All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

By – February 27, 2015

Shulem Deen’s mem­oir, All Who Go Do Not Return, suc­ceeds in explain­ing one man’s har­row­ing bat­tle against faith. Deen is the cre­ator of Unpious, an online jour­nal for voic­es on the Hasidic fringe.” His nar­ra­tive flows beau­ti­ful­ly on the page, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that he grew up in a Yid­dish-speak­ing house­hold. In telling his tale, Deen under­stands the impor­tance of play­ing devil’s advo­cate and think­ing care­ful­ly about what oth­ers believe dur­ing tense moments. His hand­book on a Hasid’s strug­gles con­tains one sur­prise after anoth­er. Only some­one who has been expelled from a com­mu­ni­ty could recount so vivid­ly and vis­cer­al­ly what sort of pain comes with this type of sub­stan­tial loss, and Deen los­es more than you might think. His mem­oir keeps the read­er glued to the page from begin­ning to end – and by pro­vid­ing thor­ough, con­cise expla­na­tions of con­cepts read­ers may find for­eign, he makes it unnec­es­sary to have Wikipedia near­by. All Who Go Do Not Return is intend­ed not only for Jew­ish read­ers, but for all who want to see the world through Deen’s clear eyes. He is a curi­ous indi­vid­ual who finds every­thing intrigu­ing. Par­ents should read this text. Those who long to be accept­ed, who have felt lost, should pick up this book. This is a book for the nomad, the explor­er, the insatiable.

Mike Sloan attend­ed Keene State Col­lege in Keene, NH. While there, he stud­ied Eng­lish and writ­ing. For the year fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion he worked as an edu­ca­tor for Ameri­Corps in Boston, MA. These days Mike lives in Los Ange­les, CA and aspires to be a writer in the enter­tain­ment industry.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Gray­wolf Press

  • Shulem Deen is labeled a heretic” by his com­mu­ni­ty. Do you feel this label was jus­ti­fied, giv­en the gov­ern­ing rules of the Skverers?

  • What most sur­prised you about the Hasidic community’s beliefs, cus­toms, and culture?

  • How do you think Shulem’s wife’s ver­sion of the sto­ry might dif­fer from his?

  • Do you think that the way that the nar­ra­tive moves back and forth in time is effective?

  • Shulem’s var­i­ous expe­ri­ences as a stu­dent and a teacher are an essen­tial part of his sto­ry. Do you think his rigid ear­ly edu­ca­tion affect­ed his thirst for knowl­edge as a young adult?

  • Do you think Deen’s expe­ri­ences illu­mi­nate some­thing about fun­da­men­tal­ist reli­gions in general?

  • How did you feel about Shulem Deen’s admis­sions of his own ques­tion­able actions, such as using cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a school­teacher, or engag­ing in fraud­u­lent prac­tices to receive gov­ern­ment payment?

  • Deen’s choice to leave the Hasidic com­mu­ni­ty had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on his rela­tion­ship with his chil­dren. How did you feel about those choices?

  • What does Shulem’s sto­ry tell you about our soci­ety’s tol­er­ance for extrem­ist com­mu­ni­ties who live among us?

  • Deen describes a world in which young peo­ple are led into arranged mar­riages, with no edu­ca­tion about sex or birth con­trol. Sim­i­lar­ly, he describes a world in which boys spend their youth study­ing Torah and Tal­mud, and receive very lit­tle sec­u­lar instruc­tion. Do you think our soci­ety has an oblig­a­tion to help pre­vent young peo­ple from the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of such practices?

  • Do you think insu­lar reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties such as the one Deen describes offers some­thing of val­ue that isn’t com­mon­ly found in the mod­ern world?