Letters to Bystanders – Shay Kaiser


guest post by Shay Kaiser

WARNING: This post deals with child abuse in ways 
which may trigger very disturbing responses for some survivors

When you are hurt by someone else you can vent anger by writing a letter which you don’t send. But the offender doesn’t find out what they did wrong. Imagine what would happen if these letters were sent. These are letters that I am not ready to send in real life. They are addressed to those who let me be abused yet never laid a hand on me. They are the people who looked the other way. I don’t know if it is worth sending them. If they refuse to hear what I have to say it would hurt me again. Yet many of us keep on mentally writing and rewriting  these letters.

Dear Woman,

Why didn’t you notice? Didn’t you see the locks on your husband’s door? Did you  wonder about his business trips and his strange office hours, and all the chesed he did with children? Did you wonder about why he went out in the middle of family gatherings and what he did on his private daddy-daughter trips? And that look on his face – didn’t you see that greedy monstrous look? Didn’t you care about his interesting shopping trips? Didn’t you wonder, didn’t you see?

Dear Teacher,

Why didn’t you ask about the bruises on my arm? Did you think a child could trip so often? Didn’t you see me shudder when you told stories about Daddies who are so sweet to kinderlach? Didn’t you wonder why I always wore the same dirty clothes and never had enough to eat? Didn’t you see me drifting off in class, because I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of would be done to me while I “slept?” Didn’t you notice me wince when the other girls touched me? Couldn’t you see how I was always a little bit out of the group, even when I was right in the middle? What did you make of the fact that I was always on my guard when you spoke to me? I was always petrified when I made a mistake. Didn’t you notice any of this?

 Dear Mother,

Didn’t you notice how quiet I’d gotten? Didn’t you wonder why I started wetting the bed at night? Didn’t you watch when his eyes traveled up and down my body and how he rough-housed with me, too often, and too long? Did you notice the broken razors in the bathroom garbage and the scars on my arms and legs? There were all these clues to what was going on next to your comfortable bedroom. How did you sleep at night?

 Dear Bystanders,

All of you, it was right there in front of you, the silent suffering and the masked expressions, the screams and the chilling quiet that followed. Instead of doing something you complained about antisocial children. You never even stopped to think about whether your complaints got us beaten into even more secrecy. After all, it couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be. She must have been lazy, socially awkward, immature, unhealthy, tired, very tired.  Mono, it must have been mono! Yes, it must have been mono! Well, if it wasn’t mono, it must been some teenage thing that they grow out of. You didn’t face us; you still won’t face us. You say someone else will take care of it. You say so many things. Why don’t you say something that matters? Why don’t you reach out? Why don’t you tell someone else? Why don’t you dial three simple numbers? Why don’t you finally say, “You are our children and we will protect you?”

The Living Hidden-Dead

20 thoughts on “Letters to Bystanders – Shay Kaiser

  1. Mr. Lopin, would you consider placing a note at the top of the post that it could be highly “triggering” to survivors? It was to me. It’s a topic so little-spoken-of that many may not anticipate the affect.

    Thanks for posting this.

      • Shay Kaiser & Yerachmiel Lopin,

        Thanks for your concern, but please don’t feel sorry. The same skill that made the piece rhetorically effective — which is very much needed! — also cloaked its potentially triggering nature.

        The world really needs changing, and good writing contributes a lot to that. Triggerees like me will cope OK in the meantime.

  2. And , the last I checked, denial is, still, more than just a river in Egypt.

    The latest bombshells are NOT cases of incest… v’hamaivin yovin.

    As the late R’ Elya Shvei ZT”L once publicly bemoaned at an Agudath convention, “Vas vert zein mit der kinder”.

    Let’s revisit this forum in 10 years for now.

    V’Hashem Y’rachaim…

    • If I understand your reply correctly, I feel that you read the article as it was written from the perspective of a victim of Weberman. I was fortunate enough to never have met him. While any form of sexual abuse is horrific, I wrote the above trying to target those who should be noticing he changes and cannot seem to- the parents and educators of victims. You cannot stop hell in the making, but you can save one from falling into it.

  3. Well written and so beyond my experience my jaw dropped. OK without trying to sound smart alecky etc . . . I wonder what would it take for a grassroots intolerance of abuse and molestation to take hold in our institutions and leadership? It is hard to figure out whether the system needs some tweaking or serious revisions including questioning rabbinic authority -whether evey Rav in authority is deserving of the community’s loyalty. Nebach that it has come to this but Jewish lives hang in the balance.

    • Mr. Antin, many thanks for comment. I, for one, do not find you in the least “smart alecky” — your tone and attitude strike me as serious and engaged. I’ve had occasion to observe, in institutions like schools, that mere procedures and policies for reporting abuse are quite limited, absent a deeper emotional and psychological “grassroots intolerance of abuse and molestation”. My father, ע”ה, used to say that God gives our community the leadership we collectively deserve.

      • Ahh well, they need to learn. It all goes slowly. I hope our leaders can learn before they find themselves being awoken in a harsher way. It seems to always end up like that. If one does not learn the lessons placed gently before them, those lessons tend to slap us in the face.

        I truly appreciate your support and involvement in this topic. I am deeply sorry you had to suffer from the abuse you went through, but sufferers who fight make their suffering, to the smallest extent, worth it.

      • Very true, and you will occasionally hear one of them say so off the record, but that in no way absolves them of the obligations of their position, nor of the culpability for the damaged caused by them not doing so. They can pass blame onto the “boards” or “balabatim” or financial backers all they want, but ultimately if you wear the title “manhig” then either lead or step down. The “gedolim” want the benefits of their position with none of the responsibility, but they just can’t have it both ways. I find this famous quote from Edmund Burke to be increasingly relevant lately: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

        • Mr. Lovy, I agree, mostly. I try hard to lean heavily toward descriptive, rather than normative language, because otherwise I’m liable to spew so much personal anger that I’m unlikely to be heard. I’d understand if, perhaps being different by disposition, you find that a bit disagreeable.

        • Comment removed. Completely off-topic and responding to another blog and very long.

          To the commenter: You are welcome to comment, but please keep comments relevant to the posting. Also, please use just one name and a valid email address across all your comments.

        • Huh? You do realize that this is Frum Follies, not Failed Messiah, yeah? I checked Failed Messiah, and you did not post this over there. That’s where the comment you’re responding to is from, not from this post, or even this website. Aside from being unable to understand a blasted word you’re saying, I really can’t understand why you would post a reply to something from Failed Messiah on Frum Follies, on a completely different article.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately, incest and child abuse is not a new thing. But yes, something has to change. This change starts with awareness and democratic action to changing the way our rabbanim deal with things. I do not think our gedolim would intrinsically believe in protecting the abuser- they are following what they have been taught. This is not to say they are right; they must unlearn what they have learn. It is our job, as you- very unsmart-alecky, I thought- stated, to plant the seeds of truth where abuse is concerned.

      We won’t get anywhere by shoving it into their faces. They deserve respect and they will listen if we teach them with respect. We are all normal here. But since the day Dina was raped by Shechem, Jewish souls have been crying out for protection. It is time for every person to be protected.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I have been saying the same thing for so many years. I also believe that these parents who don’t recognize or don’t want to recognize the changes in their children are the REAL culprits in the freedom of the molesters. The perpetrators are sick, no doubt, and I wish them all a slow and painful death. But even if all the Rabbanim decided to suddenly encourage families to do the right thing and go to police, I don’t believe they would.

    Those who loved me most didn’t want to believe I’d been hurt and would never have wanted me to go through a trial. How many victims of Weberman sat in the court room but didn’t dare join the plaintiff and make her job easier? I do NOT blame them, I do NOT judge them, but I am tired of expecting change from the people who don’t understand us and what we have been through. I don’t believe we advocate for ourselves and until we do we cannot expect others to advocate for us. It is time for us to jump the fences and start pressing charges, telling our parents about the hell we live today, years later. About the difficulties we endure every trip to the mikvah or the paranoia we endure everytime a Rebbe touches our child’s shoulder. Nobody knows because we are still afraid to show ourselves. We need to show ourselves and there will be safety in numbers.

    Thank you for letting people know the signs, to know what to look for. Thank you for opening that door into the world we retreated to because I don’t believe they know, and if they don’t know, they will never be there to help us.

  5. Your pain touches my heart, and your candor and honesty is refreshing. I really do believe that things are changing on this front, and it isn’t just the survivor in me who says that things are going to get better- it’s the realist. People learn by example, and the more people who set that example, the more people will come out, stand up, fight for their rights.

    We all deserve freedom from the hell we have been put into. Thank you your share in this ‘game’.

  6. All i can say is thank you. very well written and it is like you reached into my brain and took the words right out. Yes this was triggering (thank you for the warning) but something i think everyone needs to read to try and understand the pain of those of us who were abused as children

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