deena chanowitz, What's Underneath
An Outcasted Hasid Finds the Courage to Live By Her Own Beliefs

Growing up a “perfect” straight-A student in her Lubavitch (a branch of Hasidism) community, Deena Chanowitz had to basically conceal every part of her body (from her ankles to her elbows) least a man catch a glimpse of her bare skin and be lead to “sin.” As Deena tells it, “There is so much fear of inappropriate sexuality that it breeds all kinds of other forms of sexuality.”

Deena suffered that perversion herself when she was sexually abused by a rabbi at camp at age 13. After telling her mom, she was deemed a liar and cast out, leaving her literally homeless at age 14. “I felt contaminated and uncomfortable with what was inside of me and outside of me.” Her feelings of self-disgust ultimately manifested in being serially sexually abused and a bulimia so extreme that, by her mid 20s, she would eventually have to swallow a toothbrush to force herself to throw up.

But, by confronting her pain with unquantifiable resilience, Deena has pulled herself up to a catering business (where everyone is fed like queens), the valedictorian of her graduating class at Hunter, and acceptance into med school at 34 years old. “Of course, I’m a worthy human being.” Deena now says today. “I don’t have to do anything to deserve it. I exist and, therefore, I’m good enough.”

Elisa + Lily

Follow Deena on Instagram: @chefdeenanyc
Her video was edited by Andrea Cruz and Naomi Ranz-Schleifer

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