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.
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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.


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