Deena Chanowitz was raised in the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic sect.
The story of her upbringing is one of growing up in the extremist, fundamentalist Jewish movement, and it includes several themes of dysfunctional and criminal behaviors often found in Chabad and other ultra-Orthodox communities (bulleted below). Though stories similar to Deena’s are gaining increased exposure, many more are routinely swept under the rug.
- Deena tells of a repressive childhood which included, among other things, extreme modesty in dress code and denials of simple childhood requests.
- At the age of 12 or 13, she was raped on several occasions by her (married with children) Chabad rabbi/employer for whom she babysat. On at least one of those occasions she was taken from her duties, leaving the rabbi’s children nearby but unattended. (Pay special attention to how she describes the manipulative behavior of the rabbi, and the “halachic” reasoning he applies to justify raping her.)
- Deena suffered rejection and denial (and ultimately expulsion) from her parents after revealing the abuse. She was sent away and her parents never addressed the matter again.
- As a result of her abuse, she developed an eating disorder and other self-destructive tendencies.
Her parents placed her in a more restrictive, fundamentalist school. However she was only able to function there for about 2 months. After her unsuccessful enrollment, her parents issued her an ultimatum to either behave according to the extreme Chabad guidelines or leave the family. Weighing her familiar but miserable food stamp and Section 8 housing conditions (a common hasidic living standard) against the unknown world that awaited her outside of Chabad, she made the brave choice of pursuing her freedom. The interviewer in the video indicates in a question that Deena was cut off from her family unable to turn to any of her ten siblings for assistance. Rejection by families of those who do not perform according to strict religious standards is common in hasidic culture.
After receiving reports of a very troubled transition to outside life, her parents committed her to a mental institution where she was treated for the eating disorder bulimia. Convinced that she would be better off dead, she decides to make one final try to beat her disease and repair her life. This takes her through a series of different therapy sessions which address her disease and her underlying views of self worth. The long therapy process was successful for Deena and she moved on to her next battle, getting the kind education she was deprived of while growing up in Chabad life. With no high school diploma, she undertakes a self-study program for the SAT exam and persistently fights to get into a college. After a few rejections, she is finally accepted to Hunter College in New York. There she goes on to graduate as valedictorian with a degree in Biology. Though the video starts by announcing Deena’s occupation as a chef (you can visit her web site here http://www.chefdeena.com/), she announces toward the end that she has intentions of going to medical school.
Deena’s is a story of a woman who realized her incredible strength and conquers challenges that many were unable to meet. She is truly a success story. Fighter. Winner.
Hopefully her story will encourage others trapped in Chabad, and other fundamentalist Jewish sects (or cults), to leave behind lives that they find repressive. I also hope it serves as a warning to those considering involvement with Chabad. Be careful; and don’t expect your Chabad shliach/rabbi/missionary to tell you about stories like this. The full truth is typically not on their agenda.
An Outcasted Hasid Finds the Courage to Live By Her Own Beliefs: Deena Chanowitz
by StyleLikeU Published on Aug 15, 2016
Sexually abused by a rabbi in her Lubavitch (a branch of Hasidism) community, abandoned by her parents, and turning to Bulimia to try and make herself disappear, Deena Chanowitz has stared down mountains of suffering to go from suicidal to getting into med school.