Over shabbos I was talking to someone about the upcoming trial of Nechemye Weberman. Unfortunately, his response was what I was expecting. His face twisted into the disgusted, doubtful expression that shouted “what a bilbul, what a chillul hashem.” It was the typical response of many in our community when faced with challenging issues.
He said, “I hear she’s not such a tzanuah,” as though that rendered her claims incredible and irrelevant. “She was always a troubled girl, always had problems with yahadus and hashkafah. It’s no wonder she’s making up this bilbul now. Nebach. She wants to live a hefker life and this is her way of punishing her parents and the therapist who tried to help her by not allowing her to just do whatever she wanted”
I walked away from the conversation. Leave him to his ignorance. There’s just no convincing some people, and I have better things to do with my time.
When I first started telling people what happened to me, they responded by asking me where I was learning. When I told them I wasn’t, they would suddenly lose interest. Not being in beis medrash at the age of eighteen branded me a confused child with an overactive imagination and an inability to keep my desires in check.
I hear that a lot about survivors, especially if they are no longer frum. “They must have gone off the derech because they were mentally ill, or they were too lazy to be frum, or too involved in gashmius. They made up the abuse story to justify their indiscretions.” They assume that anyone giving up the bucolic life of a frum Jew is somehow, less of a human being.
I am a frum Jew, and I am proud to say so. Not because of my community or the way it conducts itself but because I find beauty in Judaism and I feel a connection with God and the Torah. Thankfully I have been able to separate my religiosity from my feelings toward my community, but many people are not able to do that. They see a community united in religious observance, uniting against a coreligionist who he dares to speak out about another “religious” person who abused them. For them it’s not such an imaginative leap to feel there is no place for them and to then leave the community, and by extension, the religion.
Yet many frum people never see it that way. They see the abandonment of religion as so inconceivable that it must be the decision of a lunatic. This allows them to reject claims of abuse as libelous self-justification. They never stop to consider if that person may have had a very good reason for leaving.
I’ve been involved with kiruv and organizations that deal with people who are not frum. Someone once asked for “the number one cause of “OTD.” I told him that there was no single cause; there were usually multiple factors. I added, that if he was really curious he should start asking individuals who are no longer frum instead of asking me for a one line answer. That wasn’t the answer he was looking for.
As a survivor I meet other survivors. Many of whom are not frum or do not fit the mould of mainstream Boro Park Judaism. There’s always a reason. Often it is because they were hurt terribly by the community and faith they believed in. That betrayal turned them off.
But no one ever asks, “why?” No one ever sees the effect and inquires about the cause. Instead they confuse the effect with the cause. Instead, they assume that the OTD’s clothing , language , food , and places they live explain what led up to their decision to leave Judaism. They insist that people who are OTD are “lying” about their abuse because they are frustrated with themselves and feel a need to lash out at others for attention. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For a survivor to come forward with his or her story takes a tremendous amount of courage and personal strength. They then have to confront a community that insults them as liars. They became what the community made them by its ignorance, inaction, silence, and callousness which now hurts them and alienates them even more.
The world is not a perfect place. There are some very terrible people out there who abuse innocent children. They exist. It’s an uncomfortable reality, but a reality nonetheless. Instead of being worried about its image, the community should be worried about the people it loses, be it spiritually when they stop being frum or physically when they commit suicide. I am astounded at the hypocrisy of our community. The same people who will give hundreds and thousands of dollars to kiruv organizations will then shun, ostracize, and harass the very people those organizations serve.
To call a survivor a liar because he does not look like you is backwards. Maybe he doesn’t look like you because he is a survivor and you stood by and did nothing as he cried out in pain. The mark of a Jew is that he is a Rachman, Bayshan, and a Gomel Chesed; in fact, if any of these traits are lacking in a Jew it is cause to question his heritage. Yet, I see so many in our community who lack these traits the moment someone is a surrvivor or doesn’t wear a black hat.