A formerly ultra-Orthodox woman, who was found dead in her car on Sunday after apparently taking her own life days earlier, had written a short autobiography describing the rigors of living within the Gur Hasidic sect and the pain she felt when her daughters cut ties with her over her choice to give up religion.
Esti Weinstein, 50, was discovered at the Hakshatot Beach in the coastal city of Ashdod, bringing to an end a week of searches after she went missing. In the car with her body police discovered a short note.
“In this city I gave birth to my daughters, in this city I die because of my daughters,” Weinstein, once a member of a prominent family in Gur, wrote.
Eight years ago Weinstein, who had seven daughters, chose to leave the ultra-Orthodox fold, in which she had grown up and which had seen her married at 17.
“I understand that I am sick and needy, and I don’t want to continue to be a burden on you,” she wrote. “Don’t make much effort for the ceremony, something modest with a lot of flowers, and remember that this is what I chose as best for me, and also if you say that I am selfish, I accept and understand your lack of understanding.”
Until her death she had been living with her partner in the central town of Azor.
Haaretz reported that Weinstein also penned a 183-page book titled “Doing His Will,” which she dedicated to her daughter Tami, who followed her into a secular life and was the only one of her daughters to maintain contact with her. In the book, Weinstein recalled the events of her marriage and a previous attempt at suicide.
Her marriage, she explained, was deeply influenced by the “Takanot” — a set of strict guidelines that define how Gur married couples should conduct themselves, from the mundane to the intimate.
In it she describes the only meeting she had with her husband before their marriage. Her prospective groom raised the subject of the Takanot and his expectation that she abide by the rules.
“Now comes the ‘the speech’ that they told me about, about how how difficult it is to keep all of the [Takanot], and how important it is, blah, blah, blah, I thought to myself, and pitied the thin boy in front of me, sitting with drooped shoulders, his hands together in front of his body, and him swaying uncomfortably… His overall appearance was far from being perfect but, touching in his humiliation, it caused me to feel relaxed next to him.”
“I knew in that moment that I would agree to the shiduch [arranged marriage],” she recalled.
During their marriage her husband never called her by name, Weinstein wrote.
“At the time I didn’t know what the word romantic means, but I felt very strongly that I wanted to hear him pronounce my name on his lips. Sometimes I would walk behind him at home like a shadow and imagine him suddenly turning around and saying that wonderful word.”
Once, when she asked her husband to make love to her more than the twice a month permitted in the Takanot, he left their home to call a counselor for advice and only came back two hours later.
“He paused for a moment in the entrance to the living room, didn’t even look at me, and threw into the space of the room the sentence that would hound me for many years afterwards and until today: ‘The rabbi said one shouldn’t add days except what the rebbe [head of the sect] from Gur defined, which is twice a month, and we already did this twice this month! Therefore, the rabbi said, this month we should not do it again, and added and instructed, that if you accept my pronouncement, that is great! And if not — that I should sleep in the living room, and if that also doesn’t help and you continue to insist, then the rabbi ruled that I should sleep in the [synagogue]! Good night!’
“He finished like a father instructing his children to go straight to bed because it is late. He went to the bedroom and immediately fell asleep, and I spent the night in tears and wailing terribly.”
Weinstein reportedly ended the book by writing of her life divided between being the independent woman she chose to be by leaving the sect, and “my life of motherhood, the painful, that is smashed to pieces, sick and wounded.
“I thought it was a temporary matter, but the years are passing and time isn’t healing, and the pain doesn’t stop.”
Yair Hess, executive-director of the Hillel organization, which offers support to members of the ultra-Orthodox community who want to leave religion, recalled Weinstein, who volunteered with the organization, as “a strong woman, a role model.”
“We didn’t know how deep her wounds were,” he said.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.