The Kinderlach Ain't Right

The charedi Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights has been grieving as of late after two deaths rocked the close-knit community. Today, the mostly Chaba”d community learned of the passing of Gershon Gorodetsky, age 34, who died after being struck by the #3 train at the Kingston Avenue station. Only a week and half had passed since the passing of Noach Tzfasman, age 24, who was also struck by a train at the same subway station.
Noach Tzfasman’s death was proven later to be a suicide. On the street, people are already saying the same thing about today’s niftar.
In January, a frum 12th grader committed suicide while on winter break in Miami. Orthodox attorney Moshe Kanovsky plummeted to his death from the Empire State building in April. MentalBlog has a short list from May listing a few then-recent Lubavitcher suicides. Sarah Adelman jumped to her death on July 24, distraught over a recent breakup.
The suicide rate in the Orthodox world seems to be on the rise; it seems that suicide in the Orthodox community is becoming more of a phenomenon. CrownHeights.info is offering information on frum counseling services for the bereaved and for those impacted by the suicides, but I feel as if there is a huge pink elephant in the room that no one is talking about.
Sarah Adelman’s suicide was followed by a discussion of the validity of the stigma surronding unmarried women in the Orthodox community, as well as critical analysis of the value placed on ‘coupledom’ in the Orthodox world — and this is the most laudatory upshot of all of these tragedies. Crown Heights, and by extension all religious communities, should have the same reflex: immediately turning the lens inward and asking “how can we prevent this from happening?” One commenter on CrownHeights.Info noted that some people have committed suicide because of debt to yeshivos. Societal norms are also changing and tightening. Regardless of the precise reason, this must be a cause for introspection — and it will truly be lamentable if more young adults have to die before the Jewish Observer article comes out and sends the entire Brooklyn into a tizzy screaming “Gevalt! What’s gonna be?”
How were these bochurim perceived by their community? What were their social interactions like, their family lives? Was Gershon, for instance, driven crazy by societal stigma and rumors and family and friends wondering “why he was still a bochur” at 34? Was the high school student “selected” out of yeshiva? Surely, there is always an acute “moment of insanity” immediately preceding any suicide attempt. But are all these suicides driven by ongoing mental illness? And if they were all chronically mentally ill, can their suicide be totally dismissed by saying, “oh, he was depressed for a while anyway”?
In this time before Yom Kippur, a time when G-d says, as we learn from the Mishnah, that He will not listen to our prayers for forgiveness until we ask our fellow humans for forgiveness, this truly is the only appropriate Jewish reaction. As Deuteronomy 21 teaches us, the Torah prescribesthe egla arufa-ritual for a murder with an unknown perpetrator, a ritual which shows that our communities truly are interconnected, that an entire community can be said to have “shed the blood” of even one of its residents by omission, if not by commission.
We can not shed any more blood. A truly interconnected community does not let its suicide rate skyrocket without a fight. It behooves each of us to examine our own communities and do our utmost to counteract — in our own spheres of influence — that which drives people to these breaking points. And it is my hope that lives are saved as a result.

6 thoughts on “The Kinderlach Ain't Right

  1. one more thing to examine: cultural attitudes towards mental illness. Are people afraid to get counseling/meds for depression, because that will hurt their families shidduchim, for example? Is the advice for depression that rabbis give to seek professional help, or to pray? (not mututally exclusive).
    I honestly don’t know a lot about charedi attitudes to mental illness, but they would not be the first insular group to struggle to deal with mental illness in an effective manner.

  2. I hate to say it, but in many communites, behaviour associate with Mental illness are celebrated. In every Yeshivah or Frum community i’ve been in, an aspect of the culture fixates on self denial as a viture. Sometimes learning all day is not a sign of piety, but a sign of neurosis. Also troubling are the attitudes towards “mental health”. Mental health as a profession (being a therapist) or a responce to the pathological (going to a therapist) is respected but a respect for the frail human consciousness and emotional balance is lacking. I always had some ignorant bucher telling me “its just your Yetzer hara”. Some times Yetzer hara is actually your mind/body telling you, take a break, know your limits.

  3. Fran– let’s assume that the dentist stat is correct (I’ve heard it often, but never seen the source).
    Dentists are not a community. They are individuals with a specific commonality. Whenever any group has troubling rates of, well, anything, it’s worth trying to figure out what’s going on. But comparing two different types of groups in unlikely to be productive.
    In other words, no, we shouldn’t assume the same there. No one’s attacking anyone here, so no need to get defensive.

  4. A swallow does not a Spring make. Anecdotal evidence, while interesting, is not ultimately meaningful – what are the stats on suicides in the Frum and Hassid communities v. comparable population groups (e.g. adjusted for economic status, family size, age, sex, etc.)?

  5. numbers? or people?
    let my heart beat fully
    let my love spring from within me
    soul does fly in this temple
    feel, feel what it is to simply be
    compassion your companion felt
    eternally to not feel the pain of others
    means you are blinded to the bliss of being
    living in empty me-ness
    the space that was your life
    a thing in hand you missed
    he died, but lives,
    you live but were never born
    still without the tenderness
    cold in the mid day heat
    rumours of a heart beat

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