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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Weiss said that the crowd of formerly Orthodox friends were given a variety of conflicting reports by their contacts inside the community: that the funeral would be in an hour, or before dark, or after night fell, or at midnight. Rumors flew back and forth by text and in a closed Facebook group for Jews who are “off the derech [path], or OTD, as many former ultra-Orthodox Jews refer to themselves.

Around 9 p.m. one of Tambor’s uncles came to the group and said he would call the police and have them all handcuffed, Weiss said. The police came, stayed about 30 minutes and then left, saying that the friends had a right to be there, said Weiss and others who were present.

At 4 a.m., still uncertain when Tambor’s funeral would actually take place, her friends stood in a circle in front of the funeral home and lit candles. A few friends spoke about Tambor. They then observed a moment of silence before dispersing.

Five minutes later, while Weiss was en route to stay with a friend in nearby Monsey, N.Y., one of Tambor’s brothers texted him offering to take him to view her body, Weiss related. Two brothers picked him up and took him to a quiet street just outside New Square’s border, where a privately owned minivan waited. In the back of the van was Tambor’s coffin, Weiss said. Her brothers allowed him to look but not touch the coffin or take off the top so that he could see her face.

Later that morning, at around 10 a.m. the same brother texted him that Tambor’s funeral was taking place at that moment at a cemetery in West Babylon, Long Island, Weiss said.

“It was nice what they did yesterday. It would have been nicer if they let me come to the funeral,” Weiss said.

A member of Tambor’s family told the Forward that the decision not to bury Tambor in New Square’s cemetery was not because she was a suicide. Suicide is considered a grave violation of Jewish religious law, and traditional practice formally prohibits suicides from being buried within the gates of a Jewish cemetery. But other suicides have been buried in the community cemetery, said the family member, based on the presumption that they repent in their last breath. The family member spoke only on condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution from his community were he to be quoted by name.

The head of the New Square burial society, Yaacov Byer, declined to answer any questions about Tambor’s funeral.

Lustig said she was buried far away because she had strayed from religion. “In public they say it’s because she wasn’t shomer Shabbos [Sabbath observant]. But my friend told me it was because she has relations with strangers and everything. It’s like she was free.”


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