The inscrutable Jewish soul
MARGOT VANDERSTRAETEN / J.S. MARGOT
The Orthodox-Jewish community continues to capture the imagination. In ‘Minyan’, Margot Vanderstraeten gives the reader a glimpse into this world by interviewing several prominent figures. As she reports on her Hasidic neighbours, who live so close yet whose lives are so different, her tone is sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted, but always genuinely involved.
Personal, genuinely interested and unbiased. No wonder that the people she speaks to are prepared to open up to her.
Chef Mosje at famous Antwerp restaurant Hoffy’s introduces Vanderstraeten to the secrets of the kosher kitchen. And for decades, photographer Dan has been the only one who’s been allowed to cast his sharp, humorous gaze on the Hasidic community from the inside. Vanderstraeten also strikes up a remarkable friendship with the unconventional Esther, who defends the need for taboos and argues with the author about ultra-orthodox parenting and schooling. Vanderstraeten’s personal life also gets a look-in, when in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic her friend Martinus is diagnosed with cancer and the chicken soup made by a Jewish friend offers some solace.
Vanderstraeten has managed to enter this unique world as an outsider. The key to her success? She is sincerely interested in the orthodox way of life and approaches it respectfully, precisely by criticising aspects that she does not agree with. She has the guts to keep asking questions, even when things become very personal. Her easy-going and compelling style, the fast pace and the ingenious narrative structure pull you in as a reader.
Whether you call it literary journalism or journalistic literature, Vanderstraeten has found her niche.
Vanderstraeten is driven by a great curiosity, and the result is a fascinating piece of journalism.
MINYAN summary in English