This story was translated from Yiddish by Frimet Goldberger. A version first appeared in the Yiddish Forverts.
Motie (Abe) Weiss and Deborah (Deb) Tambor, a young couple in love living in Bridgeton, N.J,, had a beautiful tradition: Each morning at 9 a.m., Tambor would make a cup of coffee and bring it to his workplace, an auto-repair shop.
Last week Friday, Tambor, 33, did not show up. At first, Weiss thought she had decided to sleep in a little later than usual. But when she didn’t answer her phone all morning, he grew concerned and rushed home. He ran frantically from room to room and found her lying sprawled on the floor of their bedroom, next to two empty bottles of pills and a half-empty bottle of alcohol, Weiss said in an interview with the Forverts. He immediately dialed 911, but when the ambulance arrived, it was too late.
Sgt. Adam Grossman of the New Jersey State Police said there was no cause of death determined yet for Tambor and an investigation was ongoing. He said Tambor’s body found at 2:36 p.m. on Sept. 27 in her home on Woodruff Road in Upper Deerfield Township.
The death of Deb Tambor sparked an outpouring of sympathy on Facebook and social media from Jews who, like Weiss and Tambor, were raised in various Hasidic communities but are now no longer religious.
A divorced mother of two, Tambor grew up in the Hasidic community of New Square, N.Y. She suffered terribly after losing custody of her three children. Her family claimed that her depression was the reason she lost custody of the children, but close friends blamed her lack of religious observance.
Her own father testified against her in the custody battle, some of her close friends said. Both her father and her ex-husband’s new wife besmirched Tambor to the point where her own children did not want to see her anymore.
“She really hated her father,” Weiss said.
On the evening of Sept. 29, about 40 of Tambor’s friends gathered outside the funeral home in New Square, waiting to hear where and when the funeral would take place.
They stood for hours in the cold, but no one from the funeral home or the community informed them that the family had quietly arranged to have her funeral the next day in West Babylon, on Long Island. When Weiss learned of this detail Monday morning, it was already too late to get there in time for the funeral —and that angered him terribly.
“The last thing Deb would have wanted is for her father to bury her, “ Weiss said. But he praised Tambor’s brothers, who were sympathetic to him after their sister’s death.
“They actually came to pick me up from Monsey [N.Y.] and take me to New Square to the van where her coffin was held. They even thanked me for making her happy,” he said.
Many others who knew Tambor well also commented on how happy she seemed over the past few months, which is why her suicide was so shocking to everyone.
“Just two weeks ago she told me that she wanted to marry me and have more children,” Weiss said in a trembling voice.
She was happiest when helping other individuals who left or who were looking to leave their Hasidic communities, Weiss said. And indeed, since her death, many of her friends, both in real life and on social media, expressed similar sentiments of how she helped them in their time of need.
Sruli, a 22-year-old former Hasid from New Square who did not give his last name, said Tambor befriended him after they met at the Rockland branch of Footsteps, an organization of people who have left ultra-Orthodox communities.
“She was the first one to take me to the theater to see my first film and to WalMart to buy non-Hasidic clothing,” said Sruli said. “When I had questions, she was there to answer, and not once did she make me feel like she was doing me a favor.”
“She treated me like a mother would her son,” he said.
With reporting by Anne Cohen
How Deb Tambor’s Life Ended — and Started Firestorm in Hasidic New Square