Aug 19, 2020 in Literature

Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers by Stephanie Levine

In the book Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls Stephanie Levine allows the audience to understand Chassidic teenage girls better. The author dedicates her work to exploring different characters, but one mutual feature which unites all the girls is the respect with which the author portrays them. Every chapter describes the features of a particular girl with extreme objectivity. The author penetrates not only in the everyday life of the Chassidic community, but also into the girls’ consciousness, and provides the audience with an opportunity to repeat her experience. Two of the most interesting characters of this work are Dini Rockoff and Rochel Lehrer. Despite the fact that the girls belonged to one community, they were completely different, though had certain common features of character; in order to compare and contrast these individuals their emotional intelligence, charisma, and attitude toward faith and religion should be investigated. 

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While discussing Chassidic girls, people usually tend to think about the issues of faith and religion but not the inner depth. The author has managed to reveal a new angle on these girls. Both characters are marked by emotional intelligence. Dini Rockoff perceives the world without prejudice. A vivid example is the situation in the bus, where she smiles at the girls’ desire to turn off the music. She is aware of it, but is “neither tantalized nor horrified” by its sound. Rochel interests the readers with her desire to understand the world as it is. She does not make distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish issues. The manifestation of it is her reading of books, which horrifies her sister. She is interested in Roth, Nietzsche, Potok, and the classic Lubavitch’s works. The girls are united by their mutual desire to perceive the world. But the most essential thing is the fact that they perceive the world differently. It means that they have similar desires but fulfill them differently. Both of them are extremely intelligent. They are able to ground their thoughts and ideas and explain their viewpoint. Dini and Rochel have deep inner worlds with their own values. Similarly, they are open toward true feelings, fresh experience, and new knowledge. However, the major difference between them lies in the fact that for Dini, faith turns out to be a new experience; whereas for Rochel, the life of an ordinary girl is a new lifestyle, which seriously affects her personality. These girls resemble the different poles of one planet. They seem to be similar, but, simultaneously, are completely different. It could be stated that the girls are united by the common way, but the difference lies in their directions. Rochel is a girl raised in the traditions of Judaism, but, despite the fact that since childhood she has been surrounded by the Jewish religion, she wants to live the life free of it. It might be stated that she in in the nucleus of this group, and tries to find a way out of it. In the case of Dini, the situation is similar, but of the opposite nature. She lives outside the Jewish community, but decides to become its member. They make similar movements, but in opposite directions.

It should be also stated that another feature which unites both girls is their stamina and charisma. Dini knows that she is a strong individual, and that other girls would like to befriend her. In order to confirm it, one should take into account the following passage:

“Dini made her way down the aisle, glancing at her various options for seating partners. It was clear that she would have her choice; nobody would pull a “Sorry, this seat’s saved” on her”.

This quote confirms that Dini is an authoritative individual who has power over others. She is extremely charismatic, and it attracts different kinds of girls to her. Both religious and rebellious individuals are extremely happy in case she decides to build a friendship with them. Rochel is also an extremely charismatic girl; however, her charisma is perceived differently by the people around her. It should be stated that these two girls resemble two opposite sides of the same coin. They seem to be similar at first sight, but a detailed analysis reveals a number of differences. 

“Rochel’s childhood was miserable. She seemed like the sort of person anyone would want to be: self-assured, funny, charismatic, known throughout the community for her intellectual brilliance. But in a world of certainty, holiness, and sacred purpose, she lacked faith, and until she found a group of like-minded friends, she thought she was insane”.

The girls are different in the manifestations of their charisma. Dini directs it toward proclaiming the faith, whereas Rochel decides to be a rebel. She lacks faith and does not want to create an artificial resemblance to other people within the community. 

The third thing contrasting the girls is their attitude toward faith. Despite the fact that they belong to one religion, they perceive it differently. For instance, Dini is a striking example of an individual who popularizes her religious values. Her outer look and expression hint the surrounding people about her religious attitudes. She wants to dedicate her life to religious teachings and emphasizes it with the help of all means which are available to her. Rochel, on the contrary, does not have strong faith. This sets her apart her from the others. Despite the fact that, on the surface, she resembles an ideal daughter, in her heart, she wants to break free from the Chassidic traditions. Unlike Dini, who comes from the outer world into the tiny Chassidic world, Rochel demands escape. Her soul needs freedom. Obeying rules and laws is not for her. She is a different kind of person. For that reason, she escapes and spends a night in blasphemy. These two girls are drastically different in their attitudes toward faith and religion. This is the distinctive feature which makes an angel out of Dini and a demon out of Rochel. Dini uses literature and her intelligence in order to affirm her faith. Literary works are her source of inspiration. Rochel also applies the literary sources but she behaves like a true scholar. She reads all books without differentiation, as there is a great desire inside her to make her own choice.

It should be stated that while portraying these two different girls, Levine assists the readers in the penetration into mystical Lubavitchers community. She manages to show the audience that it is multifaceted and that different girls have different attitudes toward faith. With the help of this book, the author brings out the common beliefs about the Hasidic girls. She shows that each of them has her own individuality and personality. They have their own interests, and despite the fact that religion occupies an essential place in their life, it is not the main thing which they appreciate. The representation of the girls’ characters assists the readers in developing a deep understanding of their consciousness and their inner world. The author masterfully depicts the feelings and worldview of the girls, allowing to contrast and compare the characters and to understand their true nature.

In conclusion, it should be stated that the work by Stefanie Levine is an amazing piece of writing which exhibits not only the subjective viewpoint of the writer, but also the data gathered in the course of research. The author conducted extensive research which provides the wide audience with an opportunity to sneak a glance at a foreign closed world. The Lubavitchers is the group with their particular vision of the world, the place of humans in it, and the deeds to be conducted by a person. The work is masterfully divided into different sections. Each of them discusses the personality of one girl. In such a way, the author manages to show the readers the opposing viewpoints which exist in one community. She shows the readers the Lubavitchers’ world using different perspectives. It assists the readership to make the right conclusions. The major advantage of the work is deep respect without imposing any thoughts. This work is focused on the personalities of two girls: Dini and Rochel. They seem to be similar and opposite simultaneously. Dini was raised in the world outside the community, but after entering it, she starts to view the life differently. She dedicates herself to faith and her goal is preaching religious teachings to others. Rochel is an individual with a completely different fate. She was born and raised inside the community and her main desire is to escape. This girl lives a double life. At night, she becomes an ordinary girl, and in the morning finds herself in the Hasidic house of her family. The decision to compare these girls occurred due to their spiritual and psychological similarities. Both of them are self-assertive, proactive, and have great stamina. However, faith leads them into two opposing camps. They could become close friends, as both are extremely intelligent, deep-minded, and charismatic. However, the religious attitude turned them into two different persons. It divided their thoughts, vison of the world, and future objectives. In this work, Levine has brilliantly represented how faith alters human minds and how it provides the individuals with the sense of a common goal and identity.

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