Thursday, January 24, 2019

Sometimes You Have to Walk Away...

After years of living with his evil uncle Lavan (Lavan means "white"), Yaakov still manages to hang on to truth, goodness, kindness, and his faith.  Lavan is a trickster, passing himself off as clean and "white."  He treats Yaakov as shameful and wrong, when Lavan is actually dishonest and abusive to his nephew.  It is so hard to hang on to truth in the face of denial.  Especially when a family member is abusive.  How did Yaakov do it for so long, I wonder?  His courage gives me strength.

We can't change an abuser, and we are not meant to.  Yaakov could not change Lavan, even with all the years he lived with him, and all the power of truth, faith, and goodness.  When we are dealing with an abuser we have to face the reality that if they are not open to change, we can not change them, and eventually we must part ways.  We must leave and not look back.  It is hard, and painful to leave. We have roots.  We wish things could be different. It causes rifts in the family. But it is part of truth's mission. You can not change an abuser!

As my book is about to be published I resonate deeply with the sentence in the Torah Where Yaakov is about to enter Eisav's territory and confront Eisav head on.  Yaakov is humbled by all of the kindness and truth God has shown him, in helping him cross the river (of life) safely.  Then Yaakov begs, "Please, save me from my brother!"   I am humbled by the kindness and truth that God has shown me.  I am amazed and so grateful to be in a place I never imagined existed.  A place of love and safety.  A place of empowerment.  But now I am going out on a limb, by publishing my story, and I am about to confront my brother, eleven siblings actually, and perhaps their wives, husbands, and children too, who already resent me and feel I am stealing something from them by my very existence. It feels dangerous, scary, and painful. 

 I have prayed for years that I do God's will and nothing else. I have asked God to prevent me from publishing my book if it is not His will, and if it will not ultimately bring goodness and healing to this world.  My goal is to bring light, hope, and healing to a broken and hurting world.  A world that is suffering.  There are so many children and adults who have been through similar experiences to mine and who desperately need healing.  There are so many survivors who need to know that they have a voice and they are not alone.  They need to hear my story so that they know that healing is possible!

 I run a peer led support group for women survivors of severe trauma.  Connection with others who have been through abuse is so important!  Fellow survivors, you are not alone!  You have a voice that is important and deserves to be heard.  Your suffering has meaning and purpose, even if you can't comprehend what it is right now.  The world cannot exist without you...And the proof is that you are alive!  Each breath that you take has value and meaning.  God does not create anyone extra.  All of who you are, with all of your humanity, limitations, strengths, and faults, is vital to this moment in time.  
Never give up hope!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Rav Pam and the Rabbi/ Psychologist

I am twenty-two. My childhood friend Sara, who I babysat with when I worked my first job as a ten year old, is now married and living in Brooklyn.
 She invites me to spend Shabbos with her and her husband.  I explain to her that I'm not so religious, and I tell her why.  She listens quietly and then she says, she doesn't mind.  I can come to her dressed however I feel comfortable. I show up to Sara's house in jeans, but Sara and her husband don't judge me, and I change into a skirt for Shabbos.

Sara's father-in-law is a close desciple of one of the most revered rabbis of our generation, Rav Pam.   I ask Sara to ask her father-in-law, to set up an appointment for me to speak with Rav Pam. He is known as a gadol, a leader of our generation.  If he is a leader, let him lead me.  Maybe he can help me figure my life out.  Maybe he can help me deal with my father.

I'm disappointed when Sara's father-in-law says that it's impossible to get an appointment. Rav Pam is getting older and very busy.  Appointments are scheduled months in advance.

On Sunday, before I head back home, I call Savta, who lives in the neighborhood.  Maybe she wants to see me.  Maybe, just maybe, she will support me. That is a far stretch, but I want to tell her about Tatty, to see her reaction. I remember Tatty telling me that she used to slap him, and hold his nose and force feed him.  I hold her somewhat responsible for how he turned out.

"I heard that you left home."  Savta says, her voice pained,  "Tatty needs you at home.  You're his best girl.  I'll give you anything if you go back home! What can I give you?   A diamond ring?  A car?"
"Savta, I can't live at home." I try to say it gently. "Tatty molested me when I was little.  I'm really not doing well. I can't stay there anymore."

Savta begins to wail, "Tatty?!  No!  He needs you!  You're his best girl!  He's a tzaddik, a tzaddik!  Go back home!  I can't talk to you." She hangs up the phone.

I look up Rav Pam's phone number in the local phone book, and call his home.  His wife answers.  I explain a little about my situation and ask her if I can speak with her husband.  Yes, she says. Come over at ten, in half an hour. So much for appointments.  I go over in my jeans.

Rav Pam is a tiny man with a white beard, and a sweet, kind face.  He asks me where I'm from and where I went to high school.  I tell him.  He looks at me kindly,
"What is a good Bais Yaakov girl doing dressed like this?"  He asks.  His question is kind, without judgement.
"I'm not good, and I'm not a Bais Yaakov girl," I respond, my eyes on his desk.
I tell Rav Pam about Tatty and Zaidy.  He tells me there is a rabbi in my community who is also a psychologist.  "Speak with him.  He will help you."
 The person Rav Pam is advising me to speak with is one of the first people I turned to and I already know it is a dead end. 
 A rabbi who is also a psychologist sounded like someone who might actually be able to help.
I met with him and asked him if it is considered lashon hara, evil gossip, to speak about what my father did to me.  I told him that I don't know if my father was still abusing children.  I hoped he wasn't, but it was possible.  The rabbi/psychologist told me that the only person I should be speaking to about my memories is my therapist, otherwise it would be lashon hara.  He also offered to connect me to a woman in his community who he said would support me in my healing process.
Did he believe me?  I don't know.
Did he do anything to ty to protect the future generations of children my father would continue to molest, ...some who weren't even born yet at the time we met?

 Standing in front of Rav Pam,  disappointment squeezes my chest and rises into my throat.
"I don't think he can help me.  I already spoke with him.  He is a friend of my father."
  It is difficult to speak. I am so alone.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


Denial is powerful and evil.  We all have it to a degree.  Denial is what allows us to ignore the existence of our divine soul, and therefore the divinity of another human being.  Denial is what allows us to ignore who we are and what we are.  Denial is what allows us to treat ourselves and others badly.  It is what allows abuse to happen and continue to happen.

When I think of  Denial and Truth, I think of Yaakov and Eisav, the polar opposite twins in the Torah. The brothers  were born with a mission. Eisav's mission was to overcome his tendancy toward the physical, dark forces.  Yaakov's mission was to support Eisav in transforming darkness into light and overcoming these tendancies.  We are all Yaakov.  We are all Eisav.  Yaakov is truth.  Eisav is the denial of truth.  Eisav could not accept his mission.  He wanted Yaakov's blessing (and mission), not his own.  Instead of accepting his own reality he resented and hated his brother. Accepting the mission we were given is key.

 I know what my mission is. I have to publish my book and tell my story as painful as it will be for my family.  Will my siblings accept this reality, or hate and resent me for it?  Will they want to kill me?

  Denial is a strange and powerful beast. Denial hates truth, and those who represent it. It takes a special kind of courage to overcome denial.  To accept reality.  To transform and transcend.  It requires focusing on self and not other.  It requires an acceptance of the reality of the other, no matter how limited, and the clarity that we each have a different and unique mission on this earth. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

My Upcoming Memoir Publication

 I'm thinking about my upcoming book publication with excitement, dread and with hope.  Sharing my story with the public is something I have needed to do for twenty five years.  And now, it is finally almost a reality. 

Publishing The Price of Truth feels like a mission, a responsibility, a relief and a risk.  I was given a difficult mission.  The fact that I am here today is a miracle. The purpose of my memoir is to offer healing.  To hand my story over to others to hold with me is a relief.  It is a story to big and heavy to hold on my own. The risk is in facing the denial I'm sure it will trigger in many who are not ready to hear it.

I spoke to a Rabbi recently about the publication of my book.  He read my manuscript and told me it is an important book, but suggested I change the setting to another country in another time, in order to hide the identity of my family, and community.  He told me he believed my story, but thinks that the average (religious) person might not believe my story because I was so young when I was abused.  And because of cognitive dissonance.  

I can't change the story.  It is a true story. The time is now.  The setting is here. The people are us.  This is the story of our families, our community today.  It is our challange to own our story, as painful as it is, and allow it to transform us in a positive way.