Menashe Habakuk was once described as Israel's golden boy. National judo champion during the late 1980s, he won the gold medal at the 1990 Maccabiah games, married an adoring fan and went to work as a trainer in a studio near Tel Aviv.
Six years later he was working part time as an air conditioning repairman in Modi'in, outside Jerusalem, raising two small children and dreaming of getting back to the sport. When a friend's plan to open a new studio fell through and he lost his air conditioning job, he went into a downward spiral of poverty and depression from which he never emerged. On April 23, the last day of Passover, he killed himself. He was 36.
Habakuk's death would have gone largely unnoticed, just one of the estimated 400 to 600 Israelis who kill themselves every year for a variety of reasons. But one month after his death he re-emerged as a media star of sorts. He was one of 18 Israelis believed to have committed suicide during the preceding two months because of economic desperation.
The rash of "economic suicides," as they have become known, exploded onto the front pages on May 22 with the death of Ze'ev Nir, 67, a failed caterer from the Haifa suburb of Binyamina. Nir's suicide became front-page news because of his family. His brother, Ehud Manor, is one of Israel's most celebrated songwriters.
In a letter he left taped to his body, Nir asked his family for forgiveness, explaining that he could
no longer endure the family business's financial difficulties. "I am going through a terrible emotional crisis, with which I can no longer live," he wrote. "I beg your forgiveness, and wish you all long and happy years without me."