Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Who Killed Esti Weinstein?

Esti Weinstein was 50 years old when she killed herself.

Esti Weinstein met and married her former husband when she was 17 years old. She divorced him, after giving birth to 7 daughters, when she was 42 years old and for 8 years chose to live a secular life, have other love interests, and moving on. Sort of.

She convinced one daughter to follow into her secular lifestyle, leaving behind 6 others. She wrote that they were estranged, cut off from each other. She felt abandoned by her children, unable to break through the wall she implies they built to keep her out.

I have not read her words or the book she left behind. I can only guess and infer based on what others have said she wrote or said. That isn't the best way to get information, and yet in the last few days, I have seen endless comments about how she was, in effect if not in reality, killed by six of her seven daughters, by the community in which she was raised, by Judaism, perhaps even by God.

She was an abused wife, neglected, and abandoned, I have read. The Ger Hassidim are only allowed to sleep with their wives twice a month, I have been told. Therefore her husband did not fulfill his obligations and so she had no choice. But, um...if she was only having sex twice a month, doesn't that mean that he also was having sex only twice a month? It does, in this case, so IF this accusation is true, she was no more abandoned or neglected than he was. If this accusation is true.

Given that the vast majority of people who are commenting (myself included) never met Esti and have no clue as to what motivated her to end her life, in an ideal world, people would refrain from guessing and simply look for ways to heal, to help.

Just as one could accuse the daughters, the former husband, the community and/or God, one could easily come up with the theory that in reality, what destroyed her life and marriage and place in the Ger community was that there never was real chemistry, real love. That can happen when you meet someone once and then marry them but want different things.

For centuries, love was considered something that would grow in time between two people who lived together. For centuries, Jews - like non-Jews, matched and mated their children and the world was a simpler place. Who are we to fault anyone for seeking simplicity in a world that has, without question, become overly complex?

Perhaps after 25 years of marriage, the simple truth is that Esti wanted chemistry and it was her right to have it but why blame her former husband? Since when is divorce 100% the fault of any side (except, yes, in extreme cases)?

They were married for 25 years and had 7 daughters. It took her 25 years and 7 children to "get up the courage" to leave an abusive marriage, I am told. Who the heck knows what happened behind their bedroom door? For that matter, behind the front door of their home or the non-existent gates of their community?

Her daughters have come out and said they were abandoned by their mother when they were young. If this is true, they either had no one, or they had a father and other relatives who tried to fill in a role that would, in most cases, be impossible to fill adequately. Perhaps there is a second side to this story? A third? A fourth? And perhaps even a fifth? Or, to be even more accurate, there are probably at least eight other sides...one for each of her daughters and one for her husband.

Yes, we know that Esti killed herself. Despite the accusations made by one woman on Facebook, Jews no longer bury suicide victims outside the walls of the main cemeteries. Like, for centuries we haven't been doing that.

Yes, we know that Esti killed herself over the pain of not having her daughters in her life because she told us that specifically and why shouldn't you believe her? But she chose to walk out on them, if you believe them. And why shouldn't you?

What is this great conspiracy that would encourage six daughters to "abandon" their mother? We don't know. We weren't there. We have no right to judge a family. Daughters who lost their mother twice - once when they were very young, and again now. With the wonders of the media, modern journalism that loves a good and painful story, we have been thrust into the lives of these families, into their pain. But, do we belong there?

We cannot judge these young women. We cannot judge the young man who married Esti (whom she implies in her writings she married out of ignorance and pity, certainly not love) and who lived with her for 25 years. We cannot judge a community of thousands of people who to a very large extent have nothing to do with this story, do not feel they are neglected or abused, and firmly believe that they have chosen how they want to live their lives...just as Esti ultimately did. We really have no knowledge and no right to judge.

The Haredi community did not kill Esti Weinstein. She chose to leave them, as was her right. In choosing to leave them, it can come as no surprise that they chose to close her out. We could wish for people to be more tolerant but, to be fair, the wish to protect and insulate a community is universal and certainly not restricted to Haredim and/or Ger.

Just as it is her right to leave them, to reject the way her parents raised her and the "agreement" she made with her husband; they have a right to say that they reject her new lifestyle. They did not agree that she should live in a world and dress as she chose, be romantically involved with others, not follow the laws that they consider holy and still be in their world. That is their right. They wouldn't like the life I live and to be honest, for the most part, I choose not to live their lives.

Esti took one daughter with her to that new and secular world; why would they not be afraid that she would pull others away from the community? And, in fact, isn't that what this is all about? Had she succeeded in convincing the other six daughters to abandon the community and lifestyle in which they were raised, it would be their father who would be alone and abandoned, not Esti.

Yes, Esti was in pain and missed her daughters terribly. We know that because she chose to stop living rather than continue without them. That is pretty much all we know. All the rest is based on assumptions and, perhaps worse, a one-sided tale or argument put forth by a woman who has every reason to need to believe she was abandoned, rather than consider that it was she who did the abandoning.

I do not mean, for even a single second, to insult or damage the memory of Esti Weinstein. My goal is not to join so many others who are judging and looking for fault, but rather to suggest the very simple and plausible concept that...We. Do. Not. Know.

We are not qualified to point blame but we could offer comfort - comfort first and foremost to Esti's children, and yes, to her community, to her friends in this world and in that one. And finally and perhaps most importantly, to the other Estis who are out there and in pain.

Esti Weinstein was 50 years old when she killed herself. It is a terrible tragedy that no one should have to experience, one that might be avoidable if we reach out to estranged parents (regardless of why they are estranged). If there is a "lesson" to take from this - it is not about blaming religion or a specific community or a specific family. It is about understanding that people make choices in life - Esti did - and then may find themselves stuck in the horrible reality that they are glad they made the decision and still find it too painful to live within it.

Hundreds of Ger Hassidim live happy and simple lives. There are times, as I rush from meeting to meeting and stay up late having teleconferences with clients in other countries and time zones, that I envy the simplicity of their lives. I see this community. I know them. Their children are well dressed. Clean. Fed. Healthy. Respectful. Loved.

There is pain behind the walls they erect to protect their world from the outside. The same could be said of my insulated community and country. The same could be said for your life. That's what human beings do...we try to circle the wagons and protect our children. Esti chose to step outside that world and honestly, it wasn't that their world was faulty but that it wasn't for her.

We have no right to judge unless the world and community being built is an abusive one. To suggest that all Ger Hassidim are abusive, intolerant, and responsible for Esti's death is ignorant, intolerant, and perhaps even abusive.

If Ger Hassidus, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist....is not for you, more power to you for leaving and may you be granted a healthy and long life in whatever world you find yourself. But if you leave your children behind in another world, accept that as a price for your freedom. This is something I believe Esti failed to do...but more important than all details is that We. Do. Not. Know.

May God bless the memory of Esti Weinstein and watch over her in the next world. May her children find comfort, in their families, in their communities and may they be consoled.

And may we all be granted the ability not to judge others simply because they are a different color, a different religion, a different gender...or even the same color, religion, or gender.


Anonymous said...

Very judgmental especially for someone who admits to not knowing her personally and not having read her book.
I read her book. I know her family.
The fact that she was found in the week of Parshas Korach. . is from Heaven.
To make this into such a black and white issue is ridiculous and irresponsible.
Is this really our business?
Do you think you are brining nachat to Esti's soul by publishing this?
Our business is to do mitzvot and maasim tovim in her memory.

Frank said...

For me it's unimaginable that a family member would shun me or vice versa just because of some religious laws.How can people be so stupid and so stubborn to denouce their own flesh and blood.And for what?

Zev Landerer said...

Spot on!

I am not Ger but many of my close siblings are and they all live happy & fulfilling lives (on BOTH sides of the mechitza).

Yes, their lifestyle is a bit restrictive and rigid but they seem to be quite comfortable with it and I sometimes envy their close-knit relationships within the community. The fallout is very low and in 99% of cases where they do not conform they simply relax the rules privately or simply join a different group without abandoning religion entirely.

This exceptional case is indeed tragic but it is clear that there were psychological issues that complicated things and brought about this unfortunate result.

Regina said...

Thank you for posting this and being the voice of sanity!

Anonymous said...

To see a different light from the regular reporting, if you read hebrew, you can check out the comment from Avishay Ben Hayim, which i found on the Dosim Mesaysim facebook page. It seems that some of the press misreported many aspects of this, and this person had been in contact with the family and shed different light on the issue.

Unknown said...

Esti's story broke my heart and it is July and she is still in my mind. All I have to say after spending several years in or near Borough Park, Brooklyn that to me this religious hocus-pocus looks like a cult. Children born into this kind of families they don't choose to live this life style. They born into it! It is the normal to them! Just like to the Amish the huge difference is: they let their children choose and they don't abandon them if they decide to use eletricity and drive cars they just become Menonites.
My child sees me to be thankful for the food and shelter, sees the love we share with my Husband. I bet Esti's children never seen that.
I think religion is unnecessary. It separates people while Faith keeps as togheter as there is only one God. I wish Esti was loved! And if she had mental issues she should have been helped instead of rejected.
I don't agree with you dear Writer! Did you read Esti's words? When she asked her husband to love her more he ran to the Rabbi for advice?! Since when has a hairy old man business in the deepest private life of a married couple? Maybe the Rabbi find sex to be a chore as we know being homosexual is all time high in the (for example Hassidic comunity) so for him 2x a month is tolerable. We are individuals with needs and wants and just to hug a person front of your children. To show affection should be normal. To feel that you are loved and wanted should be normal. Rest in Peace Esti.

Anonymous said...

The one being judgmental here, is you. It's no secret of how the Gerrer chassidim have outrageous minhagim. One cannot fault a girl who is 17 years old for getting into a marriage and not understanding what she was getting into. Being barefoot and pregnant can keep a mother in a abusive relationship for a very long time. Not everyone knows how to get out and it can take years. becuse there are enough reliable sources now who testify to what sort of abuse Esti endured at the hands of a pervert husband, I think your comments are really out of place.

Maybe the husband is a victim to -- having to go to a "counselor" to ask if he may enagge in physical intimacy more than twice a month at the request of his wife. It is no wonder that Gerrer men are known to be perverts -- they need an outlet. And if its not with their wife, they often seek it outside the marriage. Here, her husband sought it outside the marriage but at the same time within the marriage. What started off as - "since I cant touch you and you need some physical touch, I will accompany you to a masseuse." And then it was a slippery slope....

The details are none of our business. But there needs to be some public reexamining of this perversion in Ger. You know what happened when a husband changes the laws G-d commands and become over-stringent??? You have Chava touching a tree and thinking it's okay to eat from it too, and then being banished from the Garden of Eden.

Peter Mark said...

You write:

"For centuries, Jews - like non-Jews, matched and mated their children and the world was a simpler place. Who are we to fault anyone for seeking simplicity in a world that has, without question, become overly complex?"

We are human beings who seek to understand what happened to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future. There is a fine line between "simple" and "simplistic", trying to apply rigid, unbending laws to complex situations where more nuance, compassion, and understanding would serve people better than trying to shoe-horn complex human beings into simple rules. Like pressuring 17-year olds into marriage, for example.

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