Artifacts of Orthodox Childhoods is a book of personal and critical essays that cover a historically under-researched topic. The book is inclusive of a wide range of viewpoints and backgrounds, and it benefits from the thought that went into the editing of the essays and the impulse to widen instead of narrow the people who contributed. I appreciated that this book didn’t retread the same familiar ground we see in the media of the triumphant escape from the backwards evil of Ultra-Orthodoxy. Instead, the collection gave room for people to have complicated feelings, positive feelings, or just straight forward academic investigation.
I think my favorite part was probably the personal essays section, but I did enjoy the book overall and I think the organization and scope made sense. Since the essays are by people who grew up Orthodox, there’s not that sense of an outsider trying to explain in a condescending or patronizing way. I especially liked the essay “Singing in the House of Jacob” by Sarah Snider, which explains the power of being in an all-girls environment in an especially beautiful and thoughtful way. The way girls can be fully themselves without the expectations of behaving a certain way for guys can often be overlooked in the condemnation of gender segregated education. In a very different environment, before I realized I was a trans guy, I went to an all-girl’s high school, and those four years of being completely liberated from expectations were very meaningful for me. I also liked Frieda Vazel’s essay “The Anachronisms of Hasidic Yiddish Biblical Coloring Books,” as I’m a big fan of the work she does on her blog and her tours.
Overall, one of the best books currently out there about Orthodox Judaism, with a thoughtful and honest collection of essays and no irritating condescension as I’ve noticed in other books.