Last week, two famous personalities (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain) committed suicide. This comes on the heels of 28-year-Old DJ Avicii’s suicide in April and the suicide of Professor David Goodall. According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth suicide is in the midst of a precipitous and frightening rise. Between 2006 and 2016, suicides by white children between ages 10 and 17 skyrocketed 70%; while black children are less likely than white children to kill themselves, their suicide rate also jumped 77%.
Many people have questions and are searching for words from Jewish leaders that provide religious responses and words of insights into this unfortunate trend.
The following entry is from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. We are thankful for this piece and aim to bring our readers more Torah-insights into this topic in the coming days.
A while back, we hosted an event on the growing drug issue in the Jewish community. A few hours before the event, a young man I know, or thought I knew well, sent the letter below to me. He asked that I share it with the hope his story can help others and I began the program by reading it. When I first opened it, I was reminded of a quote I find very meaningful: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
I have great admiration for his courage in reaching out and for his desire to make himself vulnerable in an effort to be there for others. If you are feeling the way he describes, you are not alone.
Reach out and it can and will get better. May Hashem bless him and all those struggling with similar issues with only strength, happiness and success.
Standing on the roof of my yeshiva overlooking one of the holiest cities in Israel, I stared at the graves of my fore-bearers and dreamed of meeting them. I had just returned from yeshiva after a three week bender and I was so filled with self-loathing and pity I couldn’t stop thinking of ending my life. It would be so simple I told myself, one jump, 10-15 seconds and it would all be over. The pain, the anger, the sadness. All gone. I even had the perfect plan, it was still Yom Tov in America so I could text every member of my family explaining my choice and begging their forgiveness, but they would only see the messages long after I was gone. This was what my world had come to. The truth is I knew that besides for a few select people, my world would be rocked by the news of my suicide.
I had meticulously maintained an image of confidence and happiness that most people bought into hook line and sinker. The image I cultivated was one of a smart confident young man who simply enjoyed having a good time. However; the truth was that behind that carefully crafted image was nothing. A singularity to match that of the largest black hole in existence. I was hopelessly empty. I had spent my life convinced that an endless supply of designer clothing and joints would be enough to keep me satisfied. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. I had reached my end. The yeshiva was completely empty, I was all alone, with no way out, and no weed or alcohol to numb the pain of simply being alive.
Now this desire to end my life did not simply appear one day, it had been festering in my head for years; however, I never mentioned it to anyone in fear of shattering my precious image, my immaculate persona. I couldn’t let real emotions ruin people’s ideas of me, perish the very thought. So I allowed that voice to remain dormant in the back of my head, always there but never acknowledged. I thought of different ways I would do it, always hypotheticals I told myself. Just “what ifs.” I even came up with the perfect suicide. I would put a hose in my exhaust pipe and attach the other end to the window of my car, turn the car on, wash down two Xanax with some scotch, smoke a joint, and simply never wake up. Painless. The perfect way to go out. But I of course never acted on it, or told anyone how I was really feeling.
Then it started getting worse, my first year in yeshiva, while davening not 100 feet from the Kotel on Rosh Hashana, watching everyone around me crying out to HaShem to grant them life for the year, I davened for the opposite. I davened for an easy way out. I begged G-d to end my life that year. I asked to be hit by a bus, or to even be involved in a terror attack. I knew I couldn’t do it myself, not out of self-preservation, I simply wasn’t that selfish. I couldn’t subject my family to any more torment at my hands, although I often thought I’d be sparing them endless pain by simply taking myself out of the equation. For months during that year I would go to sleep every night hoping and praying I simply wouldn’t wake up the next morning, and every morning I would open my eyes and feel the crushing disappointment of having to endure another day. Modeh Ani seemed to be mocking me.
Until one night in my Shana bet, after enduring as much as I could I decided it was time. As I sat there taking in what were surely my last few moments I began to cry. Once my tears started they wouldn’t stop, hot and thick they poured down my face as I realized that I would rather die than simply admit that I wanted to. I would rather destroy my actual self than the one I had been projecting all these years. Tears still flowing I called my father, knowing as an ER physician his cell phone would be on during Yom Tov. He answered the phone on the third ring immediately asking “what’s wrong?”
Choking back sobs I began to tell him everything. For the first time I broke down my image. I told him how much I hated being alive. How for the last few years my biggest wish was that an asteroid would collide with the earth, allowing me to die without hurting anyone else. When I finished speaking my father explained to me that I was sick. Much like someone who has strep throat, and much like strep if untreated my sickness would get worse and worse. He made me go in for a psychiatric evaluation where I was almost immediately diagnosed with clinical depression and put on antidepressants. I keep thinking how different my life might be had I broken down my image in 12th grade, or even last year, but I was too afraid. Too scared of what people would think of me knowing that I wanted to kill myself. As it turns out no one thought anything less of me. People understood.
I finally gathered the courage to tell one of my closest friends and his response was that we have friends so that we can tell people about these things. His response was one of love not judgment. I didn’t feel weird or different when telling him, on the contrary I felt liberated and free. Someone would actually understand me, understand the feelings I had been suppressing for years. I really never felt better. I write this now as I start a new chapter of my life, one of honesty, not of farces. Of truth, not lies. Of sobriety, not drug dependence. I write this free of the burden of pretending to be something I’m not. I write this not in the hope of garnering pity or sympathy, I write this in the hope that even one person who has felt the way I have felt, and is scared to talk about it will read this and understand how much better their life can become by simply confiding in those they trust.
OlamiResources.com thanks Rabbi Goldberg for allowing us to share this important article that appeared on his blog on November 13, 2017. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 650 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2010 Rabbi Goldberg was recognized as one of South Florida’s Most Influential Jewish Leaders. He serves as Co-Chair of the Orthodox Rabbinical Board’s Va’ad Ha’Kashrus, as Director of the Rabbinical Council of America’s South Florida Regional Beis Din for Conversion, and as Posek of the Boca Raton Mikvah. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Hillel Day School, Torah Academy of Boca Raton, and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Additionally, Rabbi Goldberg serves as Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Chairman of the Orthodox Union Legacy Group and is a member of the AIPAC National Council. Rabbi Goldberg grew up in Teaneck, NJ, attended Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel for two years, graduated from Yeshiva University with a B.A. in psychology, attended Ner Le’Elef and received Semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, Yeshiva University. In 2008, he completed the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management Advanced Executive Program. Rabbi Goldberg is married to Yocheved and has seven children, Racheli, Atara, Leora, Tamar, Estee, Temima and Shai.