I once asked a psychologist in my community why it is that I’ve never heard anyone say: “I regret getting divorced.”
He answered that in the Orthodox Jewish world there is so much stigma attached to divorce that people usually only use it as an absolute last resort, when there is truly no other option.
Some of the stories in Avigail Rosenberg’s Healing from the Break, a new anthology about divorce in the Orthodox world, illuminate his answer in graphic detail. The writers share so much about what they went through in trying to save and ultimately losing their marriages.
Though I’m not divorced, nor the child of a divorce, this book targets “anyone who has been touched by divorce.” At this point in history, that definitely includes me and probably almost everyone in the Jewish world. Divorce hits with such devastating impact that its reverberations are felt throughout extended families, neighborhoods and societies.
That’s why Healing from the Break is obviously a timely and needed book. It aims to openly and vulnerably explore a complex taboo topic.
As I sat down to read it, I wondered if it would live up to its mission. I expected, based on the feminine look of the cover, a cozy, girly reading experience.
However, I soon discovered that in this book, the male perspective of divorce is also presented in raw and gut-wrenching first-person. The editor, Avigail Rosenberg, obviously went to great lengths to present a wide range of experiences and views. In doing so, she has opened a door for us to really understand the far-reaching impact of divorce on both husband and wife, as well as their children, parents, parents-in-law and family circle.
I read through the entire book quickly and during the week since I finished it, I’ve reflected on which of the essays really stood out for me. I want to highlight four of them, which I found myself going back to read a second and third time:
- In “Climbing Mount Everest,” Rivky Winter lays bare her sense of failure in losing her marriage after sacrificing her home, her friends, her career and her well-being to save it. Her message will stay with me for a long time.
- In “In Retrospect: Marriage to a BPD Wife,” Leib Heller gives a clear-eyed view of the impact of un-diagnosed mental illness on a family where everyone worked to accommodate the insane spouse in the name of “Shalom Bayis” (peace in the home), thereby unhinging their own grasp of reality.
- “Life Without My Daughter” is an anonymous father’s letter to the daughter he barely knows. It is short and powerful, ending with the words: “As you make your way out into the world, I hope that at the very least you should know there is a hole in my heart with your name on it. I shall cherish the few good memories we share. Love, Daddy.”
- In “Taking it Like a Man,” single mother Esti Barker shares hilarious glimpses of her role as the “Sole Executor of Anything and Everything of Importance or Necessity in the House.” I think this was my favorite essay in the book. The part where she heaved the 50-pound bag of wet mulch from her car while “striving to exude casual elegance” and making small talk with her neighbor, made me laugh out loud. I believe that humor makes us receptive to other emotions and it is used to perfection in that essay to convey raw, unfathomable pain and loneliness.
I highly recommend Healing from the Break to both men and women. It’s a quality book – balanced and well-written. It definitely achieved its goal of giving me a better understanding of how divorce impacts each of us differently.
A worthwhile read for the upcoming holidays or any time.
Healing From the Break: Stories, Inspiration and Guidance for Anyone Touched by Divorce, edited by Avigail Rosenberg, is available from Menucha Publications