Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood
“I was taught that if I relinquished my reserve for even a second, if the slightest hint of temptation slipped out, any male in my presence would transform into a rapacious barbarian.” Raised in a fundamentalist sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, Leah Vincent could not have found more to rebel against. This is her story of the agonizing journey to liberation.
Sadly, Vincent was forced to leave the father and mother who should have lovingly tended to her, but in fact were more like jailers. Once she was fully on her own, she learned that she was no longer considered a family member, but a contaminant. In her early teens, Vincent, who is obviously an intelligent, thoughtful person, began to ask pesky questions about her religion. She was gradually forced out into the cold, yet most of what she did to get there seems terribly tame by any usual standard, especially for an American teen (her father is a rabbi in Pittsburgh). In one of the turning points on her downward slide, she bought an attractive sweater with her clothing allowance. She dared to send letters to a young male relative. Going “frei,” she learned, came at a devastating price.
"CUT ME LOOSE is a compelling read, but hardly an easy one.... The reader wishes for more... But perhaps that story is waiting to be told. This reviewer, for one, is hoping for that sequel.:
By the time she was 17 she was on her own, struggling to survive and allowed almost no contact with her family; by 19 she attempted suicide. To cope with the self-hatred engendered by being told all her life what a danger she was to herself and others just by being female, she began cutting her arms with a razor.
Next came her decision simply to prostitute herself after losing her virginity, raped by a boy she naively trusted to love her. She advertised her services on craigslist, and was answered by a man who abused her and refused to pay. She fell in love with an older married man, who daddied her with a mix of kindness and bondage. But in the same years, she made the very bold move of deciding she would go to college, and not just any college: Harvard. She is the first woman in her family to attend college, and in many cultures that would be a proud distinction. However, in her family, it only pushed her farther beyond the pale.
CUT ME LOOSE is a compelling read, but hardly an easy one. In a few final pages, Vincent discovers a support group --- Footsteps --- for alienated survivors of ultra-orthodoxy and is amazed to experience, for the first time, a sense of belonging. The reader wishes for more: more enlightenment on how Vincent got from there, a sunken and barren place with only a small glimmer of hope, to here, where she survives and conquers. But perhaps that story is waiting to be told. This reviewer, for one, is hoping for that sequel.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on February 14, 2014