The Kindness of Strangers After Faigy Mayer’s Suicide

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Late Monday night, a 30 year old ex-Chasidic woman named Faigy Mayer tragically jumped to her death off a rooftop bar in midtown Manhattan. I didn’t know of Faigy until I read the horrible news yesterday morning, but we share some common friends. From what I’ve heard, she was kind and compassionate, creative and entrepreneurial – my kind of gal.

There is lots of talk about the anguish that caused Faigy to take her life. (Some of my ex-Chasidic friends have surprisingly expressed extreme frustration with the way the Charedi community is being solely blamed for this, and these are NOT fans of the Charedi community.) But there is nothing good which can come out of conjecturing about a stranger’s most personal struggles, so we need to move this conversation away from one woman and figure out what we as a community can do to alleviate the types of pain that could push any person to such desperation. What these awful suicides coming out of the ex-Chasidic community seem to show – this is the seventh one in recent years – is that there is a mixture of factors which could cause such distress, ranging from mental illness, to feelings of isolation, to community backlash. I believe we are making strides on all fronts, but we must do more.

We at Jew in the City are trying to do our part to fill the void in an area that we heard exists with Project Makom. Project Makom is an initiative to help former and questioning Charedim find their place in Orthodoxy and came about because people in this exact position told us they were feeling unwelcomed as they tried to explore other parts of the Orthodox world after leaving their Charedi community of origin. They came to us specifically because the type of Orthodoxy we publicize appealed to them. Project Makom is not only about religion though – we are offering support for secular education, career advice, friendship, and general support.

It is uplifting to see how many of our fans here at Jew in the City are aching to be part of the solution and to be there before the next Faigy, Rivky or Shloimie is pushed too far. You are writing in asking how you can help, and so if you are available to learn Jewish or secular subjects over the phone or in person, or open up your home and heart, or simply fund the programming we are putting together, please fill out this form.

As we are a religious organization, the one thing we are not touching is serious mental health issues as we do not believe a person who is emotionally unstable should be exploring religion. When one of our Orthodox readers heard that we are not offering mental health support, he sent us an incredible message:

I am not a wealthy person by any means, but if your organization identifies someone in this class who needs help of this nature, I will pay for 1-2 emergency sessions with an appropriate mental health professional. I understand and appreciate that Project Makom cannot and is not equipped to deal with mental health issues–but it might be where someone ends up that is in need of help. I hope to be of help, and hope even more that this assistance is never needed. With best wishes for your continued success.

I think I can speak for many people when I say “We are so sorry we failed you, Faigy. But we thank you for helping us get just a little bit closer as a community to the kind of kindness and compassion that you stood for. May your memory be for a blessing.”

 

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. I’m quite taken aback that this suicide is being used as a tool to promote Project Makom.

    The biggest takeaway from this sad situation is noticing how many ex-frum take their own lives. Draw your own conclusions. But this is very far from the first time in just recent memory than an ex-frum realized the grass isn’t greener on the other side.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dan, but the purpose of this post was not to promote Project Makom in some sort of a cheap or gimmicky way. I wasn’t necessarily going to write anything because I wasn’t even sure what there was to say at such an awful time. But then more and more people wrote in asking to help and the guy who offered the mental health funding was so inspiring to me, I wanted to share it. One of Faigy’s friends asked me to share it bc it was so comforting to him. So mentioning Project Makom was a way to give context to the quote and the messages we were getting and also to let people know that these services are available. We certainly don’t claim to be a one-size-fits-all solution but we want people to know that we do exist if they need us.

  2. I AM GOING TO SAY SOMTHING UNPOPULAR LEAVE ORTDOXY OUT OF THIS AND IN FACT RELIGOUN.THERE IS ONE PROBLEM THIS WAS A MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE NOT A SOCIO RELIGIOUS ONE SO DOING THISWELL MEANING IS NON HELPFUL IN FACT THE MONEY WOULD BE BETTER SPENT SUPPORTING MENTAL HEALTH CAUSES.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, y, but as you can see above, my goal was not to speak about Faigy’s specific situation but rather to address the range of problems which can arise and to note that we must approach this tragic issue holistically.

  3. I love what you have to say and you always write so eloquently. Project Makom is a fabulous idea.

  4. Religion goes deeply into one’s soul, especially when the person grew up FFB. Even if someone experiences doubts and has questions, and moves away from being observant as a result of these thoughts, I think that in many, not all, but many, cases, these people have alot of guilt and even fear about what they are doing. Some people have more resilience to deal with these feelings, no matter what the outcome is.
    I feel terrible for Faigy (who I don’t know) and for other people who felt that this was their only way to remove themselves from what I can only imagine must have been torturous feelings. Religion is not supposed to be so hard. Someone who I think is very smart once said: “There are many ways to be a Ben Torah”. I think if people could take that in, maybe those who left Chassidus, or even other forms of Orthodoxy, could travel an easier road as they are finding what is right for them, and maybe those who are criticizing them could go a little easier on their fellow Jews as well.

  5. To pin this suicide on religion and to promote the alternative that might save people as Project Makom is doing a disservice. Mental health issues unfortunately target all religious, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Correlation does not prove causation, the fact that she was an ex- hasid does not imply that that anguish from being alienated from her religious group caused her tragic death.
    The Orthodox community in particular has several mental health referring services , take Relief for example . There has been a serge in mental health awareness and treatment options among most groups within Orthodox Judaism. As within general society there are families and individuals that are more functional and open to treatment options and individuals that are less so, religion not being a factor.
    In order to connect her death to her religious alienation there would need be statistics that show that more ex Hasidim Jews commit suicide than among the typical population. Without that this is a slippery slope.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Aviva. I specifically said I don’t want to speak about *this* woman as I do not know her personally. I also specifically noted that there are a range of reasons which can lead to desperation. We want people to know that we are stepping forward in this one area, if it’s useful to them, but we need improvements in mental health stigmas and treatment and more acceptance of people who leave observance. We’re just answering one piece of the puzzle with Makom.

      • Project Makom is wonderful. However this article does subtlety associate her death with her religious alienation. Just the first part of the following sentence casts suspicion on her ex-community . Disturbing to me.

        “What these awful suicides coming out of the ex-Chasidic community seem to show – this is the seventh one in recent years – is that there is a mixture of factors which could cause such distress, ranging from mental illness, to feelings of isolation, to community backlash”

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Thanks, for your comment, Aviva, but I specifically said that we need to move away from talking abut Faigy as most of us didn’t know her and instead face the challenges that anyone ex-Chasidic is going through. As I noted, there are a mixture of challenges an ex-Chasid faces, and one of them could be community backlash. If you’re not aware of this, I could ask people who faced this to speak up. It’s real problem which comes up at least some of the time, and it needs to end.

          • TL; DR: I totally get it, JITC.
            It’s a very real problem and I agree with JITC in that it’s not *just* a religious community issue and it’s not *just* a mental health issue either. I’m not Jewish but I did leave an insular, fundamental group as a young person and I experienced shunning and it was pretty devastating at the time because there was no escaping it. It literally weighs on your mind every day, that you can’t go home and nobody will call you or visit you unless you repent and rejoin. Their love truly is conditional, or at least the expression of their love is. I think mental health issues are the norm for people who leave orthodoxy or fundamentalism (not saying they are the same thing; I’m just saying.) The stress, the feeling of being completely un-tethered and alone, knowing that your family and prior social circle is hoping you fail so you can go crawling back to them, having zero social skills to navigate The World, it will cause mental health issues eventually. Also the backlash you get from your previous community, once you choose to leave, is so harsh that even if people want to return they often find it very difficult to. A wee bit of kindness would go a long way. If someone wants to stop being Orthodox, give them a hug and tell them you are so glad they are finding their path. OTD is a mean way to describe people because they are never OTD completely, they are just off your particular definition of what the correct derech is. Plus, some paths circle right back around. Theirs might. Maybe it’s a better path for that person to become more of a secular type of Jew. A Jew is a Jew! You are all special and set apart. Be kind and patient. Use your head to guide your heart. Find a common path with the Jew who is searching. The world depends on you.
            It’s been 27 years for me since The Shunning began. I have lived an entire lifetime of education, three graduation ceremonies, jobs, friends, a wonderful marriage and travelling and my mom hasn’t ever once been a part of ANY of it. Let that sink in. Almost 30 years of holidays, weekends, photographs and memories that do not include my mom or sisters. And theirs don’t include me. I tried to get her to visit my home when we bought our first house but nope, she would only maybe meet me in a town 40 miles away… at a gas station, for a few minutes. Last November she wrote me a note in red ink: she loves me, it said. I threw it away. I just can’t, it’s been so long, it’s been a lifetime. One of my sisters visited my house last Christmas and I was so happy, so fulfilled and so devastated that I wept on the floor after she left. I appreciate JITC writing this. Sorry it’s so long. I wish I could help. Just don’t shun please. It’s awful.
            ** Also, since our maternal grandmother was a Jewish immigrant from freaking France you would think my family would be a little more hesitant to declare Pentecost as our Official Family Religion but nope. In reality, I should have been shunning the Pentecostal shunners all these years! (failed attempt at humor, sorry not sorry).

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            Thanks for your comment, Mitri. What you describe is what I’ve heard from several people in the ex-Chasidic community. I applaud your strength and courage and hope you can find peace. And wait – your mother’s mother was Jewish? If you’re in search of family, there are several millions of Jews who will be ready to welcome you home with open arms!

  6. Unfortunately us humans – we always learn on mistakes and start moving when R”L something happens,supporting such projects and organizations may save other lives. Just lime when Laiby Kletzky was murdered thay saw a need for cameras instalation and educational books for kids.
    There’s a need for organizations like Makom that can provide care and emotional support for ppl who don’t belong to their present communities. We need projects like Makom to feel someone cares about us being comfortable & be connected to G-d.

  7. Catherine says:

    I can’t believe Dan above is using this tragedy to imply this poor woman took her life because she discovered the grass is not greener on the other side. How tragic a response. Dan is obviously part of the problem. Project Makom is very much needed for people like this who perhaps (though I know nothing of her personally) if she had been supported, may have found a way to feel less desperate and survive through a difficult transition. Dan, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I definitely understand the purpose of Makom and its necessity and maybe through Faigy a”h’s tragic petirah the community will be more aware of the need for this program.
    However, I am just taken aback(though not surprised) that the first words that seems to have been highlighted regarding Faigy is “ex-Chassidic”. Suicide is not a common reaction to one leaving their religus/cultural beliefs. In fact, with proper research, the most common reasons people commit suicide is because of a mental illness or something in their life that caused an emotional breakdown (PTSD is a great example).
    I am not Chasidic in the least, and I have had family, friends, and people within the community who were either hospitalized for suicidal attempts or committed suicide- I would not point fingers at any of them and say “its because you didn’t feel support by the religious community you live in that caused you to jump,etc”.
    Maybe its more important to raise awareness about mental disorders so that maybe people can identify with them before they get to a point of such terrible desperation.
    I am just bothered that this seems to only address the Chasidic lifestyle because I feel they are not suffering alone in this.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks anonymous. I described her that way bc for better or worse, it is her ex-Chasidicness which is why we are talking about her and this issue. I’m not trying to downplay mental illness but many non-suicidal ex-Chasidim I’ve heard from describe the isolation from leaving their entire world as being almost too much to take at times. I think we need to improve on many fronts and hope we can keep more people safe.

  9. We are all deeply pained by this tragedy but no one is in more pain than Faigy’s parents & family. Faigy’s parents & former community provided her a respectful funeral regardless of their differences. It seems that most followers of Jewinthecity recognize that suicide is a mental health issue & not an ex-chasidic issue. That being said, I do feel that by using this tragedy to introduce project mokem “before the next Faigy…is pushed too far” is insinuating that her suicide WAS caused by her ‘exchasidism’. Although project makom can benefit some who wish to be part of your orthodox sect, I feel it is insensitive to Faigy’s family to use their tragedy to introduce it.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Levi. I really tried to move away from Faigy specifically and noted that her ex-Chasidic friends were annoyed at the Charedi bashing. I meant that phrase as a matter of speech – not that Makom is a cure all for all problems but if we can help someone lost find a new place to be happy, perhaps we can help prevent more tragedies. But not Faigy in her specific troubles but more the people who didn’t get help.

      • Faigy was a beloved member of Footsteps. She found a place within another society and they embraced her.
        Perhaps she felt alienated there?
        Perhaps mental illness came first and caused her to feel alienated from her chasidic environment?
        Does Project Makom cure mental illness such as bipolar disorder ?
        Really this post and the passing associations it makes are quite insensitive . There are too many outstanding questions and not enough data and proof to even briefly insinuate that religious alienation may lead to suicide and caused her tragic suicide in particular .
        Let’s instead promote awareness about proper mental health measures within all cultures and leave Project Makom to another more inspiring and appropriate article .

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi, I want to say that I met her on two occasions. She and I both go to a shyness and anxiety meetup. She was a sweet girl and very smart. We talked on fb recently my education and going towards accounting and she offered help. She told me she loved math and in one instant when I mentioned my grades, she ironically told me, ” don’t kill myself”, which I think about alot. I just want people here to know she was very caring and a good friend to many people.

  11. Etan Cooper says:

    You’ve gotten a lot of people upset with this posting. Some are saying you’re stigmatizing mental illness to knock devout Jews and self promote. If I’d be you, I’d apologize.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Etan, but I haven’t seen anyone say that this post is stigmatizing mental illness. In fact, I’m saying the exact opposite – let’s get more people help and make them feel more comfortable about getting help. In terms of “knocking devout Jews” – I AM a devout Jew, and if you’ll look around the site, you’ll notice that our purpose is to show all the beauty in observant Judaism. HOWEVER – when our community has shortcomings (as all communities do) we must not be afraid to speak of them in order to fix them. How else can we improve unless we’re honest about where we are falling short?

  12. Faigy’s death is a tragedy of so many dimensions. Her eyes speak of a kind soul, a person who had so much potential. Like the many thousands of people who read the story of her tragic end and facebook posts about her anger towards her upbringing. I was saddened about the way she was treated by her community and her parents. Surely her parents must be dysfunctional fanatics, I thought.
    Then again, newspapers love sensationalism. As a Jew I am commanded to be a “Dan Lekaf Zechut”
    I paid a Shiva call to Faigy’s parents earlier today. The Shiva information was listed on the Misaskim list in a local Jewish newspaper. It turns out Faigy grew up three short blocks (and one generation later) from where I grew up.
    I entered a modest well-kept home, I came at the right time as the one other person who was present with Mr. Mayer rose to express his word of consolation prior to leaving. Mr. Mayer inquired who I was and I introduced myself, I told him that I was very saddened by his loss and needed to meet him.
    I spent quite some time at the Meyer home, I was taken by Mr. Mayer’s warmth, he spoke lovingly of Faigy and how pained he was by what people were saying. Mr. Mayer pointed to an empty Shiva chair next to him. He said that he was the only male sitting Shiva. He explained that the Torah teaches that there are three partners in the creation of every person, the father, mother and Hashem.
    Mr. Mayer pointed to the Shiva chair next to him and started to cry “Hashem is sitting Shiva next to me in this chair. Mr. Mayer told me that Faigy was always welcome at home, and he saw to it that she had money, he paid for her college tuition. I realized that my assessment about Faigy’s eyes was correct when Mr. Mayer told me that several years ago Faigy was at the ready to donate one of her kidneys.
    Mrs. Mayer was gracious and very appreciative of my Shiva call and words of consolation. She is a loving mother and contrary to what the press wrote she is very with it.
    The Mayer’s are far from extremist. If anything, I found them quite open minded. They have tremendous emunah and have accepted what Hashem has ordained.
    I undertook to learn a Tractate of Mishnayot in Faigys memory. I expressed my words of consolation to Mr. Mayer prior to leaving. I left with another gentlemen who was a friend of the Mayer’s. He told me how the Mayer’s moved heaven and earth to try and Help Faigy. They spared no expenses, ran from doctor to doctor in the hope of helping her Bi- Polar disorder.
    I believe Faigy was fighting a desperate internal battle. A battle between her Neshama and demons of many sorts. Her only way to rid herself of the demons was by returning her Neshoma to her maker.
    May Faiga bas Reb Yisroel be a Melitza Yosher

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for sharing this touching story, Ezra. Again – I opened the post specifically asking people not to comment on Faigy’s specific story and noted that even the anti-Charedi people I’m friends with were upset at how the Charedi community was being solely blamed. B”H the Mayers are wonderful people but not everyone in this situation has the same type of support which is why we need to address these problems now, so we are doing everything in our power to ensure that our sisters and brothers are not being forsaken.

  13. I do feel that you owe the chasidic community an apology since you can’t “move away from Faigy specifically” when you have her picture and name as an intro to this post. I also want to mention that some may see your sect of judiasm as extreme (I mean why do you cover your hair & not wear pants). I think you would feel hurt if someone would try to promote their lifestyle to ‘prevent’ suicide from more former members of your community. I don’t feel this was an appropriate time to launch project makom. I feel that this post was contrary to the goals of jewinthecity. Chasidic communities are very often the VICTIMS of their former members. Many of their former members get onto the internet are hosted on television or author books ridiculing the Torah & Talmud. They often refer to Judaism as a cult. They ridicule the same Judaism, Torah & Talmud that you believe in. I feel that Jewinthecity should have posted an article to counter that dialogue after this tragedy instead of somewhat agreeing with the charedi ‘bashers’.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Levi. We used Faigy’s picture and name because it was due to her tragic death that so many of our readers wrote in, asking if there were ways they could help: in particular the man who offered to pay for mental health services. That was why I wrote the post – to highlight *chesed* in the Orthodox community, not to start guessing about the details of Faiy’s life. In fact, I made a point of asking people to stop all the conjecturing as I felt that it was not respectful to Faigy or her family.

      Also, we didn’t “just” launch Makom. It was started over a year ago. I mentioned Makom to explain the context for why people were volunteering, but also so that more people could volunteer or get help. To be clear – Makom does not exist, chas v’shalom, to bash the Charedi world – it exists because not everyone fits into it and instead of people only having the option of leaving observance completely, we are offering people a way to observe in a more integrated way. Our events so far have featured a range of speakers and rabbis including modern Chasidish rabbis like Rav Moshe Weinberger, etc. because other than showing participants some different options in Orthodoxy, we don’t have an agenda as to where we think people should end up – we just want them to know what’s out there and to feel comfortable in *an* Orthodox community should they choose to explore.

      In terms of my lifestyle being extreme – I have been told before by some, but mode of dress is not what I was referring to – many in the the formerly Chasidic crowd experience alienation when they leave observance.

      In terms of “somewhat agreeing with Charedi bashers,” if you’ll re-read the top of the article, you’ll note that I made a point of saying that even the most anti-Charedi people I know are upset that the Charedi community was solely blamed for Faigy’s death. In terms of ex-Charedi being the bashers – I wish we could all just treat each other with respect. With Tisha B’Av just behind us and Elul approaching I hope one ray of light in this awful tragedy is us coming a little closer together as a people.

    • Levi,
      Those who leave the community have every right to evaluate it and find it wanting. There are no “victims” just an evaluation by a former member. You want a puppet for a former member? This country is not built that way. People have a right to see the haredi community as they see it. You just don’t like it, because you likely have a childish streak in you that can’t tolerate non-compliance.

      I have spent time with two ex-hasids and they were both in a lot of pain. I have heard stories from others second hand. Being shunned is a childish maneuver. Being abandoned is a childish maneuver. You sound like you fit right in there — and I guess it works for you. Good for you, I guess.

      Never try to shut other people up. Never be controlling of others. You will come across as far more mature. You will gain respect. You will not resemble a totalitarian fascist dictator. These are all the hallmarks of maturity and respect for others. Haredi Jews typically seem uncomfortable with this idea. So was Stalin.

  14. Malky Fine says:

    Allison, I think you need to come forward and tell your fans whether Makom is associated with Footsteps and/or Frum and Stuck, or such similar group.

    I read that your partner in Makom is associated with Footsteps. We as well as the community at large deserve to know whether that is true.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Malky. There is no “partner” in Makom. I don’t know what you read. There are a couple Orthodox co-directors and Orthodox rabbis, teachers, and volunteers. We are not associated with any other organization. But there are members of Footsteps who have started attending our programs.

  15. Avraham Adler says:

    Allison, notwithstanding your many protestations and denials, I think that any objective reader of your post would agree that you engaged in charedi bashing. Which makes me wonder why are you doing all this? What motivates someone like you to seek to reform a community they don’t belong to?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Avraham. I’m not sure if you’re new to Jew in the City, but if you look at the body of work that we put out, we are constantly looking for opportunities to showcase the Orthodox community – the entire spectrum of the Orthodox community – in a positive light. Here are a handful of the many posts we’ve published showing chesed and fine middos in the Charedi world, so much so that the anti-Charedi community has accused Jew in the City of being “white-washers.”
      http://jewinthecity.com/2014/03/the-hasidic-jew-who-feeds-all-people-with-dignity/
      http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/chesed-from-a-chasid-a-lesson-in-kindness-from-satmar-chasidim/
      http://jewinthecity.com/2013/03/nathan-glaubers-zl-letter-a-lesson-in-gratitude-from-a-satmar-hasid/

      Although I am not personally Charedi, I consider myself Centrist and went to a seminary in Israel where we had teachers and rabbis from every derech and where we gained a respect for the best things each community has to offer. HOWEVER, another thing I learned in this wonderful school was that we must not be quiet when there are problems – that “silence is like agreement” according to the Talmud, and that the only way we’ll improve is if we’re willing to face our shortcomings. Our interest at Jew in the City is the depiction of Orthodox Jews. Sometimes it’s the media who’s to blame – and we call them out. Sometimes it’s society who misunderstands us – and we call them out. And sometimes it is US who are to blame, and we call our own community out. It is our way of neither white-washing, nor bashing, but taking a holistic approach to making sure the world knows what our Torah values are and making sure we live up to them. We believe that this is the ultimate kiddush Hashem.

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