The suicide of an ex-hasidic woman who threw herself off a Manhattan skyscraper last week may have had less to do with alienation from her family and former community and more to do with her history of mental illness, one secular cousin told the media this week.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Finette Lerman-Russak said that her cousin Faigy Mayer, 30, had cut off contact with family members herself and that she had exaggerated the degree to which she had been isolated from former friends and family and that she had long suffered from “borderline personality disorder with paranoid tendencies and a secondary diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.”
Prior to her death Mayer wrote to a friend complaining of the minimal secular education and limited horizons available to those who grew up as she did, asserting that “hassidic Judaism shouldn’t exist at all,” leading to widespread speculation that she killed herself due to the stresses connected with transitioning to a secular lifestyle without familial support.
“If people were allowed to think, they would not be religious,” she wrote. “Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with, five years after leaving.”
“She ran from those people in her family who wanted to help her and then said ‘I have been cut off, no one cares,’” her cousin said.
“Faigy’s facts kept changing,” Lerman-Russak said in reference to Meyer’s claim that family members had kept her childhood photos from her, adding that she believed that her cousin had “invented the fact that she felt no connection with Hasidism as a child.”
While the Orthodox community arranged for Mayer’s funeral, several of her secular friends accused her parents of seeking to prevent them from attending. Her death spurred furious debate within the wider Jewish community regarding the possible culpability, if any, of the hasidic world for the problems faced by those who choose to leave.
In one op-ed, a modern orthodox rabbi who grew up in the Satmar sect asserted that the entire Orthodox community bore the guilt of Mayer’s blood. While hard numbers are hard to come by, activists say that there is an elevated suicide rate among those who have left the hasidic world.