Shmutz, in conversation with author and activist Abby Stein (Becoming Eve). They discussed sexual identity and discovery within Orthodox communities as well as the process of writing as both an insider and outsider.
Felicia Berliner lives in New York City. Shmutz is her first novel. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she was awarded a Teaching Fellowship and the Henfield Prize, and a BA from Yale University. She grew up in Los Angeles and attended yeshiva high school.
Abby Stein (she/her) is a Jewish educator & rabbi, author, speaker, and activist. She was born and raised in a Hasidic family of rabbinic descent, and is a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Abby attended Yeshiva, completing a rabbinical degree in 2011. In 2012, she left the Hasidic world to explore a self-determined life. In 2015 Abby came out as a woman of trans experience. Since coming out, she has been working to raise support and awareness for trans rights and those leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy. Her story has been covered in the New York Times, New York Post, Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Jewish Daily Forward, Daily Mail, NBC, Vogue, InStyle, and more, as well as live appearances on CNN, Fox News, HuffPost Live, Showtime, NowThis, PopSugar, and internationally. In 2016, Abby was named by the Jewish Week as one of the “36 Under 36” young Jews who are inspiring change in the world, and in 2019 she was named by the Forward as one of the “Forward 50” most influential American Jews. In 2018 she was awarded the Pride Award by the Brooklyn Borough President. She studied gender studies and political science at Columbia University in New York City. Her memoir Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman was published by Seal Press in November 2019. She speaks regularly at universities, synagogues, and Jewish organizations across the globe, including the 92nd Street Y, Koffler Center for the Arts in Toronto, OUT@NBC Universal, and at the 2019 Women’s March in Washington, DC.
By Felicia Berliner
Published by Atria Books
In this witty, provocative, and unputdownable debut novel a young Hasidic woman on a quest to get married fears she will never find a groom because of her secret addiction to porn.
Like the other women in her Brooklyn Hasidic community, Raizl expects to find a husband through an arranged marriage. Unlike the other women, Raizl has a secret.
With a hidden computer to help her complete her college degree, she falls down the slippery slope of online pornography. As Raizl dives deeper into the world of porn at night, her daytime life begins to unravel. Between combative visits with her shrink to complicated arranged dates, Raizl must balance her growing understanding of her sexuality with the more conventional expectations of the family she loves.
A singular, stirring, and compulsively readable debut novel, Shmutz explores what it means to be a fully realized sexual and spiritual being caught between the traditional and modern worlds.
Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman
By Abby Stein
Published by Basic Books
The powerful coming-of-age story of an ultra-Orthodox child who was born to become a rabbinic leader and instead became a woman.
Abby Stein was raised in a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, isolated in a culture that lives according to the laws and practices of eighteenth-century Eastern Europe, speaking only Yiddish and Hebrew and shunning modern life. Stein was born as the first son in a dynastic rabbinical family, poised to become a leader of the next generation of Hasidic Jews.
But Abby felt certain at a young age that she was a girl. She suppressed her desire for a new body while looking for answers wherever she could find them, from forbidden religious texts to smuggled secular examinations of faith. Finally, she orchestrated a personal exodus from ultra-Orthodox manhood to mainstream femininity-a radical choice that forced her to leave her home, her family, her way of life.
Powerful in the truths it reveals about biology, culture, faith, and identity, Becoming Eve poses the enduring question: How far will you go to become the person you were meant to be?.