Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Had One Conversation with Rabbi Heinemann About This...

When I was nineteen I told one of my aunts about my memories of my father molesting me.  I  had always been close with her and desperately needed family support.  I had not gotten any so far.  Her reaction was not concern, empathy, or the offer of support I had hoped for.  She had but one important question on her mind:

"Can you marry a kohen?"

 I really didn't know the answer to that and it worried me because I was dating at the time.  My parents  knew I had issues but were desperately trying to find me a shidduch.  My father told me that he believed that marriage would solve all my problems. 

  Rabbi Heinemann is a friend of my father.  My father davened in his shul for many years.  My father taught his boys and helped one of them through some challenges.  Rabbi Heinemann was my brothers mohel.  He had been to every simcha in my family and knew my grandfather from his years in the Lakewood Yeshiva. 
I called Rabbi Heinemann. 

"If I was raped by my father can I marry a kohen?"

Silence.

Then the Rabbi asked, "Was it before or after age three."

 "After."

More silence.   Then a verdict:

"If you say it happened, then no, you can not marry a kohen.  But if you say it didn't happen, then yes, you can marry a kohen."

That was the end of the only conversation I ever had with Rabbi Heinemann about this or anything else.

He did not ask me any further questions.

He did not express any concern.

 I could have been asking him if my flaishig fork that I accidentally used in the milchig bowl needed to be kashered.

 The fact that a young woman with a terribly painful question was crying out to him, reaching out to him for help at the other end of the phone, a real person with feelings, from a family he knows...didn't register at all in his reaction.  

A few years ago a friend here in Israel, and former Baltimorian, told me about an encounter he had with a  visitor in Shul.  The visitor was a friend of his from Baltimore and somehow the topic of my father came up.
My friend asked the visitor what was going on with the case.
The man replied,

"Everyone knows the daughter is not credible.  Rabbi Heinemann says she's crazy and not frum."

   My husband happened to be davening a few chairs away  and my friend pointed him out.

 "That's her husband right there.  Our boys are in the same class in school."

The color drained from the man's face and he sat down hard.  his mouth fell open and stayed that way for a full two minutes.

"I don't understand."  He finally mumbled.  "Why would they say that?"




Sunday, May 26, 2013

This is A Twenty Year Old Story...Why Bring It Up Now??

Some people wonder why I am bringing this up now.  They assume that because this is a twenty year old allegation, everyone in Baltimore knows about it, the administration of Torah Institute knows  about it, have investigated it and "taken care of it."
Really?
What do they know?
Whom have they spoken to?
Not me.
Do they know that about thirteen years ago my father was reported to the authorities by a therapist who was seeing a former student of his?  This therapist believed that my father had molested her client.
The investigator told me at the time that he believed my father was guilty, but, "The community is stonewalling me.  No one will talk to me because I'm a goy.  An outsider."

 The charges were dropped for lack of sufficient evidence. In the minds of the Baltimore Rabbonim this somehow proved my father's innocence.

None of them have ever spoken to me or my therapist about this or even tried to.  No one in Baltimore has taken me seriously or bothered to contact me in the past twenty years.  They are relying on Rabbi Hopfer and Rabbi Heineman's word that THEY investigated carefully and decided that I was not credible, simply because I was hurt and acted hurt as a teen and young adult.

  I was suicidal at the time that they decided this and wasn't sure myself what had happened to me!   I was so confused by my family's denial, never mind my own!

Until relatively recently I didn't really believe that I was a real person who existed.   It's hard to know you exist when you have always been taught and treated like you aren't real.

 I had only three therapists since the age of twenty five, who all worked with me for multiple years and all believed that I had survived serious sexual abuse by my father.  No one in my family or the Baltimore community has ever asked to speak to these therapists.
Why?
Perhaps they prefer to rely on the Baltimore Rabbonim who have no interest in speaking to my therapists.
Why?
 BECAUSE THEY DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE TRUTH!

Rabbi Hopfer decided that it is acceptable to kill me off, to destroy my relationship with my siblings, in order to try to keep me quiet.  What is Rabbi Hopfer and my family so afraid of?  If I am crazy or hallucinating why do I pose such a threat to them?

 My father did terrible, unspeakable, things to me as a child.  He is still abusing me by treating me, and allowing me to be treated by my family, as dead  in order to protect himself.  As long as my father is the principal of a school, and I am cut off from my family, and ignored by my community the abuse continues...MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS LATER THE ABUSE CONTINUES! 
For my own sanity and healing I will no longer play dead.
I bring this up again twenty years later with the full support of my therapist and my rav.

Child sexual abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum.   A family has to be unhealthy for incest to happen in the first place.
 I was systematically taught from a young age that my experiences and needs were not real and that I could not trust my own eyes.
Here is one example:
When I was ten years old I needed glasses.  My mother refused to get me them telling me "You see well enough."
When I finally got glasses a year later in order to, "get the teacher off my back not because you really need them,"  they were a badge of shame in my family.  I didn't really need them, I just wanted attention.  My siblings would snicker about my glasses and my exaggerated need for attention behind my back.   I remember being sent out of the room after my eyes were examined. (I must have been 11 or 12.)  I overheard the discussion between the opthamologist and my father.  My father argued with the doctor that he and my mother did not want me to have glasses because I read too much.  They wanted me to play outside more.  I remember the doctors incredulous voice saying, "I can see by the shape of her pupils that your daughter is very nearsighted!" Do you want your daughter walking around in a blurry world?!" 
The answer was, and still is, YES.

My parents, siblings, and the Baltimore Rabbonim want me walking around in a blurry world believing that I am not real and that I can't trust my own memories and experiences.
The saga of the glasses was long and agonizing.  I was perpetually frustrated in school because I couldn't see the board properly.  At one point one lens of my glasses broke and I walked around with only one lens for a year.  The result was a serious convergence insufficiency.

 When I was eighteen and got a new prescription my mother took my new glasses away from me because she said, they "looked too thick."  She wanted me to have a weak prescription and not the one my doctor said I needed.

 At that point something inside me snapped.  I broke all family rules of submission to parental authority and went to the glasses store myself to get my proper prescription.

My mother would tell me often that I had no reason to be sad or angry and I should put a smile on my face...She would chant the following quote as if handing me pearls of wisdom that someone had given to her:

"My face I don't mind it for I am behind it."

She seemed to be implying that I should not show negative emotion on my face as I was not the one who had to look at me.  My face was not for me but for the benefit of others.  No one wanted to see my negative feelings.
She shared this quote with me many times over the course of my childhood when I was angry or sad and let it show on my face.

Even my face did not belong to me...

Never mind the rest of my body and soul. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Seudas Hoda'ah

Dear Rabbis and Community Members,
The reason you are invited to view this letter to my family is because my message must be heard. Because of the many years of being totally cut off from my family I have very little hope that they are capable of hearing it. I hope that you are able to hear it. My letter is not meant to blame, demonize, or point fingers about what went on in the past, but only as a vehicle for change now and in the future. As you read, please ask yourself what you personally can do to help ensure that no more children can be hurt the way I was.
Thank you,
Genendy Eisgrau
genendy.safekids@gmail.com

Dear Family,
You do not know me very well, as we have been estranged for many years. I want you to know a little bit about who I am today. There are no words to express the pain that you cause me by cutting me out of your lives and treating me like I am dead or should be dead. Thanks to Hashem (G-d), who listens to the tears and the screams of his children in pain, I am still alive and not only surviving but thriving. My connections to Baltimore in the last few years have been sparse. I hosted one of R' Heinemann's grand-daughters for a Shabbos at my home with my husband and children a couple of years ago. And I have had Baltimore children in the Gan (Early childhood center) that I founded for children of new olim.
I miss you all very much. You are undeniably a very special family. Part of my strength comes from you. You taught me that we must be willing to take risks to help one another. You taught me to do the right thing no matter what anyone thinks or says about me. Maybe someday you will open your hearts and minds and invite me back into your lives. May Hashem give you the courage to face your own pain and your own fears, and find your own path to healing.
I made a Seudas Hodaah (thanksgiving celebration) in honor of my fortieth birthday. I invited about forty women, all friends who I feel connected to. I would like to share my talk with you.
With love,
Genendy

There is a well known story about two toads who fell into a bucket of milk. One drowned the other survived. When asked how he managed to escape the toad said, “I jumped and jumped until the milk churned to butter and I climbed out.
My late maternal grandfather was a rosh yeshiva. My father, who was a talmid of my maternal grandfather, is today the principal of a large talmud torah in Baltimore.  As a toddler and young child I spent a lot of time in my grandfathers yeshiva. I soaked in the atmosphere of Torah. The beauty and spirituality of Torah was not lost on me and is still a major part of my life today. 
Now I am going to share something with you that many say I shouldn't.  I have been told it could destroy my family and It may ruin my children's chances of ever getting a shidduch (marriage partner).  I am not worried. I believe that by taking responsibility for the important issue of our children's safety Hashem will grant all of us not only good shidduchim, but stronger marriages that are not marred by the trauma of untreated child abuse.
 So here goes: I remember being molested by my grandfather, my father, and other bochurim (students) in the yeshiva repeatedly during my early childhood.

I am not supposed to be telling you this ugly fact. In fact, I think life would be a lot easier for me, my 11 siblings, and countless relatives that go along with a proper frum (religious) family, if I would not have survived a suicide attempt about eighteen years back.  But after waking in the ICU I realized that Hashem did not intend to let me die, and their was a good reason He allowed these things to happen to me and allowed me to live to talk about them.  At the time, I made a commitment to find out the reason I lived. I have found the reason.
I am the reason.
You are the reason.
The future of Klal Yisroel (The Jewish nation) is the reason.
Today I am publicly thanking Hashem for saving my life.
For a complete copy of my talk please e-mail me at genendy.safekids@gmail.com

Following are some of the reactions I received after my talk (names included with permission):

Thank you for sending me your powerful and eloquent statement.  Keep on fighting.
Please feel free to use my name and add that I have known you for years and have always found you credible.
Best wishes,
(Rabbi) Yosef Blau 

I’m so proud of you. I have sent this on. Have you ever had ANY validation from ANY member of your family? I hope the truth comes out for them! It’s so sad that the perpetrators manage to get the message across that NOT TALKING is heroic and praiseworthy and the victim who does expose the abuse is considered the evil one. 

Miriam Adahan

Kol hakavod. That took major courage.
I would like to use my new position to help regarding abuse. If you could write any law, what would it say?
R' Dov Lipman, Kenesset member
I cannot sleep thinking about this evening. It was so powerful; the beautiful setting, the peaceful ambiance, and most importantly your moving words followed by your unbelievable artwork. You are truly an amazing inspiration. I remember when I first met you, recognizing your beautiful perceiving heart and as I've gotten to know you over the years that appreciation has grown and grown.  Now I am awe inspired by you and your strength . I feel so sad for your loss of family but all the women there tonight and all of our children who you've taught are your family.
I still have hopes of someone out there bringing the horrible truth to Baltimore- it's never too late.
Thank you for including me this evening.
Shavua tov and see you Monday!
Love,
Atara 


Genendy, thank you for sending me this. So far I only read a few words, and I'm already bawling and can't see enough to read anymore. I'm typing this thru my tears blindly LOL. Just wanted to let you know how powerful this is, already, and I read but a few words.
Still trying to get out of the butter,
Chani
Dear Genendy,
I am shocked, saddened and sickened.  I want to take you in my arms and give you a huge hug.  You are one of the most amazing woman I know - totally NORMAL, a phenomenal educator and wonderful friend.  What a nightmare you lived through.  No one would ever know the horrors you lived through by the way you live your life here in RBS with a smile on your face and on open heart, ready to love and help all of us.  G-d should give you strength to endure and to continue on your path to stop the 'blind eyes' that allow this to continue.  
 Love
Shellie
It is a pleasure and honor to know you. I am so grateful you are alive. You give every child you know the gift of learning how to express themselves through their storytelling, their art, their feelings. You are cherished for your courage to tell your honest story. May your heart feel all of the love we have for you.
Can't wait for your book!
Much love,
Devorah
Dear Genendy, Amv"sh
I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for what you have endured-physically, emotionally, spiritually. I am so sorry that you had to suffer the disillusionment of discovering how respected, religious individuals can be so corrupt and insensitive. Most importantly, I want to tell you how much I admire your ability to take all of  the horrible injustices that were handed to you and channel them to not just come out ok, but to come out the most incredible, thought out, creative and respectful educator that I have ever come across. You have created a warm, safe, nurturing, and loving environment for so many children throughout the years, perhaps being metakein on some level, what was unjustly taken away from you.
Finally, Evan and I  both want to offer our support in any way that we can provide. We understand that by sharing your story, you have potentially opened yourself up to the most painful and dismissing reactions from the frum community. We feel very strongly about stopping the horrible epidemic of molestation and about preventing the disdainful covering up that occurs. We will gladly stand by you in support as needed. We respect you greatly for speaking out and hope that you are granted the support and encouragement from the community that you rightfully deserve.
With great respect and admiration,
Devorah and Evan
Hi Genendy,

Wow.  Although I am feeling speechless, I felt compelled to write you an e-mail even though all my thoughts are not yet in order from tonight b/c I felt that I wanted you to see an e-mail in your inbox the day after such a big revelation of your personal past and self.

Genendy,  I return home from you talk and I am awed by you. 

I just keep on thinking to myself: wow, that must have taken such a tremendous amount of courage for you to get up there, in front of all your friends and reveal such a personal and private part of your life.  Genendy, I was so moved by your words.  You are a SURVIVOR in the truest and deepest sense of the word.  I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and hell you must've gone through.  It sounded so hellish, I was feeling so outraged just hearing your words!!! I am so so sorry that you had to go through what you did and endure what you endured.  I am so so so sorry how you were treated and rejected afterward. So disgusting and even as you said, worse than the trauma itself.  You are such an amazing person, w/ such high moral and such a beautiful and warm personality.  I have learned so much from you in the short time that I have known you.  I always jokingly say, but it is true, that you raised my daughter and I'm just her second mom.  But seriously, you said tonight that we inspire you but the truth is Genendy, that YOU inspire us!  You are such a special and unique educator and I really have gained so much from watching you interact w/ the children and hearing you and being w/ you and working under you etc.  I want you to know how much you have helped so many children and parents and how the world really is a better place b/c you are in it.  You have done so much w/ your gan and w/ your advice and w/ your knowledge and wisdom and we are so lucky to be a part of your life and to know you.  

Thank you for inviting me tonight and for trusting me w/ your past.  I feel like I have so many questions for you.  I cannot fathom how you endured such a tragedy.  All I can tell you is that you are so loved here in RBS and we all think you are so special. I wanted to speak tonight when some of the ladies were speaking but I was too shy and in shock so I thought I will write you an e-mail when I get home.  

I am so glad that you have the courage to "come out of the closet" and speak about your hellish past tonight.  I learned a lot tonight and I see now that it is such an important part of the recovery and I feel privileged that I was able to be a part of that healing.  I am always here, w/ a very open and listening ear, w/ a very warm and comforting shoulder to continue to be a part of the healing and to hear and listen to whatever you want to say.  

I love you Genendy, I really want you to know that.  We all do and we all are so happy to be a part of your life.  I am so happy that I am able to know you and be your friend.  Thank you for sharing tonight.  I wish that no child will have to ever endure what you and others have endured.  I wish that no child should endure the rejection that you endured from your family and "rabbi's" (should we even use that word? - I mean, how could any authentic "rabbi" ever advise you like that?)

Sincerely,
Fondly,
Goldie :)
I am so moved by this, and so honored to know you!  You are inspirational.
This is amazing.  Very hard to read and really horrible, but well done for writing it
 Love you,
Mandy

Monday, May 13, 2013

VERY IMPORTANT POST ! I want to hear from my readers...

I must share this comment with my readers because, in my opinion, this is the crux of the problem.  Silencing victims is what allows perpetrators of abuse to go unstopped for years, and allows innocent children to continue to be hurt:

 

"My heart aches for victims of abuse. I cry for what you say you have been through. To think that one person would be abused by so many, is scary at the very least! I do have a concern about your mental health though. I understand you are working on yourself which is amazing. I do not think, that you should be a caregiver to children though, until you get through the healing.
Am I the only parent who is now worried about you? This is very scary."


This is an excellent question that must be addressed if we are to understand trauma and recovery.  If we are to understand how we are to possibly keep our children safe in a world full of survivors and perpetrators.

Protecting Our Children From Abuse

Are survivors of abuse safe with children?
How can we, as parents, know this?

I don't think the poster of this comment knows me.  I don't think s/he realizes that by going public about my past, and using my real name, (My husband is a tzadik!   He is my number one support and inspiration!) I put myself at risk of losing my parnasa, and my reputation.  I am doing this to prevent child abuse, and to encourage other survivors to speak out without shame, and to heal.

I will in some form always be dealing with recovery from trauma. This is true for all survivors of trauma. The idea of 'getting through the healing' is based on a false premise that there is a finite schedule for healing.

Child sexual abuse is a severe trauma that must be dealt with.  Like the death of a parent or sibling, like divorce, like natural disasters, or any kind of childhood trauma, the affects must be acknowledged, discussed, and felt.  The losses mourned.  Survivors of childhood trauma who go through this process emerge stronger, healthier, and more sensitive to children.  They are highly unlikely to willingly cause pain to another child.  It is survivors (of any kind of trauma) who can not acknowledge and process what happened to them who are in danger of passing the pain along to the next generation.  Both of my parents, are an example of this.  Neither of them could acknowledge to me, even privately, how badly they were hurt as children.   Yet, they both told me in their own way.  In a way that denied, minimized and rationalized the hurt that they undoubtedly experienced and passed along to me. For years I held the pain for my whole family.

I asked myself more than once, If my parents and others, who outwardly seemed like healthy normal people, (some would argue this point, but the reality is there are 650 children who's parents do seem comfortable sending their children to T.I in Baltimore ) so blindly hurt me, and so blindly deny my pain, how do I know I won't repeat the behavior that I learned at home, even inadvertently?  How do I know that I can trust myself with children?

This question was brought home to me when I was twenty five and I was caring for a little girl with Downs Syndrome. Her mother, a lawyer, had to do some pro-bono work as part of her training and was required to defend a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.
The perpetrator's defense was that he himself was abused as a child therefore he should be pitied and not punished.  This is not an acceptable defense in my opinion.

Although many abusers have themselves been abused,  most survivors of abuse do NOT grow up to be abusers. This is a very important difference.  Using child abuse as a defense for evil behavior, contributes to the re-victimization of most survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who would never dream of causing similar pain to another child.

The mother of the little girl with Downs Syndrome found out I was a survivor and expressed her concerns. Her daughter was only two years old and had communication issues. How would she know her daughter was safe if she didn't speak? She asked to speak to my therapist, who reassured her that she did not believe that I posed any danger to her daughter. The mother was just fine with this but I wasn't.  I was hurt and scared.
I felt re victimized. Was I damaged goods?  Did I have to keep the abuse a secret because people are going to brand and judge me as a potential perpetrator because of my past?  Isn't this just what the perpetrators hopes will happen?  What if they are right and I shouldn't be trusted with children?   I quite the job, and stopped working in chinuch for a couple of years as I explored the answer to this question in therapy.
The irony of this story is that the caregiver who was hired to replace me was a friend of mine who was also a survivor, but kept it a secret...The mother never knew.  What we don't know may not hurt us...
But then again, it may.

I believed then and still believe today that a parent should not leave their child with a caregiver whose safety they doubt.
Statistically one out of every four girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, usually by someone her parents know and trust. Math has never been my strong subject, but that would seem to mean that in my class of twenty five Bais Yaakov girls, about six of us are survivors of child sexual abuse. My guess is that I'm the only one who talks about it openly. Considering the number of Bais Yaakov girls who go into chinuch, it's likely that my survivor classmates have been, or are currently teachers of children. Think about this:  Out of every four female teachers (and every five male) your child has, one is likely a survivor of child sexual abuse...You just don't know it.  They are probably more sensitive to children than most. My point is that child sexual abuse is very common.  Way too common. 

Most of us are not privy to our children's teachers' past traumas. Parents need to trust their gut. If you have doubts about the basic safety of your child's caregiver, seek a caregiver you feel confident with.  Don't doubt yourself!

Anyone in child care, in chinuch, is in a position of power over our children. This is an incredible responsibility. Parents and children in my gan know that there is one basic rule. My Gan is a safe place for bodies and feelings. Period. If this rule is broken we have a problem whose solution must be satisfactory for all involved. The children in my Gan have the same emotional rights as adults. The right to be listened to and heard. The right to be treated with respect. The right to make choices, take risks, make mistakes. The right to decide about their own body. The children in my Gan learn very quickly that no one, including me, or anyone else in their life, even and especially people who love them and care for them, is allowed to touch them in a way that scares them or makes them uncomfortable. If this ever happens we talk about it. A lot. We process it and discuss it. 

A child came in crying that he went to the doctor and got a shot. He was angry. Why was it OK for the doctor to hurt and scare them when he was taught that no one is allowed to ever hurt and scare him? Why would their parents allow this? We talked about how this one situation might be an exception, and why it is different. We validated the anger and the hurt. It is not a secret.
There are so many opportunities to educate our children about personal boundaries.   In my Gan it is an important part of the curriculum as I believe it should be in every Gan, school, and home.
“He hit me!”
I don't let anyone hit you. It's your body. No one is allowed to treat you that way. Can you tell him by yourself, or should we tell him together?"
“She's tickeling me and I said no!”
"Listen to her words. She doesn't like that tickeling game. It's not fun for her. A good game is fun for both people"
“She's grabbing my toy!”
"Tell her to stop.  Let's remind her to ask you for the toy and then wait and see what you say."
If a child is crying and pushes away a hug from ME I say:
 
 "You don't want a hug right now? It's OK. (It's your body and you decide.) Is their another way I can help you feel better?"
This is how we educate our children from day one about personal boundaries. By modeling that respect. By treating them like people with real feelings and ideas and rights, not just dependent, needy beings who we have to control and keep in line. Our children's neshamas are sensitive to every nuance, to everything we say and do to them. We do not own them. They are not pets to be “taught and trained.” I have seen children treated this way in so many Ganim and so many schools.   I believe that by changing this currently accepted culture to unacceptable, we can prevent a lot of child abuse.

I will say this about myself, my Gan, and any other educator and educational institution. If you doubt your child's safety it is not the right environment for your child. Trust yourself as a parent. Don't think, "So many people trust her, it must be OK. I have concerns about a. or b.but it must be me.  It's my problem."

This is absolutely wrong!

You are the parent and it is your responsibility to keep your child as safe as possible.  To do this important job you must trust yourself and your child.  My Gan tends to attract parents who trust and respect themselves and their children. 

The following true story illustrates how important it is not only to listen, but to really hear our children.  Not to react with panic and fear when they share something upsetting with us but to try to understand, and help them understand, the message.

 A number of years ago a parent approached me flustered and upset. Her son came home and told her that one of my teachers hit him. Her son did not understand Hebrew well and did not feel totally comfortable with this exclusively Hebrew speaking staff member. The mother was concerned that the teacher had lost patience because her five year old because he didn't understand her. The mother told me she knows how important child safety is to me. She knows I trust my teachers and wouldn't hire someone who would hit a child. So, her son is probably is mistaken, right?
I said, "Absolutely not.  Children say things for a reason.  Did you ask your son for more details about what happened?"
"No.  I wasn't sure how to talk to him about it."
 I sat the little boy down and we had the following important conversation:
“I heard this teacher hit you yesterday.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Can you show me where?”
“Yes. Here on my leg.”
Can you tell me what she hit you with? Was it her hand?
“No. it was the slide.”
“She hit you with the slide?”
“Yes. I was being wild on the slide on top of Moishe, and she pulled me off and the slide and it hit me right here on my leg.”
“Oh, that must have hurt!”
“It did. I told my mommy what happened.”
“Good for you!  You knew just what to do! Telling your mommy was so smart!
Should we ask her this teacher to be more careful with your body?”
“Yes. You tell her.”
“OK, I will...”
Pause.
“You know, I was wondering... I think the teacher might have been worried that Moishe couldn't breathe under you. Next time this teacher's worried about safety can you listen to her words so she doesn't feel like she needs to pull you?
“OK.”
Did you understand what she was telling you?
“yeah, but it was so fun, I just didn't want to get up!”
Our children are brilliant but they have less experience then we do and they need our guidance. We can not always take everything a young child says literally. But we must listen very carefully to them to find out their truth...If our children know they will be listened to, heard, and understood, they are more likely tell us when something is wrong. Our tefillot and our relationship with our children are our only hope.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Asked My Father to Go With Me To A Gadol

Erev Yom Kippur 2012:

I spent the last couple of days feeling so angry about the lack of justice in my situation...It always comes up at this time of year, around the chagim, when I miss my family the most.  I decided that this year, instead of stewing in anger and torturing myself, hating Hashem, the rabbonim, and the Torah, I am strong enough to go straight to the main cause of my anger.  My father. 

I called my house and my mother answered.  She told me my father was in shul and would be home in about an hour.  My mother was about to hang up.  She never stays on the phone very long with me.  I waited quietly to see if she would hang up and she didn't.  She asked if I was still there. I was. She asked me if I wanted to hear a mashal about how much Hashem loves us.  

She told me about a two year old at a Bar Mitzvah with a dirty diaper.  Someone changes him and hugs him and kisses him.  No one is upset with him about the smell.  That's how much Hashem loves us. 

The message I got?  Don't worry, even though you stink, Hashem still loves you. 

I called back an hour later.  This is what I said to my father after nineteen years:

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur.  You have a whole day to think about what you did.   Letting the family cut me off, and letting people think I'm crazy in order to protect your image and reputation is something I can only forgive you for when it stops.  Only afterwards Hashem can forgive you.  Neither of us are going to live forever.  You will have to deal with this in this world or the next. This is not going away. We are both mature adults.  Let's find a way to sort this out together.  I'm not dead and I am not going to disappear.  How are we going to resolve this?  You have at least equal responsibility to make peace. 

My father said, "If you want this to go any further talk to Rabbi Hopfer.

"I called you Tatty.  I want to talk to you."

 "I'm handing the phone to mommy."  
The conversation was over.

 He and my mother both betrayed me and abandoned me.  My entire family continues to betray me and abandon me every day.  This Yom Kippur I am asking Hashem for some justice.  Some peace.  Healing for my whole family.  

Chol Hamoed Succot 2012

Dear Tatty,

It's been19 years since we went on our last walk. I'm wondering what you remember of it.  Here is what I remember. 


 You told me that you heard that my therapist was convincing me of things that never happened. You wanted me to stop seeing her. You threatened to take my therapist to a bais din. You told me that you were the only one who really loved me and that if I wasn't paying the therapist she would throw me out in the street. You told me that I was headed down a dangerous path and that I was destroying my life. You offered to take me to speak with any gadol, or rav in the world. You seemed scared and upset.

I don't remember saying anything. I was surprised at your denial of the molestation. I didn't know how to respond and I wasn't ready to discuss it with you, nor with a gadol or rav.

 I didn't trust you or myself. I wanted so badly to go along with you, but I couldn't ignore the impact that the memories were having on me. 

They were so disturbing then, defrosting as flashbacks in my mind with an impact as fresh as the moment they happened. I was still in shock at the realization of what I was experiencing. I was afraid of you. I knew that you were far more powerful than I. My survival depended on you. 
That was the day I left home for good.


19 years of therapy and introspection later, I am finally ready to respond. I would like to connect with you in a way that is meaningful and respectful to us both. I would like to speak to someone with you as you offered so many years ago. A rav, a gadol, an arbitrator, a frum therapist. My goal has never been to hurt you and I would like to believe that neither is yours. Everything I have done that has caused you pain was, and still is, only in order to survive and to heal.

Tatty, I understand your need to deny the truth because I have the same need. You are my father. I am your daughter. Neither of us want this to be true.

I believe that with Hashem's help, we can together work through this and sort things out. Hopefully we will reduce the suffering and bring our family closer to peace and healing.

I respectfully ask that you come to Israel to meet with me together with one or two people of your choice, and one or two people of my choice. 


Thank you in advance for having the courage to take responsibility for your role in our problem and agreeing to participate in a respectful dialogue.


Love,


Genendy

Dear Gnendy,


Thank you so much for your call and your letter.  It is my fervent tefillah that we should be a family again, a truly loving mishpacha.


You suggest that we meet together for "a program of healing and sharing responsibility", Gnendy, what purpose can there be in meeting together to "discuss what happened" as what you say "happened", never took place. 

If there is to be a relationship, which I am mispalel (praying) and waiting for, it should begin from now.  How are you and the children?  Mordechai must be coming close to Bar Mitzva.  As to mommy and me, we are sort of back in "shono reshona", (first year of marriage) it is usually the two of us except for Shabbos.


Hoping to hear from you.


With love,

Tatty

Dear Tatty,

I can understand your desire to turn back the clock twenty-some years and have me go back to  pretending that nothing happened.  I too have a desire to have a relationship with you but I can't do it in the way you ask. 

Something did happen Tatty.  We both know I'm not crazy.


Something happened when a daughter and sister is cut off for years and treated as dead, and her parents refuse to acknowledge or discuss it.

Something happened when a daughter finds out third hand from an acquaintance that her grandmother died, because no one in her family bothered to tell her. 


Something happened when a sister has no idea which of her siblings is married, has children, and has no idea why she is wished "mazal tov on your brother" by virtual strangers on the street. 

Something happened when a family who believes themselves to be "loving"  cuts off a sister because she remembers being sexually abused in her family as a child, and needs to talk about it. 

Something happened
when these "untrue" memories affect her life in such real hurtful and damaging ways so many years after they "never" happened.  

Something happened when not one person in her "loving" family will discuss it or try to help her figure out what really did happen.


Something happened when a mother refuses an invitation to meet her grandchildren and plans to wait "until after mashiach comes"  to meet them.


Something happened when a rav's cruel advise to cut off a sister is accepted by a "frum" "loving" family as "da'as Torah."  


Something happened when a daughter suffers alone for years and not one family member can acknowledge her pain or reach out to her.


Something happened when a father can not admit his own fear of the past and wants to carry on pretending, as he always has, that nothing ever happened.

These are only some of the very hurtful things that I say happened and are still happening, Tatty.   

What do you say happened?  

Love,
Genendy 


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Denial, and Amnon and Tamar

I know about denial first hand.  

I deny the truth to myself just like my family does. I am so ashamed and embarrassed I would rather die than let anyone know.  I sit in therapy 20-30-plus years later in tears, struggling to get the shameful words out of our mouths. Feeling like it happened just yesterday and it would be better to die than to tell. How I struggle to break the silence! The shame and the fear keep me frozen. I don't want to believe it's true, just as my family doesn't.  Remember this is my father, my grandfather who hurt me. These are people I loved and trusted and who my mother loved and trusted. These are people who also did good and loving things with me. They helped me. They nurtured me. My survival depended on them.  
My survival depended on my belief that it was not their fault but mine. 

Think about this oxymoron and you will begin to understand the devastation and confusion that incest, sexual abuse and it's subsequent denial cause in the mind of a child. You will begin to understand why 80 % of children NEVER tell anyone.  You will begin to understand why I didn't tell, and why you still don't tell.

I was asked this question more than once.
  It happened so long ago, why dwell on it? Why can't you let it go and just move on with your life? In other words: Why can't you shut up about it already!

My answer is this:  The chorbon Bet Hamikdash (destruction of the temple) happened a long time ago too. So did the chet hae'gel. (sin of the golden calf) Yet we will not let go of these national tragedies until there is healing and change.
 The same with sexual abuse of children.
 This is a tragedy that is destroying Am Yisrael (The Jewish people). 

 R' Yitschak Eisenman from Pasaic teaches that this desire of rabbonim (rabbis) to deal with things quietly, to silence survivors, is what allows the abuse to continue and is just what the perpetrator hopes will happen. In fact the perpetrators are counting on our leaders squeamishness in dealing with this openly. They are counting on silence and misplaced fear of lashon hara (gossip) to allow them to continue to abuse children.

R' Eisenmann learns from the story of Amnon who raped his sister Tamar, that the attitude of keeping abuse quiet is clearly against the Torah.

Tamar went through the streets with ashes on her head publicly crying and screaming about her rape by her brother. As far as I know she did not go to a rav first to ask if it was lashon harah (gossip). She did not worry about the shame she was causing to her family, the family of the king of Israel himself, Dovid Hamelech. She did not worry about causing a Chillul Hashem.(desecration of God)

Rabbi Eienmann asks: How did the rabbis of the Gemara react to her public shaming of the respected and noble son of the king? Did they publicly shame and chastise her for her chutzpah of discussing these things in the court of public opinion? Did they censure her by attempting to cover up the incident?
What actually happened was that the women of Tamar's time realized that if it could happen to the daughter of a king it could happen to anyone. They pressured the rabbonim, who then instituted the laws of yichud. (unrelated male and female above the age of bar mitzva and bat mitzva are forbidden to be alone together) In the zchus(merit) of Tamar's public shaming of herself and her family we now have the laws of yichud.

Think about this:  If child sexual abuse could happen in a yeshiva between a Rosh Yeshiva and his granddaughter, it could happen to anyone, anywhere.

We learn from Tamar that even someone with no legal authority can affect a change in halacha (Jewish law). Rashi (a Torah commentator) says, that Tamar did it, “Through her tears and screams.”

Rabbi Eisenmann acknowledges that, “The pedophile, especially one who resides within the frum community, and especially one who is a trusted ‘chashuva mensch,’ relies heavily on the fact that he knows his actions will be covered up by the very powers who should be stopping him! 
Rabbi Eisenman continues: I have never met a person who was as careful and as knowledgeable about the laws of Loshon Hora (gossip) as an abuser. Indeed, part of their abusive behavior is to abuse and manipulate the laws of Loshon Hora to allow them to continue their behavior and their molestation.


Lashon harah has no purpose.

My words have a purpose. The chillul hashem is not that we know that children are abused or that as an incest survivor I speak about it. The chillul hashem is that some of our most trusted leaders are involved in child abuse and cover ups. The kiddush Hashem has yet to come. When the rabbonim will listen to the screams and the tears of the children and the adult survivors, just as the rabbonim did in the time of Tamar, and when our leaders make some changes in the way they treat survivors and handle cases of child sexual abuse and incest. Then there will be a tikkun. A Kiddush Hashem. And are children will be safer.

We know there is an epidemic of child sexual abuse among us. No one would assert that there is an epidemic of false allegations. But the way some people, even some rabbonim, speak you would think that false allegations are at least equal to true ones. This is not so by any stretch of the imagination. Let's err on the side of truth and our children's safety. 


There are three things that allow abuse to happen. Opportunity, Lack of accountability, and of course, Secrecy. I hope we can together, pressure our leaders to institute laws and guidelines that will prevent our children from becoming victims and encourage them to speak out if they are molested in spite of the shame and trauma they undoubtedly feel. Perhaps, instead of blaming the victims, our leaders will come up with creative ideas, like the laws of yichud, to help prevent child sexual abuse and incest from continuing to happen. .

Nothing To Hold On To

Nothing to Hold On To

I thought I knew some things about myself
then the quake began
a faint tremor that rose to
this mind-cracking crescendo
shaking me to the core
reality split me down the middle
tearing the facts from my white-knuckled grasp
hurling me into a black abyss of
nothing to hold on to

here I crouch in my corner of cold illusion
fatigued fingers stirring painful circles
in a sizzling boiling cauldron
of tears

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

At eighteen, when I wrote Life's Tools, I was just beginning to get an inkling of the difficulties I would be facing in the coming years. Flashbacks and panic attacks introduced themselves to my life at this age. By sharing my memories of incest with my oldest sister, I jumped off a cliff believing my family would catch me, and I found only empty air. 

I crash landed, a hard and painful landing that shattered every part of my identity, my safe world, and my reality. Even as I gasped for air to breathe, even as I realized that my life as I thought it was, had never really existed in the first place, I knew that God would help me and eventually I would be OK. 

  At the time I I wrote this poem I didn't like or read poetry.  I don't really know where my poems came from. My only explanation is that my Neshama, or a very wise part of me, wrote them to me.  Ironically, Life's Tools was published in the Where What When in Baltimore over twenty years ago.


Life's Tools

Heavy metal tools

tumble down on me

I reach out to catch them

as they fall

I grasp them tightly

but I don't know why

the unbearable strain

on my arms and chest

tell me to drop them

they are too heavy

but I won't let them go

and I feel myself

falling...falling

then darkness and despair

overcome me



Awakening...

I find I did not let go

the tools are embedded

in my tightly clenched fists

slowly carefully

I stand up

slowly...slowly

I learn to move with them

and slowly

as my wounds heal

my muscles become accustomed to their weight

until I do not feel

their heaviness

only their security

I am stronger

I am better armed

I will keep these tools

they are mine for life

I did not drop them

I could not drop them

God sent them my way

because He knows I will need them

to build.