Woman’s Suicide Reveals Dark Side of Orthodox Jewish Outreach


Deb Tambor, z”l

— by Izzy Eichenstein and Off the Derech Facebook writers

The Off the Derech (off the path of Orthodoxy) Facebook group is for people who have left Orthodox Judaism. I am one of several moderators on the group. 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 is what happened to Deb.

More after the jump.
Jewish Outreach, or “kiruv” in Hebrew (not to be confused with other meanings, such as the conservative movement trying to be inclusive of couples with mixed marriages), often targets college students and young professionals. Our group exists to educate students and their parents about Orthodox kiruv, outreach professionals, their supporters, their practices, and their motives. Not all are bad — what this article comes to say is that turning parents and children against each other is unacceptable.

The pain and abuse that Deb suffered at the hands of the community was too great for her to bear, and ultimately drove her to suicide. Our hearts goes out to the friends and family of Deb Tambor. Nobody should ever be put through the hell that she endured.

Abandoningeden [screen name], a fellow blogger and friend, wrote:

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. But 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. They do not want to be 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 circles. This extremist madness has to stop.

Note from Judaism Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram:

It is with a heavy heart that I post this article, that arrived unsolicited. Other posts that articulate that this is not an isolated problem appear in the following locations as of September 30:

Izzy Eichenstein is author of The Rebel and the Rabbi’s Son, and the blog Jewish Outreach: What Your Rabbi Isn’t Telling You.

And as of Oct 2: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewis…
http://forward.com/articles/18…
http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-…