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A Tormented Childhood Leads to a Full Jewish Life

Reviewing: “Making Meaning Out of Madness, A Jewish Journey” by Miranda Portnoy www.BookLocker.com  Inc. ISBN:
978-1-64718-880-1

Miranda Portnoy (a pseudonym) has written a painful, yet engaging narrative about how she transformed from a culturally Jewish socialist into a fully Orthodox Jew living in Israel.

Fortunately, we know from the title that her story has a happy ending, otherwise it would be hard to keep reading. The last section of the book contains essays that explain why she believes the truth of Torah Judaism, and seeks to convince a reader or two. She delves into the causes of antisemitism and the animus of secular Jews towards the more religious. The essays serve a dual purpose: to provide an intellectual basis to what otherwise is just one person’s climb out of madness through finding God, and to show that she is in fact bright, articulate and thoughtful—not crazy, as she sometimes appears to be in her story.

Portnoy experienced rejection from an early age. Her mother alternately drew her close and pushed her away with the vilest behavior and language. She lived through her parents’ acrimonious divorce and was left virtually abandoned when her father reneged on his offer to pay her college tuition after she refused to lie about child support in his second divorce. She found love when she drew close to her grandfather and helped care for him, only to be shredded by her father, who was interested in a speedy route to his inheritance.

Portnoy tried to stay in school but stumbled over all the obstacles in her path. She couldn’t escape the self-defeating behavior that prevented her from finishing classes, or the financial hurdle of being a student without any support, until a medical diagnosis explained the source of her trouble. She banked on monetary and emotional help from college administrators only to be abandoned by them as well. And of course, there was a noncommittal, no-good boyfriend.

Through it all, she began learning more about Judaism and spent time at a local Chabad house. Yet even when she decided to learn in Israel, she made the wrong choices and once again found herself spurned by those whom she thought would help her. Ultimately, she found the right path and the right man. And got her college degree decades after first enrolling.

Portnoy writes with the clarity of someone who has recovered from a long-ago illness, and can talk about it without reliving the trauma. But sometimes in the interest of trying to lighten up, she seems detached. She switches from writing like a friend pouring out her heart to an actress trying to entertain her audience. But her resolve is inspiring. A lesser person would have crumbled. Portnoy bravely tells her harrowing story, perhaps giving someone else who is lost or suffering the courage to seek help from God, when people let them down.

By Bracha Schwartz

 

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