Wednesday, December 28, 2005


It's that time of the year again and as I light the candles of our menorah with my daughter and husband, I wonder what memories go through her mind? Does she think of family, friends and fun or does her mind wander back to 1999, to the first night of Hanukkah, when the rabbi she looked up to shattered her trust? I don't ask her what she thinks of as we light our candles - I'm afraid to bring it up because I hope that she's pushed it out of her thoughts. Each year I pray that those bad memories will become hazy and indistinct for her and that one day she will no longer think about the way her family was nearly torn apart by our rabbi.

I wish I could forget the way Hanukkah was spoiled for me. I can't and G-d knows I've tried. You see, that Hanukkah was the first time we'd gone to shul for that holiday. It sounds strange but it's understandable when you know how I was raised. I was born on Yom Kippur, to a Jewish mother but I was raised in the Church of England - totally unaware of my heritage. My grandmother finally told me the truth about our family when I was in High School. Up until the age of 16, I didn't know I was a Jew. Intermarriage and assimilation took it's toll on our heritage. By the time I was born my family had abandoned Judaism and the Jewish people. My families Catholicism was always an ill-fit for me, like a shoe on the wrong foot. I thought there was something wrong with me because I was never able to believe what I was being taught in church. To top it all off - I was drawn to Judaism from a young age through movies and books, not understanding that this was completely natural for me. To find out that I was a Jew was a huge relief to me. I was normal - not a "bad seed". It took me many years to start to practice my faith. I became observant as an adult, after my daughter was born. My decision to return to the faith of my ancestors caused my mother to stop speaking to me for a time but we came to an understanding within a few months. Unfortunately, the joy and contentment I found when I began to live a Jewish life was short lived. My first rabbi became my abuser and the temple I attended was a very dangerous place.

My daughter and I went to shul, the first night of Hanukkah in 1999, excited and happy. We sat in the back of the sanctuary because it was crowded that night. I'll never know why the rabbi decided to kiss and caress me seductively, right in front of my 7 year old daughter. Perhaps he thought that she was so young she wouldn't understand what he was doing or maybe he just didn't care. I will never forgive the fact that he decided to involve my daughter. She has always been highly intelligent and observant. She saw what he did and protested, quite loudly. The rabbi went over to an older couple and gave the wife a kiss on her cheek and greeted the husband - making sure my daughter was watching. He tried to cover his inappropriate behavior but my daughter didn't buy into it. On the way home, my daughter asked me why the rabbi had kissed and touched me like that - the way only daddy was supposed to do? I didn't know what to say to her - my mind was reeling. I told her that it was just a greeting, it meant nothing and don't say anything to her father about it - she was mistaken. I lied to my child that night but thankfully she didn't believe me. She knew instinctively the way the rabbi was acting was just plain wrong. She learned from a young age that you can't ever trust anyone just because that person has a position of trust.

Up until that first night of Hanukkah, I'd managed to rationalize the rabbi's behavior and make myself believe that nothing was amiss. If I'd had any questions about what was on the rabbi's mind that night, his behavior and the scorching stares he'd shot at me from the Bimah swept away any remaining doubts. You could hang a tallit on those looks. All I could do was sit in the pew and stare back. I was deeply caught up in transference by that time and as confused as I could be. Then there was his wife! She must have seen the way he was looking at me from the Bimah. She walked up to me after the service and looked me up and down, three times. I had never even met her before - I only knew she was the rabbi's wife because other congregants had pointed her out to me. The look on her face was sheer disgust and anger - like she wanted to slap me and vomit at the same time. She walked away and then came back to stare at me again. I grabbed my daughter's hand and left the temple at a trot. I felt tremendously guilty. I was the victim but I believed that I had done something to bring it on - that somehow I had caused the rabbi to cross the line. I believed that 'rabbi's don't do that sort of thing' and therefore I must have done or said something to cause it. I carried that guilt for a long time.

Hanukkah has been difficult for me ever since. I can't light our menorah without thinking about my abuse. It comes to my mind no matter how much I try to block it. I've worked diligently to replace my daughter's bad memories with good ones of family and fun. I pray that I've succeeded. One day, when she is older, I will ask her what she thinks of as she kindles the lights of the menorah. I hope that she will talk about past family celebrations and not mention the dark times. My prayer this year is that my daughter's Hanukkah memories are not forever ruined as mine are. This is a difficult time of year for victim/survivors. I pray that all of us can focus on good memories and good times. I pray that time will dim the bad memories and cleanse them from our minds. I will try to see each candle flame I kindle this year as a ray of hope that each new day will be better than the last.


  • At 3:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 4:58 AM, Blogger Mara said…

    Chavah, my heart goes out to you that your introduction to Judaism was through such an evil person. I know it's a difficult process to cleanse the rituals from the taint of abuse.

  • At 2:15 AM, Blogger dino said…

    Chava hello
    My father was a rabbi and he too was doing the wrong things. This is my FIRST time i'm reading about rabbi's as abuser's.
    I'm with you here.

  • At 7:25 PM, Blogger Raizie said…

    Peering beneath the yarmulke; behind the bimah;
    Ever prayerful, ever watching
    Invoking the name of Adonai
    He lifts his strained voice in praise
    Droning on with a lifeless chant

    One eye on the Lord
    And one eye on the Prize
    The Master Manipulator
    Creates his aura of holiness;
    His invisible cloak obscuring the Evil Urge

    Making a show of charity,
    He counsels the elderly; he comforts the bereaved;
    He is a pious man; a man of the Lord
    Now he too is praised for his great work
    And none will question his sincerity

    He woos with guitar and drum,
    Prayer and poem,
    Shabbos candle, wine, and kosher food
    His chanting weaves a spell; a Covenant between Master and Master
    A promise of Broken Tablets

    There is a victim around every corner;
    One who is willing to keep his secrets
    One who, for some time, is quite “special”
    The list grows until he must move on to greener pastures,
    Having used up all the innocence and vulnerability he can find

    Believing he has covered his tracks behind him
    And that Hashem will continue to forgive and bless
    Regardless of the sins not yet committed,
    He moves with even greater stealth onto a new canvas,
    Seducing the adult and leaving behind the child

    Beware the Rabbi.


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