I decided to spend much of this Tisha b’av thinking about a woman who didn’t make it out of the nine days.
Faigy Mayer had hardly hit the pavement when the war started. The thirty-year-old former Hassidic woman from the Belz community killed herself on Monday; a victim of her own despair.
Mayer was a figure in the Ex-Orthodox (XO) community, which has been both saddened and galvanized by her death. This not the first suicide to hit the XO community. Nearly two years ago Deb Tambor, a 33-year-old, former-Skver woman intentionally overdosed on pills largely due to her estrangement from her children, who remained in the custody of her still-observant ex husband.
Immediately, the sordid and tragic details of Mayer’s estrangement from her family emerged. Even in the age of internet the side-room, second-hand gossip colored most of the stories about her. In the form of friend’s recollections, family accusations, correspondence and then, most significantly, in a letter by her own hand, Faigy’s difficult journey from confusion to her own personal freedom to despair began to take form. But, no one narrative seemed to emerge as the true one. But this didn’t stop people from coming to conclusions over who was to blame for this tragedy.
Some figures in the XO community lashed out at their former brethren with anger, placing sole blame for the death on Mayer’s parents. However, some, like XO figure Luzer Twersky took a more nuanced approach
“It’s hard to say that her Hasidic upbringing is solely responsible for this tragedy,” he wrote on his Facebook page, but went on to describe his own difficulties in leaving his hassidic upbringing.
But for all of who left the world of modern urban shtetls to try and make it out in the world of startups and cocktails, there are those who made the opposite transition and found peace. I am one of those individuals; although I must agree that I still have found some of the same frustrations as the XO who left. It can be a harsh and unforgiving world that at times seems backward and stagnant.
It’s no secret that modern media does not take too kindly to the orthodox and Hassidic world. The Hassidic world is fraught with many problems many of which we are unable (or more likely) unwilling to address. But that doesn’t set us apart from the rest of the world. It makes us the same. We all suffer from the same frailty and imperfections. However, the Hasidic world’s flaws are often thrown into relief because of much higher expectations and an often-perceived air of superiority.
But the only news stories that manage to poke through the bearded walls of silence are the sensational, perverse and heartbreaking. Which is why it is all the more heartbreaking when such tragedies turn our eyes not inward at ourselves, but at each other. When a Rabbi’s sermon condemns the shul around the corner, this is not introspection. Introspection is when one looks within your own heart and soul and asks hard questions not pointing at your neighbor and thinking that’s enough to absolve yourself.
I’ll save the trite platitudes about unity above all; that at we are at our worst when we are at each other’s throats; that the people united will never… Forget that; all of it. People don’t change when they are being attacked. They dig in they become more entrenched in their own positions and comfort zones.
Faigy could be used as the martyr of the XO community or a cautionary tale of what happens when you stray, both are equally offensive. I would hope that this event could be a turning point in our own interpersonal relations, but the emotional distance between those within the Jewish world never seems to have been this far. It’s sad really. Never has our baselsess hatred seemed so useless…and silly.
As for Faigy Mayer herself? Transition is hard. It’s the hardest thing you can possible undergo. Under a list of stressful events that can lead to illness, all of the events are change; the death of a loved one, a change in job, moving to a new city. A transition in lifestyle, while it may be liberating must take its toll.
Each person that comes into our life enriches us. Forms a thread in the tapestry of the people who we will be for those we will meet in the future. Faigy will forever be a thread that eluded me, because we never met. I cannot say that I would have gotten along with her. I would have respected her, but our disagreements would have been obvious.
“If people were allowed to think, they wouldn’t be religious,” she wrote in a letter. I couldn’t disagree more. But unfortunately, that argument will never take place.
We meander through life uncertain; scared. What’s hidden behind the next turn can be more terrifying than any known danger. Which scared Faigy more; the known or unknown? We will never know; and at this point, speculation will be fruitless.