Shortly after 6 P.M., as the sun was sinking over Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Cemetery, Esti Weinstein’s funeral changed shape. From being a strictly secular affair, it became a joint secular-religious one, reflecting both sides of the life of this formerly ultra-Orthodox woman who committed suicide and left behind a harsh indictment of her former community.
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Alongside the hundreds of secular men and women, who were now asked to segregate themselves by sex “at Esti’s request,” as the funeral director said, were about 50 of her ultra-Orthodox relatives. The atmosphere was tense and suspicious looks were exchanged, but they were stuck with each other.
It then turned out that all seven of Weinstein’s daughters – six of whom had severed contact with her when she abandoned Gur Hasidism eight years ago – were also present. Their estrangement, her suicide note said, is what led her to kill herself.
In a move unusual among Gur Hasidim, the eldest daughter, Racheli Yoskowitz, delivered a eulogy. She spoke of the years when her mother raised her with love, but then got to the main point: “We won’t forget that bitter, hurried day when you left your home. We begged for explanations, we asked to come with you, but you turned your back on us – young girls who one fine day were abandoned, with no mother to explain and heal their hurts; long nights of yearning and tears, many questions with no answers.”
Yet despite her anguish, she ended by asking her mother’s pardon for having severed ties with her.
Weinstein’s father, Menachem Irenstein, also spoke of how much he loved his daughter and of the years of suffering after she left. But unlike her daughters, Weinstein’s parents never severed contact with her.
Earlier, her friends – many of whom are also formerly ultra-Orthodox – had gathered for a secular ceremony that was no less grief-stricken. Many carried flowers, as Weinstein’s suicide note had requested.
At this ceremony, speakers told the other side of the story – of people ostracized by the community they left, of parents separated from their children. One of Weinstein’s friends shouted the names of her children into the microphone, crying bitterly as she stood in front of the corpse, “Come back to me now, not when I’m like this.”
Weinstein’s brother, Hanoch Irenstein, who also abandoned Hasidism, addressed his sister in his eulogy. “It was important to you that everyone knows you suffered,” he said. “There’s nobody in this country who hasn’t heard your great cry, far beyond what you sought.”
He also read out eulogies by two brothers who remained ultra-Orthodox.
Harel, who was Weinstein’s partner in recent years, prepared a pointed speech that was read out by a friend. “People, don’t let any rabbi, or someone who calls himself that, bring about hatred and alienation; walk in the way of love of mankind,” he said.
Addressing the formerly ultra-Orthodox, he continued, “You chose freedom, you choose a new and challenging path, which is magical but not easy. Be strong, make use of organizations like Hillel [which helps people who leave Orthodoxy]. Accept the love of this community.”
Finally, he urged children not to boycott their parents, and urged everyone to disseminate the manuscript Weinstein left behind, which tells the story of her life and makes harsh accusations against the Gur community.
After Weinstein was buried, everyone – even the Gur Hasidim – put flowers on the grave. Religious and secular people stood side by side, and while the abyss between them was clear, here and there, they were talking.
“Say hi to Chaya for me,” said one woman who used to be a Gur Hasid to another who still is. “Tell her I love her very much.”