Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is It Always True: Mitzvah L'sapper?

Recently a close friend, who also happens to be a therapist, asked me an important question about recovery from trauma.  

She asked about Holocaust survivors, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, many who moved on and created new lives for themselves without talking much about the traumas of the past.  
 In many cases silence, avoidance, and “forgetting” (repression) is precisely how Holocaust Survivors survived and thrived, post World War Two.

My friend also mentioned Vietnam war veterans who also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They were encouraged to seek therapy and talk of the traumas of war and
many of them ended up committing suicide.

My friend asked, Is it always true, “Mitzvah L’sapper??

We know that in treating trauma we must be very careful in how we do it. 

When the trauma is still raw and painful, when we still feel like a victim, talking about the trauma can be re-traumatizing, for ourselves and those around us. 

For a survivor of ongoing abuse, a trained trauma therapist is vital in healing the long-term effects..  Cathartic quick fix therapies, just don’t work long term in healing trauma.  

The saying, “slower is faster” is absolutely true when processing traumatic memory.  

First and foremost, we must have safety in order to do the work.  Feeling safe is a prerequisite to processing trauma.  
In my expeirence growing up in my litvish, yeshivish family, we never got to the point where we could feel safe in the post Holocaust world. 

 I was told more than once as a child, that the Holocaust could happen again, any day, in America, and that I shouldn’t feel safe or think I could ever trust a non Jew.  

“Today he will be your best friend and tomorrow he will kill you” is the message I grew up with.  

This fearful message is a denial of Hashem’s close presence and influence in our lives. 
I am not blaming victims for their fears. It is simply the reality, that victimization causes fear and denial.  
Fear and denial block us from connecting with ourselves and from feeling God's presence.
 Hashem does not want us to live in fear.  There is no mitzvah to be a victim.

 The ability to contain the memories and feelings, to keep from becoming overwhelmed and flooded,  as well as the ability to stay grounded in  the present, are also necessary prerequisites to trauma work.  

These are learned skills which take practice over time, and are easier said than done. 

A support system of close nurturing people who can help us hold the memories, as we remember and process them, is also vital.

Then, and only then, can we visit the trauma in very small pieces always returning to safety, grounding, containment, and nurturing, before we tackle the next piece.  

When we sit at lail  haseder we are touching our past and our present in the same moment.  
We are at the point where we can hold our past proudly.  We were slaves, but now we are free.  We know that without our past, without Hashem, we would not be the incredible, indestructible nation that we are today.  Our past becomes our strength, and no longer a gaping wound. 

Our past formed us into who we are.  
My past formed me into who I am.

I was a victim of child sexual abuse. I was shamed and humiliated. But now I am free and proud of how I came out of that situation, and of the person I am today.
My survival was and is a miracle.
I could not have done it without Hashem's help.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Guest Post by Genendy's Husband on, Barry Freudel

I don't now why I want to write this about Freundel. To heal my own poisoned sense of Judaism, or to help the case.
Maybe to clear my own name. Maybe to confess.

I knew Freundel very well for many years. I always knew him, in his own weird way, to be very sensitive and extremely ethical.

I was Barry Freundel's personal computer tech some time ago, maybe 15 years.

I volunteered. I wanted to help him out with one of the few ways I could, with my computer skills. Contribute to the community and his work.
He had several computers. He needed things like upgrades, and backups, sometimes installing a new computer.
One time I was doing something or another, and discovered dozens of bookmarks in his AOL browser for porn sites.
I paused and thought. Was it him or someone else who had access to the computer? It wasn't the first time I'd discovered
something like that on someone's computer. There were times at work too. It was very unlikely to be someone else's.
He made no attempt to hide them.

I don't remember if it was then, but I think it was sometime later, I discovered an archive of porn videos on a computer of his.
I didn't examine the whole archive, but what I saw looked like garden variety light porn, and not illegal.
At that point I knew it had to be his. 

At the time, I was involved with another community and Rabbi for spiritual matters, but I still considered him a friend and someone to 
talk to about Judaism and answer questions. He had never been the type to be an example of a pious individual.
So I wasn't crushed and without a spiritual guide like I could have been.
He had a certain irreverence toward Judaism which was kind of refreshing. He was deeply analytical, but not spiritual.
When he prayed, he did so with no feeling behind it as far as I could tell.
At least he didn't put on heirs. Nobody's perfect, anyway.

I thought for a while about what to do. I figured my choices were:

Confront him? That would be awkward as hell and I didn't feel I was up to it. I still viewed him as far superior and stronger than I.
That might be a bad idea. He would get angry and I would freeze up.

Tell someone else? That would be worse.

Tell Sharon? It was better she didn't know. I would surely lose their friendship.

None of those choices were likely to get him to stop. At work, I would have considered it a breach of ethics if I had discovered something on a personal computer.
A work computer was something else. But even with those, I had access to everything and saw many things that were company secrets which my ethics said I had to forget.

Do nothing?

I figured, well he's a friend and a source of a particular type of advice. A lot of people succumb to this thing. I should just feel bad for him that 
he was snared by it. I could still be his friend. But it was disappointing. So I did nothing. I told nobody.

One time I was in his office, I saw that a bunch of computer cables were deliberately cut.
He told me he thought a child visiting had done it. I didn't believe that. I didn't believe him. 
 I figured he or maybe someone else became desperate and took out their frustration.

As time went by,he still asked me for help. I tried to get out of doing anything more on the computers. But some things I had set up and I was really the only one around who could
fix it. He practically begged me. He was really stuck.

I came over and told him I needed certain data disks to do the job he wanted. He then said something to the effect of "Ok, but you have to realize that a lot of these are other people's. They give stuff to me all the time. I don't know everything that's on it. There could be pornography for all I know."

My immediate thought was how insulting this was to my intelligence and how easily he thought he had cleared any possibility of suspicion with such a bad lie,
to a computer expert. I guess over the years he kept on thinking it was very easy to fool people. He had always been aloof. Brilliant, but aloof. I was pretty irritated. I was not going to spend my time helping him back up his porn collection. I saw him less after that, but kept in touch. I never helped him again.

I don't know now if I should have done something different. Maybe he was once an ordinary porn junkie and became something much worse, and it could have been stopped.

But a lot of things he did started to make more sense. Standing above and behind brides at weddings 'to make sure the groom was not assisted when putting the veil on'.
He went into the women's section on Simcha Torah to give every woman a misha berach. And how he railed against the degeneration of American morals.

I wonder sometimes if something he did, was halachically justified, or something he made up to gain access. Now, I regularly question myself when I do something that is according to his 'minhag'. It's distracting in shul. It's like my experience has been poisoned.

-Genendy's Husband.