Life is a gift. And I am so blessed.
It is Tu B'shvat today. The new year for the trees, and growth begins. There is a God in this world, and He is good. I am eternally grateful to Hashem for bringing me to this day and to this moment in my life. Shehecheyanu, vikiymanu, vehigiyanu, lazman hazeh.
Evil exists, and pain and suffering are a reality that we all face at times. But pain and suffering, awful as they feel, are not inherently bad. They just are. How we choose to think about pain is what makes all the difference.
I have had some excruciatingly, hauntingly, devastatingly painful life experiences. Experiences that I believed would destroy me, and indeed almost did.
One of the most awful feelings, in the realm of feeling possibilities, is of a child who is trapped, being violated and hurt by her father, the very person who is supposed to be protecting her. Being completely dependent on the mercy of a father, who at times treats you with love, but at times also wants to hurt you sexually, is one of (if not) the most confusing, shaming, and traumatic experiences a child can have. As a child, I prayed for death as a release. At the same time, I knew, that death would bring me closer to Hashem.
And I did not want to be closer to Hashem. As a child, I believed that Hashem was a child molester just like my father.
I am lying in bed in a room that I share with my sisters in our little white house on Paul street. I am very young, three or four. My father comes into my room and lies on my bed. I stare at the red and white checkered curtains. I am trapped. A familiar numbness creeps into my mind. The numbness will dull the terror. It will dull the pain and shame, just enough so that I can get through this one more time. I am not real. I can not be real.
Tatty, NO!! Don't hurt me!! He rolls partially on top of me. I can't breathe. I can't move. Something is poking at me. I can't see what it is. It's cutting me. He's too heavy. I am going to die. I want to die. I have to die. ...Something is in my mouth cutting off my breath. Tatty, NO! Tatty, I need you!
...I want to fly up to the sky. But not too high in the sky. I don't want to be too close to Hashem. Hashem is probably like my Tatty and likes to touch and hurt little girls. I know that Hashem sees everything. I don't know why He lets Tatty hurt me. Maybe He likes to watch. Maybe He knows that I deserve to be hurt.
My throat hurts when I think about how Hashem lets me get hurt, and watches. I wonder if I could be dead and still stay far away from Hashem. I wish someone could make it better. Maybe magic will make the bad parts of me disappear and then Tatty won't hurt me any more. I don't want Tatty to hurt me. I don't want him to go away, either. I'm so scared. I wish I was a different girl. Then, maybe, I could be safe. I want to fly to the clouds in between the sky and Hashem, where there are no people. ...I can crawl inside a fluffy cloud and feel safe for a few minutes. I don't have to be me up here. I can pretend I'm good and pretend I'm safe. No one can bother me or fight with me. No one can touch me or hurt me. I can turn into a cloud and float away... Far, far away…
At times, my life felt hopeless. Not having a family who loves me or accepts me, at times, feels devastating. Yet, I know on a deep neshama level, that it is not really awful. I did not lose my family, or anything else that is truly important. My separation from my family for the past fifteen years is a gift. A chance for me to heal and grow and develop into the person I am supposed to be. My family is always with me in my heart, and I will always love them. I know that at the right time we will see each other again.
After a very long, and at times excruciating, healing process, I now know that everything that I went through ultimately happened for a good purpose. Hashem gave me everything I need in order to heal from the horrific experience of child sexual abuse.
He also gave me a mission.
It's has not been an easy mission, and not one I would have voluntarily signed up for. I have been put here on earth not only to heal myself, but to help others heal as well.
Life is a classroom and there is no learning like the learning that comes from experience. I know I received the best training Hashem has to offer in order to complete my mission here.
A personal encounter with evil evokes three possible responses. One can be consumed by it. One can avoid and deny it. Or, one can fight it. I have lived through all three responses.
I went through child sexual abuse, it's over, and I am called upon to fight the evil of child sexual abuse in our community. In order to do that effectively, Hashem knew that I must understand it intimately and personally.
When I climb above denial, hate, and fear, and stand on top of evil's head and look down upon its bent neck, I see it for what it really is. Evil is a tool that God put on this earth for us to fight. Evil is created by God, and is a reality only in the lower worlds. If there would be no evil there would be no world, no life on this earth, and no free will. Hate and fear, which is the essence of evil, will never be as strong or as enduring as truth and love, which are eternal. In the end, truth and love always win. The fabric of our neshama is made of truth and love.
If you have encountered evil personally, and been badly hurt by it, I know from experience that it is possible to go through it and come out the other side whole. You need and deserve a lot of time and support, but you CAN heal. You have no idea how powerful you are!
I recently received this e-mail from a frum survivor who I have come to know well through e-mail. Knowing that my journey can inspire others gives me the strength to continue my difficult mission:
"Hashem has given you amazing strength. I know some of your family but such strength I have never seen. The cries I have heard in the past from similar stories are of those who want to get back at their fathers or hate them. That's what gets me about you. You brought yourself from pain to compassion. I DONT KNOW WHAT COMPASSION IS. I'm kinda getting frustrated with myself right now. But I'm not giving up. I really feel with you I'm in good hands and have a Derech ahead of me." I answered this man that I am a firm believer in the power of prayer. I have used prayer to change in ways that felt impossible. If you want the strength to change, to heal, ask Hashem for that strength. Beg for it, cry for it, and demand it! Then, expect it. It will come. Hashem gave you the challenges. Hashem loves you fully and unconditionally. He wants you to turn to Him for help...Because the truth is you can't do it alone. You need Hashem's help. I Pray that God lead you to a place inside where you can love and accept yourself unconditionally, just the way He loves and accepts you. When you can love and accept yourself unconditionally, when you can accept that you are a limited human, and that you will make mistakes, and that you will always get up and try again... When you know that you have all the unconditional love and support that you need from God, When you understand that Hashem does not want perfection from you, only honesty, ...Then you will know that you have healed.
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,
a silent cry of despair
a tense helpless agony
I know I can not escape it.
I dive head first
into the raging violence
against the terrible pressure
I pound, kick and
fight my way
through the terrifying anger
to the feelings beneath.
I lie exhausted
at the bottom.
My face is wet and
pain,grief, sadness, and hurt,
I had so carefully buried
deep under this turbulent sea of anger
I finally found the courage
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?”
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.
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.
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 Torah; Kares.
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
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 believedor 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 authorityover 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 isincapable 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 communityfrom 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
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
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 SaraItzkowitz, 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
My therapists contact info: Name--------Number--------------
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.
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.