Gil and Esther Alexander lost two sons, both IDF soldiers, to suicide and have dedicated their lives to raising the issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Orthodox community – and in the IDF itself.
After Losing 2 Sons To Suicide, Orthodox Couple Tries To Raise Suicide Awareness And prevention In The Orthodox Community, IDF
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Gil and Esther Alexander lost two sons, both IDF soldiers, to suicide. In March 1995 their oldest on Amit shot himself while sitting alone on guard duty. In 2008 another son, Yotam, who was recently married, walked out of his hesder yeshiva’s synagogue during Shacharit (the morning prayer service) and skilled himself.
A new documentary film, “Against Your Will,” tells the story of the Alexanders’ struggle to raise awareness of suicide in the Orthodox community and to work for its prevention. It premiers next month at Docaviv, a documentary film festival in Israel, Ha'aretz reported.
Suicide is prohibited by halakha (Orthodox Jewish law) and is considered to be a serious sin.
When their Amit killed himself in 1995, several members of the Orthodox kibbutz the family lives on encouraged them to call his death an accident and not mention the word suicide, which is banned under halakha (Orthodox Jewish law).
“To refer to it as an accident when everyone around us would be whispering suicide? Suicide isn’t a comfortable word, but that’s what happened,” Gil Alexander now says.
The Alexanders still meet with new recruits in Amit’s old elite IDF unit and tell the story of his suicide as a precautionary tale so the new soldiers will learn how to recognize suicide warning signs and learn what to do about them. The Alexanders have also done the same with Orthodox rabbis and education professionals, but with much less success.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where you would go to your rabbi with a problem and he would tell you to speak to a psychologist,” one of Yotam Alexander’s former friends notes in the film.
Ha’aretz reports that in the IDF suicide is also a taboo subject, even though 10 IDF soldiers reportedly committed suicide last year (a decrease from previous years), including three soldiers who had fought in the Gaza War.
Esther Alexander’s grief has caused her to doubt God, and since the suicides she finds it difficult to get up each morning and pray. But she reportedly writes letters to her two dead sons as a way of dealing with her pain.
“True, I have remained a mother to five children, and objectively, that is a lot. But my feeling is that it’s so little to be a mother to just five children, while it’s so much to be a mother to two dead boys,” one of those letters reads.
Depression usually has a biological basis and can be treated with medicine or a combination of medication and therapy, and suicide prevention hotlines are available 24/7 in most parts of the Western world to help. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In Israel, Eran (1201.org.il) operates a suicide prevention hotline. Inside Israel its number is 1201. To call it from outside Israel, its number is 972-9-8891333.
There are no Shabbat prohibitions that prevent calling a suicide prevention hotline if necessary, and even in cases of doubt the call should be made immediately, even on Shabbat.