Saturday, September 28, 2013

The death of an OTDer

Yesterday a woman named Deb Tambor committed suicide.She was 33.

I didn't know Deb in person, but she and I posted on the same Off the Derech facebook groups for several years. 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 hesitate to post these details becasue Deb posted them in a protected group, in confidence. But I felt it was important for the world to know that these type of things happen, and continue to happen. And what the consequences sometimes are. And these aren't the only consequences. The consequence of the threat of having this happen keeps many people in unhappy marriages, or hiding their true religious beliefs, sometimes for decades .

Now I'm not saying that these things are the reason she committed suicide. I don't know why she committed suicide and I don't really know why she lost custody of her kids, other than what she said about it. Maybe she was depressed in general, although that's no reason to lose custody of your children unless she posed a threat to them. Maybe she did pose a threat to them. I have no idea.

What I do know is that if there is an all powerful sky being, and that sky being is just, then there's a special place in hell reserved for people who encourage parents to turn against their children, or children to turn against their parents, in the name of religion or lack thereof.

What I do know is that if court systems are ruling in favor of religious spouses and cutting off custody of non religious spouses due to religious reasons, whether that is because of some misguided idea that keeping children in the same religion is more in their best interest than regular visits with both parents, or because witnesses are giving false testimony due to the religious beliefs of a parent, then they are making unjust decisions.

What I do know is that the off the derech community has more and more been turning into a real community in the past few years, due in no small part to facebook groups, and before that, the writing of many bloggers. Along with things like footsteps and cholent.  We've organized protests against child molestation and have visited courts to support victims of the orthodox community.  And maybe it's time we started using that community power to organize something more. Maybe a non profit that provides free legal aid for those going through custody cases with religious spouses or who need other sorts of legal help related to leaving their religion? Maybe a phone line to connect you with another OTDer for those who need someone to talk to or advice? I'm just throwing out ideas here.

Please use this post to throw out some more ideas.  I may not be able to respond right away because things are crazy right now but I would love for those who have more time and who are geographically closer to centers of jewish life to begin organizing themselves, and I will help in any way I can.  I will update with more info as I know it.

ETA: I've just learned that a young man named Yoeli Speilman, who had grown up chassidic and become modern orthodox, and who was disowned by his family as a result, killed himself the day after yom kippur.  I don't even know what to say. I'm not saying his family situation is the reason he killed himself, and unlike Deb I never interacted with him him personally or know anything other than what people are saying on the grapevine, but f it's true I think it's telling that two people in similar situations killed themselves over the jewish holidays. What can we do to help people who are thinking of committing suicide?

ETA2: Some other posts about Deb from other OTDers and Jewish bloggers: 
My Derech, On and Off: A Mother's Murder 
I am Acher!: For Deb: A very special eulogy 
Hayley Amanda: for deb. for life.  
Stop Kiruv Now: Turning families against each other  
Y-Love: Stolen too soon: In memory of Deb Tambor a'h 
Kol B'isha Erva: Why do we assume that when a marriage ends its because one spouse went otd

ETA3: Sunday 5:04pm (eastern): Rumor is that the funeral will take place on roosevelt ave. in New Square tonight at midnight.  Other rumors say she was already buried in New Square without a real funeral.  A third rumor says the funeral will take place there within an hour. Either way there are many people heading to New Square right now and there is talk of a candelight vigil tonight. I'll try to post more as I find out about it

 ETA4: Anyone who is thinking of taking your life, please first take the time to call someone on this list and tell them about it.

ETA5: I hear many OTDers who wanted to attend the funeral of their friend Deb Tambor (who many of us knew in 'real life') went to new square yesterday with some staying until the wee hours of the morning, but the new square shitheads wouldn't tell them where or when it was going to happen, and she ended up being buried this morning in Long island with only her family present. I am told she was not buried in the new square cemetery because she was not shomer shabbas(??).  Also someone has posted a poem written by Deb before her death: Can a father hate his child? Deb's last poem

ETA6: Deb's boyfriend told me that he was notified about the funeral location by Deb's family as the funeral was starting, and that they knew he was an hour and a half away.  I feel sick to my stomach over the way this has played out.  One thing I will be doing in the very near future is writing a will. 

ETA7: Failed Messiah has A good summary of the situation which has more sickening details of what happened to Deb. 


  1. I am so sorry to hear this news. I did not know of this young woman, but as a member of the Orthodox Community, I am appalled that people who choose to observe or not observe differently from me should have to experience the kind of negativity and persecution I have heard about all too many times. Religion or the lack of it is a deeply personal choice, and does not trump our ability to love and support our fellow human beings in their lives. In fact, that would be the first directive of a religious life, in my humble opinion.

  2. Number one, we need to become more public, vocal, not keep these stories to just those in our community. Number two, an official organization that has thousands of members and a board and regular meetings would have more strength than our individual messages, though they are very important. We need both a public clearinghouse to publish this information as a bloc to raise awareness and support, and a donation/charitable wing to provide real financial and legal support to change the status quo of custody decisions.

  3. Re the above, if I can help in any way I would like to try. Have been through similar, at the time thought I was the only one going through this (maybe I was, it was over 10 years ago.

  4. rebel you are definitely not alone, I can think of at least 5 OTDers off the top of my head who have lost custody over their kids for similar reasons...the community rallies behind the religious spouse, people lie in court to do anything to keep the kids religious, I even know a woman whose kids were kidnapped after she gained custody and sent to live in a jewish community.

    1. Just today I ran into someone from my former life, and as always I'm dan lekaf zechut to think they might be able to hold a normal conversation after all these years, but I can literally set my watch to the two minutes in to the conversation where they ask, '.. so, where are you living these days? {as if I live on the moon! I've been in the same place for 12 years!} you ever see the kids? { like wtf! how dare you even ask me such a dumb question! do you ever see YOUR kids? } no, really. EVERY TIME. It's just too depressing.

  5. Thanks for bringing this terrible situation to light. It's truly heartbreaking. I wish I had the answer as to what can be done to prevent this in the future. I do know that this type of harassment has to be denounced from within the community for there to be a change.

  6. Thank you for posting this--we are observant but some of our children chose not to be. Those are legitimate choices and no one else's business, and I am appalled that a frum community would turn against a man or woman for not adhering to the minhagim of the community -- please, it's not like they converted to another religion!! (and even if they did, however sad, it should not make them less than your children). I agree that a hotline or some form of public outcry needs to take place---this kind of isolation, marginalization and depression can only happen where silence suppresses the truth.

  7. Two of my children treat me with disdain and yes, that special place in HELL will be occupied by my ex-husband and his wife and Rabbis someday as well. The difficulty of divorce and the court system is enough to depress anybody but the grief caused by children who act as if they hate you because they have been programmed to feel that way is more than many Jewish mothers can bear.

    1. Marisa I'm sorry to hear that this has happened to you too. Hang in there, I believe that if you don't lose faith they will come back to you, even if it takes time.

  8. yes i do agree and wish there would be such a phone line yea i really want such thing it would be great support
    please let me know if it does happen such thing

    1. Hi still jewish
      feel free to check out Miri Omed on facebook for support through direct messages

    2. sorry thanks for giving me the link but i cant access facebook

  9. A phoneline would be a good start, and maybe some kind of group to raise awareness in the judiciary of what OTD parents (especially mums) are up against. Incidentally I don't really like the term OTD. We're all on a path, there isn't just one derech surely!

    1. I've so far been too shy to post anything on an OTD blog but if any of this actually happens I'd like to help, too.
      After I went OTD I became a paralegal and found out that the legal world is clueless about Orthodoxy (or I'd guess any really religious society). Family law is confusing enough now that I've been to school to learn it...I could not imagine having to deal with it right after would be great if there was a way to put together some sort of educational thing for lawyers and judges.
      Also, I wish there was a better way to connect OTD people with whatever legal help and mental health help already exists. I know in NY there's a place called Unchained at Last that's supposed to help women get out of bad arranged marriages, and that there are legal aid clinics who work with abused women and low-income people, but it can be hard to find (and harder to call a random group for help). Maybe someone could put together a resource list and post it online/give to whoever is answering the phoneline?

    2. Hana that's a great idea. Also, a lot of lawyers and judges are men! Which means they aren't generally (sorry to be sexist but practically I know I'm right - I work with lawyers and judges and they barely see their own kids) experienced in raising kids and don't understand a lot of the issues. And they seem to think that it's better for kids to stay the way they are, in the schools they are in, because the leaving parent has caused enough instability just by leaving. I can see where that view is coming from and it makes sense, in a way. But they have no idea what goes on in the schools they are in, and forcing a parent who doesn't believe in something to educate her kids in a way that she doesn't believe in is not a great recipe for stability either!

    3. Incidentally I've never posted on this kind of thing before, for the same reason, but for some reason Deb's death has affected me deeply and I feel I should do something or say something. I had no idea that there were so many of us.

  10. Anyway, sometimes karma is a bitch. The 'rabbi' my ex's family relied on for their power struggle (and unfortunately succeeded in relying on) is now under police charges for sex offences against women.

  11. The truth needs to be told - I think most posters here might be missing an important point:

    This isn't a story about treatment of "OTD" members of the community.

    New Square / Skver acts this way to ANYONE that...

    1) Once belonged to the community, and ...

    2) Dares to publicly express doubts about their false version of Orthodox Judaism.

    It his nothing to do with going OTD. Really.

    They did the same parental alienation thing to me - a STILL 100% ULTRA-ORTHODOX JEW.

    I was punished for getting disgusted by the ongoing moral lapses, financial shenanigans and deceptions that constantly go on in the upper echelons there. I knew what was going on, since at the time I was affiliated with several of their organizations and - at one time - a confident of the Rebbe.

    I knew that the Rebbe was (and IS) a fake, because he supported - and continues to support - frightening ethical & moral lapses, INCLUDING SERIOUS HALACHIC AND HASHKAFIC LAPSES.

    When I refused to stay silent, a campaign of demoralization, deception, dehumanization, and "gaslighting" followed.

    They're experts at "blowing off" any concerns that don't fit their agenda, and making you feel like trash. Tearing families apart? Fair game.

    There is nothing sacred in their book, once you dare to expose their failings. They will do EVERYTHING to demolish you, including spreading false rumors of the worst kind.

    Ms. Tambor writes:
    My very own father,
    Not only has he betrayed me
    He made up lies

    They betrayed me, too - BECAUSE I REFUSED TO STAY SILENT!

    Many INSIDERS feel as I do, but they would never dear to speak up, because they know that their whole social support network and life-long affiliations would be DEMOLISHED.

    So... let's call a spade a spade, ok?

    1. I'm sorry you went through this. New what a scary place. I delivered kosher chinese food there around 13 years ago.

      Being an OTDer is a form of dissent (not following community rules) as is questioning their leader. Places like that do not tolerate dissent. Many orthodox communities don't tolerate dissent to some degree or another, it's just a matter of where exactly the line is and the degree to which they react to it that differs.

  12. I am a non-jewish man, who has never been religious at all. I am grateful that my parents never burdened me with that. My Brother commited suicide, but religion did not play a role - he was just broken and in spite of many efforts there was no fix.

    I have followed you blog for a while and I find it really engrossing. The issues that surround religion/atheism are universal, and I really appreciate your sharing your experiences.


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