Leah Lax, a lesbian author who spent three decades living in a Hasidic Jewish community, often refers to herself as a "cultural immigrant."
"When I was living in that community, it was like living in a moveable glass box," said Lax, who lives in Houston. "I could see everyone but it wasn't like they were three-dimensional people. … When I left the Hasidic community, for example, I didn't think the internet was relevant. I didn't know how to tip in a restaurant. Because of the highly-gendered division of responsibilities in our home, I didn't know how to pay taxes or buy insurance, sign a lease or buy a car. I was very much a greenhorn, but the thing was, I had just 'arrived' in my own country."
Lax wrote about her experiences living among the Hasidim, making the decision to leave and coming out, in the biography Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home.
She became attracted to the Hasidic community in her late teens, she said. Her attraction was twofold; the first reason was adolescent rebellion against her upbringing as a secular Jew. The second reason, Lax realizes now, was that she was attracted to the homoeroticism that was such an intrinsic part of Hasidic life.
"Any fundamentalist community, particularly the Hasidim, separates the men and women and they become intimate with one another," she recalled. "The men would dance togetherthey'd put their arms around each other and dance themselves into ecstasy. They sang together and kissed one another. The women were always in each other's intimate spaces, ostensibly to help and support each other. They weren't allowed to use birth control and their creative avenues were cut off."
Lax was married at age 19 and is the mother of seven children. She began to have severe doubts about her life shortly after having her seventh child, who was born prematurely.
"I brought a four-pound baby home from the hospital, and I now had seven in the house," she said. "The oldest was barely ten and I had two babies. I was exhausted and the baby had to be nursed every hour and a half, around the clock. There was no 'place' to sleep."
Within three months, Lax was pregnant again. She pleaded with her husband to let her have an abortion. He reluctantly agreed, and the couple had to get approval from their rabbi. The episode planted seeds in Lax's mind; she questioned why she was going to an authority figure for permission to do something that involved her own body. She began journaling in secret, printing the pages each night before erasing them from her computer and hiding them. During that time she began to come to terms with being a lesbian as well. Finally, she left her husband.
Lax spent seven years writing Uncovered. Gloria Steinem, whom she met at a writer's retreat in Oregon, helped Lax shape the book towards its final form. "She gave me books to read. She really played the goddess, except that she was real," Lax said.
Lax has admitted that's she's skeptical of religion or anything leading to groupthink. She said she especially delights in being able to hang out with men, too.
"I'll never immerse myself in religion again, and I'm pretty suspect of any group that wants you to," she explained. "But Judaism is weird, because it's a religion that's wrapped around a very strong ethnic identity, and they're connected. … Several times a year, I find myself back in the synagogue."
Lax added that she eventually married a woman who converted to Judaism. "I was in the door walking out, when she walking in," she said.
Lax will read from and discuss the book Wed., Nov. 18, at Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., at 7:30 p.m.