Monday, January 23, 2017

Lyza and Ruth

How can we tell the difference between emes and sheker?...
Allow me to introduce twin sisters,
Lyza and Ruth.
Lyza tells lies and Ruth tells the truth.
They look so alike, at times it's hard to tell
that one lives in heaven and the other in hell.
Lyza is afraid, she conceals her face,
shooting at Ruth from her hiding place.
She cannot discuss openly, cannot enter the light,
she is worried and anxious and filled with fright.
Introspection is hard because something is wrong,
inside her is a monstrous, anxious storm.
Lyza intimidates Ruth, tries to make her step back,
she shames her and blames her and confuses the facts.
Lyza hates Ruth, she is in pain and attacks,
but she will always come at Ruth from the back.
Lyza lies to survive, cannot look Ruth in the face.
She will make any excuse to change the date and place.
She will avoid and confuse, blame and cause conflict,
rage and rationalize and deny her own tricks.
Ruth is very different.
Ruth is not afraid, Ruth doesn't hide.
Ruth knows she is up against Lyza's complex lies.
Ruth is strong and doesn't give in.
She is clear and powerful and in the end will win.
Ruth is not afraid to look at at her own face
and take responsibility for her mistakes.
Ruth knows what she knows and knows what she doesn't,
and doesn't pretend to know things she can't
( like other"s intentions, for example).
Ruth is open to hearing more information
and changing her perspective based on that knowledge.
Ruth is not going anywhere. She feels happy and safe
and wants everyone to join her in this wonderful place.
Ruth is filled with love and acceptance,
even for Lyza
who tries to control her perspective.
(Ruth understands and accepts Lyza's role.)
Inside us we all have a Lyza and Ruth.
Lyza lies to survive,
and Ruth?
Ruth is the truth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Forgiveness

 This Shabbos I spoke publicly about this week's Torah portion, parshas Vayigash, focusing on family dynamics, estrangement, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

 Parshas Vayigash is very personal and emotional for me.  I relate to the story of Yosef and his brothers profoundly.
 In fact, this week's parsha, is the one that helped me reconcile my relationship with the Torah.
I had to find a story in the Torah that I could relate to and learn from in order to be able to live a Torah life, after what happened to me.

My personal story has so many parallels to Yosef's.
Like Yosef, I have eleven siblings.
 Like Yosef, my siblings saw me (and still see me) as a threat to the family and to their destiny.
  Like Yosef, they completely cut me off.

I was about twenty five when I was officially cut off.  I haven't seen my mother or siblings in eighteen years.
 And if my path continues to follow that of Yosef it will be a few years yet, until I see them again.

Like Yosef, I was cut off for speaking a truth that my family could not comprehend or believe.
 As a young child I was sexually abused in my grandfather's yeshiva by my grandfather and his students, one of who was my father.
When I was twenty, after years of depression and quiet suffering, I finally understood what had happened to me, what was wrong with me, and told my family.
No one in my family believed me.
None of the rabbonim I turned to for help in the community believed me, either.  They said I was imagining things.
When I was about twenty five I heard that my father, who was a teacher at the time, was being investigated for molesting a boy in his class and I decided to speak up. I realized that what happened to me could not remain a secret, as my father was (and still is) working with children.
My family's rav advised them to cut me off unless I promised not to talk about my father publicly.

Like Yosef, I suffered in a psychological and emotional prison for many years. 
Like Yosef, I chose to see the bigger picture.

This is not just about me.  
This is about all of us.
Our community is dealing with a virtual plague of child sexual abuse and its damage.

Yosef was sold down to Mitzrayim to prepare food for his family.  I feel like I was "sold down to Mitzrayim" to prepare hope and healing for my family. 
 Hope is the food of survival.

 Like Yosef, I could not have become the person I am today, the person I am supposed to be, while still in contact with my family.  I accept what happened to me.   I accept that Hashem is in control of the world and not my family or me, and that what happened is exactly what was supposed to happen.

But, what about forgiveness?  What will happen when my family (whether in this world or the next) finally realizes the truth? 
Can the pain of all the lost years, all the lost relationships ever go away?  Is forgiveness possible or even expected when a family cuts off a sibling?
Was forgiveness expected of Yosef?
Forgiveness can only exist in a culture in which repentance exists. The cultures in the world at the time of this parsha were shame and honor cultures.  ...Only Yaakov's family, (our family), had a repentance-and-forgiveness culture whose central concepts are will and choice.  ...Yosef's apparent forgiveness of his brothers is the first recorded moment in history in which one human being forgives another. (aish.com)
 Before Yosef revealed himself to his brothers he tested them over and over again to see if they had truly repented.  When he hears them admit that they made a mistake when they sold him, and that they feel terrible guilt and that they are willing to do anything to prevent the same thing from happening to their younger brother, he says to them: Beraishis 45 4-8

"I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God." 

Not everyone agrees that Yosef forgave, or was expected to forgive his brothers.
Rabbi Boruch Adler in Parsha Illuminations writes: 
 "The Or Hachaim says that Yosef did not forgive his brothers he accommodated them.  He understood his role and responsibility toward them.  He was more than civil toward them.  But he did not forgive them.  Yosef did not absolve his brothers of their guilt for selling him.  He was gracious but unforgiving."  
Rabbi Jay Kelmen explains:
"...Despite the warm wishes and good intentions it is not so easy to forget the painful past.  A close examination of the Biblical text reveals that all was neither forgotten nor forgiven.  "It is me who you sold into Egypt"; your sale has led to a long a bitter exile.  Your actions set off a chain of events leading to making Israel Judenrein.  Seventy souls may come down to Egypt but the Jewish people would not leave until they would number in the hundreds of thousands many of years later...An analysis of the aftermath of the death of Yaakov is quite instructive.  "And Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead and they said: Perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred against us and he will surely repay us all that evil that we did to him" (50:15).  Life is such that despite the best efforts the past can not just be undone.  Joseph leaving home at age seventeen and rising to the top of the most powerful nation of the world no longer speaks the same language. "They did not know that Joseph understood for an interpreter was between them" (42:23).  The innocence of youth, the closeness of father and son, the familial bond was lost forever."  Rabbi Kelmen points out that even though Yosef took care of his family in Mitzrayim, he did not live near them.  They lived far away in Goshen.
 Yosef's brothers were in denial about who he really was. Although he spoke of God and justice, using very un-Egyptian like language, they could not see past his external clothing, or imagine that he wanted anything good.  
In fact the midrash says that the brothers thought Yosef wanted their most handsome brother Binyamin to come down to Mitzrayim because he wanted him as his sex slave.
"Egypt was a hotbed of immorality,(9) and infamous for homosexuality and pedophilia...The brothers' suspicion that Yosef's intentions were less than honorable should come as no surprise; they do not entertain even the faintest notion, even in their wildest dreams, that this inscrutable, immoral monarch is actually their long-lost brother, a man who was not only sold, but was physically excised, cut out of the family. They do not dream that this man is Yosef, and that he has remained chaste - even at the price of being imprisoned. They do not see a Yosef HaTzaddik, nor do they see Yosef, grown to manhood and power. They see a lustful, powerful pervert. The only master plan they perceived was one engineered to satisfy Zafnat Paneach's (Yosef's Egyptian name) sexual appetite.Yosef is not seeking revenge, nor is he seeking vindication. Everything he says to his brothers and everything he does from the moment they stand before him is geared toward bringing the brothers to recognize him, to see him - and, as a result, to see his dreams - for what they really are. It is toward that end that Yosef pushes them, but they do not seem to understand. They don't understand that it is Yosef that he wants them to seek; they don't understand that it is Yosef he wants them to accept; they don't understand that it is Yosef who is in the room with them...The brothers' failure to recognize Yosef is more than ironic, more than a personal insult, more than tragic. The fact is that everyone else who came into contact with Yosef throughout his life, including Potifar and his wife, the chief baker and the chief wine steward, the chief officer of Pharaoh's prison, and Pharaoh himself, immediately saw Yosef's greatness. Yosef rose to the top in every situation - save one:
Only his brothers could not or would not recognize his leadership qualities, his innate talent, his God-given gifts. (emphasis, mine)
 This is the essence of sinat hinam, the quintessential example of baseless hatred: The brothers' hatred blinded them to Yosef's greatness. Even when Yosef stands before them, having overcome every possible obstacle in his personal rise to power, even when he practically begs them to open their eyes and see the man behind robes of royalty, they refuse to see. They seem to prefer their jealousy and hatred over acceptance of Yosef as their rightful leader.Tragically, the brothers are willing to look everywhere else, anywhere else, rather than look their brother in the eye and see him for who he truly is. With the sale of Yosef, sinat chinam was unleashed and the Jewish People has never quite managed to correct this schism." (Aish.com)

Although I am obviously far from being a tzaddika, nor am I associated with any kind of royalty, my current reality with my mother and siblings is similar.  
They can not see me for who I really am.
Yosef's brothers, before he revealed himself, saw him as a pervert.  At that point in history the immorality that was prevalent in Mitzrayim was not a part of Yaakov's family.  After we moved down to mitzrayim, to a long and bitter exile, the immoral behaviors of Mitzrayim began seeping in to Yaakov's family. 
Into our family.
Pedophilia and child sexual abuse do not belong here.
 Although Yosef was alone in his mission, I am one among many.  Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse in our community, who have been "sold out" by our family, and our community, are speaking out at great cost. 
 Our only goal is to heal ourselves and our community.  
I wish I could keep silent to protect and shield my family and myself from the shame of what happened, but the deep pain that I experienced can not be silenced.  Yosef sent everyone out of the room before he revealed his true identity, in order to protect his brothers from shame. Yet he could not hold back his cry which was heard throughout Mitzrayim.

 My story, like Yosef's, is a cry of deep pain.
Just as Yosef's sale and abandonment was the beginning of the galus and exile, May our sale and abandonment be the beginning of the Geula and redemption.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Triumph over trauma

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bar Mitzvah

What an awesome bracha and privilege, celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of my second son this week!
I am blessed and so grateful.  Hashem has been loving and generous to me and my family in more ways than I can count.
I keep thinking how lucky I am to have so many wonderful close and loving friends...and family.,


An aunt came from the US to the Bar Mitzvah, and a nephew who is studying in Israel came too.  He connected with me on Facebook a couple of years ago.  A cousin, who is also a neighbor, came and her husband took some wonderful photos.

 It is my daily experience that truth and love are so much more powerful than any kind of lie or abuse. I have experienced deep and profound healing on a personal level, and I hope to expand my experience to include my family and community.
 I invited my mother and siblings to my son's Bar Mitzvah.  They didn't come, but my mother and one of my brothers sent notes and beautiful presents for my children.

 You may think it is a fantasy, but I will never give up hope that someday my family can and will heal. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

When The Derech is "Off"


Recently, one of my children asked me,
  "If I'm not religious when I grow up, (like the rest of my husband's family) will you still love me?"
 What do I say to a child whose frum grandparents and tens of religious aunts, uncles, and cousins, never met him, and act like they couldn't care less that he exist, yet the family he has, who has no connection to Torah, loves and excepts him unconditionally?
I answered as best as I could.  I told him,
 "I will always love you no matter what.  Just like Hashem loves us no matter what.
"Hashem gave us the mitzvos because he loves us so much that he wants a constant relationship with us.  When we reject a mitzvah, we are rejecting that relationship. We are saying 'no thank you,' to a beautiful gift.  Every time we do a mitzvah, we strengthen that relationship and connection."

I grew up very sheltered, in a litvish, yeshivish family.
As a teen and young adult going out into the 'real world' and meeting different kinds of people, I did not know how to interact with them.  It was hard for me to relate to people different from my family, as real and valued complex human beings with strengths and challenges.  It was hard to feel comfortable with people who were different.  I had been given the message  that we were better than anyone not as frum as us, and this made "them" somehow shameful.  I was taught to be hyper aware and wary of external differences.  I was taught to judge others by their hashkafah and external adherence to halacha bein adom lamakom.  

The classic book, The Giver, by Lowis Lowery, portrays an all too accurate and sad example of what can happen when a family or society, embraces sameness as a value. We can commit moral atrocities without realizing it.
We can be so entrenched in obsession with sameness and rules that we lose a depth and perception, that is inherent in being human.
 This is a hole we can fall into.
Some of us live in this hole.
Here in our hole, we don't seem to feel things as strongly as others do. 
Maybe, because we don't need to.

This problem is regulated by a daas torah, that is not genuine.  This perversion of "daas torah" misuses the power given by us to a rav to enforce a control that is unhealthy and is backfiring.
It is done in the name of Torah, of halacha, and hashkafa.
Some of us accept this interpretation of daas torah above personal responsibility, perhaps because we feel safer this way.  Letting the rav decide seems to leave little room for worry, mistakes or danger.

Many years ago, I was a victim of this so called "daas torah."
I was completely cut off from my family by a rav, who claims to be a moral ethical person.
We must call into question a decision by someone in power, to sacrifice an individual for the (so called) benefit of the family or community.  When we are willing to  dispose of a family member in the name of the Torah, we are playing God. And we are also enforcing a deep fear of rejection in our family and community.

And it doesn't start with cutting people off.
It starts with a society and a culture where we are afraid to make mistakes.  Where we are afraid of being judged. Where for some, image is more important than integrity. A culture where we can be overly concerned with acceptance.  Where we can not afford to be real about where they are holding and what our struggles are.  We are told how to think and feel, and that we must conform or face rejection. 
Perhaps you are at peace with this system, but there are those, among us who are very, unhappy,
tortured even.
Some attempt suicide and some succeed.  Because an aspect of this hashkafah, and system, perhaps without meaning to, has stolen our humanity, our individual souls, without any awareness.  I believe that this is a characteristic danger of every fundamentalist community.

I would like to ask, why?
Why do some of us go along with a system that destroys from the inside?
Is it worth believing in a system that gently, and sometimes not so gently, asks us to give up our ability to think, our responsibility, our moral integrity, for perceived eternal happiness? For "olam habah?"
Isn't that what the fanatical Muslims, the fanatics of every community, do?

We all want a world that makes sense; a world where everything is understood, predicted, and explained.  Some of us have taken solace in a frum world, disconnected from our essence, for this reason.  A world were we don't need to feel or question too deeply.  A world where we don't need to see in depth, or shades of color, because that is a job we have given up to our rav, to our misunderstanding of "da'as torah."

We are currently learning pirkai avos where it is clearly written, "asai lecha rav," and yet,some of us have forgotten what it means to be able to choose a rav.
Some of us have allowed our schools, our families, and our neighbors choose our Rav in spite of the incongruence it brings to our lives.
Some of us have turned rabbonim into parents, and ourselves into obedient children. 
It may be more comfortable this way, but it can be very damaging to us as a family and as a Torah community.

Teaching our children to avoid and segregate from anyone who looks or thinks differently than we do poses a danger of polarizing and objectifying themselves and others. Segregation can turn people into black and white, good and bad, without room for complexity.  By refusing to allow our children to mingle and accept people (even while we may disagree with what they do) who are not exactly the same as we are, or who have not yet taken on certain mitzvos, can teach our children intolerance and fear of differences. Not only in the "outside world" but even within our own families.

We live in a complex world where a trusted rav can be a child molester, and a so called "modern, or non religious Jew" can live the epitome of a life of chesed and integrity.  We must find ways to strengthen our children's connection with themselves, with us, with their families, and with Torah, that does not include absolving them of responsibility for making conscious, thinking, choices.  We must help our children to separate people from behaviors, and refrain from teaching our children to judge others by shallow externals.

Our children need and deserve a deeper understanding of people, and the purpose of halacha Halacha is not about being the same or fearing differences.  Halacha is a tool we have been given to enable us to lead conscious meaningful lives as a moral and ethical society, in constant connection with Hashem.  Like any powerful tool it can be used to build, or misused to destroy.

Educating our children as to the halachos and importance of halacha need not (and in many of our families today, cannot) exclude encounters with others who are struggling with certain mitzvos.  Just as they surely encounter each one of us struggling with our own particularly challenging mitzvos.
 If we want to create a healthy Torah society, we must treat each other like the mature and responsible adults that we are, and allow for differences of opinion and interpretation of halacha, each according to his chosen rav. We must also allow room for struggle and growth as this is what our lives are all about.
 The Torah is certainly strong enough to allow for this.

In reality, our system thrives on question, disagreement, argument, dialogue and intellectual honesty.  Just open a gemara, and take a look.
Read the Torah and you will see that our greatest leaders made  mistakes and they are not hidden from us.
We, the Jewish nation, have a mission and we will never disappear.
 The Torah will never disappear.
People who know me asked me why I remain religious when my frum family treats me this way.  That is a question I have often asked myself.
The answer is simple.
So many important things were stolen from me, including  my family, I will not allow the Torah to be stolen from me as well.
The Torah is my heritage as much as yours, whether you are a rav, or a non religious Jew.
 When we forget this fact, the rest of the world is quick to remind us.

 We are one family.  We are a people who are supposed to set an example. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness.
We are parts of a whole and we can not afford to cut people off.  
We are collectively one body.
We are eyes, ears, arms, legs, a brain, and heart. 
None of us is dispensable.
I hope this is the message I give to my children.






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mitzvah L'sapper, Telling my Children.

Each of my children, has at one time or another asked why they have never met their grandparents.
 I have told them that my family doesn’t want to see me.
"Does that mean they don't want to see us either?"  They wondered.  What did we do?"

 I've answered as honestly and vaguely as I can.
 I have told them that maybe someday they will meet their grandparents.  I have told them my family doesn't want to see me because they are angry with me, and it has absolutely nothing to do with them.
I explained that someone in the family, isn't safe with children.
My family is angry with me for talking about it publicly, and they cut me off.
They want to pretend that it didn't happen.

My children know about my activism. They have been told many times that when it comes to children's safety there are no secrets.  They know that I helped start a child safety organization in our neighborhood.
I hoped this answer would somehow make sense to them.

The older my children get, the more relevant it seems, to tell them the truth.
 I have a public blog, and more importantly, I know that if we are to heal as  individuals, as family and community, sexual abuse is not, and can not be a secret.

 At the same time, I want to protect my children from my pain and trauma.
I don't want them to feel burdened or frightened by my past.

I decided this Pesach, that I was ready to say something to my children from a place of strength.
What could be a better time than at the seder, when it is a mitzvah to talk about our national trauma and redemption?
When we are supposed to feel as if we personally were redeemed.
I was personally redeemed.
The story of YetziasMitzrayim is my own story.
I have come from avdus leceherus.

I begin the discussion with a question and a story.

"Why do we thank Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim when he is the one who put us there in the first place?"
One child guesses that Hashem was testing us.

"A little girl is chasing her ball into the street as a car is about to speed past.  Just as she is about to step off the curb, she trips. The little girl is crying and bleeding.
But, her parents are so grateful!
 So relieved!  They thank and praise Hashem.
The little girl is angry.
Can't her parents see that she is hurt and bleeding?
How can they be so happy when she is hurt? 

The toddler has no ability to see the bigger picture and understand the disaster that almost took place.

We too, do not always see the bigger picture and understand why painful things happen to us."
But we know that everything Hashem does is ultimately good.

My children are listening.

"I had a very challenging childhood."  I continue calmly, as if recounting the time I broke my leg when I was twelve.
 "I was sexually abused by my father and my grandfather and it made me feel very bad about myself. At one point, I didn't think I would ever be able to get married or have children.
And now, look at us here at our Seder!
  I am married, and I have you wonderful children!  As far as I know, I am the only one of my immediate family who has the zechus of living in Eretz Yisrael.  Hashem saved me, and not only am I OK, but I now help other people who have been through similar experiences."

As I speak, my oldest son, a teenager, puts his hand on my back.
My daughter, seven, bounces up and down on the couch.  Her mind, I think, is on the afikomen wish list I helped her write earlier.
My middle son, soon to be Bar Mitzvah asks, "What is sexual abuse?"

 "Sexual abuse is when someone with more power than you forces you to do something with your body that you don't want to."
"Well, you force me to wash the dishes all the time!"  He smiles triumphantly.
"I mean, if someone forces you to do something sexual with your body."
"Oh."
"Do you see the difference?"
"Yeah."

The conversation moves on, but I stay in the moment savoring my freedom.
Freedom from shame and silence.
 Freedom from self hatred.
Freedom from my past which is, in this moment in the past, where it belongs.



Friday, July 15, 2016

All Who Go do not Return By: Shulem Deen (a review)

Shulem Deen, your story, really touches me.  I am in the middle of reading it right now and I find it strong, brave, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.  Your book and your message are so important.
They are also very personal.
The world I grew up in, similar and yet different than the one you did, also tried to destroy my soul.
 I grew up litvish, yeshivish and was molested in a yeshiva by a rosh yeshiva (my grandfather) and his talmidim (one who was my father).
  I have experienced excruciating pain, anger, sadness, but I am fortunate that I have never lost my faith.
 I am angry and sad for you that your faith, your spirituality was stolen from you.  And they were.  You (and I )were raised in a cult, a well meaning cult, but a cult nonetheless.  The damage and pain our upbringing caused and is causing must be exposed.

To me, faith is not a matter of belief.  It is a matter of experiencing and staying in touch with reality.  When we see the truth that is in front of our faces, nothing can take that away.  I know God/Reality exists because I exist.  I know I was born, not because I remember the event, but because I am here.  I know God is, more real and powerful than anything I can imagine, because Love and Truth/Intelligence are more real and powerful than anything I can imagine.

God, in my experience, is Love and Truth/Intelligence, with capital letters.

I see Love and Truth in front of my eyes every single day, in each simple event and interaction and breath I take.
I read your book, and I see you as a messenger of God, simply because you are a  messenger of Love and Truth.
Your children have no idea what a gem of a father they have, and I truly believe that your father is proud to have a son like you, who has more integrity than most people on this earth. I hope and pray for you that someday your children's eyes are opened and they reconnect with you and the love that you have waiting for them.
With love and hope,
Genendy