I'm one of several moderators on the Off the Derech Facebook page for people who have left orthodox Judaism. This past Friday, one of our members, Deb Tambor, committed suicide. She was 33 and had left the orthodox community.
What many don't know is that when you leave orthodox Judaism for the secular world, and you fight for custody of your kids, you don't always win. The ultra-orthodox community turns against you for leaving and then turns your children against you. That's what happened to Deb. The pain and abuse that she suffered at the hands of the community was too great for her to bear and ultimately drove her to suicide. My heart goes out to the friends and family of Deb Tambor. Nobody should ever be put through the hell that she endured. Abandoning Eden, fellow blogger and friend, writes:
Deb was a lovely woman who often posted encouraging words to others struggling with leaving the orthodox jewish religion, and posted about her own struggles. The last time I heard from her was when she was congratulating me for having a child. And I got to know some details of her life over the years. How she had several children with an orthodox jewish spouse whom she divorced. How her own father testified against her in the child custody case because she was no longer religious, and she lost custody of her children. How her children were told negative things about her because she was no longer religious, and how they began to treat her with the same disdain shown towards her by her former chassidic community.I know that many will claim that this was an isolated incident. Except that the only thing isolated about this is the fact that it ended in suicide. Women who want to leave ultra-orthodox Jewish communities are often held hostage by motherhood. Being denied access to your children, or having to fight to retain custody is a powerful deterrent to leaving. I know several women on the many forums in which I post, who have been through, or are currently dealing with similar situations. These are good people who want nothing more than to be good parents but without being chained to a community in which they don't wish to belong.
There is nothing Jewish about turning children against their parents, whether it exists in kiruv circles or in off the derech (off the path of orthodoxy) circles. This extremist madness has got to stop.
UPDATE: I was given permission to repost this Facebook status update from Chaim Levin, who waited to attend Deb Tambor's funeral:
Update to the Update: The burial didn't actually happen at 4AM and is currently going on, as per information from another source, seen at 1:04PM, Monday, 9/30/2013.Status UpdateBy Chaim LevinWe waited all day, we waited most of the night, we said we would wait until whenever it takes, until we can see our friend Deb Tambor off to her final "resting place."
I echo the sentiments of many of my peers tonight who feel distraught and heartbroken after standing for over 10 hours in front of a funeral home in middle of New Square waiting and hoping that someone who knew more than we did would tell us when Deb's funeral would be. The rumors were spreading like wildfire, it was almost as if the locals were having a fun time pulling up to us in their cars and asking us "So, when's the funeral?" And then pulling away with smirks on their faces. We were their exhibit, their game for today, their "action" as many of them so aptly described us foreigners invading their land because we just wanted to see our friend off on her final journey.
Even though most of us ended up leaving before her actual funeral, even and missed her actual burial that of all times took place at 4 o'clock in the morning after we left, I'm proud to have been part of a group that stood proudly and relentlessly albeit right outside the room where Deb's body was being kept until her funeral because that was our way of connecting with her and her final journey.
Some have dared accuse us as people simply turning this into a "media spectacle", charging that Deb's tragic death is becoming politicized in a way that they claim is unfair to her memory. I see this as just another excuse to feed into the horrendous silence that led to someone as kind hearted as Deb to feel like she was too much of a burden on the world, that she wasn't worthy of living anymore. By not acknowledging these tragic events we are doing injustice to her memory and to her legacy, Deb Tambor didn't have to die but the people who were supposed to love her unconditionally turned against her because she chose a different life for herself.
What Deb Endured as a result of those circumstances are enough to drive anyone over the edge; no one's perfect and almost all of us know someone who struggles with depression, and if you didn't until now and are reading this, hi, I'm one of those people; it doesn't make us handicapped, unable to raise children, or live normal lives like so many others do, it just makes us human. The way we support one another is by reaching out and not isolating or judging other people because their struggle is something we haven't experienced or personally understand.
Deb was the epitome of a modest person and never wanted to burden anyone with her own feelings but she was human just like all of us. Whoever dare blame her for her death and refer to her as a perpetrator because of the people she left behind should forever bite their tongues because they obviously don't understand the virtue of empathy and have not walked even one step in her shoes. Deb was first destroyed emotionally and then she was blamed for her death that was brought on by this torment that she had to endure.
I hope that for Deb's sake we'll spend less time arguing over whether we should or shouldn't be talking about this and remember that tonight was a turning point in history. #AfterDeb will always be remember as the time that so many of us stood up as a community with love and acceptance for one another because of what we believed in. #AfterDeb we must come together and do everything in our power to make sure that children will never be ripped away from the arms of their parents by evil forces who value control over what's best for the people involved.
Failed Messiah states that
Deb Tambor was allegedly sexually abused by a family member before she left New Square. I'm told that when she told the Sqvere rebbe about the sexual abuse he accused her of lying and was exceedingly mean to her.
Sqvere leadership treated her horribly, allegedly heaping money and support on her ex-husband and demonizing Deb, all in order to make sure she did not get custody of or normal visitation with her children.
Sqvere won that fight, but the demonization of Deb did not stop. Instead, Sqvere rabbis and teachers worked to alienate her children from their mother.
Read Failed Messiah's full post on Deb Tambor here.
Update to the Update to the Update: Read Shulem Deen's "In Death of Ex-Hasid Estranged From Her Religious Children, a Mirror for Trauma of Many: A father reflects on his own efforts to stay close to his children after deciding to live a secular life" in Tablet. This is a very important piece.
Read this: Ex-Hasidic Woman's Apparent Suicide Sparks Funeral Chaos With Skver Leaders: Deb Tambor Buried Away From New Square Amid Controversy
Haaretz: Writer Allison Kaplan Sommer quotes me in "Routine Emergencies, Online pain and outrage follows ex-Hasidic woman’s suicide."