The following article was submitted to JCW by a survivor of incest. JCW has been working to assist the survivor and her family. She asked that it be published anonymously.
Growing up, I always felt something was off but I had no idea that I was being abused. It was just life as I knew it. I was also threatened by my abusers to never say a word. They brainwashed me to believe that they weren’t doing anything to me, that nothing had happened, and any pain I felt was all my fault. If I gave any indication that something was wrong I was punished in a violent way, again being drilled to believe that I deserved the punishment. Until it was ingrained in me never to even entertain the thought that I am a victim.
I was abused from a very young age, and it was just part of how our extended family lived.
The family was very sheltered. We didn’t have a computer. My father is very proud of having a kosher phone without even texting. We weren’t even allowed to go to the mall. Of course, this was under the guise of ‘kedusha’ and ‘tznius’. The family is well known for being so Chashuv and frum and ehrlich. They own mosdos and are considered master mechanchim. My father is known to be a huge masmid. If you ask anyone in our community, that’s what you will hear about them.
But all it was was a coverup for the insane amount of incest and abuse perpetrated by my grandfather and his sons, (my father included). They didn’t care about Hashem. The mitzvos and chumros they showed to the world were just a cheap costume for them. And why not? They are filthy, impure animals. But who needs a computer to see filth when you can just go to your daughter’s bed every night, take off her nightgown (we’re too frum for pajamas), and see and touch whatever you want? Who needs a smartphone to connect to impurity when you can just rape your granddaughter whenever she comes for Shabbos? Who needs to go to the mall to see inappropriate things when you can just trick your niece into opening the bathroom door so you can slip in and block her from escaping so you can see and touch whatever you like (and manipulate her into thinking it is her fault)?
This was how I lived for many years. Then I got married and moved away. But I was still terrified of them. And due to the dissociation and fear, I did not remember a single thing about the abuse I suffered. It’s only thanks to my amazingly honest and truthful husband that I started questioning them. He saw through a lot of their charades and was confused. We went through a long process, in therapy, and also by ourselves, of trying to understand what is really going on in the family. After a lot of darkness and despair, we met a Rav that supported us and helped me get to the point where I finally opened up the huge can of worms that was my past.
When I first started uncovering it, the pain was for sure hotter than hell. The anger was harder and stronger than any hurricane. Sometimes, after I uncovered a story, I could not cover my hair. I stayed inside and wore anything as long as it was not tznius. Keeping Shabbos was torturously hard. My husband and children, and our Rav, kept me from throwing off all Yiddishkeit.
People can provide all the logical reasons they want as to why it’s not correct to leave Yiddishkeit after being abused by a frum person. I heard lines like ‘Jews don’t define Judaism’, etc. But when you are engulfed in the searing, fiery pain of abuse, those lines just don’t help. When you realize just how badly you were tortured, you don’t feel calm looking or doing anything at all that resembles your abusers. I just needed to get as far away from them as possible. The pain was too strong.
I am lucky that I am healing with people that care about me. That is what enabled me to hold on, both to Yiddishkeit, and to just staying alive.
I am learning how to separate my abusive ex- family from the way I live my life, without throwing out the Torah. I started dressing very differently from them while staying within the parameters of tznius. I do whatever I can to feel distant from them so I can feel calm and safe enough to heal.
I still have oceans of pain and anger within me. I have a lot of questions. This is not just about abuse. This is about a society that allows it. By judging people just by how they look, by not understanding the difference between a genuine Talmid Chacham and a faker, by not looking any further than what they see or hear from ‘everybody’.
My family are animals. I know that many other relatives were and are still getting abused. But I know that if I try saying anything I will have to fight everyone, including big Roshei Yeshiva and many other powerful people. They will say I am crazy, they will try to destroy me and my husband and children. It will be an epic battle that I am not strong enough for, yet.
I know that when I was getting raped, there were times that I felt desperate to escape. Although I didn’t understand what was happening, I desperately wanted to run away. But I knew there was nowhere to turn. I knew nobody would believe me. Even if they did they wouldn’t help me because they would be scared of my powerful family.
BUT WHO GAVE THEM THIS POWER??? WHY ARE THEY RESPECTED?
Why can’t anybody see through their act? Why is nobody willing to see the truth?
I feel that every single teacher, neighbor, friend, and acquaintance of mine has a part in my story. Every single person that just accepts a chashuv person even when their actions are questionable. Every person that does not look deeper when something doesn’t feel right, because ‘everybody knows this is a chashuv person.’ People complain about my grandfather all the time. People don’t like my father. But at the end of the day, they listen to them and show them respect, because ‘everybody knows they are chashuv’. These people think they are just going with the flow. They say it’s nice to just be dan lekaf zechus.
They are the reason why my family is considered chashuv. They are the reason why my abusers were able to get away with unspeakable and horrific abuse. Every single one of them is going to have to stand before Hashem one day and give a din vecheshbon. They will be asked, ‘Why did you consider that person chashuv when he treats people so disrespectfully?’, ‘Why did you think that is okay to ignore terrible things taking place right in front of you?’
They are the reason why my sisters are stuck in a prison, getting molested and raped, possibly on a nightly basis. They have nowhere to go, just as I had nowhere to go.
Now I ask you, if some girl you know came to you and told you that she is getting abused by her father or grandfather or whoever, would you help her NO MATTER WHAT HER LAST NAME IS? If someone told you that your son’s Rosh Yeshiva raped her, WOULD YOU BELIEVE THEM? These things are happening, they happened to me.
We are protecting abusers and falling for their facade. And their costume is not THAT amazing. All you need to do is think, look a little deeper, and most of all, be courageous enough to be open to the truth, no matter what that may be.
How did we get to such a point?
I am asking questions. I hope you are too.