Deb Tambor Child-Custody Woes Common Among Parents Who Leave Hasidic World

System Favors Unified Ultra-Orthodox Extended Families

Not Forgotten: Deb Tambor was remembered at a poignant memorial gathering. Unfortunately, her tragic story is all too common among those who leave the Hasidic world.
blesofsky photos
Not Forgotten: Deb Tambor was remembered at a poignant memorial gathering. Unfortunately, her tragic story is all too common among those who leave the Hasidic world.

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Published October 13, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Deb Tambor ended her own life in response to being ostracized by her family in the upstate Hasidic enclave of New Square, N.Y. in Rockland County, her friends say. And though most Hasidim who leave insular communities don’t end their own lives, they face many of the same challenges.

Tambor, who grew up in New Square, a self-contained village controlled by the Skver Hasidic community, was depressed after she divorced her husband and moved away four years ago, her friends say. She struggled with memories of alleged sexual abuse by a member of her own extended family and with the refusal of her other family members to believe her when she told them. After leaving, her friends note, she also lost custody of her children in court proceedings in which her own father testified against her.’

Deb Tambor and Abe Weiss
Deb Tambor and Abe Weiss

Chaim Levin, a former Lubavitcher, said that this experience was common. People “have to choose between their kids or their own lives,” he said. “I talk to so many people who are frum” — traditionally observant — “only because they know that if they aren’t, they’ll lose their kids.”

Levin said he personally knew as many as 10 people who have lost custody of their children because they have left the ultra-Orthodox community.

For Tambor’s friends, her apparent suicide on September 27 — an official coroner’s report is pending — has become a galvanizing moment. Many are members of the so-called “off the derech,” or OTD, community, a term that uses the Hebrew word for “path” to describe those who leave the traditional Orthodox way of life, with its strict adherence to Orthodox Halacha, or Jewish religious law.

Tambor’s friends are hoping that her death, at 33, prompts a change in the way Hasidim who leave their communities are treated.

A growing number of support forums for the formerly Orthodox have been recently established that aim to encourage such a change. It began with Footsteps, which has provided services to some 800 formerly Orthodox people from insular communities seeking to make their way in the secular world since it was formed a decade ago, according to its executive director, Lani Santo.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.