Apparent Suicide of Ex-Hasidic Woman Deb Tambor Sparks Funeral Chaos

Skver Leaders Bury Her Away From New Square

Before and After: Deb Tambor was raised as a member of the Skver Hasidim in upstate New York. She is pictured as she appeared before (left) and after leaving the group.
Before and After: Deb Tambor was raised as a member of the Skver Hasidim in upstate New York. She is pictured as she appeared before (left) and after leaving the group.

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Published October 01, 2013, issue of October 11, 2013.
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Confusion and controversy marred the funeral of a mother of two said to have committed suicide after leaving her Hasidic community and being denied access to her children.

Friends and family of Deb Tambor, a former resident of the ultra-Orthodox community of New Square, in upstate New York, believe she killed herself on Friday, September 27 in the bedroom of the home she shared in Bridgeton, N.J. with her boyfriend, Abe Weiss. Like Tambor, Weiss is a former member of the Skver Hasidic sect, which founded and controls New Square, a village about 50 miles north of New York City.

Despite their close relationships with Tambor, Weiss and some 40 former ultra-Orthodox friends of hers who quietly converged on New Square Sept. 29 to witness her funeral and pay tribute to one of their own were unable to do so. Members of the New Square community said that Tambor’s family chose to bury her elsewhere with only immediate family present due to the shame she had brought upon the family and the community.

Deb Tambor and Abe Weiss
Deb Tambor and Abe Weiss

“Who wants to be buried next to this lady?” New Square resident Menashe Lustig told the Forward in a phone interview. “It’s very difficult to know where to put her. I hear they called up the rabbonim in Israel and they told them the decision” that she should be buried elsewhere. Of Tambor’s life and death, he said, “The family is ashamed. They’re very ashamed.”

New Square, which was established by the Skver Hasidic group’s then-grand rabbi, Yaakov Yosef Twersky, in 1954, is considered one of the most culturally isolated towns in America, with sex-segregated streets and female residents who, in obedience to the town’s rabbis, do not drive.

The official cause of Tambor’s death remain undetermined, pending findings from the Cumberland County, N.J., coroner. Weiss told the Forward he rushed home from work in the early afternoon on the day of her death, concerned because he had not heard from her in the morning as usual. He found her lying on the floor of their bedroom, he said, next to two empty pill bottles and a half-empty bottle of alchohol, and immediately called 911. Police confirmed finding her body when they responded to the call.

An official with New Jersey’s Office of the Attorney General said toxicology tests can take 12 to 16 weeks to receive. Neither Tambor’s friends nor her family suspect foul play.

According to her friends, Tambor became depressed after leaving the New Square community four years ago and divorcing her husband. Weiss, her live-in boyfriend, said her family had disavowed her earlier, when she told family members that she had been sexually abused by a member of the tight-knit New Square community as a child and they denied it.

Driven by her depression, Tambor checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, said Weiss, which is when family members in New Square moved to block her from seeing her children, who are now 11 and 13.

“Her depression started when she decided to leave the community and was threatened with losing her kids,” Weiss told The Forward. “Her biggest issue was that no one cared for her, everyone blew off all her issues.”

Weiss and other ex-Orthodox friends of Tambor began congregating about 4 p.m. Sunday for her funeral outside New Square’s funeral home, located on a cul de sac at the end of Roosevelt Avenue. According to some of those who gathered, every few minutes a Skver Hasid would slowly drive past them.


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