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.







Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tisha B'av

On Tisha B'av I read Sherri Mandel's incredible and inspiring book, The Blessing of a Broken Heart.  The book is about transcending excruciating, heartbreaking, unimaginable loss, trauma, and pain.  Sherri lost her thirteen year old son Kobi to terrorist murderers, who beat him and his friend to death with rocks in 2001.  This tragedy happened in the West Bank, in Israel.

 Sherri and her family made Aliya from Silver Spring, MD, just like we did.  I did not know her when we lived in Silver Spring.  I heard Sherri speak at the Jerusalem women's writers conference this year.  She was the keynote speaker.  I found her so inspiring that I bought her book.  I started reading it at the conference and couldn't stop crying.  My friend Lisa, who was at the conference with me, told me to put the book down so I could be with her in the present, and enjoy the conference.
 I saved the book for Tisha B'av.

Although I never lost a child, I can relate to excruciating, heartbreaking, unimaginable loss, trauma and pain.  I grew up in a world of incomprehensible pain and shame that I had no words to explain.  Sexual abuse was not a concept I had ever heard of, or had words for in my vocabulary.   At age nineteen I realized that my father, my grandfather who was a rosh yeshiva, and other bochorim in my grandfather's yeshiva, had molested me as a young child. The abuse impacted my life to the point that at that age I couldn't function.  I was crushed.  I was dazed and wounded.  I was immobile, as if lying in a pool of blood.  My parents and family, all eleven siblings, countless aunts, uncles, cousins, either ignored me, or stepped over my shattered self as I lay there, dying, unable to live.  They shrugged indifferent to my pain.
 "Get up."  They told me.  "Nothing happened.  You're not really hurt.  You're making this up.  You did this to yourself."
My pain was never allowed to exist in my family.  It never existed to them, and to this day it still doesn't.

 I did not know how to live in a world without my family to help me.  I begged Hashem to remove me from the world.  I couldn't eat or sleep.  Not only had I suffered the loss of my childhood, my innocence, my ability to trust , now I was grieving the loss of my entire family as well.  The pain and loneliness were crushing.  Devastating.   I walked around in a fog for weeks on end, sitting shiva in my mind for my parents and siblings. Of course, not one person came to make a shiva call because no one really died.  I was all alone in my grief.  I was a ghost.  No one knew I was sitting shiva.  No one could acknowledge my huge loss.
 My two sisters in Baltimore would invite me for Shabbos and Chagim on occasion.  I went to them knowing that my pain was not real to them.  Knowing I was invisible.  Knowing I would have to wrap invisible duct tape around my mouth to keep the screams inside from emerging in a place that was not safe.  Even if I screamed, my sisters would not hear.   In their minds my trauma and my pain did not exist.  Therefore, I did not exist. Spending time with them hurt so deeply.  I continued a relationship with them out of desperation.  They were my sisters and I loved them.  I needed them.  I couldn't bear them denying my pain, and I couldn't live without them either.  I don't know what they saw at the time, when they looked at me.   Inside I shriveled in my anguish.  I cried myself to sleep every night curled around my pillow in the fetal position.   What did Hashem want from me?  Why was He doing this to me?  Silence was my only answer.  It mocked me.  I wanted to kill myself just to check if there really was a God.  It was hard to believe that a kind loving God would allow a child to suffer the way I had.

Hell

Behind seven locked gates
of purgatory
a tongue burns with flames
of things uttered
against its will
a child’s swollen body
swings against blood-soaked
granite brick
exposed to the foul air
of a cruel sinful world.

Far and away
a tortured soul slowly ascends
anguished screams echo through universe
reaching the highest throne
which gapes on all the worlds
in empty, mocking
silence.

  In, The Blessing of a Broken Heart Sherri writes:  "The point of shiva is not to comfort a mourner for her loss but to stand with her in the time of her grief.  As Rabbi Maurice Lamm notes, the main purpose of the shiva is to relieve the mourner of his loneliness.  A person expresses compassion for the mourner through his presence and silence...I am not silent.  I need to talk about (my son) Koby.  I can not contain the pain of silence."

No one made a shiva call when I lost my family.  No one wanted me to talk about what happened.  No one wanted to hear my story.  In fact, I was told not to talk about it.  I was told to forget it and move on. 
After I married my husband, we would leave my sisters house after spending a Shabbos or Yom Tov and I would predictably fall apart during the drive home.  "I'm not real!"  I would sob.  "They don't see me.  I don't know what's  worse; to lose them, or to be with them and be invisible, and be retraumatized again each time I see them."    My husband would comfort me.  He would tell me, "You are so real.  You are more real than any of them.  They don't have the ability to acknowledge and feel their own pain, let alone yours.  Your family is like a cult. You can only exist to them the way they want you to.  They can not see you for who you really are.  You are the lucky one who got away.  You are the only one who got away."

My husband helped me heal.

 When we experience a trauma, or a loss, talking about it is a crucial part of the healing process.  I remember spending Shabbos in Boro park the week after the World Trade Center bombing.  We ate the third meal with a family whose adult son was a hatzala rescue worker.  He had entered ground zero to try to save lives right after the planes hit the towers.  His family told  us that he needed to talk about the experience non stop all Shabbos.  His mother told us, "Ask him about it.  He needs to talk about it.  He has been telling the story over and over.  It's helping him heal, to talk."

 I too needed to talk about my trauma and loss.  Seven years after I moved out of my parents home, my two Baltimore sisters asked to come speak with me and my husband in our home in Virginia.  They came to my home with their husbands and ordered me to stop telling people that my father abused me.  They told me that they would have no choice but to cut me out of the family, unless I promised never to discuss my memories and trauma with anyone but my therapist.   My younger sister begged with tears in her eyes, "Please agree to this. I don't want to lose you."

I told something like this to my sisters, "I'm sorry for your pain.  But you have to understand that I lost all of you many years ago.  I have been grieving for you for years.  Since I told you what happened to me, and you refused to believe me, or help me, I lost you.  I live in excruciating pain each day since you told me that you "know" nothing happened to me, and all of my suffering is my own fault.  I haven't stopped crying since.  You have each other.  I am alone...   You are asking me to choose between you, to whom I don't exist, and myself.  My integrity.  No. I'm sorry.  I can not agree to what you are asking of me.  I am not talking about what Tatty did in order to hurt you.  I talk about it in order to heal.  My voice was taken from me as a child.  As an adult I will talk as much as I need to, and It will take as long as it takes.  If you decide that you will cut me off because I need to do this it is your decision and I can't stop you.  It will be very sad for all of us."

They told me afterwards that it was the family rav, Rabbi Hopfer, who advised them to do this.  And who are they to argue with "da'as Torah?"  So they cut me off.  But they could not cut off my voice forever.

Sherri writes in her beautiful book,
A rabbi I spoke with said that everyone lives with the awareness of evil.  But once you are forced into an intimate acquaintance with evil, then your mission in the world changes.  You are called upon to fight evil.

Sexual abuse of children is evil as anything out there.  I was forced into an intimate acquaintance with evil in my own family.  My father.  My grandfather.  People who should have loved me and protected me, instead trampled on my soul.  They gave me life and almost killed me.   With my voice, I am called on to fight this evil.  If even one child is protected because of my words, it is worth everything.  This is my mission.

Sherri writes,
It is not my job to forgive.  It is the murderer's job to ask forgiveness.  Judaism is not a religion of instant forgiveness.  It is a religion of remembering.  If a person wants to be forgiven, he needs to ask for forgiveness.  But no terrorist has asked for my forgiveness.  ...My job is not to forgive-but to give meaning.  My job is to remember."

Sherri's words resonate deeply within me.  My job is not to forgive my father, my grandfather, or my other abusers.  My job is to forgive myself.  As a young child, I blamed myself for the abuse.  My family still blames me.  No one in my family, or my community has asked for my forgiveness.  My job, like Sherri's, is to find meaning, and to remember.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Art Therapy Saved My Life

This is a very old piece that I did in art therapy.  I never plan my art.  It starts on the inside as a feeling and just comes out.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

REMEMBERING

The time between the ages of 18 to 24 were my crisis years.  I was suffering from severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder, but my family was telling me there was no reason for my suffering and it was my own fault.  I was in conflict.  I wanted to trust myself but had been taught not to.  I had also been taught to pray.  So I davened.  I davened for truth.  I begged God not to let me remember something that wasn't true.  I never wanted to think these terrible things about my father who I love and who I needed.  I was teaching in T.I. around the time that I wrote the following poems.  I was a lead teacher in the afternoon pre-1-A.  I told my director at the time, Sara Itzkowitz,  that I was leaving because I needed to be hospitalized.  She was shocked.  She asked me to reconsider.  She told me I seemed so together and so balanced.  I am a product of a family that specializes at seeming together and balanced.  I could have kept this a secret and lived a seemingly normal balanced life.  But I took a different path.  A more difficult path.  A path of taking responsibility for my feelings and memories.  A path I wish my father would have taken.


Exposing the Secret

Our house is so clean
its rooms echo purity
wandering through
open doors and
empty spaces
I wonder how my hands became stained
amidst such perfect cleanliness
the attic and basement leave no clue
the closets speak generations of praise
in confused disbelief
I begin the insane task of
digging under the basement floor
insane
muscles bruised and aching
years of frustration
and then
buried under layers
of pure innocent earth
I come upon a well of filth
that perfectly matches the stains
on my soul

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

Warning:  The following can be triggering to survivors of child sexual abuse!

I'm four years old.  I'm lying in bed in a room that I share with my sisters in our little white house on Paul street. I am experiencing familiar feelings of terror and shame.  I am trapped.
My father comes into my room and lies on my bed.  I stare at the red and white checkered curtains.  A familiar numbness creeps into my mind.  The numbness will dull the terror.  It will dull the pain and shame just enough so that I can get through this one more time.
I am not real. I can't be.
He rolls partially on top of me. I can't breathe. I can't move. Something is poking at me. I can't see what it is.  It's cutting me. He's too heavy. I am going to die. I want to die. I have to die.  Tatty, no! Don't hurt me!
Something is in my mouth cutting off my breath. Tatty, No! I'm going to die.
Tatty, I need you!




Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Another Victim

  I was "zoche" to have your father for both 2nd and 6th grade. I was beaten daily in 6th grade, everything from a slap in the face to being beaten with fists and everything in between. He mummified me with masking tape once, tied my hands together with masking tape, hung me on a hook in the classroom and tied my sleeves together. Those were all on different occasions. I think those are good examples of specific craziness that he did to me in second grade. The worst I remember was in 6th grade where he took me into a large storage room that was right next door to our classroom. Once we entered he closed the door, turned off the lights and said run. I ran, climbed up and lied down on a shelf sweating and "ztitering" anticipating what he was going to do to me once he caught me. When he did, he grabbed me, threw me to the floor, beat me with his fists and gave me a "Russian haircut" or noogey. He then calmly walked to the door giving me a short period of time to wash my face and return to the classroom. I hope this helps. Hatzlacha 

 

Parents of Torah Institute please ask yourselves; Who is this years victim?  The child taped to a chair a couple of months ago, or someone else?  

 

Keep in mind that it is a lot easier for a child to disclose physical abuse than sexual abuse.  Eighty percent of children who are sexually abused never tell anyone.  I am an exception to the rule.  The shame keeps victims quiet.  Over ninety percent of children are molested by someone their parents know and trust. 

 

Victims of sexual abuse often don't think they will be believed so they don't tell.  The perpetrator makes sure that the victim knows that s/he will not be believed, as well.  I am an example of this. 

 

 I am so sorry for the physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse that this man experienced for two years by the hands of my father. He was an innocent child. NO CHILD DESERVES TO BE TREATED THIS WAY.