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Combat the Chassidic Suicide Epidemic with Free WIFI in Brooklyn NY

For 30 years, I was held captive, forced to share a thorny branch to receive life. I withered and shriveled, but forced myself to open my face in a pretend smile to the sunlight.  I had to squeeze my way through the thin slats of the prison walls to find free air on the other side. This came with the brute force of support, from blossoms of strength, from branches already free.

This  film is about those who are not safe to speak yet, or for those who died trying.

For 20 years, I was silent.

I didn’t tell anyone about being forced into an arranged marriage when I was 18. I never told a soul about the sleepless nights, the hours I spent weeping in my room, terrified of the next step of my life.

I refused to participate in the wedding preparations and allowed my mother to buy the pots, dishes, and bed linen all by herself. The only appointment I attended was the one at the gown rental place, to make sure I looked decent on the big day.

I didn’t tell anyone what happened when I came home from my wedding with a man I didn’t know. I was too ashamed that I was ordered by the rabbi’s wife to do unholy things with a person whose body parts were jarringly different than my own. [foreign to me]

The morning after, my head was shaved on 000 setting, as was customary for pious married women. At home, I wore a turban, and on the streets, I wore a wig.

For the entire Sheva Brachos, a customary week of wedding feasts, I was shaken and distant like a survivor of rape. That continued for 14 years.

The first time I tried to tell, was when I was 6 weeks married. My husband locked me out on the porch overnight, and I ran to back to my mother’s house the next day. I told her I was never going back to that man. Her response was? “Darling, I married you off, now go back to your husband”.

I tried again a year later. I packed a diaper bag for my infant daughter and a change of clothes for myself, and I walked six blocks to my mother’s house. Again, she sent me back home to my husband. I never tried to leave again.

Instead, I busied myself with mothering all the babies I was birthing.  I had no basic education, no high school diploma, no access to secular media, and no expectation to be the breadwinner.

In 2009, three of my children were diagnosed with autism. I sought relief from the local school districts and secured supportive services in secret. When my husband found out, he arranged for the Rabbis to call the school district and notify them “the children have been cured, and will no longer be needing services”.

Determined to find a way to help my children, I secretly enrolled in college. I was 32, and began working on my GED (high school equivalency diploma). In my second semester, my husband found out and rallied to excommunicate me. On March 27, 2010, police came to my house and ordered me not to speak to anyone or take anything with me, and leave the home immediately. My youngest was a nursing baby at the time.

Homeless in the streets of Brooklyn, I met up with others in my predicament. I learned about the suicide epidemic and understood it very well. Children of divorce are further punished for the sins of their parents. They are ostracised and last on the list for viable marriage prospects. The family name is permanently tainted, ruining the marriage prospects for even distant relatives. Nobody allows their children to play with those children of divorced parents either, lest they be seen in public with such dirty contacts.

Orphans, on the other hand, are celebrated and receive preferential treatment in the community. A parent who is alienated from their children is forever burdened with the notion that they owe their children the better life—by making their children be orphans.

Every month, we lose another human being who has tried to change their life in a way that they saw fit. The media is anxious to justify the suicides on the basis of mental illness. For those who are still living the nightmare, mental illness has almost nothing to do with this. Fundamentalism and being trapped in a cult has everything to do with it.

The community’s wealth and power should not be underestimated. Veiled behind the pious costumes, is a pulse of vicious criminal tactics of oppression, discrimination, and abuse. For every non-profit that advertises support for an education towards a career, dozens of rabbis undersign warning posters in opposition. 

There are an estimated ½ million ultra orthodox chassidic people living in the heart of New York city. People generally turn a blind eye, just like we do with the Amish communities. Thanks to the first amendment, the government cannot intervene matters deemed religious, including federal crimes performed in the name of religion. Domestic violence support and kosher shelters are non-existent. Anyone wishing to escape is warned about the horrors of the outside world.


In October 2015, a video surfaced on YouTube, narrated by a woman who left with her husband and four children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr1-7x12w3U Shifra Lowen’s video went viral within the first hour. The video was then captured and shared on whatsapp, an app that chassidim have discovered to work on their rabbinically-approved kosher cellphones. Hundreds and thousands have since seen that video and many have contacted Shifra, thanking her for saving their lives and guiding them to safety.

How can you help?

Petition the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to install and maintain free open access Internet to be accessible to all residents of Brooklyn, New York. The next generation deserves to have a free and public education like all other citizens in the United States. Sometimes, radical change begins with wifi on a smartphone.

Bill Gates is the richest person in the world and with a generous heart. His foundation mobilizes billions of dollars worth of donation every year to help alleviate poverty and all kinds of epidemics in poor and third world countries. This time, charity can begin at home.

Will you help?

This petition was delivered to:
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Senator
    Charles Schumer


    Henny Kupferstein started this petition with a single signature, and now has 163 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.