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Book Talk: Author Zalman Newfield presents his book, "Degrees of Separation"

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 25 Iyyar 5780

7:45 PM - 9:00 PMAdult Lounge


Schneur Zalman Newfield was raised in the ultra-Orthodox Hassidic community known as Lubavitch and attended its yeshivahs in Brooklyn, NY; Morristown, NJ; Chicago; Miami; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. He participated in Lubavitch outreach activities in Russia, China, and Singapore. After completing the Lubavitch educational system, he earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Brooklyn College and a Ph.D. in sociology from New York University. He then taught college courses in six medium- and maximum-security New Jersey state prisons through Rutgers University-Newark’s New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons (NJ-STEP) program. He is now Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY). His first book, Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, is published by Temple University Press, and explores life-transitions outside of ultra-Orthodoxy.


Those who exit a religion—particularly one they were born and raised in—often find themselves at sea in their efforts to transition to life beyond their community. In Degrees of Separation, Schneur Zalman Newfield, who went through this process himself, interviews seventy-four Lubavitch and Satmar ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews who left their communities. He presents their motivations for leaving as well as how they make sense of their experiences and their processes of exiting, detailing their attitudes and opinions regarding their religious upbringing. Newfield also examines how these exiters forged new ways of being that their upbringings had not prepared them for while also considering what these particular individuals lose and retain in the exit process. Degrees of Separation presents a comprehensive portrait of the prolonged state of being “in-between” that characterizes transition out of a totalizing worldview. What Newfield discovers is that exiters experience both a sense of independence and a persistent connection; they are not completely dislocated from their roots once they “arrive” at their new destination.


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July 10,2020 /  18 Tammuz 5780