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Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers by Stephanie Wellen Levine

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American Literature

Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers by Stephanie Wellen Levine is a very insightful book that tells about Hasidic girls living in Brooklyn. They are aged between 13 and 23 and live in seclusion. The girls are educated and raised under strict rules and observation. They are mainly tied to the teachings of orthodox religion and way of life. Among the main themes explored in the book is the influence of social, cultural, and environmental factors on the lives of these girls. Levine collects data by living with the girls for a year. She closely monitors them and studies how each of them is differently shaped and how the above-mentioned factors impact their unique abilities and voices. The book provides real-life detailed accounts drawn from face-to-face interviews with the girls. Taking into account these interviews, it is possible to state that Leah proves to be a stronger character than Chaya while dealing with problems.

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In her book, Stephanie Wellen Levine states that only Jews have a godly soul, the piece of the self that yearns for holiness. Non-Jews can be ethical, benevolent, and compassionate, but they lack the divine spark, the aspect of the Jew that transcends [his] [or] her physical nature and seeks communion with God (226). This quotation shows the assumption that only Jewish people have spiritual life. Although non-Jews have compassion, they lack that divine spark. Therefore, the author limits her scope only to the Jewish community. Her story is about the girls in this community and their faith in the Creator.

Leah is among the girls living together in the Hasidic community. She is an ideal daughter any parent wants to have. She is represented as a strong character due to her ability to strike a balance between her deep religious faith and her position as a woman in the Hasidic society. The story of Leah is described in the chapter entitled Mystic and Maverick. The girl is determined and knows what she wants to achieve in her life. She differs from other teenagers who need love as well as attention and desire to be accepted by their peers. Moreover, her self-esteem is not tied to her appearance. Leah has embraced her religious heritage and cultural responsibility to put family before education (Levine 84). She is a classic girl illustrating good judgment and ability to make shrewd decisions in the midst of religious and cultural conflicts. Therefore, she might be considered to be an independent person because her choices and decisions are not influenced by other peoples opinions. She believes in her faith and tries to inspire the same faith in her peers.

Leah is a strong character who leads her life as she wants. She is unaffected by the need to compete or by segregation commonplace at that time. Leah inspires other girls in the Hasidic community and motivates them to be better. She teaches her peers not to pay attention to discrimination due to the lack of proper education and tells them never abandon hope. Consequently, Leah is an ideal role model for all girls in the Hasidic community. She is cultured and has enormous dignity as a young woman. Moreover, Leah is a responsible character who is not clouded by the darkness around her and her friends. She believes in her strength and never gets despondent. She is in tune with her environment working hard to improve the lives of all people in her community. She is ready and willing to interact with her peers and does her best to encourage optimism among them. Leah manages to strike a balance between old traditions and modernity; therefore, she is a well-rounded and broad-minded girl. She thinks that not only old traditional beliefs should exist in society but also modern ones because they are beneficial as well. She proves that all people can grow beyond societal expectations by using all available means to better themselves regardless of traditional and religious norms and beliefs. Leah is able to impact everybody around her through her cheerful character and confidence in her life and abilities (Levine 196).

Concerning Chaya Jacobson, she is a weak character as she is unable to make informed decisions in the midst of uncertainty around her. She wavers in her religious beliefs, cultural heritage, and responsibilities as a woman of Jewish ancestry. She often visits strip clubs and engages in soul-searching. She struggles with her faith and is generally unhappy and willing to seek solace in whatever is beyond her spiritual and physical confines. Chaya is by far represented as a rebel in most situations as she aspires to be unbound (Levine 204). She is the complete opposite of Leah because she loses herself in risky engagements like stripping and irresponsible sexual behavior. Chaya illustrates poor decision-making abilities through her free nature and willingness to indulge and experiment. She engages in smoking marijuana several times and visits strip clubs behaving in a way that contradicts her religious teachings. These habits are a depiction of the decay of her faith and negative western influences. This character is incapable of feeling a sense of belonging to her community and respecting her position is the society (Sarna 65). Her interactions with the world also negatively impact her spirituality and ability to be pious and rational. Chaya is greatly influenced by social, cultural, and environmental factors and laments the loss of her faith, especially after the death of the rabbi. She is very vulnerable to peer pressure and does not consider her spiritual life to be of great importance.

Chaya always feels under pressure and is unable to use the available means to foster her development. Her choices are very destructive not just to her but also to other girls around her. All girls in the community greatly influence each other; therefore, their interactions may have a negative impact on their lives as adults and future parents. Chaya is lost and liberated. The American way of life has corroded her heritage and traditional norms (Lamm 45-56). What makes her the weakest among other girls is her inability to bounce back after stumbling. She is drawn and greatly attracted to experimenting without forethoughts or realizing the consequences of her actions. Therefore, Chaya needs to change her behavior if she wants to have a bright future instead of wasting her life.

Stephanie Wellen Levine uses the examples of Leah and Chaya not only to show readers the lives of teenagers in the Hasidic community but also to encourage people to participate in the improvement of society. The question raised in Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers is the place and role of religion as well as traditions in the development of people. The book, especially the chapter that tells about Leah, allows readers to better understand how to help girls to become good people. Moreover, the book shows how to inspire girls like Chaya, encourage their spirituality, and teach them to be independent. Furthermore, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers illustrates the consequences of bad behavior and emphasizes the necessity of making girls realize their primary purpose and role in the community. In addition, in her book, the author shows readers the importance of girls interaction with their peers and guardians. This interaction should be only positive benefiting the lives of the younger generation.

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To conclude, through the depiction of Leah, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers implies the idea that all humans can lead good lives regardless of their religion, traditions, and cultural heritage. It is possible to find the good in everything and control as well as improve oneself to become a better member of society. In contrast, Chaya shows the dangers of extremities and the lack of decision-making abilities. This character is an example of a person who wastes his or her life. The author depicts the detrimental effects of bad behavior and unwillingness to follow set rules. The two characters, however, help readers to learn some information on the Jewish way of life and its relevance in the society today.

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