(photo credit: TWITTER)
A Jewish woman in New York who left life in the Belz Hassidic sect committed suicide Monday evening by jumping off the roof of a building in Manhattan. Days later, a letter surfaced that she wrote to a close friend shortly before her death lambasting religion and recounting her difficulties growing up in ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn.
Faigy Mayer, 30, jumped from the roof during a party at 230 Fifth restaurant and lounge in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. Some bar patrons continued to drink after she jumped and police cordoned off the area.
In a letter to her friend Yangbo Du reprinted by the Daily Mail, Mayer described aspects of religious law such as kashrut and Shabbat prohibitions as “bullshit” and complained of the minimal secular education and limited horizons available to those who grew up as she did.
“I feel as though hassidic Judaism shouldn’t exist at all,” she wrote.
“My three nephews are being raised in a very strict hassidic Jewish environment.
It isn’t fair to them that they have to live their lives the way they do. The most fun they have is to color with crayons.”
She complained about bans on Internet access and other similar restrictions imposed on members of the more insular Jewish groups, explaining that even though she thought that “right now the rabbis are winning,” the need to access the Internet would eventually break down walls between the ultra-Orthodox and the wider world.
“If people were allowed to think, they would not be religious,” she wrote. “Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with, five years after leaving.”
In an op-ed published in The Forward on Wednesday, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz of Frum and Stuck, an support organization for those uncomfortable with their Jewish religious affiliation, blamed all of orthodoxy for her suicide.
“While Faigy may have taken her life, the will to live was taken away from her by a community that is sadly complacent and perhaps a tad distracted. All of us in the Orthodox world are somewhat complicit in her death,” he wrote.
“Faigy was a member of the XO (ex-Orthodox) community. Her story is not anomalous. Many in that community are struggling with similar issues, feeling ignored and communally neglected. We owe it to them to do better,” the former Satmar hassid and now modern-Orthodox rabbi asserted. “Our efforts should be two-pronged. We need to develop a robust support system for those beautiful souls who are imprisoned by existential loneliness. They should know that our acceptance of them is absolute and unconditional and that we appreciate and even sanctify their journey in search of a true and authentic self.”
Last January, Haaretz reported that seven ex-haredim had taken their lives over a year-and-a-half period, severely disconcerting the hundreds of other formerly religious members of their social circle. Hard data tracking suicides of former ultra-Orthodox Jews over an extended period is unavailable.
While several support organizations exist, the stresses of leaving behind closed communities can be very hard on former haredim, and are often exacerbated by a lack of formal education for members of the more extreme sects and by custody battles among those with children.
According to the New York Post, Mayer had long suffered from manic depression and had been cut off by her parents after she left hassidism.
While her family reportedly came to her funeral, Mayer’s friends said they sought to prevent her social circle from also attending.
Asked about her suicide, a spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America called her death “a stab to the heart of every caring Jew,” adding that it will be on the minds of many on the upcoming Tisha Be’av fast day, which commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.
“By her own account, Faigy faced deep internal adversity from her early youth, and her letter, read carefully, only corroborates the clouded lens through which she viewed her environment,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, told The Jerusalem Post. “To blame her death, as some seem anxious to do, on the community into which she was born and that sought to nurture her is as repugnant as would be blaming the community she subsequently joined.
“Her psychological challenges were not the result of her leaving her home and community, but arguably a cause of it,” he continued.
“The only takeaway from this horrible loss is the need to de-stigmatize mental illness – in all communities – and to realize the tragedies that, if left untreated, it can bring about.”
JTA contributed to this report.