AS THE FOURTH DAUGHTER OF A PROMINENT ORTHODOX JEWISH FAMILY IN NEW YORK…
Laya was expected to attend a religious seminary for girls, date the suitors her father sent to her, become engaged by 19, marry within 6 weeks, and have as many children as she could bear, raising her family in a house of Godly belief.
No one guessed that, at 19, she was spellbound, in forbidden love with a man 18 years her senior. She finally ran away with him. She had never held a boy’s hand, much less made love to a man; she had never been dancing, eaten a meal at a non-Kosher restaurant or been close to a non-Jewish friend. This rhapsodic feeling of freedom, the sensual pleasure and the decadence of newfound independence, came at the price of almost unbearable heartbreak. In marrying the man she loved, she was considered a traitor, abandoning centuries of tradition and rabbinic law. Her runaway marriage in Las Vegas began a mythic journey to what Hegel and Kierkegaard would call true selfhood.
Set during the Vietnam era through present day, When Your Family Says No is a memoir about choice, about the complexity of family love and how desire does not stop because of the confines of rigid rabbinical rules. It is not a memoir about the repudiation of Judaism or religion in general. Her marriage was not a protest or rebellion against her family or her Orthodoxy. She didn't plan on falling in love; it simply happened. She wanted to be with the man she loved and stay within the confines of her family. But behind the lush lawns and beautiful brick facades in which she was raised, lay a prejudice and conditional love that was both shocking and tragic.
The book is for anyone who has fallen in love, strayed from their family’s rules of conduct or needed to break out; it’s for Muslims who do or don’t want to wear the headscarf, gays raised in a born-again culture, teenagers just starting to have doubt and mid-lifers who are about to make a change from a culture that presupposes their identity; for anyone who chooses love over tradition. The highly personal narrative mixed with historical insight gives the reader a snapshot into the secreted world of Orthodoxy where everything from how a girl puts on her socks in the morning to the prayer she recites after using the bathroom, to when her husband makes love to her, is determined by rabbinic law. And yet, its content is universal. Who among us hasn't read illicit material? Attended a forbidden film? Held secrets? Been alienated? Dreamed of breaking away? How many are still following their community’s beliefs with the insistent feeling that something inside them might be dying? When Your Family Says No explores the terror and self-determination that comes from breaking taboo and tradition and finding the strength we need to discover God and a family of our own. A family that says, finally, yes.