Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Day Yoeli Deutch Died

Joey Diangello (formerly Yoeli Deutch)
Maybe it wasn’t suicide. On the other hand maybe it was. Yoeli Deutch – age 34 - died Monday via an overdose of drugs. That was how his death was listed.  Did he do it on purpose or was it an accidental overdose? Who knows.

His friends say it couldn’t have been suicide. He was recently in a much better place psychologically than he had been ever since his traumatic childhood. A childhood that saw him being raped by an unidentified man at the Mikvah his father had taken him to. He was 7 years old. But as a poignant essay by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman notes, suicide was on his mind just before the holidays.  This was the final e-mail sent to Rabbi Eisenman just before Rosh Hashanah:
I just wanna say "Leshana tovah" to you and your family. May this upcoming year b a suicide death free year is all I ask.  Luv, me.
Best, Joey
This  wouldn’t be the first time that a survivor of sexual abuse committed suicide – even after many years and even after displaying a more positive attitude in life.  I am told by survivors that the pain of sexual abuse never fully goes away.

Yoeli Deutch actually died long ago. His rapist murdered his Jewish soul. Or so Yoeli thought. Judaism for Joel was Satmar Chasidus. He was violated in one of its most utilized venues – a Mikvah where many Jews go for ablutions to ‘spiritually cleanse the soul’.  Although not mandatory for men in our day, most Chasidim and many other Orthodox men use it and consider it a pious act.

Yoeli  probably wanted to get as far away from his Jewish identity and the painful association he had with it as possible. His fate was sealed after that event. 10 years later at age 17 he left the only Judaism he knew, Satmar, and became Joey Diangello. And then he rebelled big time. From Rabbi Eisenman’s Short Vort:
When I met Joey, his arms were covered with tattoos depicting scenes I did not want to stare at.
His fingernails were painted with black nail polish and he was drinking large glasses of non-Kosher wine at a rate which made me wonder how a human being could ingest so much alcohol.
I never met Joey. But from Rabbi Eisenman’s words I can see that he was a good man that got a bad deal in life. One that might have been avoided if he were treated differently by his former community. He was completely rejected by them after he rebelled. I’m sure they were disgusted by his ‘look’… and what he had become. Form the pix11 website:
Diangello’s family rejected his new lifestyle…

Diangello paid a price for leaving the community, often getting hissed at on the streets of Williamsburg, if he was seen anywhere near his old neighborhood.
Contrast that with what Rabbi Yakov Horowitz wrote just before the holidays (which I posted and commented upon). It included the following:
Many of the kids my colleagues and I work with all year long return to their own Shul for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – even though they may no longer be observant. Often, their dress and overall appearance are at odds with the standards of the community and they may be tentatively standing at the outer edge of our Shuls – literally and figuratively. 
On their behalf, I humbly appeal to you to reach out to them warmly and welcome them back.
Please don’t comment on their appearance or how long they have been away…
Don’t misread their discomfort as disrespect, or their tentativeness as a lack of commitment. Just walk over to them and say, “It’s so nice to see you.” Give them a warm, welcoming and genuine smile. Invite them to sit next to you – and permit them the space to turn down your invitation. I assure you that whether or not they accept it; they will be grateful to you for your unconditional acceptance.  
Imagine the difference such an attitude might have made to Joey. Had they done this, who knows… maybe they could have gotten their Yoeli back. But even if they wouldn’t have gotten him back, acting kind instead of cruel might just have saved his life. I can’t imagine the unbearable pain Joey must have felt when the community he was once a part of  turned their back on him - shunning him in such a disgusting way.

The following pix11 video has more details about Joey’s life – and unfortunately his death. Watch it and weep.