I have been getting many texts and emails asking me to weigh in on the latest New York Times article entitled, ‘Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own’, regarding the reports of horrific sexual abuse cases that have gone ignored or have been swept under the rug by religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community.
After much deliberation, I have decided this particular crisis deserves a critical response.
And because silence is a form of inaction, I have decided to act through the written word.
This topic is a difficult one to approach without a little silence before proceeding. A momentary silence that allows one to take a deep breath before trying to process such a tragedy. A moment to gather one’s thoughts before responding from a place of pure raw emotion.
My momentary silence is out of deep respect for the silent pain that has been inflicted on the innocent victims of abuse - many of whom have been forced into a coerced silence for years or even lifetimes. It is to these victims that I dedicate this essay.
My immediate and visceral emotional reaction to the New York Times article was one of rage, frustration, and sadness for the victims. This was followed by a deep disappointment and disgust for those who still attempt to conceal these heinous crimes that can and do occur in the Orthodox Jewish community, a community that has yet to fill the Citi-Field Baseball Stadium with the masses to discuss this issue openly and to apologize to every abused child forced into their own silence. I have personally experienced this pain and have had firsthand experience in dealing with the long term psychological trauma caused when a community attempts concealment as opposed to open dialogue. However, I wish not to speak of my own personal experience but rather on my own complex reaction to these heinous crimes and some thoughts on how we should build from it. Thus, I am making my own Cyber-Asifa on the matter. Because I can.
There are many reasons for deep rooted pain over this issue. Innocence lost. Victims being treated as villains. Abusers posing as protectors for their own manipulative domination. After taking the time to reflect on the root of its darkness, I was reminded of an axiom my father often shared, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Secrets, dishonesty, and lies are the hallmark trade of the abusers and when those charged with leadership of the community choose to engage in the secrets, lies and dishonesty they inadvertently create very fertile ground for these malignant abusers to fester and grow. The exact behavior men and women who tote a higher calling are sworn to defend against.
It is this duplicitous behavior that torments the victims of sexual abuse long after the abuse has taken place, for closure and healing cannot be fostered while community leaders are preoccupied with misguided efforts of concealment. When I say victim, I include the child, as well as, the parents and the siblings of the child. Of course I can expand that scope to the community and the world at large that suffers when dark secrets are kept behind curtains of lies as well.
Secrets are at the root of chronic and long-term psychological pain. When we are secretive about our secrets, we become ill and allow our souls to be filled with a poison that it fights to purge.
At the core of every human being is the determination to be loved, to be acknowledged, to seek purpose, to fight for justice and truth, and to belong to a personal and collective consciousness of goodness, innocence and G-dliness.
Chassidic thought teaches us that a person’s soul is inherently created to be on a quest for honesty and truth. When this quest is interrupted by being forced to accept lies and corrupt behavior in the form of a “higher calling” or as norm it can wreak havoc on a person’s self esteem, spiritual relationship and emotional well-being. It is a toxic contaminate that battles against the natural order of how our holy souls flourish. Since we are part of a collective consciousness, this does not just interrupt one person’s quest but every person the innocent tormented soul then goes on to experience. Thus when one soul is wounded, an entire world is indeed affected.
The soul is the most precious gift we have for it is the most intimate connection that links us to our creator. The soul is the slice of a Higher Power inside all of us. Sexual abuse is the kind of abuse that torments the body for the purpose of stealing the soul. No one ever has a right to steal another’s soul for their own personal gain. Judaism vehemently abhors this offense. Embezzling truth and larceny of the soul is a malignant cancer that threatens to destroy the very Jewish values that we are entrusted to uphold. The world is watching as stories and claims of abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community unfold on the media stage and the world is eager to see the Jewish response. The world is watching as we re-examine how we are passing our core values on to our children and to the rest of humanity. Even G-d himself is watching to see how His children are reacting in the face of such dark and deplorable corruption.
To be part of a community is a privilege and a right. To exist with others who share a moral code is a given we are all entitled to. It is time for new communities to arise with like-minded individuals who will not stand for secrets to lurk in the shadows of our neighborhoods.
As G-d stands watching our reaction, we are forced to create an initiative that I dare say, can take on a new day if we are willing and open.
As a first step in destroying the silence I invite you all, Jew and non-Jew alike to belong to a new community and a new higher consciousness. This community is one that rejoices with authentic Chassidic fervor over the human right to own one’s soul without it ever being exploited. This community has no place for elitism, for ego, superiority, or dominance. We all equally have the right to be loved with sincerity and without control or manipulation. This community has no room for secrets nor does it have room for others to force their own agendas. This community raises our souls to solicit truth and abhors deception. This is a new age. We will no longer be silenced. We will no longer cower in the corners waiting to be hurt, judged, or demonized. We are taking back precious faith into our own protection.
We are all the victims of sexual abuse and we are taking back our souls. In broad daylight.
Let us offer a moment of silence for those who have suffered. NOW let us make some noise, because this new community needs a cheering squad.
Indefinite silence in the face of corruption is a form of inaction. Who’s ready to let their voice be heard?