I saw how C greatly benefited from attending church most weeks and how R was so excited to find a church for herself and her family. And also my new Face Book friend, the Jewish Zionist activist Gabe Margolis, encouraged me to give the Jewish community another chance. I told him about the many negative and traumatic experiences I have had in the Jewish world. And he said the problem was I hadn’t found the right Jews, and he also pointed out how my anger at my family of origin could be poisoning my attitude toward the Jewish community as a whole. He said that I needed to begin establishing an internal emotional separation between my abusive family of origin and the Jewish community. I think his points are very useful and wise for me.
I have had many traumatic and negative experiences in the Jewish world in the past. For instance, when I told the members of my last synagogue that my parents were emotionally abusing me, they responded by inviting my parents into the synagogue. I felt betrayed, hurt, and angry as my trust and sense of safety was shattered. I am not naming the synagogue as I am not interested in revenge or finger-pointing, only in challenging the Jewish cultural tendency to collude with the abuser against the victim.
Also an older Orthodox synagogue that I had counted on for support – they turned their back on me when I needed them most. When grandma threatened to throw me out of the house, I asked for their support. And they all found a million excuses not to help me and all refused to let me stay in their homes for even a few days. I felt betrayed and angry because they abandoned me at my most vulnerable point emotionally.
I often attended a liberal Orthodox shul which prides itself on its feminist commitments in an Orthodox context. But I witnessed an incident of domestic violence there where one of the board members hit his pregnant wife in public during a Friday night dinner. No one challenged him sadly, including me. This example shows that some communities struggle with a conflict between their rhetoric and their actions.
Last but not least when I first sought counseling with a Jewish agency in New York City, I was devastated when the counselor told me the abuse was my fault. She also said it wasn’t abuse because it was ‘only’ emotional and verbal abuse and not physical or sexual abuse. Thus she utterly dismissed my pain and made me feel alone and afraid.
On the other hand, I received wonderful emotional support from the rabbis and executive director at Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Manhattan. I was a member there from 2002 to 2005 when I lived in Manhattan, and the rabbis and executive director stood by me and continue to be my friends to this day. This community’s kindness and compassion was an inspiration to me, and also their Zionist dedication was very moving to me as well. I remain in regular contact with executive director Lenny Silverman and Rabbi Elie Weinstock in this shul. My experience with this loving traditional Jewish community gives me hope for the Jewish world to start taking domestic violence and child abuse seriously.
I decided to take the risk of joining another Jewish community, and I am glad that I did. I have found a conservative shul, Congregation Bet Shira in Miami, where the Rabbi, Brian Schuldenfrei, has offered me emotional support. I haven’t yet visited the synagogue for services, but I was encouraged when I saw on their web site that their Tikkun Olam, or repair of the world, committee donated goods to the local women’s shelter. This information gave me hope that I could find a compassionate and supportive and understanding environment in their shul. Since I am unemployed and have limited financial resources, I was also very glad that the shul has an honor system for annual donations. The requested donation amounts are far beyond my capacity, but I will give a small contribution to them now. And once I become more financially self-sufficient, then I will be happy to contribute to them a more significant amount of money.