Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Survivors at the Mikvah

Going to the mikvah, the ritual bath, is anything but simple when you're a survivor of child sexual abuse in the frum (religious) community.

 Mikvah is actually a beautiful, and often misunderstood mitzvah.

Both men and women go to the mikvah, although at different times.  For a woman, immersion in the mikvah happens as regularly as her monthly cycle.  During a woman's period and the week following, we refrain from any physical intimacy with our husbands.  The end of this physical separation is marked by visiting the mikvah.

 Mikvah has nothing to do with a woman being "dirty" or "unclean" because of menstruation.   This misunderstanding comes from a commonly mistranslated word in the Torah, "Tameh."   The condition of being Tameh, or ritually impureis related to a loss of potential for life.
 It applies to both men and women at different times.
 It applied to the high priest during the Yom Kippur service in the holy temple, the Bet Hamikdash.

 Water represents life, and immersing our bodies in the mikvah after menstruation is in a sense, a rebirth after the loss of a potential pregnancy; the potential for new life.   Many women look forward to visiting the mikvah, which is often beautiful and spa-like, before resuming intimacy with their husbands.

Ironically, I didn't connect spiritually to the mikvah experience until I read a book on Feng Shui.  Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing the human existence with the surrounding environment, and is all about energy.  
Feng Shui explained how water changes energy in a positive, life giving, way.  The mikvah, and ritual hand washing, made more sense to me when I thought about how water changes us energetically.

 Before my wedding, my rabbi's wife taught me the detailed laws of mikvah, and taharat hamishpacha. (ritual family purity)   I learned that a rabbi is often asked very personal questions, and sometimes looks at biological stains on a woman's undergarment, to assess whether she can go to the mikvah on time or not.

 (Today, In Israel, we are blessed with a mikvah hotline, which is staffed by women who are trained to answer the same questions.)

 When I heard about the rabbi's involvement in this very personal ritual, I was horrified.
I put my head down on the table and sobbed.
The rabbi's wife tried to soothe me.  She said, "Think of it as going to the gynecologist.  They are especially trained.  They just want to help you get together with your husband as soon as you can.  There are plenty of rabbis out there who are not perpetrators."

At that point in my life, I had met very few rabbis, who weren't perpetrators or weren't enabling other perpetrators.
 Because of my background, I knew I would never go to a male gynecologist, anyway.

I felt trapped and humiliated by the fact that men, especially rabbis, were involved in such an intimate and personal process.
My father, my grandfather, (a rabbi) and other religious men who had sexually abused me as a child, all seemed involved in this conspiracy somehow.
Would I ever get away from these men?
Would their hands forever be on my body, controlling what I did with it, long distance, if not in person?

 I had promised my husband that I would follow the laws of taharat mishpacha.   My father and grandfather had succeeded in robbing me of a potentially beautiful experience.
I felt spiritually abused.
Anger and resentment at the injustice burned inside me.
Why were men, and strange men at that, in charge of my body and what I did with it?
 Why not me??

 If I didn't follow the rabbi's interpretation of the mikvah rules, I was a spiritual failure, because I was not following halachah. (Jewish law.)
I hated men.
 I hated rabbis.
 I hated going to the mikvah.
Even after many years of marriage, I often came back from the Mikvah filled with a deep sense of sadness  and loss.  A feeling of having given in and allowing myself to be victimized.
And that was after a relatively good experience.

  The bad experiences made it that much harder to go.

 Before we made Aliyah, we were in New York for a Shabbos, and I had to go to the mikvah on a Friday night.  Where I came from, (out of town) you made an appointment, and used the mikvah when no one else was there. I had privacy at the mikvah. I never sat in the waiting room with anyone else.

 The waiting room in Boro Park that Friday night was full of women and babies. 
Women praying, and babies crying.  
In the center of the building were ten or so mikvaos. Women entered and exited the doors to the thirty plus preparation rooms surrounding the mikvaos.  My head spun trying to follow what was going on.  There was barely a break in the action.

  I had the strange feeling that I was in a human dunking factory.

 I watched women heading into preparation rooms. 
 I heard them exiting to the mikvah.
I heard them reciting the blessing, 
 I heard the splashes as they dunked three, or seven times, depending on their custom.
Then the mivkah lady's loud announcement:  "Kosher!"
 Then more splashes as they exited the mikvah and headed quickly back to the preparation room,
 and then hurried out the door.

"Next!"

When the mikvah lady came to get me from the preparation room her manner was impatient.  She said, “Come with me, I'll toivel you now.”

I felt like an object.  A new dish. (We dunk new dishes too.)
 Let's get you toveled fast, so I can go home to my Shabbos dinner.
There was no eye contact.
I need eye contact at the mikvah.  As a survivor, I need to know that I am being seen as a person and not just a body.  As a child, I experienced complete loss of control over my body while I was being abused.  I needed to feel a sense of control over my body, in order to feel safe, and not re-traumatized  by the mikvah experience.  I needed to not only deal with the anxiety, and vulnerability of the immersion itself, I also wanted to feel relaxed, and grounded enough to go home and be with my husband, which presented its own unique challenges. (see my previous post on healing sexual intimacy.)

 In order for the mikvah immersion to be kosher, I knew my body had to be completely free of any object that might prevent the mikvah water from touching me.  In my anxiety, I forgot to take off my wedding ring.  Now I was not only a new dish, but worse, a new dish with a sticker! 
I had to take the ring off, and go back in and dunk again.

I numbed part of my mind to get through the experience.

Once, while in Israel, I needed to go to the mikvah and I happened to get into a cab with a female driver.  She wore a low cut, sleeveless tank top, long, bright red nails, and three inch heels.
Clearly chiloni, (not religious) or so I thought.
 I asked her if she would be available that night as I was looking for a female driver.  She said,
"Sure. What time? where do you need to go?"
"Eight a clock.  I need to go to the mikvah."
Without missing a beat she said,
"I need to go too.  Let's go together."

I told my female, mikvah going, taxi driver that I had heard of a new mikvah that was supposed to be very beautiful.  The floors were heated, wedding music played, and there was a floor to ceiling aquarium of tropical fish to relax with, while you waited for your turn.  I wanted to try it out, hoping  for a  positive experience. 

She agreed to try it out with me.

It was indeed a beautiful mikvah, clean and sparkling.  Each room had heated floors, a closet with a snow white bath robe, a new toothbrush, and disposable slippers. The tropical aquarium was a work of live art.  The wedding music was lovely. I felt like I was at the spa.

That is, until the mikvah lady arrived.

 The mikvah lady entered my preparation room carrying a tray of sterile equipment.  Scissors, nail files, tweezers, alcohol, etc.  She proceeded to sit down on a chair and arrange her equipment on a towel, explaining that she would  be checking my body for any barriers, loose skin, loose hairs, etc.  I politely declined telling her I had already checked, and offered to let her see my hands and feet.  She got upset.  This was unacceptable. Her rabbi instructed her to do it her way.  And who was she, or I, for that matter, to question her rabbi?  She threatened not to let me immerse in the mikvah, if I didn't follow her rabbi's customs.
Feeling too vulnerable to create a scene, I let her begin her invasive check.
She snipped off a hair on my head saying, 
"I'm not sure if this hair is attached so I'm cutting it."
 That was the limit for me.  I held up my hand and said, "That's enough!  I'm ready to go in now."

She walked me into the mikvah room and yelled to another mikvah lady, "I can't let her in.  She won't let me check her!"
I was standing there, only wrapped in a towel, feeling vulnerable, humiliated, and exposed.
 I was very close to leaving without using the mikvah at all.

 Luckily, the second mikvah lady rescued me.  She said, "Don't listen to her.  I'll take you in.  You can follow your own rabbi's customs."
When I got home, I cried.  
I was too anxious to let my husband anywhere near me.

 I still go to the mikvah, and mostly it's been OK, if not inspiring.
I never went back to that beautiful mikvah again.
Some time later, I happened to meet my female taxi driver again, and she told me that she never went back there either.







Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Healing Sexual Intimacy (part two)

After four or five therapy sessions like the one described below, something inside me had shifted.  My husband and I both noticed the difference.  I realized that by doing this work I had acquired a new list of words associated with sexual intimacy.  A very different list from the first: 
 ...Connected...safe...present...close...caring...intimate...beautiful...and yes, even holy.  
 I had arrived at a new place inside.  A place that I had never been , and couldn't have imagined entering, before I did this work.  
It was a miracle. 
I want to share this part of my story with fellow survivors, whose ability to trust and be intimate was damaged as a result of the abuse.    I want to offer hope to you, and your spouses, those hidden heroes like my husband, who live with, and love those of us who have been sexually abused as children, despite our limitations.   Everyone's path to healing will be their own, individual, path.  Each one of us can get to a new, healthier, place in our own time, and in our own way.  The important thing to remember is that HEALING IS POSSIBLE!  


It felt like I was at my own birth.
I was both the mother in labor, and the unborn child.

 The mother just wanted it to be over, and for everyone to come out of the experience safely.
 The child was suddenly finding herself in an environment that was much too small for her.  She wanted out.  It was time to leave.  It was time to grow.
 Time to be born.

I was more present and grounded than I thought I would be.
 I was ready to let the hurt younger part of me  know that I was an adult now, I was in charge, and it was finally safe.

 My therapist asked me what I wanted to remind myself as an adult.
 I told her that I am very determined.  I told my inner child that I am a safe adult and that I love her.  I reminded myself that I was doing this to help myself heal, and that I would be safe.

Hinda's presence helped a lot.  I have known Hinda for many years.  I think Hinda was the very first safe person in my life.  I love her.

I gave Hinda and my therapist permission to sit on either side of me. I asked them to help me, and hold the part of me who thinks she has to hurt me, in order to survive.

I knew I needed physical help to hold these feelings. When I tried to do this work on my own, I felt intense pressure from inside to numb out mentally, or to hurt myself.

Hinda and my therapist sat on either side of me on the couch.  With my permission they took my arms and held them firmly.
At first it was OK.  Three mature adult women sitting together on the couch.  Supporting me.

Then my stomach lurched and intense, overwhelming feelings surged forward into my body.  I pulled to get away. When I realized that I really couldn't get away, I panicked.
 What was I doing?
My body and mind froze.
I was trapped.  This was not safe.
Maybe if I played dead they would go away.

My therapist asked me to tell her what was going on inside.
I told her and Hinda what I was experiencing.
 Getting away was very important.
I had to get away.
As we struggled I reminded myself and my younger part,

"I LET my therapist and Hinda do this.  I WANT them to do this.  I give them permission to hold me."

I didn't know if I believed myself.

A hurt younger part of me, was struggling to break free of me,and other adults, who she still believed were only there to hurt her.
I wouldn't let go, until she re-learned that she was going to be touched, and there would be no hurting.  I wouldn't let go, until she understood, and experienced, that safe adults were now in charge.

Safe adults.  Did such a thing really exist?  At the time, I wasn't sure.
 I struggled with my therapist, and Hinda, for an hour, maybe two.  I don't know for sure.

I was struggling to break free of the terror and trauma, that had been in control of my life for so long.
Hinda and my therapist were right there with me. Struggling with me.
Fighting for me.
I couldn't believe what I was actually doing.  Yet, I knew I needed to do it in order to free myself.

It was one of the scariest things I ever tried to do.  I was hot.  I was trapped.  I was flat on my back on the couch with Hinda and my therapist on top of me. Their bodies were so close. Too close, touching me, triggering me. The fear made me nauseous. My body was touching theirs.
Yuck! Shame. Rage. Terror.

I wondered why I ever thought this was a good idea.

I was terrified.
I was sure Tatty was there...Or that he would show up at any moment.
This is the kind of thing he liked to do.
Tie me up.  Hold me down...Hurt me.
 I was sure in the end I would be hurt.  Just like always.
My mouth hurts!  My bottom hurts!  Something is cutting me down there.
I heard a very young voice crying in pain and fear.  The voice was coming from somewhere inside me.

I was re-experiencing the moment of pain and panic that physical touch triggered in me. The moment when, as a young child, I felt like I had to die inside.  The moment when he violated my body.  The moment of intolerable, unendurable pain, when my mind split.
 I had to leave my mind, because I couldn't leave the body that was being violated.
In the end, a part of me always had to die.

But always, doesn't always happen.

This time the ending was different.  My therapist and Hinda talked me through it.  My therapist talked more than Hinda.
She asked me what it feels like to trust.
She told me we would stay there all night if we had to.
I begged her to let me go.
I accused her of breaking therapeutic boundaries by touching me.  (I ignored the fact that it was my idea, and that we had discussed it at length.)
She told me that sometimes we have to step out of the normal boundaries of therapy, in order to grow.
She told me many good things while she held me tight.
She promised to hold me until she was sure I was safe.

 I didn't understand everything she was saying.
I just knew that she was not going anywhere.  She wouldn't leave me alone with this.
 I knew I was not alone.
For me, that was a very new feeling.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Healing Sexual Intimacy (part one)

As an adult, I still had no idea what healthy sexual intimacy was.  I had been told before I married, that it was something good, beautiful, even holy, but these were just words that I couldn't believe, or relate to.

I was aware that my view was warped by my past experiences.
In group therapy for incest survivors, we were asked to make a list of words to describe how we felt about sexual intimacy.
The same negative words appeared on all of our lists:  Disgusting...abusive...dangerous...shameful....trapped...scary...powerless...yucky...

The results were so validating.
And so sad.
The damage we had all experienced, as survivors of child sexual abuse, hung heavy in the room...

Soon after, I discovered exactly what I needed to do to heal myself, and I was terrified.

A little boy in my Gan (pre-school) a few years ago, taught me what I needed to do then.

 Dov* (Not his real name)  was a beautiful little boy with thick black hair and big sparkling green eyes.  Dov knew how to smile and have fun.  But, he also knew how to scream.

Dov came to my Gan traumatized, angry, and very, very hurt.  His mother had died when he was a baby, and he had since been  shuffled back and forth between various relatives. 

When Dov screamed, you had better respond quickly, or run for cover.  Clearly, he was insecurely attached.  He would throw himself at anyone who showed him any sort of affection and caring, and cling to them for dear life.  He threw himself at me, and wanted me to hold him day in and day out.  He cried, and clung to me when it was time to go home.

 Who could blame him?  Dov had no inner security and needed an adult near him in order to feel safe.  He was, emotionally, a six month old baby in a four year old body.  He did not posses the self-regulation skills that other children his age internalize by being held, comforted, and nurtured, as babies and toddlers.  Dov told me, quite articulately, that he would be my baby and I would be his mother and always hold him.
Always.

 His solution made sense.  Dov lost his mother at six months.  His development stalled at that age.  He was desperately trying to get his developmental needs met.  His instinct was healthy.  His idea just didn't work well in a group of four-year-olds.

Dov screamed and cried whenever I had to put him down to help another child, or simply to teach. I wondered if it was fair to the other children to keep him in my Gan. I learned to set very clear firm limits on when I could hold him in Gan.  I held him as much as I could.  I reassured him every time I put him down, or left his side, that I would be back.  He would be safe.  Eventually, after a few weeks of screaming, Dov calmed down enough to play.  He began to understand that I was there even if I wasn't holding him.  He learned to wait for me.
He learned to trust that I would be back.

I could feel a traumatized part of me, deep inside, shocked at Dov's shame-free insistence to be held and nurtured.  I could feel this part of me pulling back from Dov when he demanded to be held.  A vague sense of shame, rage, and revulsion stirred somewhere deep inside.

I kept the feeling well away from Dov and my interactions with him.
 I knew how to keep children safe.
On the outside.

The traumatized part of me, like Dov, was touch starved.  But where Dov had no doubts about what he wanted and needed, this part of me put me in constant conflict with myself.  As a member of the human race, I desperately wanted and needed physical contact.  Yet, thoughts of anyone touching me triggered a part of me to feelings of shame, panic, and revulsion, or just as likely, (and sometimes at the very same time) to a desire for sexual contact.  I had to numb part of my mind in order to let anyone close.

It was hard to let my husband anywhere near me.

 Touch meant sexual abuse, to part of me, which also meant terror and shame and hurt...
AND real needs being met at the same time.
The confusion was overwhelming.

 It hurt to be touched and it hurt NOT to be touched.

Just thinking about it triggered feelings of real physical pain in the parts of my body that were hurt.

  If this was a young child in my external world I knew I would do anything to help them heal.

  I realized that what I needed was to experience safe touch, without numbing out and separating from parts of myself, even if it scared me.  I needed to let all of me, even, and especially, the part that was hurt, experience touch that did not lead to sexual abuse, or any sexual contact.

When I imagined approaching this young  part of me to try to hold her and touch her in a safe way, my mind went numb and feelings were triggered of needing to hurt my body.  The experience was completely overwhelming.

Real children learn through real experiences.

I had taught children for years, and I knew this.

 A part of me had never learned to be held, and not hurt. I had separated this part of me from my adult self, in order to hold the abuse experience and keep it away from my conscious mind.

 From my father I received much needed touch, along with sexual abuse.  From my mother I received physical rejection. She pushed me away.  Part of me learned that wanting to be touched is shameful.  I learned that my body is shameful.  I learned that touch and hurt inevitably go together.

 I had to re-teach myself that touch and hurt don't have to go together, and shouldn't go together.

 I had to hold this inner child part, even if she fought me, just as I would hold any other hurt, scared, child who is pushing everyone away.   I knew I needed to help myself endure the terror and confusion and eventually learn that touch can be safe.  That is what they I should have experienced as a child, and didn't. 

 The thought of doing this work terrified me.  I had never been able to get that close to that part of me without dissociating.  My instinct, my need to survive, instructed me to keep a distance from the part that was hurt, and the accompanying overwhelming feelings.

Until this point, separating myself from the part of me that was so hurt is what enabled me to survive, grow up, and live a normal life in spite of the severe trauma that I endured as a child.

 But all these years, the traumatized inner child had always been there, hiding inside me, waiting for me to grow old enough and strong enough to come inside and help her.

I needed a child like Dov to come into my life and teach me how to do it.

When I  played out the scenario in my head, I saw myself grabbing my arms and holding myself in a firm hug, while talking to my younger child part, reassuring her, and letting her feel held.

What happened next in my imagined scenario is that my body split in half.

A little child body zoomed out and away from me, and from the terror and confusion of physical touch.

 I was left alone.

Holding a lifeless adult body that looked like empty clothing strewn on a bed.

Sigh.

Why was I pushing myself to do this work?

Because I wanted things to change. 
Part of me had been stuck in trauma, for over 30 years.

I was tired of parts of me being scared of touch and of feeling ashamed of wanting it.
I was tired of a part of me always feeling anxious around my husband, and of  unexpected shame and fear popping up when they shouldn't, interfering in our relationship.

I didn't want a traumatized child dictating how I lived my life.  It wasn't  fair to my husband, or to me.

It was time for an adult to take charge.

It was time to heal.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stella's Wedding Dress


 Stella's funeral was last Thursday, November 14th.  She died from stomach cancer. In this photo, I am sitting in front of Stella at our friend Maryanna's wedding, about 13 years ago. Maryanna also got married in Stella's wedding dress.  Stella received such joy from sharing her dress with us!

Dear Stella,

Although your no longer with us, I feel your love, so alive, wrapped around me and anyone who still needs you.  At the funeral I could feel your love embracing Yarden, and each one of your children, holding and protecting them forever.

I know, that like a mother who holds a screaming, hitting, toddler, God, the Shechina, can handle any pain, rage, or grief we throw Her way.  In my anger, and pain I scream at God.  I demand that He hold Yarden and your precious children tightly, and show them a way through this tragedy.

Stella, you know I am no stranger to loss.  I lost my entire family, both  parents, eleven siblings, countless relatives. I have no greater tolerance for loss having lost as much as I have.  And, losing you Stella is, in a way, worse than losing my entire family.  My family is, and has always been, in an emotional coma.  They never saw me as a real person with real feelings.  You Stella, were always so alive and present.  You always saw me and valued me as the real "perfectly imperfect" person I am.
The world is just not as safe a place without you here.

Stella, when I had no home, when I could not believe in a God who would allow such hurt, you and Yarden, Elana and Brian, took me into your homes and showed me a different experience of Judaism and of God.  An experience that was real, honest, and beautiful.   Sixteen years ago, you invited me for Shabbos every single week, week after week, and created a safe place for me to heal.  I felt broken from trauma, and loss, but you only saw the unbreakable part inside me -inside all of us- that no loss, no trauma, can damage.

We have been forced to learn to live with deep gut wrenching pain.  Pain that is so intense it sometimes hurts to blink, and we find ourselves skipping breaths, because it hurts too much to breathe.

 Stella, when my heart was broken into a billion sharp pieces, and it hurt too much to blink, and breathe, you and Yarden, were not afraid to be there with me, to hold the pain with me.

 I want Yarden and your children to experience now what I received from you then.  I want them to feel their friends and family around them helping them to hold this terrible pain.  I want them to find that place of strength and wholeness inside that you always saw in me.  I know that your love will help Yarden and the children to wade through the piercing shards of what is left of their hearts, and find the part inside each of them that is indestructible.

Stella, when I came to say goodbye, about a month ago, you were clearly suffering terribly.  You could barely get out of bed.  We both knew you were near the end.  When I tried to hold you, to share the pain with you, you said to me, "Oh, Genendy, this is nothing compared to what you went through." 
 Oh, Stella! 
There are no words.

 Stella, you and Yarden showed me that you believed in me, and in a future for me, in the most profound way possible; by introducing me to my husband.  Stella, you knew I was an incest survivor, and that I was afraid to get married.  You gently encouraged me to meet my future husband, just once.  You set it up for me in a way that was too safe to refuse.  You invite both of us to the same Shabbos table and did not tell him that I was there to check him out.

You and Yarden nurtured us through our dating relationship, our engagement, and our wedding.  Yarden and Brian were my brothers, and you and Elana were the big sisters, and the mother I didn't have.  You married me in your wedding dress, and you and Elana bought me my Shabbos candle sticks which I light each week for the past fifteen years.   Together, you and Yarden brought so much life into this world.  My husband and children, are the greatest blessings in my life, and I am eternally grateful to you.

Stella, people are just not replaceable, and there is no one who will ever replace you.   I learned so many important lessons from you about how to be a wife, and how to love.   You accepted yourself Stella, and because of this, you were able to love and accept those around you unconditionally.

I remember a couple of times, I expressed surprise that Yarden's latest escapade or adventure didn't upset you.  (I knew it would have upset me!)  You laughed and shrugged, and with a twinkle in your eye said, "That's just Yarden."

 You and Yarden were role models for me in how to be in a relationship.   Remember when we took you out for dinner for our tenth anniversary?  We played the Newlywed game.  You guys won hands down.  The depth to which you knew and understood each other showed me what was possible to strive for in my own  relationship.  You were best friends and it showed.  I regret that we only did that once.

Stella, I know your family still needs you.  I know I still need you.  God thinks otherwise.  It's so hard to accept God's will and to let you go.  Stella, I miss you.  I love you.  I don't know how Yarden is going to carry on.  I cried, and pleaded and begged for your life.  I demanded that God let you live.
The answer was, No.

I'm still reeling.

Love,
Genendy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CHANGE

Change
by Ellen bass

This is where I yank the old roots from my chest,
like the tomatoes we let grow until December, stalks thick as saplings.

This is the moment when ancient fears race like thoroughbreds,
asking for more and more rein and I the driver for some reason
they know nothing of, strain to hold them back.

Terror grips me like a virus and I sweat
fevered trying to burn it out.

This fear is invisible, all you can see is a woman going about
her ordinary day, drinking tea, taking herself to the movies,
reading in bed.

If victorious, I will look exactly the same yet I am hoisting a car
from mud ruts half a century deep. I am hacking a clearing
through the fallen slash of my heart.

Without laser precision, with only the primitive knife of need,
I cut and splice the circuitry of my brain.

I change.
__________________

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Where Did We Go Wrong?? The Cult of "Daas Torah"

The Agudah mindset, (this idea is only about 100 years old,) of "Only one Daas Torah"  is exactly the way I was raised to think.

In the minds of my family, if you disagree with the point of view of your rabbi, then you are an apikores, a non believer, who has no regard for Torah or Hashem.
As the rav in this video says so clearly, Sheker, falsehood, eventually crumbles.  A community who has relied on this new, false (and strangely Catholic) understanding of daas torah is watching its children reject its lifestyle and leave in droves.  There are non-religious children from charaidi families filling the streets of our communities here in Israel. (I hear that it is just as bad, if not worse, in the States.)

I know what it is like to be trapped in a system that does not allow you to think for yourself, to disagree, or to take responsibility for your own choices.  Trying to control our children's thoughts and emotions, is in my opinion, what causes "mental problems" in the charaidi community.

 I am saddened, but not surprised, that one angry young man resorted to violence against Rav Shteinman.  I expect that his community will claim that this young man had "mental problems" and he is not a reflection of a problem in the community at all.

http://machonshilo.org/en/eng/component/content/article/34-featured/666-the-attack-on-harav-shteinman-where-did-we-go-wrong

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why Didn't They Help Me??


In healthy families a strong parental alliance is a plus and leads to secure, happy, children.  In my family the very same quality led to neglect and abandonment. My parents are much more important to each other than I am, or ever was.  My mother could not, and would not, protect me from my father's ongoing sexual abuse.  I learned that I had to somehow manage on my own.  It left me out in the cold.  I had no where to turn but away from my parents if I wanted to survive.

And I so badly wanted to survive.

 I first wrote the following in the year 2000.  

I pull your faces toward me out of the past
My mother. 
My father.
 I touch your faces
 I look into your eyes 
 I pinch your faces hard
Trying to make you see me
Feel me
 I want you to feel my pain and anger.
 I yell in your blank faces,

 Why didn't you help me?!
 Don't you even see me?
Have you ever once seen me?
 I needed help!

 Your puzzled eyes gaze calmly at each other 
Are you amused by my intense feelings, Mommy? 
Is the half smile on your lips your way of blocking my feelings? 
 Is that how you keep me away?
My feelings are not real and so you are safe from them?
Your lips move,

Do you know what she's talking about Tatty?
No Mommy, we'd better go discuss it.

You turn together, the two of you, and walk in step to your bedroom to discuss what to do about me. 
You are on an important mission. 
A mission that excludes me. 
You will close the door and decide together what you will do
 By the time you come out
I'll be gone
Then you will go back to your room to discuss my leaving
Together
Forever 
 In step.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's a Mitzva to Talk About Trauma

Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is our model of trauma survival as individuals and as a nation.

Bechol dor v'dor..."In every generation one must see himself as having left Egypt."  

Trauma, if we are to leave it in the past and if we are to learn from it, must be out in the open.  It must be exposed, talked about, processed, and understood...
We are commanded to remember the Exodus, Yetziat Mitzrayim, and talk about it every single day.

Not a day can go by where we can afford to forget what happened to us.

Forty years of wandering in a desert of recovery, must not be kept a secret.
God wants us to talk about it.  Even if talking exposes our family's mistakes and embarrasses us.  For example, Moshe hit the rock and didn't talk to it...We can learn from this to talk to even the most stubborn and hard among us.

Don't hit the rock.
Talk to it. 
Engage in a dialogue. 
Violence is not the way to go.

 If we don't remember, acknowledge, and talk about our traumas we are doomed to repeat them.

  Traumatized people who keep their past a secret are likely to repeat history.  We tend to deny, minimize, rationalize, forget...and then repeat.

We are commanded by the Torah, to own our trauma, to own our recovery, to own our past.  We are commanded to acknowledge just Who it is who walks us out of an abusive situation, into the desert of therapy, where we begin to recover.

Therapy is messy.
Lonely as a desert.
Therapy after trauma takes a long time.
As a nation it took us forty years.

Recovery is full of mistakes, and acting out, and consequences.  We complained, we whined, we wanted to go back to Mitzrayim, because at least it was familiar.
At least there, we knew what to expect.
In Mitzrayim, among our abusers, we had an identity.  We were slaves. Victims.  In the aftermath we rejected truth and worshiped a golden calf.  A fantasy God.  We denied and ignored reality.

 As trauma victims leaving Mitzrayim we struggled to make sense of what happened to us.  We forgot, and we still forget, that we are being held by God.  We deny that our every need was, and still is, being cared for.

God understood, and understands that trauma survivors are needy, immature, and confused.  We are struggling for a sense of identity.  Who are we, if not victims?  What happened to us?  Was it really so bad?  Maybe abuse was better than this lonely and confusing desert of recovery.

Surviving, and getting to Israel took a lot longer than we thought it would.

We are commanded by God to never forget that we were slaves.  We were victims of trauma.
And to know that now we are survivors.

We survived the years in the dessert, as difficult as they were.
We did eventually get to Eretz Yisrael.
It was not without struggle and tremendous loss.
 Many didn't make it.

We are commanded to acknowledge our survival, and to know with our entire being, that it was indeed miraculous.
 And that it had nothing to do with us.
Alone we never could have left.

Without God we could never have survived.  It was God who took us out, who saved us, and loved us unconditionally as we healed as a nation, wandering in the lonely desert for forty years.

It is God, in every generation who takes us out of abusive situations, who loves us unconditionally, in spite of our mistakes, and who holds us, and provides for our every need as we wander for years on end in the confusing, hot, and lonely desert of recovery.

Trauma and Survival must never be kept a secret.

 Talking about Trauma is the secret of our survival as individuals and as a nation.

Then, now, and always.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

EXCOMMUNICATION

I sent each one of my eleven siblings a copy of the talk that I gave at my Seudat Hoda'ah. (contact me if you would like a copy: genendy.safekids@gmail.com)
 It was met with deafening silence.
Kares. 
 I have been cut off.
 I remember being sexually abused by my father and grandfather and I am still dealing with the consequences.

Excommunication is one of the consequences.

I miss the good memories of Sukkos with my family. The excitement of building the sukkah, the togetherness and family time.

 Any abuse survivor who is honest, will admit that there were also good times.

 The good memories I have of my family will always be there, and always be mine.  Unfortunately, the bad memories will always be there too; memories of ongoing sexual abuse that I and my family desperately wish I didn't have.

I can never go back and reclaim the lost years with my family.  I lost so much. It's hard to imagine the tears will ever end.  I missed watching my younger brothers and sisters grow up. I missed going to family celebrations.  I missed spending time with them on holidays.  I missed knowing about, and celebrating, the births of my many nieces and nephews, etc.

  I found out recently that my youngest brother, Meir, is engaged.  Maybe he's already married.  I am not privy to this kind of information in my family.
  I struggle to picture Meir as an adult.  When I saw him last, fifteen years ago,  he was eight years old. 
I will not be invited to his wedding.
I am not invited to family simchas.

Yom Tov brings back the reality of how alone I am.

My good friend Hadas suggested that I write a letter to myself from my siblings.  A fantasy letter, if you will.  Hadas suggested imagining someone in my family communicating with me from a place that is real, healthy, and honest.  Imagine someone in my family asking themselves honestly, "What does Hashem (God) want from me in this situation?" Hashem is the spirit of life and unending love and intelligence in the world.  Hashem kel rachum v'chanun.  Hashem is a God of mercy.  Hashem/God cares first and foremost, how we treat each other.  How might my family respond to me, and communicate with me if they believed this?

Perhaps something like this:  (assuming that they honestly don't have knowledge of the abuse I suffered, which to me is doubtful.)

 Dear Genendy,

I don't know you very well, nor do you know me very well, as we haven't spoken in many years.  I wish you wouldn't talk about your memories so publicly.  It causes all of us a lot of pain and embarrassment.  I can not begin to imagine where you are coming from.  I don't remember anything like what you say you remember from our childhood.  My memories and experiences don't match yours at all. Our other brothers and sisters say that they can not relate to your experience either.  Your story seems to have changed, and to keep changing over the years.  I have a lot of questions about things you say, and have said, that seem inconsistent.   I am very angry and hurt by your behavior.  You are my sister, though, and I love you and care about you and would like to try to find a way to work through this with you. 
Your Phantom Sibling,
Sadly,
No one

Monday, September 23, 2013

FLASHBACK


  I am relaxing in bed on Shabbos morning with a good book, when suddenly I'm feeling very young, and very scared.  My arms are shaking and my face is wet.

 I can hear my children playing downstairs.  I don't want them to see me crying.

I put the book down and go into the bathroom.  I hear a young voice speaking, gasping with sobs.  The words are coming from my mouth.  She is telling me something.  It is so garbled I don't think I would understand the words, if they weren't spoken in my own mind.  She is saying...

"...Then he banged my head on the floor like this. And he hurt me like this."

  Some very young part of me is urging me to listen to her, to stay with her, and feel her feelings.  She wants and needs to be heard.   


  I often look in a mirror when I'm alone having a flashback.  It's so hard to believe that I'm real and that my feelings are real.  It's so hard to trust myself.  I need proof that I exist.

I pull myself up to the mirror. The traumatized, eyes of a terrified four-year-old gaze at me from my forty year old face.
The adult in me, the protector of children, snaps to attention.
I realize I am having a flashback.  I cross my arms across my chest in a hug, and grab my shoulders.  I hold us both firmly; my adult self, and my child self.  I rub my arms, trying to touch the young part inside. I tell her, "No one is hurting you now.  Your safe.  I won't let anyone hurt you."  I try to make my voice soothing and firm.

In my mind I can see and feel what is happening to me, as a four-year-old.  It happened so very long ago, but in my body, and in part of my mind, it feels like it is happening right now.

 I am lying on the floor in the bathroom.  Tatty is hurting me, again.  He wants me to do something disgusting.  He is trying to force me. I can't do it, yet I want to please him.  I don't want to make him angry.  I don't want him to hurt me.

My body won't obey.  I can't do what he wants.  I can't make myself do it.

My mouth opens and closes and I gasp for breath.  The silent, screaming child's voice shatters my mind.
"Tatty, don't hurt me!"  No, Tatty, don't hurt me!  Stop!  I want to bang my head.  When he bangs my head then he will stop!  Bang my head!! Bang my head!!"

 In frustration and disgust, Tatty bangs my head back on the floor.  My whole body tingles and goes numb.
 He picks me up and carries me back to bed.
 It's over for now.
Desperate, terrified, screams try to come out of my mouth. 

 Be Silent!

I don't want to scare my children who are downstairs.

Be Silent! 

 I need my husband's help, but I am so grateful he is with my children.

Be Silent!  

The terrified four-year-old inside me knows that she is not allowed to make any noise.

  She has to be quiet so no one will find out how bad I am.  Tatty does this to me because I'm bad.  I don't want anyone to know.

I grab my arms again, hugging myself, the adult and the child together, and I hold on tight.  Willing myself to stay present, and not abandon this four-year-old part of me alone in the past with this pain and trauma.  My family abandoned her.  Her community abandoned her.  I can't.  I won't.

"I hear you."  I tell her.  "It's not happening now.  I'm an adult now.  This happened a very long time ago.  I'm with you.  I'll always be with you."

The tears and shaking stop eventually.  Then comes the headache.  I hold my head 
on the floor in the bathroom.  Exhausted.
 My daughter is calling me.  She wants me to read to her.

I wash my face and leave the bathroom to read to my young daughter.
She doesn't seem to notice that my eyes are slightly glazed.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FATHER DAMAGE


Father is a story too confusing to tell
his loving and hating
so strong
his legacy of rapes and hugs
kind words and large hands
in private places
father will do anything
to control your love
gifts and trips
an open heart to his daughter
who understands
and is an important confidant
of the all powerful father
the same one who makes her naked
looks deep inside
the privacy of her soul
climbs into her with every part
that might fit into every opening...

...The child’s mind dissociates
her spirit passes through dimensions
slipping far away to safety
and forgets
as he comes daily
to haunt and probe
the depths of the soul he was given
to destroy.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Life is like a piano. The white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life's journey, remember that the black keys also create music...

(Does anyone have the source for this quote?)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Journey of Healing

The following quote is from,  Healing from Trauma  A survivors guide to understanding your symptoms and reclaiming your life  Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC, 2008

"Many times this journey feels like traveling through the fires of hell.  Yet through it, we can come to know the meaning of heaven.  We find heaven within us when we recover our own preciousness; we find the heaven between us when another tenderly helps us heal; we find the heaven around us when, moving from hell to well, we find in the ordinary world the beauty and meaning that was earlier bleached out of it.  And some, too, find a heaven of angels, which may pierce through the veils of our lives in moments of need or when our spiritual search takes us there."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Children are Spiritual Beings Having a Human Experience (and so are we!)

Note: I took a break from blogging due to the busy start of a new school year.

Let's listen to a child in my Gan, four-years-old: (quoted with his parent's permission)
We were discussing Rosh Hashana, and the creation of the universe.

child: "Outer space is Hashem's mouth.  I goed to outer space one day and Hashem told me that I was in his mouth!"
 Keep listening, as this child explains a picture that he drew of his theories about Hashem:
"There's a bad Hashem and a good Hashem.  I drew me shooting at the bad Hashem and he exploded, and the good Hashem is smiling cause the bad Hashem exploded."
Me: "but, It says in the Torah that there is only one Hashem."
child, "The Torah is joking. It's not the real Torah.  I exploded the bad Hashem, cause I'm stronger than the bad!"
This child is grappling with issues that we, as adults, struggle with daily, especially as Rosh Hashana approaches.  How can a good Hashem be the same God that allows bad things to happen? 

How could one of  my best friends, mother of young children, be dying of cancer?  How could a friend's mother, a pillar of the community, die suddenly in a senseless car accident?  How can my father at times have been a loving father, and also a child molester?   How can my family, who has so many strong, good qualities, treat me like I am dead, for years on end, because I remember being molested by my father?

We tend to go into denial when bad things happen.   In our inability to hold two conflicting realities in our minds at the same time, we deny truth.   In our pain and confusion we push away Hashem.  We deny that good and bad can come from the same source.  We deny that otherwise good people are capable of doing terrible things.

  My young student has found a working, albeit immature, (yet, developmentally appropriate) solution, to this epic problem.  He knows that both good and bad come from Hashem, although in his mind they can't possibly be the same guy.  This child also knows that he is good and that good is stronger than bad.
  God allows bad things to happen in order to give us free will.  Free will and choice is the basis for morality.  Without choice we have no free will.  No judgment.  No responsibility.  Like non-human mammals, we would always simply be reacting to instinct. 

  Choice is synonymous with free will and is the basis for judgment and morality. Encouraging children to choose develops their awareness of how their minds work, and helps their teachers perceive their innate differences, revealing what Gardner (1983) calls intelligences. " 

(Possible Schools Lewin-Benham 2006 )
In my classroom I listen carefully to the children to try to understand their world view.  My goal is to help the children discover, express, and test their theories.  I am much more interested in teaching the children to make good choices that affect their daily lives, than I am in teaching them to, "listen" and "obey."  We encourage even very young children to take responsibility for their choices.

 For example, If one child hits another, we ask the offender, how will you help them feel better?  If he doesn't know how to help, we suggest asking the child he hurt what would help him.  Would ice help?  Would an apology help?  Would drawing him a picture help?  a band-aid?
 By allowing our children to think, to make choices, and to take responsibility for themselves, we raise our children to be moral, ethical, and aware human beings.

 I always learn more from the children in my Gan than I teach them.  I'm so happy to be back in the classroom!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This Post is in Memory of Eliyahu Goode, A'H' who was a Baltimore victim of child sexual abuse. Eliyahu passed away last month at the young age of 24. August 15th is the shloshim..

  Eliyahu was a student of mine in Torah Institute when he was five-years-old.  I was twenty.  This post is my personal reaction to Eliyahu's untimely death.


 Eliyahu is a casualty of our community.
We failed him.
We let him die inside, before his neshama ever left his body.
I believe that Eliyahu Goode A'H' was our latest victim of so called "da'as
Torah."

We are so busy protecting ourselves and our confused understanding of "da'as Torah," that we let Eliyahu's perpetrator free to continue to abuse and destroy more innocent neshamos.
We allowed Eliyahu to torture himself to death, in a world devoid of any justice.

Hashem please forgive us, for we have blood on our hands.
We seem to have forgotten that Avraham Avenu was not really supposed to sacrifice his son Yitschak.
It was only a test!

We must stop protecting soul murderers, and offering our children up as korbonos.
We are failing this test every time a child is molested and we fail to protect them, and help them find justice and healing in this world.   We are violating a basic moral truth of the Torah by abandoning these children and adult survivors.  This is NOT what Hashem wants from us.

I heard from a reputable source in Baltimore that Eliyahu's perpetrator is the son of a rabbi at Ner Yisrael.  One of the same rabbonim who is protecting my father and telling the parents of T.I. that it is a safe school for their children.

Why wasn't Eliyahu's perpetrator ever brought to justice?   Why wasn't he exposed?  The perpetrator is very likely a second, third, or even fourth generation victim of child sexual abuse, himself.  He is likely still passing his pain along to the next generation.  He must be stopped!
How could Eliyahu continue to live in a world that betrayed his trust and his innocence, while his perpetrator walks free to continue to abuse?

We like to deny this reality, but the yeshivish velt (world) is so riddled with perpetrators and survivors of child sexual abuse, their is at least one in every extended family.
This is the result of years of covering up for the perpetrators, which has a domino affect and allowed the problem to fester and escalate to it's current uncontainable state.
 I could have been Eliyahu.  Some part of me is jealous of him because he is in the world of truth. 
 About eighteen years ago I tried to kill myself and was not successful.
Eliyahu is at peace.

 I am not.
Hashem wants me alive for a reason.  I am still here in this world of lies, where we throw our children into the fire, sacrificing them for what we convince ourselves are high spiritual values, like this, new age, so called, "da'as Torah."

Let us not let Eliyahu's death go by unnoticed.  Let us stop this madness, and confront  the loss of this young life.   Maybe then, we can begin to do teshuva.  Maybe then, we can show Eliyahu's family some meaning in their suffering and help his family find healing and peace.

Over the years I have heard of so many perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse coming out of Ner Yisrael.  A rabbi told me that years ago his son was a student at Ner, and left suddenly one night after slashing all of the tires of the teachers.  He turned his back on Torah, and for years refused to tell his father why he left.

Years later he finally told his father that his friend (another student) was raped by the son of one of the rabbis.  The victim was expelled and the crime covered up.

How can we live with ourselves??

 How do you think the survivors of my cousin, Moshe Eisemann feel, knowing that he is till living on Ner Yisrael campus??
Can you imagine how they continue to suffer because of our inability to take a moral stand?!  Why aren't we demonstrating outside his home and forcing him to leave?
 Perhaps because Rabbi Hopfer told Moshe Eisemann's victims that the chillul Hashem would be too great if people found out about it?

I ask you, what greater chillul Hashem is there, then the soul murder of our children?!

A few years ago, a former talmid (student) of Matis Weinberg contacted me.  Having heard of my story he approached me to ask me if we could discuss an important issue.

Matis Weinberg (son of the late R' Yaakov Wienberg, and sister of Aviva Wiesbord)  left California years ago and moved to Isreal to escape allegations of sexual abuse.  He was later taken to Bais Din in Israel by a group of former students who alleged that he molested them.

 This talmid wanted to know how I came to grips with the fact that my grandfather, a rosh yeshiva, a talmid chacham, molested me.  He could not wrap his mind around the fact that his rebbe, the man who taught him Torah, the man who in his words, "made me what I am today," could also be a child molester.

This talmid knows that children don't make up stories of abuse, and he heard first hand from Matis's victims, although he personally wasn't one of them.  He knows that in our community victims of sexual abuse are even less likely to come forward, knowing that if they dare to tell the truth they will not be believed, and will likely be killed off, in favor of protecting the perpetrator and the image of the community.

 This man was struggling with something that he knew I had struggled with for years.   How could such good, and such evil, exist together in the same person?  How can we, who are witnessing the apparent failure of our leaders in this area, hold two such apparently conflicting realities in our mind at the same time, without going crazy?

For those of us with a personal relationship with these leaders, the challenge becomes magnified.  How can we trust anyone?

The Torah is full of examples of our great leaders who made terrible, costly, mistakes.  The Torah does not hide their mistakes, to teach us this very lesson.

Yet, we seem to believe that our generation is above the Torah.

 Our leaders are infallible.

The fact is, that most of us our not mature enough to hold conflicting realities in our mind at the same time.
Most survivors who have been through what I have, (and sadly it is very common)  leave the community and never look back.

Most students of respected talmidai chachamim who are child molesters, or who defend and protect child molesters, would rather (although perhaps subconsciously) abandon their own children than grapple with the reality that our greatest leaders are human and can, and are, making terrible mistakes.

As a community we must move back in time, before our current perverted understanding of unquestioning "da'as Torah" and "emunas chachamim" (which is a relatively new idea, the way we it is used today to escape responsibility,) and find our moral center.

We must stop defending evil and stop killing our children.

ELIYAHU, I AM APOLOGIZING FOR A COMMUNITY THAT CAN NOT YET APOLOGIZE FOR ITSELF.  I AM SO SORRY!!  WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO YOU, ELIYAHU!?  PLEASE FORGIVE US!!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

My Encounter with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Weinberg

These days, I no longer wear pants.

I started wearing pants when I lived in Springfield State Psychiatric Hospital in Maryland.

It wasn't because I wasn't frum.
 
It was simply a matter of personal safety.

I spent a year at the hospital between the ages of 22-23 after a suicide attempt.

 Springfield used to be a farming hospital, and is a large campus full of old abandoned  buildings.  Patients are housed in newer more modern buildings.  One of the older buildings houses a museum, and a clothing boutique for the patients.   Another houses a library and eye clinic.  Most of the old buildings are empty, and more commonly used by patients to meet secretly with the opposite sex and break the rules.  I found out pretty quickly that in Springfield women would commonly sell themselves for a box of 'smokes' or cigarettes.  I turned down proposals almost daily.

A number of the patients at Springfield also served time in prison for various, sometimes violent, offenses.  The hospital had a level system for behavior management.  When I made it to level three, I was allowed off the locked ward to walk freely around the large hospital grounds for a few hours a day.

One day I was outside with some fellow patients wearing my Bais Yaakov style skirt and a male patient, who I was aware had a history of violence, approached me.

"If I catch you walking alone outside I'm gonna rape you,"  he warned  in a low voice as he walked past.

I went straight back to the ward and reported him, and was relieved when he lost his level immediately and was confined to the ward.  But the encounter left me with the realization that wearing a skirt in Springfield was not tznius (modest).

In fact, my fellow patients confirmed that my skirts were attracting dangerous attention to myself.  I never saw another female patient wearing a skirt, and the men would look me up and down as I walked by.  That same day, I visited the Boutique and picked out some jeans and shorts.  I felt safer in them.  I blended in.  I felt a lot more modest.

This incident triggered a memory of similar feelings I had when I was three years old and my mother told me that I was"a big girl," and that pants were no longer appropriate for me.  I was very upset.  I felt safer in pants than skirts.  I remember trying to hide a pair of pants in my dresser, but my mother found them and confiscated them.  I felt exposed and vulnerable in a skirt.  I felt like an easy target for abuse in a skirt; Just like at Springfield.

Not long after my wardrobe adjustment, my oldest sister invited me to Yeshiva Lane in Baltimore for a Shabbos. My brother in law picked me up at the hospital.   I left in shorts, but carried a skirt in a  bag, explaining to him that I planned to change as soon as I arrived at my sisters house.

Why did I go to Yeshiva Lane in shorts?

Part of the answer is that I wasn't convinced that anyone would care.  I was invisible.  It didn't seem to register with my sisters, my uncle and aunt, (my father's brother is a teacher at the Yeshiva) or anyone else in my family, that I was in a crisis,  living in a mental hospital, and needing help and support.  No one discussed it with me openly, or asked me how I was coping in this dangerous environment.  I was told by my family, that I could leave the hospital and live a normal life, anytime I wanted to.  After all, all of my suffering was my own fault.  My trauma and pain was not real to them.

I had borrowed a slip from my cousin for Shabbos.  Sunday morning I stopped by my uncles house on the way back to the hospital to return it . When my uncle saw me in his house in shorts he became incensed.   This must have seemed to my uncle the ultimate in disrespect.

A slap in the face.

At my end, it was a desperate cry for help.

As usual, the wind grabbed my cries of pain and whipped them back into my face.  No one noticed or felt my suffering, but me.
My uncle took one look at me and began to scream, "Get out of my house!"
He literally picked me up ( I was very thin at the time and must have weighed not more than 100 pounds) and threw me out the front door.

I was used to emotional and psychological rejection from my family.  But this physical rejection was proof of the overall rejection I was experiencing daily.  My uncle did not see me, a person, his own niece, in pain.  All he saw was a pair of offending shorts and an embarrassment to the family.  He violated the laws of negiah, the laws of the Torah, to throw me out of his house.

Bruised, humiliated, and shocked I wandered away and made my way to the Rosh Yeshiva's house.

Along the way I began to feel a rage toward Torah that that threatened to overwhelm me.  My family and Ner Yisrael, represented Torah to me back then.  If the Torah was as shallow as a pair of shorts, It was all a crock, all about appearances, and I wanted nothing more to do with it.

If I looked "off the derech" in my shorts before the incident with my uncle, I really was off the derech, afterward.  I knew that God was not shallow and would not reject me for wearing shorts to protect myself.  I knew that real modesty was a reflection of the inside...Inside I was troubled, terrified, and hurt.   I was very much alone, living in an environment opposite to the one I grew up in, where shorts were modest and skirts were not.

My uncle ignored my pain for years, until it hit him in the face.  His response was to blame me, and literally throw me out the front door.  I was bitterly angry and hurt. I realized that I was dangerously close to the edge.  I wanted one last shot before rejecting the Torah right then and there.  So I went to Rabbi Wienberg's house.

Rabbi Yaakov and Chana Weinberg lived in the only single family house on the campus of Ner Yisrael.  I cried in their living room as I told them what had happened at my uncle's house.  Rabbi Weinberg told me that what my uncle had done was unacceptable, and promised that he would speak with my uncle.  It was comforting to hear this from a rabbi.  I told Rabbi Weinberg what my father had done to me and that I was living in a hospital as a result.  I asked him to speak to my father as well.

 "Please ask my father  to take some responsibility for what he did."  I begged.
 "I want to have a relationship with him.  Someday I want to get married and my father will want to walk me down to the chuppah.  I can't stand the thought of him touching me, now.  I can't pretend with him that nothing happened."

Rabbi Weinberg promised me that he would speak with my father as well.

I asked the rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) about her son Matis who left California years ago and moved to Isreal to escape allegations of sexual abuse.   He was later taken to Bais Din in Israel by a group of former students who alleged that he molested them.  I was still trying to understand my mother's denial.

"How do you respond to the allegations against your son?  Do you deny them?"
The rebbetzin replied,  "I have to honestly say, that although I hope the allegations against my son are not true, I don't really know."  I wasn't there, and didn't see what happened."
"I wish my mother and siblings would admit the same thing!"  I cried, as a pang of jealousy hit me.   "How can they insist that they know my father did nothing to me, if they didn't see it?"
Rebbetzin Weinberg did not have an answer for me.

I passed through their house like a ghost and never heard from them again.

Matis's sister, Aviva Weisbord, was my first encounter with the 'helping' profession.  She was my first psychologist, and saw me as a favor to my father who had helped her with one of her children.  Aviva told me that she doesn't usually see her parents friends, but in my case she made an acception because she had so much respect for my father.
To this day, Aviva Weisbord tells people that I am crazy.

Years later, when I consider the context,  it makes sense that the Weinberg/Weisbord  family could not help me.  They are grappling with similar trauma and shame in their own family.

A couple of years after the incident, when I became engaged to be married, my uncle approached me to ask forgiveness for throwing me out his front door.  The memory of the pain of that day welled up inside me.  I told him that his actions were what pushed me off the derech...I stopped keeping Shabbos and Kosher after the incident.  But I forgave him.

What my uncle didn't understand, is that what he didn't do hurt a lot worse than what he did do to me.  He never tried to help me. For that, he has never asked forgiveness, and I have yet to forgive him.   He ignored my pain, and failed to reach out to me during the most vulnerable period of my life.  He blamed me for my suffering, and added to my trauma just like the rest of my family.  Ignoring my pain, and abandoning me to the streets of the psyche hospital, was worse than any physical rejection.

I was determined not to let my family steal my heritage, or my life, from me.  I had lost enough.  Hashem helped me find good help, albeit not in the Jewish community.  Hashem continues to help me every moment of my life.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Me and My Grandfather, the Rosh Yeshiva

I made this picture in art therapy around twenty years ago.  This memory of my grandfather molesting me was hounding me, intruding on my mind when I least wanted to think about it.  It helped to get it out on paper.  The intrusive memory quieted down.  It helps to share it. My grandfather's sexual problems are a shameful family secret, but it's not my shame and I will not keep it a secret.   It can not be a secret when someone molests a child. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Da'as Torah

Genendy,

You have brought a lot of questions and discomfort to my mind over the last few weeks. Frankly, probably similar to your family, I wish you didn't exist and that I had never heard of you. But I have and I haven't been given a psak to ignore you, so therefore I can't. 

So here I find myself sitting down to write you this email, despite many reservations. That having been said, I have a question that has been weighing on mind, and I am very interested in hearing what you have to say  on the matter. Feel free not to respond, but I will take your silence as agreement with my dilemma.

So here goes. I've been following your blog for some time now and you appear to be a solid, well rounded person who has experienced a very painful and traumatic childhood. Your expression on your blog appears to be in good faith and your words ring true. My heart and my mind believe in you and can not imagine the extent of your pain.

However, what am I to think/do? All of the Rabbonim in Baltimore are supporting your father and send their children to TI. When my husband and I did research and spoke to some local Rabbonim regarding this issue, everyone was on the same page. So what exactly do your recommend? What would you do in my shoes? Believe the words of an "estranged" daughter who da'as Torah has said to ignore, or follow the words of our Rabbonim? In my own opinion your words may sound real, but how am I to choose you over daas Torah? I'm not a fan of blind faith, but the essence of my Judaism is hinged on mesorah and following the words of our gedolim. Without a firm belief in psak and the rulings of daas Torah, we'd be even more lost than we are today! Every single Rav I spoke to, both in Baltimore and out, agreed that your words should not get in the way of sending my son to TI. I even went so far as to ask some very detailed and specific questions regarding the safety of my child, and the answers I received were reassuring. 

So please tell me, my dear Genendy, what would you do in my situation? Do I listen to the guidance I was given,   or Ignore all of daas Torah, and listen to the words of some random stranger's blog who says that TI is not a safe place to be??

Please do not take my words as a challenge to you or as a question to your honesty and integrity. I told you, that's not the question at hand. But without daas Torah, we're lost. I think everyone would agree to that. 

Do you?

Dear Baltimore Parent,

Thank you for sharing your excellent question with me.  It is a sign of your honesty and integrity that you are willing to sit with this 'cognitive dissonance', and allow yourself to feel the conflict of your situation.  I suspect that some of the rabbonim who you spoke to in Baltimore are not able to do what you are doing.  I have to disagree, though, with your assessment that I am "some random stranger."  I am not a random stranger.  I am talking about my very own father who I love, and who you are trusting with your most precious children.  People will believe whatever they want to, but I assure you that if I did not have a serious concern for your children's safety, I would not be doing what I'm doing to my father and my family.  I have heard personally from two former students of my father that they were also abused by him.  I have heard of others but not first hand.  My heart is breaking as I write this.  Hashem gave me a very difficult task in this world that I too would rather not have.  

Your gut tells you to protect your child at all costs, and your rabbonim, your "da'as Torah," tell you otherwise.  What to do?

Consider this:   If there was an anonymous bomb threat at T.I. today, would you send your child to school even if the rabbonim told you not to take the threat seriously?  Or, would you wait for the bomb experts to go in there and declare the school safe?  Unfortunately, many rabbomin who are giving an opinion about the safety of  accused child molesters in the community, including my father, are not experts in the area of child sexual abuse.  As a responsible parent I would consult with the experts.  As a responsible rav I would advise the school to consult with experts,  and not give an opinion on safety in a situation where I have absolutely no training.

 If I was in your situation I would do one of three things.  If I liked the school as an institution I would get together with like minded parents and insist that my father be evaluated by objective professionals who are TRAINED to evaluate potential child molesters.  Or, I would get together a group of parents and insist that my father not continue to work in the school because of the potential safety issue.  Or, I would send my child to T.A. which is full of erlich frum Jews like you, who won't send their precious children to a school where there is an unresolved "bomb threat."  

My own personal view of what da'as Torah is, and how it applies in this, and any situation has changed dramatically from my family's, and is actually shared by many frum Torah Jews including those who many consider our real "Gedolim".  
In Perkai Avos it is written, "Asai Lecha Rav"  "Make" for yourself a rav.  As a community we MAKE our leaders.  We CHOOSE  them.  We GIVE them the power to decide about things that are important to us.

  If we choose leaders for ourselves that can not lead us properly than we WILL be misled, and it is OUR responsibility because we GAVE them this power.   Some in the frum community allow others to choose their rav for them, or they choose a rav who is incompetent to advise them, and then if someone is hurt, be it another person, or even themselves or their child, they deny all responsibility by quoting, "da'as Torah."   

This attitude is taking the concept of da'as Torah in a very unhealthy and corrupt direction. It is using da'as Torah to avoid responsibility for our choices and our decisions.   

Hashem gave us bechira, free will, which is a huge responsibility.  Hashem wants us to use our minds to think and to question and to make good choices.  Hashem does not want us to give up our bechira, that He created us with, in the name of da'as Torah.  (Nor does Hashem want us to teach our children to give up their bechirah by blindly following a rav who makes no rational sense.)  If a rav gives you the message that you can not question him, then this particular rav is interested in power and control, and not in Torah or truth.  

"Asai Lecha Rav."  Choose for yourself a real Rav.

When we give up our free will and our responsibility by shrugging and saying,  Oh well, what do I know, "Da'as Torah, emunas chachamim!" then WE become responsible for the pain and the damage that our leaders cause to ourselves and our children.   

I have heard of so many parents whose children were abused and they did nothing because "da'as Torah"  told them to ignore it.  The sad reality is that Our community has a very sorry track record when it comes to our leaders protecting our children from child sexual abuse.  

 Take a look at the blog, http://www.adkanenough.com/,  for way too many specific examples of trusted rabbonim who have supported and protected perpetrators (some are actually perpetrators themselves)  for decades in our community, allowing so many destroyed children and families.   On this website, A young man from your community, Eliyahu Goode, is listed as a victim of child sex abuse.  How he really died is unclear, but I can't help wondering, Was he a student at T.I.?  When a child is abused, and then dies as a result of the abuse, I would consider it a homicide.  Is anyone in Baltimore asking serious questions about who hurt him? Is Eliyahu's perpetrator still around?  I can't help thinking that he could have been me.  My family would have been so relieved If I would have succeeded in my suicide attempt so many years ago.  If Hashem did not want me to be alive today I could have easily self destructed.
  
When da'as Torah goes AGAINST the Torah it is neither da'as nor Torah, but Avodah Zarah!  We no longer have a yetzer hara to sacrifice our children to "molech."  Today we sacrifice our children to "da'as Torah."

 Why not consult with a rav who actually knows something about this topic:  Rabbi Ron Yitschak Eisenman for example, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, for example, Rabbi/ Dr. Bentzion Serotzkin, for example.  Rav Yosef Blau, R' Moshe Soloveichic (Chicago).  How about R' Ilan Feldman who is himself from Ner Yisrael.  Ask them if they would send their child to T.I.  Ask them who their "gadol" is?  Who do they turn to to ask their shailos?

Consider the words of the Rambam's son:
  Rav Avraham ben Harambam in about 1200, in Meavo ha-Aggadot, chapter 2: 

One who wishes to uphold a known view and to elevate the one who said it, and to accept his view without analysis and evaluation whether this view is true or not- this is a bad trait.  It is forbidden according to the Torah and according to logic.  It is illogical for it indicates inadequate comprehension of what needs to be believed; and
 it is forbidden according to the Torah for it strays from the path of truth... The Sages do not accept or reject views except on the basis of their truth and proofs, not because the one who says them is who he
 is. 


Consider Tamar who was raped by her brother Amnon.  Tamar is my role model in Tanach.  She did not go quietly to the rav to ask what to do.  Tamar knew what happened to her, and she knew that if such a thing could happen in the house of Dovid Hamelech then it was happening everywhere and we as a nation were in BIG TROUBLE. Something had to change.  I too know what happened to me.   I believe that if such a thing could happen in my family it is happening everywhere, (those of us who do not live with our heads in the sand know that this problem is HUGE)  It could happen in your family too!  We are in serious trouble.  Something has to change.

  Tamar screamed and cried until the rabbonim heard her and enacted the laws of yichud in response.   As mothers who love our children we MUST scream and cry until we are heard and responded to appropriately by our rabbonim.

I am very interested in hearing from others about this important hashkafic topic.  Those of you who tried to post comments in the past with personal attacks, name calling, disrespect, and the like, please be reminded that I will not post such comments on my blog.