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
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
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.
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.
triggered a memory of similar feelings I had when I was three years old
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.
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
Why did I go to Yeshiva Lane in shorts?
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
A slap in the face.
At my end, it was a desperate cry for
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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
Rabbi Weinberg promised me that he would speak with my father as well.
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
"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
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.
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