Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The High Holy Days are often painful and difficult for victims and survivors of rabbinic sexual misconduct. We, as Jews, are obligated to look back over the past year and perform Teshuvah for the wrongs we have committed. Teshuvah - the act of the transgressor acknowledging the wrong committed, asking for forgiveness, making restitution and resolving never to commit the wrong again. It's extremely rare for an abusive rabbi to perform Teshuvah with his (or her) victims. From the first High Holy Days after the abuse, and every year thereafter, the victim/survivor waits for the Teshuvah that is never performed. The gates open and then they close again and we are still wronged.

For those of us who have been shunned and ostracize by our own Jewish Communities, the very idea of sitting in a shul during the High Holy Days brings pain and anxiety. I attend the community services at a local Chabad each year. The abuse didn't stop me from going to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but it has changed the meaning for me in some ways. It's been six High Holy Days that have come and gone for me with no Teshuvah forthcoming from my rabbi/abuser or from my former congregational family. I know I will never receive the apologies I am due but it still hurts deep down and always will. I feel differently about Teshuvah today, it's just doesn't have the same meaning it did before I was abused.

The response of the Jewish Community to victims and survivors of rabbinic sexual misconduct is a continual source of pain. We, as Jews, are commanded: "Thou shall not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds", yet the Jewish Community collectively turns it's back on those Jews who have been gravely wounded by their rabbi's. It's a difficult, uncomfortable issue to address but we as a people must acknowledge that it does happen to Jews. We must start treating victims and survivors with care, compassion and dignity. Hashem expects this of us. Any Jew who shuns or ostracizes a victim or survivor is just as guilty as the abuser. Anyone who attempts to silence the victim is guilty of aiding and abetting those who victimize the vulnerable. The typical Jewish Communal response to the victim/survivor is one of disbelief and anger for speaking out against a rabbi. This "shoot the messenger" mentality only serves to further injure the already traumatized victim. Congregations usually play the "blame the victim" game and stand behind the rabbi in support, turning their backs on the one who is in dire need of help. I experienced this myself and it still hurts today.

Education to help prevent rabbinic sexual misconduct is urgently needed within our Jewish Communities. If I had attended a seminar on this issue I might not have become a victim. It is possible that if I'd been aware of the problem, I might have recognized what has happening to me and reacted accordingly. Jewish Community centers are the ideal place to sponsor seminars on this vital issue. Rabbinic sexual misconduct (RSM), along with professional sexual misconduct (doctors, therapists, etc.) sexual violence and domestic abuse are areas of importance that have not been adequately addressed within the Jewish Community. Jewish Family and Children's Services conduct domestic violence seminars but they don't address the other urgent issues that threaten Jewish women today. Knowledge is needed to counter all the misinformation and misconceptions that exist about this issue. If the Jewish Community were educated about this tragedy, perhaps the way in which the victim/survivor is treated will improve. Support from the Jewish Community would go a long way towards easing the pain of waiting for the apology that will never come.

Yom Kippur starts tomorrow at sundown and I will be one year older. I can find many things to be thankful for and things that I need to improve in my life. I resolve to spend more time enjoying the simple things in life. I want to try to attend shul more often in the new year. I resolve to do everything in my power this year to push for education in our community on rabbinic sexual misconduct. I am thankful for my beautiful family and friends. I am thankful for the Jews who know my story and still support me, those I am proud to call friends. I am thankful for my shul, my rebbe and my new congregational family. I don't know how many of them have read the articles that came out last year about my case. They don't mention it and they don't shun me at my Chabad - for that I am sincerely grateful. For the rest of the Jewish Community, those who have shunned and ostracized me - I will continue to walk among you and hold my head up high. I did nothing wrong - I was the victim - the way you have treated me is shameful and perhaps one day you will understand this. L'Shanah Tovah - May we be inscribed in the book of life for another year.


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