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.
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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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Deen, who currently lives in Brooklyn, now sees only his youngest child, an 11-year-old son, and just once every other month. The others, older now, refuse to see him.

Reached by telephone, Deen’s ex-wife said that she did not want to share her perspective on the divorce.

The prospect of losing one’s children is enough of a threat that it compels many people to stay in communities and marriages in which they no longer feel they belong, those involved say.

“It’s leverage being used against them to keep them in,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, an Orthodox rabbi in Santa Monica, Calif., who grew up in Monsey and frequently counsels people struggling within Orthodoxy.

According to Abe Weiss, who left the Skver community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, several years earlier, and later became Tambor’s boyfriend, it was after Tambor checked herself into a psychiatric hospital to deal with her depression that her family members in New Square moved to block her from seeing her children.

The family eventually gained full custody of her children via a court order, said Weiss, who had been living with Tambor for eight months at the time of her death. She was able to see her children only once every other week for an hour, and only in New Square, in visitation supervised by her sister, Weiss said. When her ex-husband remarried, he added, Tambor’s husband and family encouraged her children to call their new step-mother “Mommy” and Tambor by only her first name.

“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.”

Tambor’s ex-husband did not return a phone message left for him, and subsequent phone calls were cut off.

Psychotherapist Isaac Schechter, whose clients are mostly from ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County, north of New York City, acknowledged that “certainly there are some for whom [mental illness] is a black mark” on a family’s reputation. But he said, “That is evolving just as it is in the general population.”


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