1. In the Author’s Note, Leah writes, “Growing up in a Yeshivish home, I was taught that Yeshivish Judaism was the authentic version of our religion, unchanged since Abraham.” But over time she came to see ultra-Orthodox Judaism as a fossilized version of “a vibrant, diverse, and evolving faith.” Did her book change your perception of her community?
2. In the first chapter, Leah believes that her father is powerful enough to trigger the death of a butcher who had contradicted him. How does this magical thinking shape Leah’s early life? How does it create an environment that is both idyllic and potentially harmful?
3. On page 59, Leah notes, “All the admonishments about modesty implied that a glimpse of a bare elbow could melt a man into a puddle of helpless desire.” Do you think rules governing modesty help to honor women? Or do they actually serve to objectify and hyper-sexualize them?
4. Women in the Yeshivish community are expected to be modest, obedient, and submissive. How do these expectations affect Leah once she arrives in New York? Have gender expectations played a role in your own life?
5. Shame is a powerful feeling that arises when we perceive ourselves as defective, unacceptable, or damaged. When Leah exchanges letters with Naftali and later when she buys a tight sweater in Israel, is she committing acts that are actually wrong? How does her shame emerge? How does it influence her actions later in New York? Does she ever behave in a way that is actually shameful, and if so, who does she end up hurting?
6. Were you surprised at how Leah’s parents treat her? In your opinion, what motivates them to act as they do?
7. Why do you think Leah cuts herself? How does she feel toward herself before and after the act?
8. Did you see Leah’s tattoo as an act of self-destruction or self-actualization? What does the letter aleph symbolize for her?
9. How did you view Leah’s relationship with Harold?
10. Why is acceptance to Harvard so important to Leah?
11. One of the questions Leah asks in her survey at the park was, “How would you define happiness?” How do you think Leah would have answered that question at the time? How might she answer it now? How would you define happiness?