Thursday, July 23, 2015
The former Hasidic woman who jumped to her death from a swanky rooftop bar Monday wrote a despondent e-mail to pals days before her suicide blasting the Jewish sect as a "cult" that "shouldn't exist."
Faigy Mayer, who was shunned by her Hasidic parents, described the sect as antiquated, oppressive and controlled by powerful rabbis.
She talked about how everything from Internet use to sex was rigidly regulated — and that even after leaving the faith she still felt its grip.
"I feel as though Hasidic Judaism shouldn't exist at all," the 30-year-old woman wrote in the missive, adding that "Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with, 5 years after leaving."
In the long, impassioned letter sent on July 12, Mayer — who plunged 20 stories from the 230 Fifth bar in the Flatiron District — compared being Hasidic to being in a cult.
"Right now rabbis are winning. One of the characteristics of a cult is a charismatic leader. These charismatic rabbis are saying no to the internet," she wrote.
She began by describing her upbringing, including early schooling in which married female teachers had to wear wigs to cover their hair — and then hats over their wigs. She said boys' Yiddish studies prevented them from learning simple math.
"Hasidic boys aren't as lucky as Hasidic girls," Mayer wrote. "They do not know simple math such as division or fractions . . . They have only 'Yiddish' all day."
She spoke about how many Hasidim are on welfare, and how those who try to run businesses have trouble because they can't use the Internet.
Mayer described intimate relations among Hasidim as "the couple having sex with the wife wearing a bra in the complete dark (hole in the sheet, anyone?) but still producing 13 children generally throughout her lifetime."
Mayer said rabbis are stifling any kind of fun.
"My 3 nephews . . . most fun they have is to color with crayons," she wrote. "Basic joys American kids get on a daily basis my nephews don't have."
Mayer talked about her struggles being raised in a strict religious environment and said her "uneducated" mother diagnosed her as "bipolar" at age 16.
She was tormented with her decision to leave the faith and was hospitalized several times for mental health issues.
"IF PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO THINK, THEY WOULD NOT BE RELIGIOUS," she wrote.
Full email text below:
I remember being in the third grade and my mom and I wrote a list of all the girls in my girls-only hasidic Jewish girls' school. The school was a part of the Hasidic sect of Belz. The purpose was to find me a friend. We went over the list to see if there was anyone I wanted to be friends with. I don't remember what happened after we went over that list. However, I do remember that clearly nothing was accomplished, and until I left the religion of hasidic Judaism at the age of 24, I would not have any friends. I thought a girl named Chevy was my friend in the 10th grade, but when she had to tell her sister that I was at her house, she said: My classmate is here. I remember being stung by her not referring to me as her friend.
It is now, having recently celebrated my 5 year anniversary for leaving hasidic Judaism that I realize what my problem probably was. It was probably due to the fact that my mom's parents are converts to Hasidic Judaism, my grandmother had most of a college degree from Brooklyn College at the age of 18, is highly intellectual, and I take after her and strongly identify with my American roots. I wasn't able to have anything to dish about with my peers. I couldn't share with them my love for reading books on the Olympics. I liked my teacher Mrs. Binet in the 7th grade. She was "cool." Belz was right-wing enough to make all married teachers wear hats on top of their wigs if they wore a wig and not a silky scarf-covering. Mrs. Binet was chastised for wearing a hat a bit too fancy. Trendiness was not encouraged. That was the austere environment I was in.
I didn't know that leaving the faith was an option to me until the age of 23 when a secular relative told me I could. I didn't know that I will never get married to a hasidic guy. When I was 16 my uneducated mom personally diagnosed me with bipolar and given the family situation when I was 18, I was allowed to attend college and then graduate school. But when I was 18 or so, I remember wondering about what if I would have a boy? A day at Belz school from pre-1-a to the end of high school was divided in half. The two parts of the day were "Yiddish" (the first half), and "English," the second half. I purposely flunked out of Yiddish as I knew there would be no consequences as there were separate diplomas for English and Yiddish.
In August 2004, at the age of 18, I was accepted to Touro College with only my diploma and no transcripts as hasidic schools refuse to provide transcripts. But hasidic boys aren't as lucky as hasidic girls. They do not know simple math such as division or fractions. That is because their day isn't divided in two. They have only "Yiddish" all day. I remember wondering what I would do if I would have a son and he would be subjected to the torture of learning Yiddish all day. I remember my teacher Mrs. Gips teaching us the laws of kashrut and she was obsessing over accidentally using a dairy utensil in a meat pot and without knowing the word, Bulls---, that is what I was thinking, and failing that class and so many others was the smartest thing I did.
Without knowing I was agnostic I refused to study rules that were clearly not applicable to 2001. This was the same with the Lammed Tes Meluchos already in the 6th grade. The Lammed Tes Meluchos are the 36 commandments kept on Shabbat. I remember one commandment forbids tying knots on Shabbat and my teacher taught us all the loopholes to tying and untying knots. I was chastised to decorating my lammed tes meluchos book and making it too fancy, but the actual studying of the Hebrew words that I wrote so fancily never happened.
I discussed the above to try to explain what happens to intelligent children with American backgrounds. However, I feel as though Hasidic Judaism shouldn't exist at all. My 3 nephews are being raised in a very strict hasidic Jewish environment. It isn't fair to them that they have to live their lives the way they do. The most fun they have is to color with crayons. Even if I would be allowed to be in their lives, they would not be allowed to play games on my iPhone. Basic joys American kids get on a daily basis my nephews don't have. Instead they have long hours at a Cheder, which is a boys' school, where they are forced to sit in one place and study Jewish laws and history with ZERO time for sports. On TV today, I watched Roger Federer play at Wimbledon and the guy I was with explained that the winner needs to win 3 sets. Ordinarily, I would believe that my nephews will never see tennis...But I had a conversation last night with two friends, Yangbo Du and Jason that suggests otherwise.
Jason and Yangbo were talking about how Facebook, in a brilliant marketing effort, created a 501c3 called internet.org which gives free internet connections to those using facebook.com, getting all that ad revenue and making money that way. Then Facebook gets even more money by charging if the user uses any domain other than facebook.com. I disagreed with Jason on his stance that Facebook shouldn't be doing this. I see how atheist hasidic Jews pretend to believe and Facebook is their only outlet for speaking with like minded Jews (unless Facebook is tipped off that their account is fake and automatically deletes it).
But rabbis do not allow computers or smartphones, so internet.org couldn't help my people. The next part of our conversation is something I think people would find eye-opening. The austere lifestyle my people face of arranged marriages, strict segregation of the genders, the wife shaving her head, the couple having sex with the wife wearing a bra in the complete dark (hole in the sheet, anyone?) but still producing 13 children generally throughout her lifetime, working for cash only so that Uncle Sam can help with food stamps, section 8, and Medicaid and seeing on average worse doctors because they have the worst insurance...Jason thinks that that might end in 20 years.
Jason has a hasidic landlord so he had a specific example for me to illustrate his logic: His landlord was 3 weeks late replying to his email about a broken air conditioner. Therefore, his electricity bill was through the roof and he refused to pay a month's rent. Jason said his landlady explained that she doesn't have the internet so she was unable to respond to his email in a timely fashion. However, now that she lost a month's rent, will she find a way to check her email every day? Probably yes.
Right now rabbis are winning. One of the characteristics of a cult is a charismatic leader. These charismatic rabbis are saying no to the internet. But can you survive without the internet? I worked for about 5 years throughout college for my aunt on a part-time basis. She and my uncle are running an exterminating business out of their home. They face incredible difficulties by not having the internet in their home. Once I stopped generating a report on chemical usage, they had their consultant do it. Their consultant has to physically come to Boro Park to put the data on a USB drive and then she will work with it. This is now.
When I had to renew my NYS ID, I did so online. what if in 20 years you have to go online to get a birth certificate for your child. I have mine on paper. Does that make sense? A hasidic mom with 13 children needs those birth certificates so that she could get food stamps for her child as soon as that child is born. Will she go online so that she can get her food stamps? I believe she will. And once she is online, she might come across a story on the home screen, and that might make her think about her harsh life, which she embraces, but she is embracing it without thinking. IF PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO THINK, THEY WOULD NOT BE RELIGIOUS. Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with, 5 years after leaving.
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