Have you ever tried carrying something really heavy, so heavy you were unable to put a number to the weight?
Have you ever kept a secret for 21 years never telling anyone? A secret you were afraid to tell, afraid that if you told someone you might be scolded or perhaps laughed at or even looked at with disdain. A secret that chipped away at your essence, your heart, and your soul. A load and secret so heavy it does not let you live.
You go through school without friends, always looking for an excuse, making believe you are sick so you can stay home and not face another day of being alone in school.
I can tell you how it feels.
I lived it and experienced it my entire childhood and teenage years and into my early 20’s. I can tell you it was very heavy. I have locked myself in my bedroom finding solace only in food. Eventually this has led to a lifelong battle with my weight – just another painful result of what was done to me.
The story starts in 1984. I was a sweet, little innocent girl with dark brown hair, sparkling blue eyes and a shy smile. I was still in daycare center at the time. This is when the innocent girl lost her innocence, the sparkle in her blue eyes disappeared and she would smile for the last time in 20 years.
How does one capture these feelings in words?? Where does one begin when writing such a personal life story?? Where does one end, where does one stop writing a story that never seems to end?
I was only a girl of around 5 – 8 years old or so when I was molested by an adult cousin. I knew it was wrong, but I was afraid to tell anyone. I close my eyes today and I can still feel it and I cringe. I was forced to sit on his lap, while he would touch me inappropriately.
“Inappropriate”. What a broad word. A word used so often to represent so many different types of touch.
In this case, what I mean by “inappropriate” is that as I was forced to sit on his lap, he would put his fingers inside of me. He would rub himself against me while inserting his fingers inside of me. And he would do this over and over again for several years.
I was way too young to be exposed to something of this caliber. Little did I know how it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I tried my best to block all memories of what he did to me. But where is the off button on thoughts? How do I stop unwanted thoughts from invading my mind? How do I stop unwanted adults from invading my private space?
Memories come back to me all the time. I remember that whenever he heard someone approaching, he would quickly throw me off his lap and zip up his pants. Whenever he was able to and wherever he was able to catch me alone, he would molest me. There was one specific episode in the summer that stands out strongly for me. I know that it’s common to become more bold as time goes on but I still can’t believe he had the nerve to molest me in public. We were in the backyard and he pushed me up against the side of the house, put his body against me and began to rub his privates against me. Suddenly, I heard a voice scream “Get off the girl”. And again. “Get off the girl”. It is 27 years ago and her powerful voice still rings in my ears.
This isn’t about what happened 27 years ago. It’s about what continued for decades afterwards. What he did to me caused me to be stuck in a personal prison for the better part of my life. I was fortunate that the abuse didn’t last longer than it did. After he got married, he stopped coming over to our house and the abuse stopped. But the pain didn’t and the shame only seemed to get worse as time went on. When I happened to see him, I would become physically sick. My stomach would flip, I would be overcome by nausea, my knees would shake and my heart would race.
For years I thought it was my fault, I thought that I had perhaps acted in a way that brought it onto myself. It took me 21 years to come to the realization that I WAS THE VICTIM. I DID NOTHING WRONG AND I DID NOT BRING IT ONTO MYSELF.
But I didn’t always know this. As a young child, my parents took me to walk by the Rebbe. I didn’t want to go. How could I? I was so embarrassed. I knew the Rebbe would see right through me, he would know what I did. He knew that I wasn’t behaving as the tznius girl I was taught to be.
My parents could never understand why I didn’t want to go and of course I wasn’t about to explain it to them. So, I walked with my parents to 770 in my bright pink coat and hung my head in shame as I walked by the Rebbe hoping he wouldn’t notice me – the little girl who disappointed her Rebbe by being not tznius with my adult cousin.
As I grew older and I recognized that a 6 year old girl can not possibly be responsible for the disgusting actions of an adult, I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents and siblings. I was incredibly ashamed to do but it was the best thing I ever did. I finally unloaded the heavy secret that was weighing me down. The support my parents and sibling gave me was them letting me know I have nothing to be ashamed of and I no longer need to hide in fear.
My family and I decided we would not make a big deal about it and we would deal with this individual directly. However, instead of giving me the closure I deserved, he turned against me. He told everyone that I was a crazy, bitter and a psycho. Let’s face it, it is easier to say that then to admit to what he did. He created a family fight and turned relatives against me, he had them call to urge me to remain silent, which caused me further pain. Because he is a Rabbi and I am less outwardly religious, some of my relatives trusted him over me. That hurts. How can someone who would molest me and then intimidate me be considered a “Rabbi” or “religious”?
He kept me quiet for 21 years through shame and then another 3 years through intimidation. Not anymore.
His family threatened to post pictures of me that would further shame me. I have nothing to hide. The shame belongs to him and to those who continue to protect him.
These words are to my abuser:
You can continue telling lies and claiming your innocence. You can continue blaming this on a game of “politics”. Do you really think people believe you? I am willing to take lie detector test- are you? How do you live with yourself? How do you look your children in the eye? Do you have no guilt, no shame? Do you ever think of the little girl whom you destroyed? You call yourself a “Rabbi” – however, a man of G-d does not act in this manner. Stop playing dress-up; you should not have a congregation nor a community. You should not be working in a “Mosed” of the Rebbe where you claim to represent him. You should not have access to little children. The damage done to me was enough. People lie because they are ashamed of what they’ve done, people lie because they are scared to face the truth, people lie because they can’t face the world.
I will no longer stay quiet. I am doing this for myself and I am doing this for all the other girls out there who have been silenced and have lost their voices. It is time for us to stand up for the truth, for our truth, our pride and our dignity and to hold our heads high. We will not be shamed and we will not be silenced.
And while I am in no position to dictate your personal relationship with the Rebbe, if any of us are to hold our head in shame as we walk past him, it is you and not I.