Aug 4, 2015
We Are Hearing Their Cry

Clearly, there are critical lessons to be learned from the tragic death of Faigy Mayer, says counselor and therapist Raphael Aron.

By Rabbi Raphael Aron

The tragic death of Faigy Mayer in Manhattan recently has sent shockwaves through our communities. Once again, concerned parents and community leaders are searching for solutions; a means by which young people disillusioned and disenfranchised by their own orthodox communities can be assisted and supported.

As is often the case, while tragedies of this nature trigger debate and discussion, these processes are often short-lived. The deeper lessons that could be learnt are often submerged under the various blogs and comments which surface at these times. Personal agendas, even vendettas dominate the headlines undermining what might be learnt from this tragedy.

Clearly, there are critical lessons to be learned; this tragedy does not simply highlight the need to educate parents about communication with their children and how to be more inclusive and tolerant - admittedly a big ask for many – but on a far more significant level, the tragedy is a stark reminder of the fact that many of our orthodox and indeed Chassidic communities need to address the availability and provision of mental health services for those families and individuals in need.

While we may have made inroads in this area in recent years, there is a huge amount of work to be done. Of course there is a place for a Rov and a Mashpia as there is a place for teachers and mentors. But the reality is that for many orthodox families and individuals, mental health is a foreign language. Others are genuinely concerned that a visit to a mental health professional will affect the prospects of their children's Shidduchim. Even those parents who recognize that a visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist may be worthwhile, the cost - possibly $500 for a single appointment - is simply not affordable.

The starting point is awareness, in particular, a campaign to inform the community of basic issues of mental health so that families have some understanding of the sorts of conditions which can have a major effect on an individual's wellbeing. Anxiety, depression and OCD are far more prevalent than many would like to believe. More importantly, an effective diagnosis and treatment are usually the keys to resolution and in many cases a return to good health, a possible reconnection to community and restoration of family harmony and cohesiveness.

In writing about the letter that Faigy wrote before her death, Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudas Israel, made a particularly important point. "By her own account, Faigy faced deep internal adversity from her early youth, and her letter, read carefully, only corroborates the clouded lens through which she viewed her environment. Her psychological challenges were not the result of her leaving her home and community, but arguably a cause of it," he continued.

In a similar vein, I do not believe that the decision of many people to leave their faith is simply the product of a philosophical or theological crisis; more often it is related to other deep-seated personal and emotional issues which the individual is confronting. Some of those issues are of a mental health nature.

An effective response to this troubling issue would include two central themes. There is the need to assist parents who are faced with the challenge of children choosing to part ways with their orthodox standards. Issues of communication, boundaries, discipline, accommodation and tolerance lie at the center of the challenges families face at these times. There is also a need for community programs to address issues of mental health. As Rabbi Shafran writes, "The only takeaway from this horrible loss is the need to de-stigmatize mental illness – in all communities – and to realize the tragedies that, if left untreated, it can bring about."

I am reminded of two stories.

1. A young woman who had completely removed herself from her parents' Chassidisher way of life wrote me an email in which she said, "I have no idea whether I will continue on my current path or whether I will return to my parents' and grandparents' ways. But I do know the most important factor in that decision will be the manner in which my parents deal with me and my current choice of lifestyle."

2. A young man who had been thrown out of his Yeshivah and shunned by his family and most of his friends finally sort help from a psychologist who had been recommended by a close friend who had also left his family and community. The young man was diagnosed as suffering from depression. He agreed to a course of medication and on-going therapy. He is now well, has reconnected with his family and is building bridges with his community.

As a community, we have the responsibility to learn all we can from Faigy Mayer's tragic death. This is a not a time for recriminations or blame but rather an opportunity to face the challenges which are highlighted by this shocking event.

Rabbi Raphael Aron is a counselor and therapist who has dedicated 35 years to working with individuals involved with cults. He is the director of the Gateway Family Counselling Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Learn more at

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Opinions and Comments
Mental Health Freindship Circle
Been dreaming of doing this for a long time....
Would be great to do this in her memory -
FC for those that suffer from any of the five DSM.
The Blemish is not having the condition. The blemish is in ignoring it, or trying to compensate for it.
(8/4/2015 11:44:28 PM)
There needs to be more done
My daughter has no yeshiva for the fall. She is just a little girl who has severe learning problems although overall she is bright and feels disenchanted by the system. Through her I got to meet other at risk kids. The kids who mother their siblings because both parents work just to pay tuition. Kids who are babysat by Netflix and absorb the secular indoctrination like a baby absorbs milk from a bottle. There needs to be more resource rooms and there needs to be more oversight over therapists and accountability that realistic goals are set - what steps were taken to achieve those goals-and were they met and if not why. There needs to be after school drop in centers for kids (separately) on the derech. There needs to be hotlines where kids can safely ask any question without being branded an apikorus for asking. Kids should have consequences for misbehavior but these are our kids - they shouldn't be kicked out with nowhere to go feeling like a failure. There needs to be support groups for parents with kids who aren't fitting into the system. Some problems are mental illness but when any child misses a substantial amount of school and is given no plan to make up the work because it would burden the teachers we have a problem.
(8/5/2015 12:13:33 AM)
Rebbe recommended orthodox psychologist
Just read a letter yesterday from the rebbe to a man who was considering an operation for alternative lifestyle. The rebbe said that if his answer isn't enough, that this individual should seek guidance from an orthodox pyschologist
(8/5/2015 12:20:00 AM)
enough of blaming "frum" people!!
for every little thing that someone who "goes off the derech" does wrong
(8/5/2015 12:45:45 AM)
Right on target
Important article! Tfs
(8/5/2015 1:07:51 AM)
Over the top
One off topic point is having only a rav and mashpia, having access to a person who can deal with mental issuesis crucial. Just like any other medical problems which can have a negative affect on the persons physical body and can affect the people around them, so too mental health. The effects have a huge impact on those who deal with this person on a regular basis. Just like a person goes to have a dental check up/ cleaning or go get a physical - so too a mental health check up should be an option- which would lessen the stigma of seeing a doctor for mental health because of shidduchim.
Rabbi Aaron is just plain awesome
(8/5/2015 1:12:52 AM)
really important article!
For years I was thinking, there has to be a fund for people with psychological issues, who cannot afford treatment, I also believe strongly that there has to be a list of successful caring therapists in a public forum, since unfortunately some therapists are less than ideal!!
(8/5/2015 1:45:59 AM)
Dear Raphael

It is true that many people feel impelled to leave in part because they are treated poorly by the frum community or are otherwise in some sort of distress, but at the core of both Shafran's article and yours is a wholesale dismissal of the intellectual lives and decisions of people who leave the lifestyle. In this respect, there is nothing novel in your response. My colleagues and I are insulted that you so callously capitalize on the tragedy of our friend's death to promulgate more of the condescension so typical to our communities of birth. We request that you change the tone of your article of your article to one more respectful of our intellectual journeys.

Levi Keller
(8/5/2015 1:53:54 AM)
Mental Illness.
You have nailed it! Unfortunately I know a few to many families that suffer from mental illness of a family member and keep it hushed due to stigma and judgment from the community. Its painful. Families are suffering, not only the parents but the other children/family members as well.. if someone can start this awareness in our communities they will be saving lives.. In every sense. Thank you for beginning an awareness that is so necessary!
(8/5/2015 3:53:25 AM)
My 2 cents
Parents treatment of their distant child reflect the community...if the community would be more accepting, the parents would be more accepting. Frum communities,no matter which, are extremely harsh and judgemental.
(8/5/2015 5:28:22 AM)
Why do parents HAVE to be accepting?
They should continue to be s parent. Accepting rebellion against Hashem? Absolutely not.
(8/5/2015 8:39:33 AM)
Harsh and cruel
I became observant in my 30s, we had a little boy, who was extremely bright but had learning differences. In the wider Jewish community he was treated badly, was shunned, cyber bullied and left alone. It is not just the frum, it is the Jewish community at large, who are cruel to each other if there is one who is different. This happend in a Jewish school. They were cruel and wicked, and to them it was ok to laugh and poke fun at one who is seen different. Shame on them all, shame on them.
(8/5/2015 8:47:57 AM)
here we go again
this is disappointing on so many levels. here we go again oversimplifying human beings and their Mr Aron it is not so black and white. There are many many layers to each story and while I agree whole-heartedly that mental health needs to be de-stigmatized everywhere, there are many cases where there are zero mental health issues but parents who abuse their children, siblings who abuse their siblings, who push these perfectly healthy, resilient, amazing individuals out of the system.
(8/5/2015 9:15:44 AM)
I agree with 10. Rebellion or not, ve achavta le reacha kamocha comes first. To parent 11, you don't accept your rebellious childs decisions to rebel, but you should never stop loving your child and trying to connect in any way possible. when a child rebels, sending him or her away, or shunning him or her is the last thing a parent should do. When a child rebels against H-shem, the last think H-shem wants is for us to force the child away. This is when we have to be more patient, more loving, more calm and more prayerful. You don't fight rebellion with hate. You fight it with love, emunah, patience, loving eyes, loving words, and deep prayer to H-shem that the period of rebelion would be shortened.
(8/5/2015 10:15:20 AM)
Welcome to Golus
These are the wars that are predicted,before the final revelation. Not the ones between the children and their families/ communities. ..but the ones we each fight everyday within ourselves. . " Open heart surgery" is extremely difficult. N
(8/5/2015 10:25:56 AM)
Different Story
Let's keep in mind she had a history of mental illness...
(8/5/2015 10:29:23 AM)
#11 Brought up a Good Point
While parents should always leave the door open to the "prodigal son" (or daughter), there are limits. Don't parents have a right to certain atmosphere or decorum? Or simply, their own convictions? The world applauds or mourns an at-risk child for "asserting his/her identity," but a pious person who does so is a fanatic? A double standard if I ever saw one.

Suppose the child's behavior is corrupting or dangerous -- even physically -- to his siblings.? Should he stay at home? Suppose Allan (formerly Aharon) announces his "born-again" conversion? Or brings home his shiksa fiancée? Or better yet, his ahem, "husband-to-be"? Are parents supposed to simply go along with it? Patronize them? Put on a happy face? I think not.

This notion of unconditional acceptance has a lot to do with an entitlement mentality, coupled with extreme freedom in this country. It is a lethal combination. Someone who was upset, like Fayge, at her community's condemnation wanted it both ways. She wanted to do her own thing, then wondered why people disapproved. She complained she was upset, but didn't care or realize that she upset her family. This is typical liberal confusion. I'm sorry -- I don't mean to speak ill of the dead, especially a tortured soul, but she must have been tragically naïve.

(8/5/2015 10:53:21 AM)
It's either our way or the highway. You have to conform and not be different and you must think like everybody else.

(8/5/2015 11:27:59 AM)
17 and 11
I agree 100%
Love and acceptance is two completely different entities!
I will always love my child , but will not accept their rebellion . That has nothing to do with being shunned by the community, simply because the torah and all its laws were given to us to keep us safe and a child going 'off ' is not just spiritually harming themselves , they are physically , emotionally and mentally harming themselves!

Here's afew tips ...

Tell the child how much u love them over and over even if they say ' I hate you' back .

Engage in conversation, their interests ( I hate cars but know everything about them! ) no heavy talks but throw in something small during these talks ( abit like hiding the fish in the mashed potatoes we did when they were little)

Write them notes and leave it on their pillows.

But them little thoughtful gifts.

Insist on family days out .

Take lots of nature walks.

praise hashem out loud a few times a day .

Praise them/thank them for jobs , achievement etc.

Make sure the home is a peaceful one .. Shalom bayis!

Humor will get thru much more effectively then rebuke .

Stay calm, don't worry about future ( that's most of the ( unnecessary worry) and take it day by day.

Talk to family.. Involve them , the more support for u and ur child the better.

Hook up ur child with someone u trust and they like, very often they need outside support.

Have faith.

Stay at home moms!!!!!

Have fun!

Enjoy ur kids!

Good luck !
And to my darling 4 teens if u reading this ... I love u to bits ,u crazy , funny , talented and smart things , u may be making me fat, old and gray but the nachas , the laughter , the things u teach me all at the same time ,I thank u for the privilege of being ur mother and just remember one thing darlings....
in our home IM BOSS :-)

(8/5/2015 12:00:25 PM)
Deeply In Pain
I have son in his early 20's who suffers from mental health issues.The pain,isolation and shame our indescribable. We live in a large out of town community and there are no frum resources to help. Of course our son is OTD. This is seemingly the last taboo to be over come in the frum community.
(8/5/2015 1:08:56 PM)
Who's to blame?
Here is an excerpt of an email Faigy sent to her friends, and it got ino the papers:

"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

Now, me and members of my family are also struggling with mental health issues. But, is it fair of her to blame the religious community like that?

The secular world also have their rules and regulations. I know, personally of someone, who felt like ending it all because of the way this individual was treated in the Israeli army. Blatantly break their protocol (e.g. behavior, dress code, etc.) - yes, they'll oust you, jail you, rough you up, and worse!

Now, having said that, nervertheless, when it comes to family, this is extremely important! A Rebbe in Boro Park said that, while the parents should not be imposed upon to let her in the house and freak out the other children, nevertheless, they should still show her love and concern.

As far as her complaint about the Chassidic way being too "austere" - wanna know something, I grew up in the secular world! When I was a kid, it was not that off balance. But today's secular is SICK and CREEPY! So, now, I highly respect any effort and means of minmizing exposure to this
cesspool (i.e. sickular world) as much as pragmatically possible.
(8/5/2015 1:14:48 PM)
To Rabbi Aron
A little research would reveal Faigy Mayer did receive extensive mental health treatment, in fact many people believe that that was part of the problem, that instead of viewing her secular interests as part of a spiritual journey, they viewed it as a illness and had her institutionalized as a teenager.
(8/5/2015 1:25:55 PM)
It's not greener on the other side
Some people believe that living a secular life will magically give them shiny new friends, success financially and self esteem. They then focus on those in the community who have personality issues and use that as an excuse for the decisions they make and all the ultimate consequences, living reactive lives instead of facing their problems realistically and taking responsibility for their own lives. Certainly, moving to a different community or doing new things may help someone but giving up the inner compass protection and guidance that living a Jewish life brings leaves anyone- particularly a troubled young person lost and vulnerable to relationships and situations from which it may be difficult or impossible to recover. In short, anyone thinking of making any drastic change should think it out clearly.With the help of one older, wiser person they trust. Unfortunately, it's not easier on the other side. From what I understand (please correct me if I'm wrong), the girl committed suicide 5 years AFTER having left the frum community.
(8/5/2015 2:14:46 PM)
to number 19
If only there were more people like you!
(8/5/2015 2:20:50 PM)
Accepting other's opinions...
There are more than 2 sides to this issue. Parents do need to keep communication lines open even to their children who have strayed, so when they want to come back - as tiny a step as that backtrack might be, they'll have the way paved for them.
Yes the community needs to also be more accepting of others, but don't others have to be accepting of the community's opinion? I'm sure the road of acceptance is a 2-way speedway...
As for the community leaders - or those who feel a need to preach to others, they need to understand that blowing Halachos out of proportion is what is leading too many of our children to give up trying to please the community. While staying within the letter of Halacha is a must, the spirit of Halacha and Chasidishkeit needs to be more of a suggestion, but they both need to come with encouragement and not force.
(8/5/2015 2:58:18 PM)
Sometimes mental illness can be physical (biological) in origin, for example a person can have a chemical imbalance.
(8/5/2015 3:24:12 PM)
my way or highway?
could it have something to do with the extremely rigid social / religious framework of those communities? In Chabad, if you can't force yourself to wear the stockings or Shevy wig or Borsalino and black suite all day long, you can switch to a jean skirt and a tichel, jeans and a cap or the leather / knit yarmolka, and still totally be part of your family and community. There, you get the wrong shade stockings, or your skirt is too bright for their rebbe de 'jour, and you're a rebel haunted by the whole community. Here, even the so-called Chabad light chevreh who don't wear any stockings at all or wear some fashioned excuse for a beard, feel totally part of their families and a huge part of the community at large, and are certainly not pushed out by the rest of the community.

In other words, each individual can choose his comfort level of the religious observances within the basic, minimal requirements (Shabos, basic kashrus, Jewish partners), nobody is going to push them out and torture them and their families. Whereas there, if you don't FULLY conform, you're pushed out and away, completely, in a pretty nasty way.

Also, their communities concentrate in just one or two locales, whereas in Chabad, if you Crown Heights is not to your liking, you can easily move to Chicago, Florida, LA, or even Alaska, and still be part of the familiar environment, familiar traditions, the same network of people, sense of larger community, and most importantly, you're not forced to severe all family ties.
(8/5/2015 3:40:46 PM)
social / personal freedom
Also in Chabad, there's so much more personal freedom of self-expression or self-discovery that a person does not, in most cases, need to leave the community to find his own path or comfort zone. In the area of professional studies and occupation, both for men and women. In the area of general interests, social circles, etc.

There, if you don't fit in any way, tough luck - they chase you out completely. And you'll be happy to escape without major wounds...
(8/5/2015 3:56:39 PM)
To Levi Keller
Dear Levi, how precisely does this article insult your intellect, or how exactly is it trying to capitalize on the tragedy?
The article is talking about a young lady who was pushed to a suicide, and it's trying to increase the awareness of some possible, potential causes in the broader community so that people can deal with the range of issues in a way that the affected individuals' lives are preserved.
Whatever choices and changes your intellectual process has led you to make in your life, ending - G-d forbid - your life is not a consideration for you, I hope and trust. I highly doubt that ending her own life was a result of any kind of intellectual analysis. So no need to take offense at the imagined insult to your intellect.

Maybe to the contrary, being blessed with such intellectual prowess, you could recognize the issues facing the others who have made the choices - or come to the conclusions - similar to yours, and help them live with those choices in a way that may not be perhaps a total bliss, but at least not lead to a suicide.

And maybe give us some other suggestions - in addition to respecting your intellectual capabilities - on dealing with those who reach similar conclusions. After all, you might have kids, and they might be Jewish. And they can come to conclusions opposite from yours. And you'll still want to keep in touch.
(8/5/2015 4:23:37 PM)
Discounted psychological services
I'm a doctoral student at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University, in the Bronx. The Parnes clinic located at the school conducts psychoeducational evaluations, child and adult psychodyanamic and cognitive-behavioral therapy, and neuro-psychological evaluations for a heavily discounted price. The therapists and clinicians are doctoral students, and they are bring supervised by licensed psychologists. It is an excellent service, and if anyone needs therapy or evaluations for their children or themselves, it's a great option. .
(8/5/2015 5:34:54 PM)
the article is not the full story. if you want to get the full story google faigy mayer and you will see information pop up. People that don't want to be frum anymore should not blame or make fun of religious people.
(8/5/2015 7:48:46 PM)
to #2
Yitti Leible Hotline
(8/5/2015 9:04:41 PM)
Make the home a happy place no matter what. That is a general principle. Things don't always go the way we want, money, kids, life, etc, etc. But we still have to be happy. Hay is chabad. And there if we are happy and healthy and our children see that and they are happy and healty that is the best way to teach them to make their own healthy choices.
(8/5/2015 10:12:52 PM)
yes, as long as they are licensed mental health professionals
A little bit as a side note to this article - the problem in frum communities is that when mental health issues ARE addressed, they send people to any frum therapist, even if they are not licensed and not accountable to anyone for their professional conduct. Just think of the Weberman case as the worst case scenario. Yes seeking help from a therapist is great. As long as they are licensed and accountable to others.
(8/5/2015 10:28:23 PM)
YES agree with 24
#19 you bought tears to my eyes ...May you have wonderful nachas and enjoy simchas by all ur kids.....and kiddos go give ur Mom a big hug and kiss..You only have one Mom who gives you her heart and soul....
(8/5/2015 10:35:40 PM)
No 17 & No 29
Well said well written!
My sentiments exactly
May all of our yiddisher kinder find peace. May all of our beautiful parents hurting for their children have healthy nachas!
(8/6/2015 3:48:13 AM)
# 19
that is exactly what I try to do with otd teenager
is there any funding out there for families that need help
(8/6/2015 10:11:27 AM)
gone through hardships
yes alot of things are true i personaly have two children that were off me my husband children all went through therapy to help each other bh my two kids are married one has a beard the other no but so what i akways told always tell my children i love them hug the my grandchildren give everyone their space by bugging them u will not get anywhere love them uncondionaly keep your comments to yourself respect them take them out go out with them smile to them ask them if they need anything ask them would u like to talk if they say no then say when u ready im there always for u theese things worked for me my husband remember to always say i love u even if its hard itll come good luck by the way there is alot of help reach out dont be ashamed youll be proud of yourself
(8/6/2015 1:45:46 PM)
C. B.
One major issue which needs to be addressed, is the fact that people that have no problems with huge demands (ie. constant guests, always do what your husband wants regardless of how outrageous it is......) don't realize that some people REALLY can't keep up, whether because of lack of support, emotional or otherwise, or too many people seeming to say that we should all strive for the top and they know that in certain areas they will never come close, all these things can put a person so down, that they don't feel like doing anything. When a person says s/he can't, s/he should be taken seriously, and the issue should be addressed in detail, with therapy where needed, and NO CRITICISM!!
(8/7/2015 12:12:10 PM)
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