Monday, December 12, 2016

Triumph over trauma

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bar Mitzvah

What an awesome bracha and privilege, celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of my second son this week!
I am blessed and so grateful.  Hashem has been loving and generous to me and my family in more ways than I can count.
I keep thinking how lucky I am to have so many wonderful close and loving friends...and family.,

An aunt came from the US to the Bar Mitzvah, and a nephew who is studying in Israel came too.  He connected with me on Facebook a couple of years ago.  A cousin, who is also a neighbor, came and her husband took some wonderful photos.

 It is my daily experience that truth and love are so much more powerful than any kind of lie or abuse. I have experienced deep and profound healing on a personal level, and I hope to expand my experience to include my family and community.
 I invited my mother and siblings to my son's Bar Mitzvah.  They didn't come, but my mother and one of my brothers sent notes and beautiful presents for my children.

 You may think it is a fantasy, but I will never give up hope that someday my family can and will heal. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

When The Derech is "Off"

Recently, one of my children asked me,
  "If I'm not religious when I grow up, (like the rest of my husband's family) will you still love me?"
 What do I say to a child whose frum grandparents and tens of religious aunts, uncles, and cousins, never met him, and act like they couldn't care less that he exist, yet the family he has, who has no connection to Torah, loves and excepts him unconditionally?
I answered as best as I could.  I told him,
 "I will always love you no matter what.  Just like Hashem loves us no matter what.
"Hashem gave us the mitzvos because he loves us so much that he wants a constant relationship with us.  When we reject a mitzvah, we are rejecting that relationship. We are saying 'no thank you,' to a beautiful gift.  Every time we do a mitzvah, we strengthen that relationship and connection."

I grew up very sheltered, in a litvish, yeshivish family.
As a teen and young adult going out into the 'real world' and meeting different kinds of people, I did not know how to interact with them.  It was hard for me to relate to people different from my family, as real and valued complex human beings with strengths and challenges.  It was hard to feel comfortable with people who were different.  I had been given the message  that we were better than anyone not as frum as us, and this made "them" somehow shameful.  I was taught to be hyper aware and wary of external differences.  I was taught to judge others by their hashkafah and external adherence to halacha bein adom lamakom.  

The classic book, The Giver, by Lowis Lowery, portrays an all too accurate and sad example of what can happen when a family or society, embraces sameness as a value. We can commit moral atrocities without realizing it.
We can be so entrenched in obsession with sameness and rules that we lose a depth and perception, that is inherent in being human.
 This is a hole we can fall into.
Some of us live in this hole.
Here in our hole, we don't seem to feel things as strongly as others do. 
Maybe, because we don't need to.

This problem is regulated by a daas torah, that is not genuine.  This perversion of "daas torah" misuses the power given by us to a rav to enforce a control that is unhealthy and is backfiring.
It is done in the name of Torah, of halacha, and hashkafa.
Some of us accept this interpretation of daas torah above personal responsibility, perhaps because we feel safer this way.  Letting the rav decide seems to leave little room for worry, mistakes or danger.

Many years ago, I was a victim of this so called "daas torah."
I was completely cut off from my family by a rav, who claims to be a moral ethical person.
We must call into question a decision by someone in power, to sacrifice an individual for the (so called) benefit of the family or community.  When we are willing to  dispose of a family member in the name of the Torah, we are playing God. And we are also enforcing a deep fear of rejection in our family and community.

And it doesn't start with cutting people off.
It starts with a society and a culture where we are afraid to make mistakes.  Where we are afraid of being judged. Where for some, image is more important than integrity. A culture where we can be overly concerned with acceptance.  Where we can not afford to be real about where they are holding and what our struggles are.  We are told how to think and feel, and that we must conform or face rejection. 
Perhaps you are at peace with this system, but there are those, among us who are very, unhappy,
tortured even.
Some attempt suicide and some succeed.  Because an aspect of this hashkafah, and system, perhaps without meaning to, has stolen our humanity, our individual souls, without any awareness.  I believe that this is a characteristic danger of every fundamentalist community.

I would like to ask, why?
Why do some of us go along with a system that destroys from the inside?
Is it worth believing in a system that gently, and sometimes not so gently, asks us to give up our ability to think, our responsibility, our moral integrity, for perceived eternal happiness? For "olam habah?"
Isn't that what the fanatical Muslims, the fanatics of every community, do?

We all want a world that makes sense; a world where everything is understood, predicted, and explained.  Some of us have taken solace in a frum world, disconnected from our essence, for this reason.  A world were we don't need to feel or question too deeply.  A world where we don't need to see in depth, or shades of color, because that is a job we have given up to our rav, to our misunderstanding of "da'as torah."

We are currently learning pirkai avos where it is clearly written, "asai lecha rav," and yet,some of us have forgotten what it means to be able to choose a rav.
Some of us have allowed our schools, our families, and our neighbors choose our Rav in spite of the incongruence it brings to our lives.
Some of us have turned rabbonim into parents, and ourselves into obedient children. 
It may be more comfortable this way, but it can be very damaging to us as a family and as a Torah community.

Teaching our children to avoid and segregate from anyone who looks or thinks differently than we do poses a danger of polarizing and objectifying themselves and others. Segregation can turn people into black and white, good and bad, without room for complexity.  By refusing to allow our children to mingle and accept people (even while we may disagree with what they do) who are not exactly the same as we are, or who have not yet taken on certain mitzvos, can teach our children intolerance and fear of differences. Not only in the "outside world" but even within our own families.

We live in a complex world where a trusted rav can be a child molester, and a so called "modern, or non religious Jew" can live the epitome of a life of chesed and integrity.  We must find ways to strengthen our children's connection with themselves, with us, with their families, and with Torah, that does not include absolving them of responsibility for making conscious, thinking, choices.  We must help our children to separate people from behaviors, and refrain from teaching our children to judge others by shallow externals.

Our children need and deserve a deeper understanding of people, and the purpose of halacha Halacha is not about being the same or fearing differences.  Halacha is a tool we have been given to enable us to lead conscious meaningful lives as a moral and ethical society, in constant connection with Hashem.  Like any powerful tool it can be used to build, or misused to destroy.

Educating our children as to the halachos and importance of halacha need not (and in many of our families today, cannot) exclude encounters with others who are struggling with certain mitzvos.  Just as they surely encounter each one of us struggling with our own particularly challenging mitzvos.
 If we want to create a healthy Torah society, we must treat each other like the mature and responsible adults that we are, and allow for differences of opinion and interpretation of halacha, each according to his chosen rav. We must also allow room for struggle and growth as this is what our lives are all about.
 The Torah is certainly strong enough to allow for this.

In reality, our system thrives on question, disagreement, argument, dialogue and intellectual honesty.  Just open a gemara, and take a look.
Read the Torah and you will see that our greatest leaders made  mistakes and they are not hidden from us.
We, the Jewish nation, have a mission and we will never disappear.
 The Torah will never disappear.
People who know me asked me why I remain religious when my frum family treats me this way.  That is a question I have often asked myself.
The answer is simple.
So many important things were stolen from me, including  my family, I will not allow the Torah to be stolen from me as well.
The Torah is my heritage as much as yours, whether you are a rav, or a non religious Jew.
 When we forget this fact, the rest of the world is quick to remind us.

 We are one family.  We are a people who are supposed to set an example. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness.
We are parts of a whole and we can not afford to cut people off.  
We are collectively one body.
We are eyes, ears, arms, legs, a brain, and heart. 
None of us is dispensable.
I hope this is the message I give to my children.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mitzvah L'sapper, Telling my Children.

Each of my children, has at one time or another asked why they have never met their grandparents.
 I have told them that my family doesn’t want to see me.
"Does that mean they don't want to see us either?"  They wondered.  What did we do?"

 I've answered as honestly and vaguely as I can.
 I have told them that maybe someday they will meet their grandparents.  I have told them my family doesn't want to see me because they are angry with me, and it has absolutely nothing to do with them.
I explained that someone in the family, isn't safe with children.
My family is angry with me for talking about it publicly, and they cut me off.
They want to pretend that it didn't happen.

My children know about my activism. They have been told many times that when it comes to children's safety there are no secrets.  They know that I helped start a child safety organization in our neighborhood.
I hoped this answer would somehow make sense to them.

The older my children get, the more relevant it seems, to tell them the truth.
 I have a public blog, and more importantly, I know that if we are to heal as  individuals, as family and community, sexual abuse is not, and can not be a secret.

 At the same time, I want to protect my children from my pain and trauma.
I don't want them to feel burdened or frightened by my past.

I decided this Pesach, that I was ready to say something to my children from a place of strength.
What could be a better time than at the seder, when it is a mitzvah to talk about our national trauma and redemption?
When we are supposed to feel as if we personally were redeemed.
I was personally redeemed.
The story of YetziasMitzrayim is my own story.
I have come from avdus leceherus.

I begin the discussion with a question and a story.

"Why do we thank Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim when he is the one who put us there in the first place?"
One child guesses that Hashem was testing us.

"A little girl is chasing her ball into the street as a car is about to speed past.  Just as she is about to step off the curb, she trips. The little girl is crying and bleeding.
But, her parents are so grateful!
 So relieved!  They thank and praise Hashem.
The little girl is angry.
Can't her parents see that she is hurt and bleeding?
How can they be so happy when she is hurt? 

The toddler has no ability to see the bigger picture and understand the disaster that almost took place.

We too, do not always see the bigger picture and understand why painful things happen to us."
But we know that everything Hashem does is ultimately good.

My children are listening.

"I had a very challenging childhood."  I continue calmly, as if recounting the time I broke my leg when I was twelve.
 "I was sexually abused by my father and my grandfather and it made me feel very bad about myself. At one point, I didn't think I would ever be able to get married or have children.
And now, look at us here at our Seder!
  I am married, and I have you wonderful children!  As far as I know, I am the only one of my immediate family who has the zechus of living in Eretz Yisrael.  Hashem saved me, and not only am I OK, but I now help other people who have been through similar experiences."

As I speak, my oldest son, a teenager, puts his hand on my back.
My daughter, seven, bounces up and down on the couch.  Her mind, I think, is on the afikomen wish list I helped her write earlier.
My middle son, soon to be Bar Mitzvah asks, "What is sexual abuse?"

 "Sexual abuse is when someone with more power than you forces you to do something with your body that you don't want to."
"Well, you force me to wash the dishes all the time!"  He smiles triumphantly.
"I mean, if someone forces you to do something sexual with your body."
"Do you see the difference?"

The conversation moves on, but I stay in the moment savoring my freedom.
Freedom from shame and silence.
 Freedom from self hatred.
Freedom from my past which is, in this moment in the past, where it belongs.

Friday, July 15, 2016

All Who Go do not Return By: Shulem Deen (a review)

Shulem Deen, your story, really touches me.  I am in the middle of reading it right now and I find it strong, brave, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.  Your book and your message are so important.
They are also very personal.
The world I grew up in, similar and yet different than the one you did, also tried to destroy my soul.
 I grew up litvish, yeshivish and was molested in a yeshiva by a rosh yeshiva (my grandfather) and his talmidim (one who was my father).
  I have experienced excruciating pain, anger, sadness, but I am fortunate that I have never lost my faith.
 I am angry and sad for you that your faith, your spirituality was stolen from you.  And they were.  You (and I )were raised in a cult, a well meaning cult, but a cult nonetheless.  The damage and pain our upbringing caused and is causing must be exposed.

To me, faith is not a matter of belief.  It is a matter of experiencing and staying in touch with reality.  When we see the truth that is in front of our faces, nothing can take that away.  I know God/Reality exists because I exist.  I know I was born, not because I remember the event, but because I am here.  I know God is, more real and powerful than anything I can imagine, because Love and Truth/Intelligence are more real and powerful than anything I can imagine.

God, in my experience, is Love and Truth/Intelligence, with capital letters.

I see Love and Truth in front of my eyes every single day, in each simple event and interaction and breath I take.
I read your book, and I see you as a messenger of God, simply because you are a  messenger of Love and Truth.
Your children have no idea what a gem of a father they have, and I truly believe that your father is proud to have a son like you, who has more integrity than most people on this earth. I hope and pray for you that someday your children's eyes are opened and they reconnect with you and the love that you have waiting for them.
With love and hope,

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Can Love be Taught?

My daughter, seven, once found me crying in my bed and wanted to know why I was sad.  I told her I missed my mother.  She hugged me, "So, why don't you go see her?"
"Because she doesn’t want to see me."
"Why not?"

I had to think for a minute.

"She doesn't know how to love me."  I said finally.
"Well, let's show her how. We can teach her."
"How can we teach someone to love?"
"By loving them!"
I laughed through my tears.
"Don't cry."  My little girl wiped my face with her hand.
"It's good for me to cry," I said.  "When you miss someone you love, it's normal to cry."
"Well, can you come make me some food while you're crying, then? I'm hungry."

Another time, my daughter told me,

 "I'm so lucky I picked you and Dad to be my parents.  I just knew you would be kind and loving."
"I try my best to be kind and loving.  I don't know if I always am."
"You are." (Is it legal to remind her that she said this in five years, when she's a teenager??)
I mused aloud,
"So, if you think we choose our parents, why do you think I picked my parents?"
She tilts her head to the side, thinking...
"Maybe you wanted to give them a chance."
 "Or, " I suggest,
 "Maybe like you said, sometimes it's the children who teach the parents how to love."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Jump

It took eight long years to trust my therapist enough to begin healing.

Every time I entered her office, I was triggered and on guard.
Week after week, year after year, I struggled to stay present in the therapy room and not dissociate or walk out.
I kept going back, because I knew the problem was with me and not her.
I knew that I was scared and unable to trust.

I do trust my therapist now.  She has been there with me through so much.
Yet, allowing myself the level of vulnerability that it takes to work on the trauma and shame of my early childhood experiences still feels like jumping off an elevated speeding train.
Onto the roof of a tall building...
And across a three foot gap.
As I fly through the air, I see the bodies below of those who didn't make it.
Although shaken and slightly nauseous, so far I have landed safely.

Will I ever experience the thrill and confidence of knowing that this weekly jump can be safe and fun?  Will I ever know that it is really truly safe to jump, though right now it feels like I am taking my very life into my hands?
This is my work of healing.
When I trust and connect with my therapist, I am not alone with the experience of abuse and trauma as I was as a young child.

Each week I face a moment of panic.
Can I jump fast enough to break through the terror?
Can I jump far enough to make it across the gap?
And will she catch me?

Will she really catch me,

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bomb Threat

If there is one thing that we learn over and over from the Torah, it is this:

Even our greatest leaders, are not immune to mistakes.

Throughout the Torah our most respected leaders, all the way up to Moshe Rabainu, make mistakes and they are not glossed over.
They are highlighted so that we can learn from them.

Changing the subject:

Imagine there was a bomb threat in your child's school.  

  The police are called but no one will cooperate with the investigation.  
No bomb experts, or impartial investigators are allowed into the school.
Because the local trusted rabbonim have already investigated, have consulted their own expert, and insist the school is safe.
The case is dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.

The threat is not traced back to the source. 
There are ticking sounds coming from the walls of the school, but most ignore it.  
Those who ignore it, believe that this is the definition of daas Torah, and their rabbonim must be trusted.

...Other people remind them what has been demonstrated over and over again.

Although they have the best of intentions, rabbonim simply can not detect bombs, and often local "experts" have a conflict of interest.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dear Baltimore Community, Although I have been gone for many years, I am writing this letter in the hope that today, due to a greater openness in the community, and due to greater awareness and education about childhood sexual abuse, my voice will be heard. Fifteen years ago, the Daas Torah in Baltimore advised my family to cut me off, and they have. I have not seen my parents or siblings in over fifteen years. I was not invited to their weddings, told of their children's births, or even informed when my grandmother died. My mother refuses to see me or my children, her grandchildren. I was killed off because I remembered being molested by my grandfather, a respected talmid chacham.  I was killed off because I remembered my father molesting and raping me repeatedly as a young child and I had to speak about it in order to heal. Speaking up cost me my life.   My kares was senseless and caused years of suffering, confusion, and pain for me and my family. We learn from Tamar the daughter of Dovid Hamelech that incest must not remain a secret. Tamar cried and screamed publicly about the rape by her brother Amnon. The rabbonim of the time heard her and institued the laws of yichud. They realized that if it could happen in the home of Dovid Hamelech it could happen anywhere. The laws of lashon hara are clear.   Whether you believe the allegations are true or not, is not the issue.   You can not believe something you can not possibly know, but at the same time you must take steps to protect your children!   25 years ago, as a young adult in a terrible crisis, I was confused, traumatized and suicidal. The sexual abuse I endured was horrifying and damaging beyond words, but the secondary trauma of losing the support of my family and community was far more devastating. Although incest is not something one "gets over," today after years of therapy and healing I am thriving. I have been married for over 17 years. I have been blessed with three beautiful children. Yet, my father is still working with children, protected by the rabbonim and the community's denial.  Some in Baltimore still spread untrue rumors about me to try to discredit me. In order to understand and learn from my story, we must understand denial. In my personal experience, denial is a strange and powerful beast. Denial is protective, and mine was just as strong and protective as my family’s.  It took me years to face and deal with my own denial, complicated by my family's, and the community’s denial. One of the hardest feelings to face and heal from was the deep shame and self hatred I had carried from the time I was a very little girl. I had to accept that I had been an innocent child, a victim, and I did nothing wrong. My survival was and is a miracle. I could not have done it without Hashem's help. Abuse and fear are of this finite world.  Truth, love, and acceptance are eternal, and the antidote to denial. Today, I do not judge myself by what others have done to me, or what I needed to do in order to survive, and I hope that if you are a survivor you can hear and integrate this for yourself.  Today, I offer compassion, acceptance, and love, to myself and any child or adult who has been through severe trauma, as I have.  Every day that we live; we choose life.  Every day that we love and accept ourselves, and each other, we are healing ourselves, our families, and our community.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

I AM... A Purim Poem

I am a Woman
I am a Jew
I am an Israeli

I am a hated woman
The Jews are a hated nation
Israel is a hated country.

Of course not everyone hates me, or the Jews, or Israel.

But plenty of people who can make a difference
In my world,
In our world
Do hate.

We are hated because we are a reminder of a truth that you don't want to see.
We are hated because we have been chosen for a mission.
We are hated because no matter what you do to us  
We survive and overcome.

Unlike you we are not confused.
We know who we are.  
We know that none of the lies you tell the world about us are true.

You say we are evil.
That we want power and control.
That we want to hurt you.
And you try to prove it by twisting reality.

You have always tried to weaken us to feel better about yourself.
You have tried to destroy us.
But you did not and will not succeed.

We have our own country now.
Our own identity.
And nothing you say or do can change the fact that we exist.
And that you need us.

Perhaps that is why you hate us so much.
Because you know
Deep down you really do
Need us.
We hold the truth for you.
A truth that you can not yet carry.

Some of you see us as victims.
Some see us as perpetrators.
We are neither.

We have been victimized.  
And we have been self destructive.  

We are criticized
As a woman,
A nation,
A country.
Everyone has an opinion about us that they know is
The Truth.

But that is not why you hate us.

You hate us because we are who we are.
You hate us because we can't be anyone else
You hate us because we exist.
And we will ALWAYS exist.
Because God wants us here.
And God is in charge of the world.

Not you.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

False Memories

Memory is a funny thing.

Why I or anyone else would lie about something as painful and shameful as childhood sexual abuse is a valid question to ask.
Long term memory is composed of experiences that are significant to us. If an experience is not significant, it does not get filed in our long term memory.

Traumatic memory is different.

When we experience an event that feels life threatening, all of our senses are activated. Our survival instinct, a fight or flight response, is activated. Traumatic memories are stored in a different part of the brain than regular memory. They are stored in the part of the brain where feelings are stored along with images and sensations they evoke. Traumatic memories are often dissociated or repressed especially when their is no way to process them in the present. When trauma can not be processed, due to lack of validation, support, or time, they cannot be filed in a meaningful context along with other long term memories.

These unprocessed traumatic memories often come up years later as post-traumatic stress symptoms. As in my case, one can feel like the experience of trauma is happening in the moment, even if it took place thirty years earlier.

My parents have accused me of having "False Memory Syndrome."

After researching FMSF (the False Memory Syndrome Foundation) here is what I know:
There never was an accepted diagnosis of “false memory syndrome”  There is no such diagnosis in the latest DSMF, the diagnostic manual for mental illnesses.  Every practicing trauma therapist who I asked told me that FMS is a term founded by parents who were themselves accused of incest. The abuse in their case was later corroborated by relatives!

One of the founders of the "false memory syndrome" foundation was a writer for a pedophilia magazine.  He was quoted as saying that pedophilia is a  “responsible loving choice.”

 I desperately want to have false memory syndrome.
 It would be far less painful than reality.
 I tried it on for years.  I tried to convince my therapists that my family is right.
 If anyone in my family can convince me that my memories are fabricated I would be so relieved.
I would appologize for my unintentional mistake.
And I would have a family again.

 The truth is that my father is the one with false memories.

My family's current behavior speaks volumes and validates my memories.  If my father is innocent then why is my entire family so afraid of what I know, that they have to kill me off?
 If I am indeed mistaken, or have "false memories", then what would stop them from trying to talk this through with me, and go to therapy with me as I ask?  Why won't they discuss the past with me, or even entertain the idea that my memories may not be false?
In my experience, not one person in my family can sit with the idea that maybe I really was molested by my father and grandfather. Not for a minute.

The FMSF sues therapists for implanting false memories in their patients through hypnosis.
 This doesn't apply to me at all.
  I was never convinced by a therapist that I was abused, nor hypnotized by anyone to  help me "remember" being abused.  I always knew I had been hurt, although I repressed and dissociated
 the details.  I didn't have any words to go along with the experience, so I couldn't talk about it until I learned the 'language' of sexual abuse at age 19.  As a child, I didn't have the strength to survive and think about what was being done to me, so repressed it.  I pushed it deep down and pretended it was someone else who it happened to.
 Someone very bad.
This is a common response of traumatized children.

I haven't heard about FMSF in a long time.
But I hear about incest, dissociation, and trauma disorders, often.  I hear about court cases that were won on the basis of recovered memories.   The false memory movement seems to have petered out, as we learn more and more about traumatic memory and how it is processed. Traumatic memory is processed differently and more accurately then regular memory.

There are several famous memory studies claiming to prove that false memories can be easily implanted.
I have looked at this research and, although interesting, I, along with trauma experts, do not believe the results apply to memories of childhood sexual abuse.

 One study involved adults who were convinced that they had been lost in a shopping mall as  children. A "memory" was planted. Many of them actually believed that they had been lost in a mall when in fact, according to their parents, they hadn’t been.

Feeling lost, being lost, is a common childhood experience.

Comparing being lost in a mall, to being sexually violated by someone you trust and depend on for survival, is like comparing a distant cousin’s death, with a parent’s death.

Most children have no concept of what it feels like to be sexually violated by a trusted family member, or friend. It is not an experience easily contrived or imagined.
There is simply nothing else quite as shameful and terrifying.
It is mind shattering.

There is another study on memory that, in my opinion, is also wrongly applied to child sexual abuse.

Witnesses were shown a clip of a real car accident. They were asked many questions. 
What was the direction the cars slid in? 
What were the colors of the cars involved? 
Where were the bystanders?

One witness swore the car was blue, another said it was red.
One said the car slid to the right, one said to the left. One witness believed blood was pouring from the victim's head. Another said, no, it was actually coming from the victim's mouth.
The researchers agenda was to prove that traumatic memory can be faulty. 
The conclusion to this study was that traumatic memory is not necessarily credible.

A vitally significant detail about this study was glossed over.
This important detail actually validates traumatic memory.

None of the witnesses claimed that they witnessed an earthquake or an armed robbery.
All agreed that it was a car accident.
All agreed that victims were hurt and there was blood. The important details were remembered accurately.
The details that were insignificant to them were forgotten.

I was very a young victim, and I doubt if every detail of what I remember is objectively accurate.  
But I know that I was molested repeatedly by my father and grandfather, and others. 
Everything about my life, and my healing process validates these experiences.
No one in my family is willing to try to help me sort out my memories. 
I did the best I could to get as close to the truth as I can on my own.

I have an aunt who stayed in touch with me over the years, although she doesn’t believe me that I was sexually abused.
When I told this aunt that I was molested by her father, my grandfather. She asked, “Where?”
“In his office.” I replied.
“That’s impossible.” She said. “Do you remember what the door looked like?”
“No.” I really didn’t.
“The door was transparent glass. Someone could have seen it from the dining room. If you can’t remember the door how can you trust your memory of being abused?”

How can I trust my memories of being abused?!

Because the door’s significance paled, next to the experience of my trusted grandfather’s fingers in my underwear.
Perhaps the glass door became entirely insignificant when it didn’t protect me.

It was early in the morning, right after shacharis (morning prayers) and no one was in the dining room at the time.
I don’t remember the date, or what I was wearing either.
Does that mean it didn’t  happen?
Does my aunt think I WANT to remember this?

No matter what I say, my family will find a way to discount, minimize, rationalize, and deny my experience.
That is what they need to do in order to survive.

This is what families of incest do, with barely a single exception.

My family can not go to a place where they can consider the possibility of their trusted father and grandfather, their rebbe, a talmid chacham, molesting someone they love.

I get it. 
I really do.
 But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Grandfather's Yeshiva (Trigger Warning!)

Note: These are subjective memories of experiences during my early childhood in my grandfather's yeshiva in Vineland New Jersey.  I have written them as I experienced them, through the eyes of the young child who I was.

The bais medrish is where the aron kodesh is.
It is where Zaidy, the uncles, and the bochurim learn Torah all the time unless they are davening.  
Girls are not allowed to go into the bais medrish
I’m a girl.  
I am not supposed to talk to the bochurim.
Bochurim don’t look at girls, or talk to girls, except for sometimes, when Tatty and Zaidy aren’t with me.
I stand outside the door to watch the bochurim dance on Simchas Torah.
I watch the men moving in a circle of black and white.
Everyone is squeezed together, touching.
The black shoes stomp.
One foot forward, then one foot back.

Stomp, STOMP. Stomp, STOMP!

Some of the men’s eyes are squeezed shut, some are open wide.  The open eyes are smiling.
Their song is shaking the floor. 
Shaking inside me:

“Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes atah hu rishoin! Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes ata hu acharoin!”
(“Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the first thing! Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the last thing!”)

I hope the men won’t stomp a hole right through the floor and fall down to the cellar.
The ladies and girls throw candy at the men, and the boys run and catch them.
Uncle Moishe* catches some for me.
Yeshiva has a family side, and a Yeshiva side.
The Carpet Room is on the family side.
The Carpet Room doesn’t have carpet.
It used to have carpet, that’s why we call it the Carpet Room. 
The carpet came off before I was born.  
The couches in the Carpet Room are covered with dark red plastic. 
Smooth, hard and cold. 
I have to go through the family dining room, and the Carpet Room to go upstairs.

The stairs squeak when I climb them.
In the morning, when I wake up in Yeshiva, I walk down carefully so the stairs don’t make so much noise, because people are sleeping.
Omi, Zaidy’s mother, lives in Yeshiva, too.
She has her own living room and bedroom upstairs. There is a glass fish tank in her bedroom, with colored stones on the bottom, but no fish in it.  

No one is allowed to bother Omi.

I stay far away from Omi's and Zaidy's rooms.
I walk past the bathroom and through the door at the end of the hall, to the stairs going up to the third floor on the family side.
The door to the Yeshiva side, where the bochurim’s bedrooms are, is open again.
Mommy said it is supposed to be locked.  
There are two black dumbells on the floor just inside the door. One of the bochurim is hiding them on the family side, so Zaidy won’t know they’re his.

I peek in, but I don’t go in there.
I am not allowed to go in there by myself.
Only when Tatty takes me.

Tatty takes me in there sometimes and leaves me with the bochurim.
They give Tatty money, and I have to do what they say.
It hurts my bottom.
I push my head hard into the wall so I won’t feel anything.
Then I forget what happened.

I tell myself nothing happened.
Nothing real, anyway.
I just know that I’m bad.

There are more stairs on the bochurim's side, going up to the bochurim’s third floor.
We sleep up there sometimes on Shabbos, and also during the week when the Tantas and Uncles are watching us and there are no extra beds.
One time, Zaidy took me upstairs, to the bathroom with him and my sister, Hadassa*.  The bathroom with the big bathtub that has animal feet.  He left the door open and we could hear and see him use the toilet.

I looked at Hadassa and then quickly looked away.
She looked away too.
We know we are not supposed to watch people going to the bathroom.

Today, It's just me and Tatty.

Tatty wants to show me the matzah on the third floor on the Yeshiva side.
The children are not allowed up here alone because we might touch the matzah, and it could break.
The matzah is spread out on brown paper on the bed and Tatty holds up a matzah to the light. 
“ Isn't it beautiful?” He says. 
 “The matzah this year is pure gold.”

He puts me up on the bed next to the matzah and starts to take off my clothes.
My stomach hurts.
I know that this happened before, and I remember how much it's going to hurt.
I push my head into the wall and my eyes stare and stare at the black inside my head. My mind feels fuzzy and far away.  From far away in my head, I know that Tatty is angry with me because I'm too small.
He has to cut me.
It's sharp.
It's my fault.
Is the matzah cutting me?
I think I'm bleeding.

What is happening to me?
Is Tatty real? 
Am I real?
Did I hurt myself?

Something hurts bad. Tatty is talking,
“Get dressed and come down stairs.” He walks out.
No Tatty, no! don’t go away! I need you!

I can't move.
But I have to move or I'll get in trouble.
I need Mommy, but I can't let her see what happened.  
No one can know how bad I am.

I am moving even though it hurts.
I am walking down the hall to the stairs.
I am still staring and staring.
My eyes don't want to move.
Uncle Moishe comes up and sees me walking down the hall.
He is upset that I am up here by myself with the matzah.
He tells me to go downstairs right now.

Don’t I understand what I was told? Why am I not listening?

I don’t know.
I guess I didn't listen.
I guess I hurt myself.
I guess I did something very bad on Erev Pesach.

I wish I could be dead and never have a body. 
 I want to squeeze my neck so hard I'll be dead.
I want to smash my head so hard I'll be dead. 
I wish I was never alive. 
I wish someone would kill me already. 
But I am scared to die because Hashem will hurt me worse.  
It's so scary to be hurt and bad. 
My throat hurts from being sad.

* Not their real names