Keeping Count of the Dead…
In June of 2016, the Yeshiva World News published the article that follows. As of that week, the Orthodox community was already mourning 75 deaths.
That number has since increased by a mother, Esti Weinstein (z”l), who documented her suicide in painstaking detail. The number has grown by the Brooklyn man who hanged himself, Yakov Krausz (z”l), “whose body was discovered…in an elevator motor room.” [http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2016/07/brooklyn-man-hangs-self-26th-new-york.html] Krausz’s death had been the 26th in New York, reported. With yesterday’s news of Feige Greenwald’s (z”l) death it is hard to tell where we are in the macabre count.
In July of 2014, the New York Times picked up the Weinstein story. The editor of the story wrote profoundly:
The level of criticism and ridicule by secular Israel on the ways and habits of the Haredi community will determine the long-term impact of Ms. Weinstein’s tragic story on the community from which she fled. The more mockery Haredim have to stomach over their religious customs — even sexual practices that may seem bizarre to many Israelis — the more they will close themselves off to the outside world. The more Israelis indict them as a community for the heartbreaking death of a heartbroken mother, the more they will raise their guard and resist taking part in a very necessary conversation about openness. The more Haredis are demonized because of their choice to have a different lifestyle, the less safe they will feel to keep “integrating” into Israel’s larger society, as Israel wants them to do.
Israel will better serve Ms. Weinstein’s memory by refraining from sensationalizing her story and judging her and her family. At the same time, her final act handed Israel’s Haredim a mirror. It is now their turn to decide what they want it to reflect.
In August of 2016, Eli Verschleiser published an article in the Jewish Press entitled “Let’s Talk Responsibly About Suicide”. In that article he writes:
“I do not believe that more than 70 frum Jews have committed suicide since last Rosh Hashanah, as some have recently asserted in the media. This fits into the narrative of an increasingly dysfunctional community that some would like to see, but it is at odds with the evidence. I pressed one individual who was linked to that figure in a media report, and he assured me it did not come from him.
What’s at stake here is not just pride and accuracy and indignation at media mistreatment. Human lives are at stake because of this irresponsible talk. Because suicide is a disease – and it’s contagious.”
Are we to ignore the numbers because by speaking them out loud we run the risk of setting a contagion loose? Can the same not be said of molesting children, committing fraud, rape, theft and the many other ills that have been examined on the pages of this blog?
Taken in the backdrop of the Yeshivah World story, we really do need to acknowledge that this is an epidemic within the Orthodox community and come to terms with it. We need not to hide behind terms like “copycat” but to sully our hands, not throwing dirt on a pine box, but digging deep into our collective psyche.
The following is the Yeshiva World story that created the sense of urgency.
SHOCK: There Have Been 75 Suicides In The Jewish Community Since Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish community is once again plunged into mourning, grieving the loss of a young woman from our community who died tragically this week.
There are so many dramatic statements I could make here, but you are probably as tired of hearing them as I am of uttering them.
And yet the nightmare continues as the death toll rises. 75 dead since Rosh Hashana. 23 suffered from mental illness. 52 were victims of drug or alcohol abuse. All were less than 35 years old.
There are no tears left. We grieve dry-eyed, as we try to abate the torrent of death that continues to sweep through our midst.
As a people, we are reluctant to admit weakness or to ask for help. In this latest tragedy, the young woman was getting help for the issues that plagued her and had a strong support system yet, here we are, once again, mourning one of our own.
We try. We try so hard. We do our best to get help for those in need, but not all stories have happy endings. It doesn’t mean that our efforts are pointless. It just means that we have to keep trying.
We cannot throw up our hands in frustration and let the darkness win. We need to soldier on, fighting day by day, empowered by the knowledge that the success stories dramatically outnumber the losses, no matter how devastating they may be.
At Amudim, we have no choice but to keep fighting, hoping against hope that there isn’t going to be a number 76.
Zvi Gluck is the director of Amudim Community Resources, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 15 years. For more information go to www.amudim.org.