Today is July 4, 2011. It is the 8th day of my freedom. I am a survivor of horrendous emotional child abuse and a religious Jewish woman. I am currently staying at the Heaven on Earth transitional shelter in an undisclosed location in Miami Dade County.
I want to respond in detail to the material contained in this prayer for abused Jewish women.
The text contains one section that deeply troubles me:
"In a situation where both the batterer and his victim belong to the same synagogue or chavurah, public declarations would assure the battered woman that the Jewish community supports and welcomes her."
This approach is contradictory and wrong. By allowing the batterer to remain in the victim’s synagogue, you destroy the victim’s sense of safety in that community. I was enraged when I told some women in my shul that I was being severely verbally abused - and their response was to invite my parents who were battering me into the synagogue. I knew clearly that these people did not care about me or my safety - and that they were perfectly willing to endanger my safety to gain the income from my wealthy parents.
Also I was extremely moved to learn that one suggested ritual for an abused woman entering shelter is to say the Shehechiyanu blessing. When Julia and Ibis picked me up at the train station on Thursday to drive me to the shelter, I celebrated my freedom by taking their hands in mine and saying precisely this prayer. They were deeply moved that I invited them to share this prayer with me.
I also thought about benching Gomel, or saying the prayer after departure from a dangerous situation. I wanted to say this prayer but could not remember the words. Jewish women customarily recite this blessing after giving birth, and I felt that this prayer is appropriate for me because leaving the abuse behind is giving me an incredible rebirth on so many levels.
First of all, I spoke to my Russian history professor yesterday, and he told me that he thought I could apply for Russian language research jobs now. I am not yet ready to translate Russian documents into English because I need to work on my knowledge of Russian grammar. But when doing research on Russian documents, I can usually understand 80-90% of the content. So I am going to apply for these jobs in a few weeks.
Second of all, I am living in Miami and am fluent in Spanish. This means not only that I can speak to the Spanish-speaking residents of this house in their native language and thus make them more comfortable. It also means that I can apply for jobs at the local university, FIU, in research related to Latin America.
Third of all, I am thrilled that Giselle told me last night that the Heaven on Earth Foundation is going to help me fulfill my professional dreams. I can't wait to start working with them soon on this.
Finally, I will be addressing the board of Heaven on Earth Foundation in a few weeks to tell them my story. I hope to help them understand the dynamics of verbal and emotional abuse in an upper middle class Jewish household which is characterized by extremely rigid gender roles and pathological male hatred of women.
I would also like to make one more point here. The article suggests saying the Shehechiyanu blessing upon both entering counseling and leaving the abuse. I think this suggestion is misguided because entering counseling and leaving the abuse are two very separate and distinct stages in the healing process. Entering counseling means taking the first step toward acknowledging that you are being abused and making the first attempt to help yourself end it.
But in my case, it took me five and a half years of counseling before I finally found the courage to leave the abuse behind. I was in counseling amid an abusive situation for all that time before. Leaving the abuse behind by physically leaving the abuser means that you are mentally and physically putting an end to the abuse - and only once you take that step can real healing begin. For this reason, I think that Jewish women fleeing abuse, whether partner/spousal or child abuse, should only say the Shehechiyanu blessing upon physically leaving the abuse behind forever.Sh heche