Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Healing power of Storytelling

There are two reasons for this blog:  Children's safety, and my own healing through telling my story.  For me the two go hand in hand.

 There is an invaluable educational technique I learned from Vivian Paley's book, "The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter-the uses of storytelling in the classroom."  

Once or twice a week the children in my Gan have the opportunity to tell a story and have it written down verbatim. Later we act out the story together.  The child who told the story chooses who will play each character in his story, including himself.

One of the things that I noticed using this technique over the years, is that no matter how disturbing a story is to us adults, when it comes from another child it doesn't scare the children.  They delight in the opportunity they are given to express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings without sensor.  They have a voice that is being heard and taken seriously.  This is a gift that I did not have as a young child.  Fear, aggression, joy, love, conflict, and all kinds of wild happenings, both real and pretend, are the subjects of these stories.  

A few years ago a parent in my Gan was tragically killed in a car accident.  On the day of the funeral two students, both boys, (one a student from the previous year) stayed in the Gan.

My co-teacher and I decided that storytelling should be one of the choices that day just in case the boys needed to talk about what happened  Both boys chose storytelling, telling me they had an important story to tell.

My co-teacher and I did not plan to act out the stories that day.  We were overwhelmed by what had just happened, and questioned the value of acting out this very raw trauma.  We were beside ourselves when the older boy insisted that we do what we always do with our stories and act it out...We decided to go along with him, trusting that he knew better than we did what he needed to do to process the horrible tragedy.   We went with our gut as we both felt in over our heads.  Neither of us had dealt with anything like this before.

 The older son directed the show as he chose children  to play the part of the cars, and his father who was killed.  I realized that the child had not chosen a role for himself and I asked him who he wanted to be in his story.  He answered with confidence, "I am Hashem."   (Hashem did not appear in the story when he had told it earlier that day)  As my co-teacher and I gulped back tears I read the story as the children acted out a car hitting their father's car from behind, and their father's body being hurt so badly that he died.
  I asked, "So where does Tatty go now?"  The little boy pointed to himself and smiled, "He goes to  me. Hashem."
I asked,  "What does Hashem do?"
He answered,  "Hashem makes it all better."  

 This week, a four-and-a-half year old child in my Gan told us a true story that happened in her building the day before.  A neighbor in her building was sexually abused by a stranger and she was told about it and warned not to go out of her apartment without an adult until the perpertrator was caught.
She said, "It's a scary story."
The other children, as I expected, didn't think it was so scary.
"A time when the girls come home from school , we heard from a neighbor downstairs that there was a guy with the (neighbor) girl.  He was a stranger guy, and he was touching her all around on her body.  He knocked on our door and pretended to come in our house.  She told her Ima and I had so many questions about it I didn't eat lunch for a long time.  My mother told me to talk to you about it.  Now I'm scared to go slow and I have to hold hands.  I was so scared I didn't want to go to Gan.  I didn't want to go to my aunt.  I didn't want to go anywhere.  I just wanted to sleep in my Abba and Ima's bed.  Now I only want to hold adults hands and not kid's hands because kids go too slow for me. 
 I was just thinking that if I'm with my mother from now on, until we hear he's dead or something happened to him, then he won't do anything to me. If I'm with my mother or father, or my aunt, or you, or any adult.  The guy probably doesn't have a house and isn't married or anything.  People who are married do nice stuff like invite you for Shabbos."

Knowing that over 80% of victims of child sexual abuse are abused by someone the child's parents know and trust I asked her this question:

"What if someone who is married, invites you for Shabbos and then bothers you?"

 "If we go to someones house for Shabbos and they are mean to us we tell my mother and father and my mother and father will probably say, "Why were you nice to us on the phone and then when we came to your house you were mean to us?  Do you want us to come or not?"  
We're not allowed to be mean on Shabbos or any day."

This is a child who is unconditionally loved and supported by both of her parents.  She is encouraged to express her feelings and to trust her instincts and experiences.  Yet, she was so frightened by knowing there was a child victim of sexual abuse in her building, she couldn't eat and was experiencing anxiety about leaving the house.  One can only imagine how traumatized the child is who it actually happened to!

After we shared the story I emphasized how amazing and brave the neighbor girl was to tell her Ima about the man who touched her.  Because of her bravery all of the neighbors are watching out for all of the children in the building and keeping them safe!


  1. It is very scary that you connect your healing with your gan. Reading the posts that you repond to, I would be scared for any child that is in you gan.

    1. Tzedek: You do not appear to understand what healing is all about. You seem to be relating healing to point physical or psychological healing, which requires participation of another individual. You are missing the reality healing and self-confidence portions, which is what happens in a normal real-life environment. This type of healing can occur in a Gan as a Gannenet or behind the butt of a gun as a solider or any other normal environment.

      You need to read the other posts on this blog from trained and experienced professionals in this field, that have stated how Genendy is the best type of person to lead her Gan. She has an excellent track record and parental support to prove it. See - http://genendyspeaks.blogspot.co.il/2013/05/very-important-post-i-want-to-hear-from.html

      Your post is an example of the lack of knowledge of mental health in the non-professional (including Rabbinic) frum community. Look how many perpetrators were given free access and opportunity to their victims, time and again in the Baltimore community with the knowledge of the Rabbinic leadership (E. Shapiro, Y. Shapiro, S. Juravel). And what about E. Eisgrau and M. Eisenmann?

  2. Lichvod Genendy-
    I read through your entire blog the other day.
    The strength that you are exhibiting is unbelievable!

    I knew of your story before I even sent my daughter to you.
    BECAUSE of what you'd been through is a big part of why I felt confident to send her.

    I am proud to be your friend, neighbor and student

    kol tuv,

  3. I just had to share how proud I am of you. It takes a lot of courage to share your past which is unfortunately, always part of you and your present. If you encourage just one child to share the truth, you saved a world. Why Hashem chose you to be shaliach for this message is not for any of us to understand, but you did it- you carried out your very tough mission. You let the word be known and let the world know. I am sad to hear that your family has shunned you, the victim, and hope with age, wisdom and reflection, some of your siblings will come around.

    Margi Saks

  4. i will no longer respond to you, as a number of my friends and myself have had posts with truthful info turned away. you will not give those who know you from your earlier years a chance at responding in this forum. we will need to figure out another way to get our words to your circle. you are so lucky, that your family wont fight back. if your siblings would only agree to be vocal, noone would buy a word you say.i will no longer reply o you lies on your blog. by noy genendy, aka nen, aks nannette, aka jay.

  5. Dear Genendy,

    There really are no words... I am most of all blown away by the courage and strength you have. Thank you for letting me know about your blog and sharing your story for the sake of all our childrens' safety.
    My boys still talk about the wonderful memories they have from "Gan-nendy". Thank you for always being there for them and helping them heal when they were hurting. Now I understand from where your deep compassion and caring heart comes. You should be blessed to find complete healing and continue to have success as the amazing ganenet and person who you are!