Suffering from a debilitating bout of sciatica, unable to walk any great distance, unable to stand for any length of time, and unable to sit comfortably at all, the only activity left was to lie prone on my bed with my laptop propped on a pillow so that I could fill my hours by writing. Stewart, my husband, suggested I write about myself when I couldn’t find a subject that captured my very limited attention. What began as a cathartic journal turned into my novelesque-style memoire. Based on my life experiences, it is a story about “Jenna”, a girl who was taught to follow the rules.
The Fifth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. But what if thy father and thy mother didn’t garner thy honor? WALK AWAY! That’s what “Jenna” finally did to end her ongoing war with her relentlessly critical mother and emotionally vacant father.
A descendant of the Grand Rebbe of Belz (Poland), Jenna grew up in a community of Orthodox Jews who self-righteously monitored each other to guaranty nobody broke with tradition. Damaged by her mother’s manipulative guilt trips and verbal abuse, Jenna challenged her own hypocritical fakery when she married a man whose view of life was not skewed by a filter of religious indoctrination. With his support, Jenna discovered her own beliefs, and the further away from her family’s emotional reach, the more Jenna accomplished creatively and professionally. With extensive public recognition and validation, after twenty years of estrangement, Jenna reconnected with her family. But, as her new relationship with her mother evolved, fate took a hand to give her story an unexpected turn.
I read this book and had a sense of gratitude from the start. There are probably many millions (like every girl who grew up with a conflicted relationship with her mother) who would also thank this author for writing this book. For me it was no less than cathartic: I laughed, I cried, and ultimately found myself sick in bed for the next four days after I finished reading. That may of course have been food poisoning or some other coincidence but the truth is I feel it was the release of pain that I had previously subjected myself to around the subject of my own mother—about which I have been in denial for most of my life. So I am not saying that this book made me sick, I am saying it made me better. So thanks for writing it. Julie Glasgow, CPA
I just finished Inner Peace…It Isn’t Out There! What a moving, so very personal and inspiring story. It took so much courage and strength of character to overcome so much and then share it with the world. I identified with so much of this story. While my family dynamics were different, the abuse and disrespect “Jenna” suffered was similar to what I experienced in my marriage. My struggle with self-respect, which was damaged by an abusive husband, was the same. My art also played a major part in my recovery. Self-examination isn’t for the faint of heart, but the rewards are well worth it. Jennifer Blackmore, Artist and Author
Touched me beyond my wildest dreams. She articulates what every son or daughter that has grown up in an orthodox household has to deal with. Some phrases were so clear and exact that I wondered if she knew where we lived when I was a kid and was peeking in our window. This book will break your heart and bring you to tears and it will make you laugh until you pee in your pants. I loved this book and it was a fast read too. I actually couldn’t put it down. Columbia University Prof. (review on Barnes & Noble site)
Jenna, the protagonist, is a perfect example of a re-routed life. Born into a Jewish religious community, she painstakingly unties the knots that bind her to the stifling forces within her heritage and to the dysfunctional family pathologies in which she is embedded. With support from her husband and her own intuition, although not without loss and uncertainty, she emerges as an artist, writer, and teacher. A triumph of the human spirit! Marilyn L. Cohen, Professor, School of Social Work – Touro College and Rutgers University
It is unusual to successfully leave behind a tormented youth and start anew. Often, anger and depression haunts one throughout life, paralyzing rather than motivating. Ms. Stewart’s compelling novel captures this evolution, entertaining and teaching us along the way. Her story is an inspiring delight. Reina Lipkind, MD
As the rebellious daughter of the quintessential “Mother of the Guilt Trip,” Dena Stewart’s novel-style memoire follows “Jenna” on a remarkable journey to attain her personal catharsis of inner peace. This book is especially relevant to anyone who has/had a passive-aggressive and controlling mother. June I. Dressler, MA, MS, Teacher/Counselor for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Dena Stewart’s tales of familial un-bliss resonate with an amusing, and conversely, cringe-worthy tone. Her Orthodox Jewish family could be her undoing, but she squiggles out from under the conundrum of honoring parents over herself just in time to save her soul and sanity. Irene Sperber, Artist and Writer
I read Dena Stewart’s book and was impressed by the strength she showed (and shows) overcoming the strictures of her orthodox upbringing. Her courage is refreshing and when she spoke about her journey to the South Florida Writers Association, members were moved. I commend and recommend her book to those who are fighting to overcome a hurdle in life–and to those who may have hurdles yet to come (i.e., to everyone)! Jonathan Rose, Esq., Program Director, South Florida Writers Association
Initially, Dena Stewart’s novelesque memoire appears to be an anthropological excursion into a unique religious community. However, once we share heroine Jenna’s experiences of violent explosions from an abusive parent, we begin to understand that this narrative is replicated in many other dysfunctional families, regardless of ethnicity or religious background. This is a novel that many people can relate to on different levels. Dr. Carol Hoffman-Guzman, PhD, DMin
What a great book! The story and presentation makes for an easy and interesting read. In this present day, so many young people – Muslims, Hindus and even the fundamentalist Christian sects – are struggling with what “Jenna” was confronted with via her orthodox family. This book just may be an inspiration for them. Thomas Bellucci, Philosopher
Dena’s inspirational book will take you on a metamorphic journey of self-discovery. It’s based on the premise that when distancing one’s self both emotionally and physically from the source(s) of discontent, change is imminent. With courage, strength, determination and the support of a loved one, it is possible to become resilient and achieve happiness. Above all, despite adversity, there are solutions to finding true self and understanding the meaning of inner peace. Alice Dressler, MS, Teacher, Exceptional Education, Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Dena understood my emotional warring with my clown relatives. Little did I know until I read this book that she had a circus of her own. This book is highly cathartic for anyone having grown up in a fundamentalist environment no matter what the religion. Ruthie DiTucci, Journalist
My mother-in-law wanted something to read at the beach. Of course I gave her this book. She finished it in 3 days. She said she couldn’t put it down and felt compassion for what Jenna (the author) went through. She also enjoyed reading about the rise and fall and creep up again of Lincoln Road’s history. It was how she remembered it too. It is wonderful when a story can appeal to several generations. I’m a fan.” Giovanna Raimondo, Marketing/Writer
Finished reading “Inner Peace…It Isn’t Out There!” the other day. People on Grand Street grew up fearing what others would say. I too had to be careful what I did, as I was the kosher butcher’s daughter. I enjoyed the book because some parts hit very close to home. Eileen S., “Friend from the Hood”
I just finished this powerhouse work! It really helped to bolster my own truth-telling. Author Dena Stewart’s well placed revelation of her true name towards the reclamation of her authentic voice, was a powerful and clever writing choice which really moved me. Thank you for a deeply inspiring page-turner which gives all of us permission to define our perfectly imperfect lives on our own terms. Frannie Sheridan, Writer, Performer
Great, interesting memoir telling us the story about growing up with a religious, overbearing orthodox mother and surviving the verbal abuse. Actually I found myself laughing out loud in parts. Loved the history shared in old time lower Eastside NY. Ellen Goldstein, Speech Therapist
I loved reading this book; I’m lucky enough to know some of the real life characters that populate this very common story of human family life… we all grow up with a slightly dysfunctional family of sorts and all of us deal with it in our own chosen fashion. Read this story filled with characters you’ll get to know. It’s an interesting story of love! Wendy Unger, Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce
Kudos to immensely talented visual artist DENA STEWART who has now added the prestige of “author” to her list of credentials with the publication of her first book, “Inner Peace…It Isn’t Out There,” a provocative look at how one young woman overcomes the struggles of family to define for herself how to live her life as one whole being. A story we can all easily identify with. Paula Turk, ARTSHARE LLC Creative Arts Group
After I read “Inner Peace … It Isn’t Out There!” I gave my copy to a neighbor/friend of mine. She said she read it all in one day and couldn’t put it down until she finished it, and LOVED it. I sent a copy to my niece in New Jersey, who spoke with a friend of hers on Skype in Israel. Her friend took my niece’s recommendation, as my niece also loved the book, and her friend who has a book club in Israel will bring the book to her group….so it will make the rounds there, too! My daughter is next on my list to read it. Anita Segal
I am enjoying “Inner Peace … It Isn’t Out There! The book is very readable. I will probably finish it soon, but I am keeping a little more left so I don’t get there too fast. A lot of things are familiar to me about the family dynamics. Hana Dolgin, Saxophonist, and Hydration Consultant/Distributor of Kangen Water
I finally had a chance to sit down and read!! I got home at 3:00, took a quick nap then immersed myself, without interruptions, into “Inner Peace … It Isn’t Out There!” It was quite brave of Dena Stewart to reveal so much, yet I understand her need! I am sure that this book will be relevant to anybody who has gone through the difficult times Dena went through. I admire her strength, creativity and independence to be able to reach this level of self-confidence. Dena should really be very proud of herself for having come as far as she has and for having accomplished everything that she has managed to do!!! Valerie de Roca