Borough Park

Second teen suicide in under three weeks rocks Brooklyn Hasidic community

In a tearful eulogy, Satmar rebbe of Williamsburg, Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, called on the community to reflect on these tragedies, and for each community member to also “make an individual accounting” on what must be done to prevent such incidents

Hatzolah vehicles in Borough Park, outside Maimonides Health Center. Credit: Aleksandr Dyskin/Shutterstock

Apr 12, 2024 12:20 PM


A 15-year-old boy died by suicide on Sunday night in Borough Park, just weeks after a 13-year-old boy in Williamsburg also died by suicide, according the New York City Police Department and the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Shtetl is not naming either of the boys due to the sensitivity of the matter.

In images and videos that circulated on social media, Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe of Williamsburg, appears to be giving remarks at the 15-year-old boy’s funeralin an unusual expression of the community’s grief.

“There’s a fire burning inside Jewish homes,” Teitelbaum is heard saying in Yiddish in the 57-second video clip. “It is robbing Jewish souls.” In mournful remarks, he empathized with the pain of the boy’s parents and grandparents, and acknowledged the effect the incident may have on classmates and other students.

He also called on the community to be introspective about necessary changes in the wake of this incident, saying, “We must all, each one of us, make an individual accounting” and to think about “what must be done,” appearing to acknowledge underlying systemic issues.

In an interview with Shtetl, Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, said that when a person in a community dies by suicide, it is a “mass trauma” after which “the risk of contagion” — suicidality among other community members — “goes up,” especially if people talk about it insensitively or share explicit details. Because of this, Posner said, it’s up to everyone in the community to address the shared trauma and look out for each other’s mental health.

In a recorded message to parents at the boy’s school, a representative from the Chai Lifeline organization, who gave his name as Yoel Klein, said that organization employees spoke to children at the school about the tragedy. Klein said that adults and children may have very different reactions to this incident, and parents should speak to their children about it and to validate their children’s feelings. He also said to watch for signs of children being extra upset, such as crying or having trouble eating or sleeping for several days, and offered resources, including the organization’s phone number, for further guidance.

The 13-year-old boy in the earlier incident died on March 20 in a tragedy one Israeli Haredi news outlet connected to the boy’s dad being prevented from attending his bar mitzvah months earlier.

Yehiel Kalish, the CEO of the emergency services organization Hatzolah, declined to be interviewed for this article. Rabbi David Niederman, the executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, did not immediately respond to emails containing questions from Shtetl. The administration of the United Talmudical Academy headquarters in Williamsburg did not immediately return calls from Shtetl. 

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, the 24-hour Chai Lifeline helpline at 855-327-4747, or Amudim at 646-517-0222.