Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Embracing RAGE

WARNING! This post is graphic and potentially triggering. 

I dedicate this essay to all survivors who were sexually abused by a religious person they trusted. I would not be religious today if I hadn't written it.
Embrace your rage!  
Don't be afraid of it! 
The spiritual abuse, and damage we suffered is profound, but it IS possible to heal.  
Writing this essay helped me heal my relationship with the Torah and with my dead grandfather. I am surprised to be able to say, that I am no longer angry with him. Although he died many years ago, I feel him with me, encouraging and supporting me in my work.

I was seven. My sister was eight. We went to the yeshiva for shacharis with Tatty. Zaidy liked it when we came. After davening, he took us into his office. He put his hands under my clothes. His finger hurt me and I looked at him shocked.
“Don't look at me.” he said. “Look at the sefarim.”

I looked at the glass doors, behind them rows of meshnayos, shas, some of them too heavy to lift. I made my mind leave the rosh yeshiva's office so I wouldn't feel or know about his finger.

If I would have looked into his eyes, would he have seen my terror, my pain?
Would I have seen any shame or guilt in his?
But I was taught to listen, and so I looked at the sefarim, not at Zaidy. 
After he was done he asked,
“Do I need to get married again?”
He told us that he loved one of us more than the other. I knew it was my sister he loved more. 
Then, he took us to the toy store and told me to pick out a toy. Any toy.
My sister doesn't remember any of this.

She is the lucky one.

Black waves of rage
engulf me in a flood of intense fury,
crushing me,
drowning me.
I scream
a silent cry of despair
fists clenched
mind inflamed
a tense helpless agony
burns inside.
I know I can not escape it.


Instinctively
I dive head first
into the raging violence
shouting
screaming
against the terrible pressure
I pound, kick and
fight my way
down
  down
     down
through the terrifying anger
to the feelings beneath.


I lie exhausted
still
at the bottom.
My face is wet and
I'm shaking
and feeling
pain,grief, sadness, and hurt,
I had so carefully buried
deep under this turbulent sea of anger
I finally found the courage
to embrace.


I am an adult now.  
My grandfather is long dead. 
 It's time to face the anger that keeps me separated from my community.  I love, hate, and fear the community I grew up in, all at the same time.
Evil and holiness intertwined in my childhood in a knot almost too difficult to unravel.
As a child I couldn’t fight back, and I buried the rage. Now, an adult, I take myself back in time, feel the feelings, and to heal myself.
I never have to go far to find the parts of me that were hurt.  They are right behind my eyes,stuck at the age the abuse happened.
I visualize taking the younger part of me by the hand, and bringing her back to the yeshiva, into the office full of sefarim.  Back into the holy territory where she was violated.
She is not scared, because I'm with her.
She is enraged.
Zaidy sits on his rocking chair. A sefer Torah wrapped in a talis is on the shelf behind him. My young self opens one of the glass doors and takes out a tome of shas. She staggers under it's weight. It is Meseches Makos.
She is not scared. She knows I am now an adult, and I will protect her. She knows that he can not hurt her anymore.
She lifts the book and smashes the glass in the shelves. She snatches the sefarim throws them at Zaidy and onto the floor. She is furious. She opens the holy books and rips out the pages, crumples them up and throws them, stamps on them, stuffs them into his open shocked mouth.
Glass fragments and aleph bais rain down.  
I let her do this. 
She needs to do this.


She uses a sefer as a rock to smash his head again and again. He sits clutching the arms of the rocker.
We are both awed by the depth of her rage.
She takes a broken piece of glass and uses it like a knife to cut off the finger that hurt her. He starts to rise. I warn him with my eyes.

Touch her and you're finished. 

He sits back down.
She pulls down the sefer Torah wrapped in a talis on top of the shelf behind him. She unwraps it and pulls it open. Using a piece of broken glass as a knife she cuts a long piece; Long as an adult scarf.
Holding Parshas Vayerah she climbs up on his chair, wraps the Torah portion around Zaidy’s neck and squeezes it tightly. As tightly as she can.
Forgive me Hashem; please understand me. 
 I have to let her do this.


Zaidy’s face turns blue, scared eyes popping out on top of the words, “Sedom.” He stares pop-eyed at the words hanging down in front of his face. He stops breathing to Parshas Vayerah. 
 Strangled by the Torah and the child who he violated together in his office.
She looks at me.
“Are you done?”
Almost.
She goes over to his shtender and pushes it over. It falls onto his face knocking out his front teeth.
We survey the damage in silence.
The blood. The broken glass. The torn sefarim.  The wounded Torah. The dead rosh yeshiva.
We are satisfied. 
I take her hand and we leave together.

We both needed to do this.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Parsha

 This past week's parsha, (parshat Vayigash) is my favorite.  One of the things I must do in order to heal my relationship with Torah, is to claim it as my own.  I have to find myself in the Torah, and find the Torah inside myself.    
I find myself in the story of Yosef and his brothers.  Like Yosef I have eleven siblings.  None of them have spoken to me in well over a decade.  I was not invited to their weddings. 

The ending of Parshat Vayigash gives me hope.  God must have caused this pain for a good reason.  I have heard from many survivors that my writing gives them hope.  Hope is the food of survival.  

Like Yosef,
I have eleven brothers.
They never wanted to hear what I had to say.
They called me a liar.
A dreamer.
They believed I was a threat to our family.
A threat to their destiny.
When I was young, "they threw me into a pit full of
snakes and scorpions."
Then they sold me down to Egypt."
They lied about what happened to me.
For many years, I suffered.
Then
 with the help of God
through miracles
I thrived.

I am still  in exile.
It's been many years since I was sold.
It's been many years since I saw my brothers.
There is a famine in the world.
People are coming to me for food.

I am preparing  food for my brothers as well.
They may need to eat at some point
and I, with the help of God, 
have food.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Silence Of The Rabbis

PLEASE SHARE THIS WIDELY AND MAKE OUR WORLD A SAFER PLACE FOR CHILDREN!

One month ago, I sent a copy of the following letter to every rabbi of an Orthodox shul in Baltimore. I received not a single response to my letter; neither in writing, phone call, or e-mail.

Fifteen years ago, the president of the Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore, Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, advised my family to cut me off unless I promise never to state publicly that my father molested me.  The problem is that my father is the principal of an elementary school in Baltimore, Torah Institute.  My father has never taken responsibility for his actions and continues to work with children.

Please publicize this and hold the Baltimore rabbis accountable to their words:

To the Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore, and The Baltimore Frum Community: 
Over twenty years ago, when I disclosed that my father molested me, I was given the message that I would be better off dead than speaking my truth. 

Back then, I believed the message that the 
rabbonim and my family gave me, and at the age of twenty two I survived a serious suicide attempt. A few years later, I was told by Rabbi Hopfer, through my family, that unless I agreed to keep quiet about my experiences I would receive the worst punishment in the TorahKares

I could not survive and keep silent, and so I lost everyone that I loved. 

On April 11, 2007, The Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore issued a letter to the community where you claimed to know something about child sexual abuse.(I am quoting directly from that letter) 

"The greatest allies of the abuser are ignorance and silence. The abuser thrives 
in an environment where he is confident that his victims will not report what 
they have experienced, or where their reports of abuse will not be taken
 seriously." 

The Vaad Harabonnim of Baltimore have effectively created an environment where my father is confident that any victim of his, who dares to come forward,(and not many will dare, after the example you made of me) will not be believed
 or taken seriously. 

You claimed in this letter that survivors are:
"so richly deserving of your compassion and support." 

Yet, you abandoned me, and continue to abandon me. 
You wrote that a single abuser will often have many victims. 
Yet, you continue to allow my father to be in a position of power and authority over innocent 
children. You wrote in your letter: 

"The damage that abuse can cause is devastating and potentially life altering; it
 commonly ruins an individuals sense of self, their ability to trust others, and 
their ability to engage in a healthy intimate relationship."

These things are all true. 

I am, to this day, still dealing with the after effects of the abuse that I endured.
 You wrote that your own poskim pasken that an abuser is a "rodef", that he is incapable of teshuva, that publicizing his status as an abuser, while causing enormous damage to his own family, may be the only way to truly protect the community from him. 

You claim in your letter to believe that abusers must be stopped, and that you
 have made terrible mistakes and that they haunt you. I am one of the mistakes that will haunt you.
 I have nothing to hide. 
I offered to speak with you, as well as to allow you to speak with my therapist, 
and you ignored me. My offer still stands.

Everything you wrote in this seven year old letter is true...and yet, you have not been capable of applying it in a situation where you know and trust the 
perpetrator. 

Dr. David Pelcovitz, a community expert on this topic, often says that the closer
 you are to the perpetrator, the more you can identify with him, the less likely
 you will be to see the truth, and the stronger will be your denial. You all know 
and trust my father. Some of you knew my grandfather. None of you know me, 
as an adult, nor have you tried to know me. 

You are all allies of an abuser. You are all still failing to protect our children
 from abuse. 

Some of you may not be aware that I was not always considered crazy. I was actually, according to my bosses at the time, Rabbi Velvel Rosen and Sara
 Itzkowitz, one of the best pre-school teachers in T.I. That is, until I spoke my truth and tried to get help.

In Israel for the past nine years, I ran a progressive and very successful early childhood program: www.ganulpan.org

When I heard about Eliyahu Goode's death, I felt his neshama crying out to me 
and I thought it was because he, like I, was also an abandoned victim of child
 sexual abuse from our community. It was only afterward that I realized that 
Eliyahu had been a student of mine, when he was five, and I was twenty, and teaching pre-1-A at Torah Institute. Eliyahu was a sweet boy, and a good boy. He too needed and deserved your support. 

I know, Hashem knows, and Eliyahu knows, that I am doing everything I can to express what he and what so many other victims of child sexual abuse in the Torah community can not say, because we have been silenced and shamed by you, the rabbonim.

I think it is a mistake for rabbonim, or anyone else, to think that they can judge
 between me or my father, or evaluate my mental status. 

The fact that my father has more than one serious allegation against him, raises doubt about his safety around children. Attacking an alleged victim's mental
 health to prove non-credibility, is as ridiculous as saying that a girl can't
 possibly be anorexic since she weighs seventy five pounds and barely eats. 

It is a fact, that in many cases, child sexual abuse and incest cause mental 
health issues, just as anorexia causes weight loss. In my case, and all cases of
 alleged child sexual abuse, assessing risk is appropriate. Judgment is not. 

Hashem is unconditional love and truth. Torah is truth and love. Truth and love 
are stronger and far more enduring than power and control.

Abusing your power and authority to silence victims of child sexual abuse,
 as you have in my case, has nothing to do with Torah, and should not, and will
 not, last. 

Sincerely,

Genendy Eisgrau

 Phone:---------  genendy.safekids@gmail.com

My therapists contact info: Name--------Number--------------

Let Rabbi Hopfer know what you think about this:

 She'airis Yisrael (Glen Avenue) shul 
Phone: 410-466-3060 
Fax: 410-367-9183


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mother

Do we ever fully recover from a mother's ongoing denial and rejection?  Do we ever get to a place where we can just let it go?

Without you near me I'm like air.  I am nothing without you.”

My six year old said these words to me tonight, trying to convince me to lie next to her until she falls asleep.


Her words startled me.

Not just because of their profundity, coming from the mouth of a six year old, but because she knows and can express just how dependent she is on me. 

How dependent we all once were on our mothers, as young children, for our very existence.

We are made of mother.

physically and emotionally, she is our creator, our life force, and our life source.  We simply could not have been born, and could not exist today without her.

I haven't seen my mother in over sixteen years. My mother was in Israel recently for a wedding.  Over the past ten or so years I invited her to see me, and to meet her grandchildren three times, and each time she declined.  She said; 'We cause each other too much pain.'  Once her response was; 'I will wait and see you when Mashiach comes.

My aunt, my mother's sister, came to see us last week, and I asked her to invite my mother to come along. 
She didn't pass on the message, and my mother didn't contact me.

 As humans we regularly try to avoid that which is too painful to contemplate.  I suppose for my mother I am just that. 

Too painful to contemplate.

As an adult, I accept her decision, painful as it is.  I knew where she was staying, and I could have gone to see her myself, but I wasn't invited, and I didn't want to invite rejection face to face.

As an adult, I know my limitations.

I am also torn about my mother meeting my children.  How can they possibly feel about a grandmother who seems not to love them, or care one iota about their existence?  Why offer them a face to go with the rejection?
I know and trust that if I am supposed to see my mother again in this lifetime, I will. I know It can't be forced.

I pray that if and when that happens, it will be healing for both of us.

But...

To the child inside me, my mother's rejections hurt and shock deeply.

A part of me doubts I can, or ever did exist without her validation and love. As a child, she couldn't and didn't protect me.  She couldn't see that I was hurt, or know that I was being molested by her father, -my grandfather, and by my father, -her husband;  the two people she trusted and depended on the most.

 My inner child just doesn't get it.  Why didn't she see me?  Why didn't she protect me? Did I ever really exist?  She is my mother, for God sake, why doesn't she want to see me?  

I am a mother, and I just can not relate.  If my child was serving time in prison for murder, I don't think it would stop me from wanting to see him. My child is my child no matter what.  

  And I am not a murderer.

 As adults, we transfer our feelings of dependency to God.  ...We are like air without You.  We are nothing without You...   As adults, we know and realize that although we need God to exist, we can, and do exist without mother. 

As children we do not. 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do you think you Can You Hold Me?


Do you think you can hold me?

Can you hold a child inside an adult body?
A little girl too scared to cry
A little girl too ashamed to let you come close?

Can you hold me?
Can you hold us?

Can you hold a small child who
does not know how to hold herself
because no one ever held her?

Can you hold a devastated, enraged, little girl who fights
you with every breath, with every beat of her
broken heart?

 Can you hold a child whose mind is on the verge of shattered?
A child so alone
she thinks she already died?
a child frozen in trauma she can't begin to comprehend

Can you hold a child who was raped?
A terrified, angry, writhing, banging, smashing, five-year-old
fighting to release herself from a body
that betrayed her
a body that is in too much pain to stay inside of
A body that only knows how to be hurt.

Can you really hold her
 inside this adult body? 

Can you really hold me?
Can you hold me, as I fight you
as I fight
all of the adults
from my past
who could not hold me
who could not see my pain.
who could not stay long enough for me to begin to trust them.

Do you really think you can hold me ?





Thursday, November 27, 2014

Techias Hamesim at a Levaya ( Resurrection at a Funeral)

Knowing how quickly funerals take place in Israel, I assumed my cousin's burial would happen the same day, that his body was found in the Jerusalem forest.
 He had been missing for a week and was the focus of a national man hunt.

 The war in Gaza had just ended.  Three of our boys had been abducted and murdered by Hamas a few weeks earlier.  I was asked by a cousin through marriage to help raise political awareness of the possibility of an abduction of our mutual cousin.  I wondered if our missing cousin could have been abducted by Hamas, and what that would mean for my family.

 I was in a mild state of shock when I saw my aunt, who I hadn't seen or spoken to in more than twenty years, pleading for her child's life on TV, and on the internet.  The media is an exposure to the outside world my family shies away from.  Seeing my aunt on my Facebook news feed was as bizarre as it was heartbreaking.

 I grew up with my mother's younger brothers and sisters.  My aunts and uncles had helped care for us when we were little, and when I was old enough I was sent to help them out when their children were born.

This particular aunt took care of me when I was a young child.   Not having a mother, (my grandmother died when my mother was only fifteen)  My aunts and uncles were close with my mother.  She was very involved in their marriages, and in the births of their oldest children.  I was at this aunt's wedding. 
But that was all a very long time ago.

 Would it would mean anything to my aunt to know that my husband had gone out to search for her son? To know how much we cared, to know that I begged Hashem (Godfor her son's life?  Our family has seen so much trauma, so much pain.
 "This time Hashem," I prayed, "teach us through joy, and not through pain.  Let this young man be found alive and well." 

 I wasn't planning to go to my cousin's funeral.  I had only met him once, at his bris.  I had no illusions of anyone in my family wanting me to be at the levaya.

Then, I heard that the funeral was to take place not ten minutes from my home.  That somehow changed things.  Was I actually supposed to be there? Would it add to my aunt and uncle's pain if they saw me?
They had been through so much. The last thing I wanted to do was add to their suffering.

I felt torn. Confused. I cried for my aunt who had suffered such a huge loss. I hadn't tried to contact her in the last twenty years.  The reason was self protective.  I had needed her support and validation, and I knew it wasn't there for me.  I had not been invited to any of her children's weddings.  Nor had I been invited to my own siblings' weddings.

A wedding is different than a funeral.

One does not need an invitation to a funeral.

  I decided I would go to the levaya and stay far away from my relatives.  I did not need them to know I was there. I would go and daven (prayfor healing for myself and my family, and then leave.  Given the number of people who had been involved in the search I assumed it would be easy to remain anonymous in the crowd.

Time had stopped for me when my family cut me off.  I married, had children, and  lived my life, yet when it came to my family, I was frozen in the past.  I had been shocked to hear of my youngest brother's engagement.  How could he be engaged?  Wasn't he just eight years old?
That was the age he was when I saw him last.

Now, at the funeral, I saw a familiar face in the distance.  One of my mother's brothers.  He looked at me for a moment.  I have no idea if he recognized me.

  My mind went back in time to a strange memory.  This uncle had once asked me to help him kidnap  cousins from another uncle believed to be abusive.  I was seventeen at the time, and in school in Bnei Brak . It all sounded very exciting but I didn't really want to be involved.  One of the reasons I left home was to get away from the chaos around my aunt and her five children who lived with us.  It was a disturbing, ongoing saga of accusations of child abuse, mental illness, and divorce.  I asked my great uncle who I was living with at the time, what the right thing to do was.  He told me I should go and help out my family.
 In retrospect, I should not have gone.

 I will never forget that strange day.  My uncle dressed me in a tichel (kerchiefand sunglasses and took me to spy on the house where he believed the children were hiding.  We watched the front door through binoculars, planning to snatch the children when they came out to go to school.  When they didn't emerge, we went to the children's schools to try to find them there. 
It turned out, that they did not go to school that day, and we didn't find them.
 I am relieved that these innocent children were saved from the trauma of a kidnapping.

But that was all over twenty years ago.

 Now I sat on a bench outside my cousin's funeral remembering and watching relatives pass by.  I knew they must be my relatives, because they looked so much like me.

Where were the crowds I expected?  I was told there had been crowds in Jerusalem but being that it was Friday afternoon, not many people were at the actual burial.  A woman approached me and asked me who I was. I told her I was a niece.  She went inside and came back out again a few minutes later."Your aunt said you should come in."

What had I gotten myself into?
I followed her through a side door, and was taken aback to suddenly be standing right in front of my aunt, in between her and my cousin's body.  My aunt looked at me and I reached out and hugged her.  Her eyes were glazed with pain, but she knew who I was,
 "Genendy, you came!  How did you know?"

Did she really ask me how I knew?
The whole world knew.

I hugged her.  "I'm so sorry.  "I'm so, so sorry!"  Was all I could manage to gasp through my tears.  My body shook.  I felt one step away from my mother who I hadn't seen in many, many years. 

It was hard to believe I was really alive and this was really my aunt, who I loved, at her child's funeral.   This man with the white beard was really my uncle.  The tall man with a red beard and receding hair line was my cousin, who I remembered as a four-year-old screaming so hard his lips would turn blue and he would pass out.
Now he is married with children of his own.

 I was in a time warp.  I was Rip Van Winkle, waking after twenty years to find that time had passed and the world had gone on without me.  It was an out of body sensation. It was surreal.  I was a fly on the wall, watching myself and my relatives from a distance.

I was the only female relative in attendance from my aunt's side of the family.  The other nine or so women there were from her husbands side.  The seat next to my aunt was empty.  Someone motioned for me to sit.  "Do you want me to sit next to you?" I asked.
"Yes. Sit here."
 I sat.
"No one came in from the States?"  I asked.
My aunt shook her head.  "No.  There was no time..."  I took her hand.
 Her voice shook with pain."...He was a very special boy...We don't ask questions."
"I was at his bris."  I told her.

I looked at the body of my young cousin lying a few feet in front of me wrapped in white.
I had been there for his bris, and now I was present again for his burial.

I sat next to my aunt, reminding myself to breathe, trying not to pass out,  listening to young cousins I had never met, eulogize their older brother long distance. I grasped the handle of an umbrella to steady myself.  This was a time of intense loss for my family.

 And I, who had lost so many of them myself, was incredulous to find myself there, alive and well.

A week after the levaya I spoke with another aunt, the only one who had stayed in touch with me over the years. 
"I went to the levaya."  I told her.
"I know. There was a live hookup.  We all saw you."
They had all seen me.
I was real.
I existed.
Baruch Atah... Mechayeh Hamesim. (Blessed are you... who restores life to the dead.)


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Daven for the Safe Return of Aaron Sofer

My cousin Aaron Sofer is missing.  More than one person has suggested to me that if my family would do teshuva and reach out to me- the excommunicated and rejected daughter, niece and cousin- then their missing son, nephew, and cousin will be returned to them. 

 Although it is an understandable human reaction, I don't think it's responsible to extrapolate why it's happened, especially suggesting they deserve it. Nobody knows why and asking why won't help find him,  nor will using tragedy to hunt for someone or something to blame,
 

I don't think Aaron is missing  because of my family's excommunication of me.  

I do not agree with blaming the victim, and I do not make a connection between my excommunication and my  missing cousin. 

I do not pretend to know why Hashem in His love and wisdom allows painful things to happen to people.  I do know that there is almost nothing more painful than being blamed for a difficult and painful situation that one finds oneself in and did not cause.  This is a pain I live with daily, and I could never wish it on anyone else.   

  No one deserves the pain of losing family. 

It is a terrifying and heartbreaking concept to contemplate, let alone experience.  I know that my cousins and the rest of my family are doing the best they can; and have always been doing the best they can in dealing with my allegations of child sexual abuse against those they love.  

My family did not give me my situation, Hashem did.
  I forgive my family completely for any pain I feel due to their behavior, and I only want my cousin returned safe and sound to his family.  

 I am saying tehillim for my cousin's safe return.  My husband is in Jerusalem, as I write this, searching for a cousin he never met, for a family who rejects him.

   We are doing these things because we know that only love, and not revenge, can heal pain.

 We also know that our cousin's current situation is one that can happen to any of us.  This could easily be my  child, or your child who is missing.   Aaron Sofer is OUR child, OUR brother, no matter who he is related to.  


By  working on our issues  within the community, and by performing acts of baseless love, within the community, we can facilitate healing and mercy. 

Please daven for the safe return of Aaron Ben Chulda.