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.)


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Message to the Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore and the Frum Community of Baltimore

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 I loved.  

On April 11, 2007, The Vaad Harabonim of Baltimore issued a letter to the community where you claimed to know some things 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 write 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 say 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.

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.  Many 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 your 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 Itskowitz, 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 using a broken bone to prove that someone could not have been in a car accident. 

 It is a fact that, that in many cases, child sexual abuse and incest cause mental health issues, just as car accidents in many cases cause broken bones.  In my case, and all cases of alleged child sexual abuse, assessing risk is appropriate. Judgement 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. 


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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Inside, Outside, Past, Present

Last week I sent my parents and siblings announcements of my son's recent Bar Mitzvah.  I included a family photo. I don't expect much in response.  I fantasize about a connection with someone in my family in the future.
Someone.
 Anyone, who is willing to allow me to exist.
 Perhaps, it is as hopeless as the Palestinians admitting that we Israelis have a right to exist.  I sure hope not.  Yet, my family treats me similarly to the way the Palestinians view Israel.  I am the aggressor in their minds, although I know they are the ones who hurt me.  They deny my right to exist.  They want to silence me because I speak a truth they can not, and do not want to hear. 

 My family's view of me is that I am fake.  A liar. A figment of my own imagination.  To my family, either my inside world, my outside world, my past, or my present has to be made up.  In their minds, something has to be fake about me.
Until now, I accepted this as truth.
 Nothing matched. Nothing made sense to me.  Something about me must be made up if my family said it was, and I had only to understand what it was...The past?  The present?  My feelings?  My memories?

 The truth, as it turns out, is that nothing about me is fake.
 The only thing fake is my family's bizarre and inaccurate view of me.  There view of me is a lie.  A figment of their imagination.  The only thing that doesn't match who I know I am, is their treatment of me.  I was always a child who wanted to be good and to be loved.

My inside world, my outside world, my past and my present are all real.  I recognize the truth of this statement, and I'm still processing this as a new awareness.   I never made the connection in quite this way before. Intellectual knowledge of my constant reality and existence is finally turning into emotional acceptance.

I was not allowed to know I was sexually abused. I was not allowed to try to defend myself as a child, or to heal myself as an adult.  I coped in the only way I could.  I separated the feelings and the knowledge of the sexual abuse into dissociated parts.  I separated real parts of myself that were, and still are, unacceptable to my parents in order to try to gain there love and acceptance.

That is how badly I, and every child, needs our parents' love and acceptance.

Badly enough to participate in our own destruction, if it will only earn our parent's love.
I pretended, like they do, that very real, very hurt parts of me, were neither real nor hurt.  I called them different names, and agreed with my family that I made them up.

Because I did make them up.

  I made them up in order to try to distance them, hoping they would indeed become fake, so my parents would love me, accept me, and take care of me unconditionally.

Whatever it takes, Mommy and Tatty.  Please just love me.  Please just take care of me.

 But as hard as I tried,  it didn't work.
In the end I was forced to choose between life and death.

My parents and siblings continue to hurt me by ignoring my existence.  It's still hard for me to come to terms with the cruelty of their behavior.  Not one of them called to wish me mazal tov on my son's bar mitzvah.  Not one of them calls to check on my safety as rockets are aimed at my home, and my children, their grandchildren, nieces and nephews.  As air raid sirens blare, and we hurry to find shelter in our safe room.   Not one of them can care about me, and love and accept me as the sister and daughter I am.
 I am alive.
I am very real.
 I am willing to love and accept my family in spite of their limitations.

I felt my grandfather, Grosspapa's,  presence very strongly on Shabbos at my son's bar mitzvah. I cried together with Grosspapa.  The tears, for both of us, were tears, not of sadness, but of joy, of gratitude and relief.  We both felt relieved and grateful that in spite of what he and my father did to me as a child, I was really in a a shul, really celebrating my sons bar mitzvah.

Considering some of the other places I could be, and some of the places I have been, finding myself in a shul celebrating my son's bar mitzvah is indeed a miracle.

  I felt wonder at the situation, wonder at the love of my husband's family, and close friends, my family of choice, surrounding me.  Love at the greatness of God, who allowed me to heal to the point where I could watch my son read from the Torah proudly, with tears streaming down my cheeks, in spite of having been molested in a yeshiva by my father and grandfather, and having almost died as a result.

The rebbe looked up and caught my eye.  He nodded, and made a throwing motion.  It was time to throw candy at my son.
It was time for a miracle.
This is a time for miracles.
There is a God in this world and He is good.
 God will continue to protect my right to exist as a person, to heal and to thrive, just as He protects our right to exist as a nation, to heal and to thrive, in spite of those who want to destroy us.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Spoke at My Son's Bar Mitzvah


Around the age of Bar, and Bat Mitzvah , many of us begin to wonder about the meaning of life, and to question the point of our existence.  I don't think it is a coincidence that at the very age that we begin to question, we are provided with the answer.  The answer to the puzzle of life IS in becoming a Bar Mitzvah, and in living a life of meaning and connection.  The mitzvot are a gift.  They have an amazing power to connect us to Hashem, to each other, to our families, our communities, and to ourselves.

Just a a few months ago I told my son that I believe that everyone is born with a secret mission that only he or she can carry out. The tricky part is that no one tells us what our particular mission is.  We have to find that out for ourselves.  This finding out, is one of the hardest tasks we face in life, and one that begins right at the age of Bar Mitzvah.

Adolescence  is an important and challenging time.  We can not always choose what happens to us in life, and things can at times seem out of control.  But we can always control how we respond to what life throws our way.   In fact, the ONLY three things we can consistently control are our thoughts, our speech, and our actions.

The key to success at discovering and carrying out your unique life's mission is to know yourself and your talents well.  The next ten or so years of your life will be spent, largely, finding out who you are, what you are good at, and consequently,what your personal mission is in this world. 
 We already have a few hints.  The volunteer work that you do rehabilitating dogs at the animal shelter is one hint.  Your creativity, your love of books and of knowledge, is another.

Before you were born I was in a book store and I bought you a book. I didn't know yet if you were a boy or a girl, but I knew I wanted you to have this book, because It expresses a vision of what I most want to give to you, to your brother, and to your sister.

I saved the book for your Bar Mitzvah, because I wanted you to have it at a time when you would also have the maturity to appreciate it.  It is called, The Twelve Gifts of Birth, and describes twelve gifts that every human being is born with.

They are:  Strength, Beauty, Courage, Compassion, Hope, Joy, Talent, Imagination, Reverence, Wisdom, Love, Faith. And, I added a thirteenth, Humility.

I believe that by internalizing these thirteen gifts you will have everything you will ever need, in order to fulfill what you were put on this earth to accomplish.

The day you were born, 12 years 369 days ago, on the secular calendar I inscribed a letter to you in the book:  With your permission I would like to read it.

To my dear son, on the day of your birth: 6/21/01
My hope is that you will always treat yourself and others with respect and love, and that you will easily discover the beauty and joy in yourself and in your life.  I loved you before you were born and I will love you forever.

I wrote the following much more recently:

My oldest,
You amazed me with your existence from the moment you were born.
You are strong, independent.
and expressive
Your knowledge about the world is greater than most your age.
 My, risk taker, lover of learning
You are protective,
 A loyal, and true soul.
You made me a mother
and teach me every day how to parent.
It is a gift to know and to love you.

I'm so proud of you.
Mazal Tov on your Bar Mitzvah!