Editor’s note: On Monday evening, a 30-year-old Jewish woman named Faigy Mayer fell to her death from a rooftop bar just one block from Tablet’s offices in Manhattan. The event was reported as a suicide. Almost immediately, facts—as well as speculation—regarding Mayer’s life flooded the news cycle as the media chased after answers, from her social media profiles and other online representations, along with her friends and family, most of whom belong to the Belz Orthodox community in Brooklyn, where she grew up. Mayer made the decision to leave her Hasidic community over five years ago.
On Sunday, July 12, just one week before her death, Mayer posted a message on Facebook. It read:
Anyone wants to read first draft on my opinion article on why the internet will cause hasidic judaism to cease to exist in 20 years or so? #knowledgeispower
Mayer’s friend, Chaim Levin offered to take a look at it. He never had a chance to reply with feedback.
On Tuesday, Levin sent an email to Tablet that included Mayer’s article, which is just shy of 1,500 words. On Wednesday, Levin told me: “It was her debut, her first time publicly disclosing these parts of her life. She wanted to do this.”
Mayer’s biographical article is insightful. It exhibits her feelings about her family and her upbringing. It also highlights her views on the role of technology, the Internet, and Facebook in the Hasidic community. Mayer reportedly had a burgeoning career as a tech entrepreneur.
At the very least, we hope that publishing this article under her byline enables Faigy Mayer to have something of a legacy—in her own words. (All names and identifiable details of others have been redacted.)
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 [redacted] 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. [redacted] 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. [redacted] 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 been 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. [redacted] 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 “bullshit,” 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 39 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 for 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 discuss 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 that 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 [redacted] that suggests otherwise.
[They] 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 [my friend] 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… [my friend] thinks that that might end in 20 years.
[My friend] 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. [My friend] 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?
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.