A Hasidic community is no place for a woman. That is, a woman has her place. A woman should know her place. And that place is invisible. Secondary. At best, a woman is an afterthought. At worst, she is a target of the vitriol of men. What Hasidic men cannot control, they seek to oppress.
Such has been my experience growing up in Boro Park, Brooklyn. This poem is included in Veils, Halos & Shackles, a powerful and important anthology of poems and personal testimonials addressing the oppression - and empowerment- of women in communities across the globe. "Eldest Daughter" illuminates to the world at large what is for some Hasidic women a life not worth living: their identities so marginalized, their thoughts, feelings, and desires so inconsequential, that the bottle of pills or the high-rise ledge can become, eventually, the ultimate escape.
For the first twenty-one years of her life,
She made herself into the quintessential conformist,
Toeing the line as parents and neighbors and rabbis demanded,
Even though it killed her.
When they led her into the elegant living room in March of her eighteenth year
And introduced her to the boy she would marry later that summer,
Quick on the heels of her high school graduation,
She smiled at them as her heart splintered into a million shards.
When she cried, they took her into the dark den with its imposing paneling
And opened ten different yellowing tomes and pointed,
Trying to convince her, first subtly then severely, that it would be best to do as they said
Because love is overrated and contentment will come in time.
When her son was born she was eighteen and she hated him for stealing her youth,
As she hated her father for stealing her hair that they forced her to shave
After the wedding, as she hated her mother for wielding that razor and not fighting
For her, even though she knew her mother had survived the same charade.
When she craved a college education, she took a receptionist job instead,
And she envied other women behind the wheel while they forbade her a license,
And she hid the TV in the microwave box so no one would see how wayward
She’d become, and she did everything they told her with gall in her gut.
When she wanted some independence, they forced her onto her back
Because they wanted babies. And so she had three and loathed the entire messy business,
And they thought her tears were from the onions she dutifully grated for every Shabbos kugel,
And they thought the knife nicks and cuts among the potato peelings were all incidental.
But when her sister approached her eighteenth year, snarling and spitting,
Tossing her glossy tresses, fighting back fiercely, then driving off
Into freedom, she swallowed the little white pills
That finally killed her.