Neshama Carlebach’s Learning to Believe Again is a poignant account of how she deals with knowing her father, Shlomo, was a sexual abuser. It got me thinking about the many times anti-abuse activists are told, “But, what about his family; they don’t deserve to suffer because of him.”
Often the family itself goes into denial segueing into praise of the offender’s worthy deeds. This is said as if good and bad refuse to live side-by-side in one body
Shlomo Carlebach was an incredibly gifted man whose melodies spread throughout the Jewish world. His presence and message inspired Jewish revival and the creation of neo-chasidic followers and communities. But he was also a child molester and sex harasser. And he was a loving father.
The burden of reconciling these facts fell on his daughter, Neshama Carlebach. To her credit she has not denied his misconduct nor has she denied loving him and still feeling his love of her.
But she does feel a need to be more separate and not be so bonded to him that it becomes impossible to say, you were “wrong.” She has found it painful and also liberating.
She got there because there was a public outcry and because she chose to listen to his victims. She also got there by tapping into her own experiences of being abused by someone other than her father.
We indeed cause pain to family members of those we expose as abusers. But there is a path forward for them if they are willing to listen and reconsider, willing to realign their thoughts with the truth. There is even a way for them to feel their love along with the truth.
It is not realistic to expect family members to instantly absorb ugly revelations. When their initial reactions are denial, I do not mock or criticize them. I do feel for them. But their pain is not the fault of those who expose abuse.
One real real culprit inhibiting family healing in Haredi culture is the collective punishment where the sins of the molester hurt the social standing and marriage prospects of all of their relatives, In this system the wives of molesters, revolted by their husbands, nevertheless stay married because a divorce would be read as confirmation of the allegations and that would hurt their children’s shiduchim.
We don’t owe lies and concealment to protect relatives. We owe them respect for their mixed feelings and freedom from guilt by association and collective punishment.