Report: Hasidic boy commits suicide after father prevented from attending bar mitzvah

The parents’ divorce had led to a four-year separation between the boy and his father. A heart-rending video circulating on social media purported to show the father sobbing heavily while delivering a eulogy at his son’s funeral

Hasidic men and boys in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Credit: Agsaz/Shutterstock

Apr 3, 2024 6:00 PM


A Hasidic boy in Williamsburg died by suicide after his father was prevented from attending the boy’s bar mitzvah, the Israeli Haredi news site Kikar Ha-Shabbat reported

The New York Police Department confirmed the boy’s death in an email to Shtetl, saying officers responded to a 911 call and found the 13-year-old boy unconscious and unresponsive on March 20. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of the death to be suicide, according to an email to Shtetl. The boy’s bar mitzvah was in December of last year.

According to Kikar HaShabbat, community activists from the mother’s Hasidic sect, who had been involved with the family’s ordeal, insisted that the boy’s father, who belonged to a rival group, not attend the event. Their stated concern was that the boy would be permanently scarred by seeing his father after the lengthy separation that followed the parents’ divorce.

The father and son last met about four years ago, the outlet said. “Those close to the family point out that the boy has been crying non-stop for several years. All he wants is to see his father, whom he loved and admired so much.”

In a video posted online, Yonasan Schwartz, a Haredi businessman, magazine columnist, and public speaker who has frequently addressed issues around difficult family matters, criticized the circumstances that preceded the boy’s suicide. “When there’s a divorce, there might indeed be two sides — but as far as children seeing their parents, there are no two sides,” Schwartz said in Yiddish. “Children must be able to see their parents. It doesn’t matter what the story is.”

A video posted to a blog and that circulated on social media appeared to show heart-rending scenes of the father weeping at the boy’s funeral. During a eulogy the father delivered in Yiddish, in which he addressed the boy, the father's words were incomprehensible at times due to his heavy sobbing: “You had a father who loved you. How I wept and wept, how many gifts I tried sending you.” At one point, the father appeared to lose control, and burst out: “I wasn’t a visitor, I was your father!”

Describing one telephone exchange he had with his son, he said, “You cried, and I cried. It was the night of Purim, and I felt you were in pain.” At one point, the father appeared to acknowledge other similar situations. “You were not alone,” he said, and asked his son to plead before God that other children be spared from similar situations.

As of Wednesday, the Israeli site appeared to be the only Haredi news outlet that covered the story. Haredi news media very rarely report on tragic incidents like this one, preferring not to highlight its occurrence within their community. News gets around by word of mouth and is often widely circulated in online forums and on WhatsApp.

Michael Salamon, a psychologist who works with Haredi clients, suggested that many Haredi news outlets avoid covering suicide because they view suicide as a violation of Jewish law. 

“Unfortunately, it fosters misinformation because you’re not dealing with the reality of the situation,” Salamon said. “If someone is suicidal, that’s because they have a disorder, usually depression, and it’s a mistake not to deal with it outright.”  

Chai Lifeline, an Orthodox Jewish nonprofit organization that supports children and families in crisis, told Shtetl they have been “actively providing support to the community and individuals affected by this tragedy,” but declined to say more, citing “privacy concerns.”

The Haredi world often touts its low divorce rate and its family-centered orientation as an indicator of a more healthy society compared to the general population. But the low divorce rate also causes Haredi children greater harm when their parents do divorce, as divorce also comes with a strong social stigma. In addition, issues around one parent attempting to alienate children from the other parent, often due to interference by extended family or community members, can exacerbate a family crisis.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the boy’s death happened hours after his bar mitzvah celebration. In fact, the boy’s bar mitzvah was in December 2023 and his death was in March of this year.