Deb Tambor is dead, she committed suicide after leaving the Hasidic Jewish faith and everyone she knew and loved turned on her, especially her children. Her body was found by her boyfriend, Abe Weiss, with a bag of pills and a half-empty bottle of vodka, surrounded by pictures of her increasingly estranged children.
When Tambor had abandoned her membership in the Skver Hasidic sect in Rockland County, N.Y., the sect feared that her new “freer” beliefs would become a bad influence on her children and worked to convince them to keep their distance from their mother. This is unfortunately not a unique story, there are plenty of people who have left the Hasidic lifestyle, only to have their former friends and colleagues shun them. Hasidic Jews structure their entire lives around their beliefs, it tells them how to act, how to dress, how to speak and what rituals to perform at all times of the day. Former Hasidic Jews find that, when leaving the faith, the Jewish community is willing to throw money and influence behind the remaining Hasidic spouse, such that almost regardless of the situation, the Hasidic spouse will get custody of the children. This is especially the case because Hasidic Jews are very insular and often represent a large percentage of the communities where they live.
Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, an organization that has offered support to more than 800 Hasidic exiles, called Ms. Tambor’s death “a tipping point.” “People are seeing there’s a possibility of losing their children because the Orthodox community thinks it needs to protect each child’s Jewish soul, and will go to great lengths to sever ties between the child and the parents leaving to become more modern.”
Shulem Deen, a divorced father who had also left the Skver sect, wrote an essay for Tablet wherein he describes his own estrangement from his five children. The Hasidic community poisons their minds and forces them to choose between their religion and their families. “Mommy says you want to turn us into goyim,” he said a son told him, using the Yiddish term for non-Jews.
It’s sad enough that someone is driven to self-destruction but worse yet when religion is to blame. These insular communities are shedding members at a fairly high rate and people who are utterly committed to the community, I suppose, are justified in wanting to preserve them as much as they can, but it’s over the line to break up families and cause the religious to choose between their faith and their parents. Of course, when the religious have political and financial power, they can get away with almost anything, as we’ve seen time and time again.
And so, to the Hasidic community in Rockland County, N.Y., a hearty fuck you and welcome to the Religious Horror Show.