Monday, October 17, 2005

Does God Really Care About Child Abuse Survivors?

Many people are unaware of the holiday of Sukkot. This Jewish holiday starts on the fifth day after Yom Kippur and lasts for seven days. This year Sukkot begins at sunset tonight (October 17, 2005).

Like any other holiday, Sukkot can be a time of year that survivors of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse) may have a difficult time.

If you know someone who is a survivor of childhood abuse, it might be a good idea to check up on them a few times over the holidays. Make sure survivors have invitations to meals. If they say no, it is important to let them know they can always change their mind and come at the last minute.

The holidays often mean that families get together, routines are changed, there is also the added stress of cleaning and preparing meals. These issues alone can be extremely stress producing. Unfortunately the reality is that there are parents who are already inclined to use their children as an outlet for emotions and urges. They are even more likely to do so when under the pressure of increased anxiety. Many survivors of childhood abuse report that they were abuse became more intense around and over holidays.

This is a reminder that you are not alone, that the feelings you might be experiencing are perfectly natural and normal. If you are having a difficult time, it's important for you to find a trusted friend to talk to.

Sukkot is the time of year that we try to
remember the protection God gave to the Jewish people during the forty years they spent travelling in the desert. This is also a time of year that survivors of childhood abuse may have angry feelings at God for not protecting them. Please feel free to use this space to share your thoughts and feelings.

Also see:
Surviving The High Holidays: Jewish Survivors of Incest and Childhood Sexual Abuse


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I can totally relate to this.

October 18, 2005 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not Jewish but have had the same experiences around the holidays as you layed out so well.

I think all holidays are difficult. I never know if I should go and be with my family, or if I'm better off being home alone.

October 20, 2005 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Ellyn said...

How does anyone know that God really cares about you? I've never been able to understand this concept.

Can someone please help me out with this?

October 20, 2005 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Rivky said...

I've never felt protected by God.

For a long time I thought God just hated me because I was so bad. I blamed myself for being emotionally, physically and sexually abused when I was a kid. I thought my abuse was a punishment from God.

I finally came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as God. If there was one, children would be protected. I would have known what it was like to be loved as a child, without sex being involvede.

October 20, 2005 11:24 AM  
Anonymous HealingPlace said...

this is a hard one... I have to say, i've struggled with this question for a long time. and just recenly, two days ago, we were robbed on succot... so, talk about asking, why me...

I go along with the rambam's position... that this world is run mainly by free will of people, with just a little bit of G-d's direct help. Ie, he does help, but bad things happen to good people because bad people do bad things... if g-d truely gives us free will, it can be no other way... then... i believe that g-d helps us heal from what happened to us... he does help... but he can't control others hurting you... like... g-d is that sudden feeling you get that says, it really is going to be ok... they don't come often, but they come.

this doens't mean that i'm not angry... i am angry. but at the same time, me feeling anger doesn't make Him not exist... you can't hate something that doesn't exist.

October 20, 2005 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

I also have trouble understanding how God could allow what happened to me happen.

My abuser is a leader in the community I grew up in. Everyone really respects him. I just have trouble learning anymore. I also have a difficult time walking into a shul. When I do, I find myself looking around the room wondering who's abusing who. I just can't seem to make a spiritual connection with those thoughts running through my head.

I keep hearing the free will concept, but I just can't buy it. I feel like I'm just given excusses. Feels like lip service to me.

October 20, 2005 11:44 PM  
Anonymous ellyn said...

Why would God create a person to become a sex offenders? What purpose could there be for thier actions?

October 21, 2005 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read the postings with great interest and sadness-- as a Jew, a rabbi and a person deeply involved in the survivor community. There is much to be said on this topic. The feelings are real. the answers are difficult. I have much to say on the topic that I hope one/some/many of you wil find helpful and hope to post again soon, In the meantime, just a few words:

1. Survivors relationships with God are varied. Just look at how some made it through the concentration camps-- some with no faith and others with deep and intense faith. Both reactions are understandable.

2. This problem is an old one-- in the Bible, the Book of Job struggles with it; in the Talmud, Rabbi Alisha ben Avuya became an apostate (Acher) over it (for those who are interested, "As A Driven Leaf" by Milton Steinberg is a tremendous and important historical novel on this personality and the issue; and so many others through pograoms, expulsions, auto da fes, person struggles.

3. Another amazing book that deals with issues of faith and belief when confronted by personal loss is "Blessings of A Broken Heart" by Sherri Mandel, the mother of Kobi Mandel who was killed by Palestinian terrorists. She's an amazing writier, person, Jew and her book is precious.

Here is a sermon I gave a few years ago on a Rosh Hashana-- acknowledging the struggles of faith. I share it with you:

Jacob’s God
by Rabbi Mark Dratch

All year long we when we recite the Shma Yisrael, we say the phrase Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l'olam va-ed (Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom forever) quietly, but on Yom Kippur we deviate from our usual practice and declare it aloud. The reason for our usual practice is that this verse doesn’t really belong here. It is not from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, as are the other verses, but is found, instead, in the prophet Isaiah. It is part of our keriyat shma for one of two reasons. Some explain that it is the angels’ response to Moses’s declaration of absolute faith. On Yom Kippur, when we are similar to the angels in that we remove ourselves from the physicality of this world and share their unbroken faith and total dedication to God’s Will, we too recite the verse aloud.

A midrash explains that the Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l'olam va-ed has its origins in a moving exchange between Jacob and his sons, as Jacob was about to die:

"And Jacob called unto his sons, and said: Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you [that which shall befall you in the end of days]." Jacob wished to reveal to his sons the ‘end of the days’, whereupon the Shechinah departed from him. Said he, ‘Perhaps heaven forfend! there is one unfit among my children, like Abraham, from whom there issued Ishmael, or like my father Isaac, from whom there issued Esau.’ [But] his sons answered him, ‘Hear O Israel, [for Jacob’s name was also Israel,] the Lord our God, the Lord is One: just as there is only One in thy heart, so is there in our heart only One.’ In that moment our father Jacob opened [his mouth] and exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.’

Thus we declare our faith to Jacob, and to all our ancestors, and we include their response, Baruch shem kevod malkhuto l'olam va-ed .

This second explanation is as mysterious as it is moving. Imagine the scene. Jacob, as he approached death, called his children around him in order to bid farewell. He did so as a father, in order to say good-bye and to express to them his personal feelings. He also did so as a patriarch, in order to pass on to them the strength of his religious convictions as well. He intended to reveal to them the end of days, the secrets of faith and of history. He wanted to give structure and meaning and purpose to their existence but the Divine Presence abandoned him. Precisely at that moment when he wanted to cement their relationship with God with a prophetic explanation of the meaning of all of the events of their lives, the purpose of their future sufferings, and the divine role in Jewish history, the presence of God departed from him and Jacob had to speak of other things. He could not offer them understanding. He was only able to pray, to offer them blessings instead.

This alienation from God was not a new experience for Jacob. In fact, Jacob suffered the absence of the Shechinah for long periods throughout his life. For the twenty years that he spent in the house of his father-in-law Laban in Padan Aram, one of the most vital times of his life, as he built his family and his wealth, God was not with him. And during the twenty-two years that Joseph was missing, God was not with him as well. (See Rashi, Gen. 45:27.)

Why had God deserted Jacob at these critical times of his life? Rashi points out that God abandoned him in the house of Laban because as long as he lived in the evil, devious and hostile milieu of his father-in-law, there was no room for God (Gen. 31:3). And Rambam suggests that God abandoned him during his mourning for Joseph because of his sorrow and anxiety. It was not until he was brought news that Joseph was alive that his spirit was restored and he found God again. The irony and tragedy of it is that at precisely at those times that he needed God the most, God was not there! Precisely during the challenges of life in Laban’s house when he most needed moral support and encouragement, precisely during the loneliness and anguish of mourning for a lost son when he most needed God’s broad shoulder to lean on to assuage his grief and despair; and precisely while facing his own death, the future of his family, and the fate of his faith that Jacob most needed God--and each time God was not there for him.

Many of us, at times of personal crisis, are like Jacob, feeling very much alone, very much abandoned by the world and very much deserted by God. Specifically at those times when our lives are the toughest--we find that faith is the hardest: as we lie in the hospital rooms or stand near the beds of family or friends for whom the doctors have no cure, as we struggle during difficult economic times to provide for ourselves or our families, or as we stand over the abyss of the opened graves of loves ones. We reach out our hands to God for support, and our hands remain open, extended and empty. At times we do not even have the strength, or the will, to extend our hands and they remain stiff at our sides. How tragically ironic that it is at those times in our lives when we are bonetired, emotionally weary, and psychologically dreary, that we feel so spiritually spent.

Yet, strangely, it was precisely at one of these moments of spiritual crisis that Jacob blessed his sons. It was precisely then, the Zohar states, that everything that Jacob wanted to reveal, he did reveal. And, most strangely, it was precisely at this moment of divine silence, that Jacob’s children declared to their father their faith in God. .

How had Jacob succeeded in passing on his faith to his children? What had Jacob taught them?

Jacob’s secret lay in the fact that despite God’s absence, Jacob persevered; despite the immoral influences of laban’s house, he refused to yield; and despite his grief at Joseph’s loss, he refused to yield. Jacob’s secret lay in the fact that, despite it all, he refused to accept a Godless reality.

, in Laban’s house he lived a fine, upstanding Jewish life of . In this den of iniquity, he was moral and ethical, a man of principle. , despite the loss of his son, he never lost hope, he never abandoned faith. And on his deathbed when , the divine Presence departed from him, he invoked the Name of God and offered blessing and prayer. It was because of his pain and it was despite his pain, that he continued to believe. The greatness of Jacob’s spiritual character was that he was able to reach out to God, and leave his hand extended--even if it remained empty, even if his gesture remained unanswered. It was not only what he said and what he did that made Jacob the man of faith that he was, but it was especially when he said it and when he did it: during moments of despair and trouble. Jacob taught his children, by personal example, that it is at those moments when it was hardest to pray that true prayer is needed the most and the best prayers are formed. Jacob taught his children, by personal example, that it is at those moments when it is hardest to believe that true belief is needed and true convictions are formed.

Thus, Jacob’s persistence did not go unrewarded; his prayers and beliefs sustained him through long and difficult times. Jacob’s persistence did not go unanswered; after each lapse he reunited and reconciled with God. And Jacob’s persistence did not go unnoticed; his children, specifically at a time of , declared ! They were able to sustain this conviction because they had a role model, a great Man of Faith. A man who relied on the potential of God’s greatness, even though it seemed remote and unattainable; a man who continued to pray and live according to God’s Will, even when he felt estranged and cheated and deceived; a man who was able to believe in God, even in His absence--and who was therefore able to pass on that relationship to his children. Thus, Jacob’s was an offer of thanks. Jacobs’ was a sigh of relief. And Jacob’s was a prayer of rejoicing.

For some of us, the loud of the Yom Kippur may be the response of angels to the perfect, complete, and unwavering faith of the . But for some of us, our is the longing prayer of Jacob’s deathbed, the yearning for the ability to believe, our quest to find God.

There are many people with whom I have shared conversations about crises in faith. People who have asked those questions about God for which we have no answers. And some who may be sitting through the prayers a bit cynically, or who may even question their presence here altogether. Such feelings can and do exist, even in Orthodox synagogues. Even such a biblical great as Jacob had such struggles. But I urge you to follow Jacob’s path-- never despair and never, never give up! Learn from Jacob that while, at times, God may be difficult to find, in the end He will be found. Learn from Jacob , that the pursuit of the divine itself is ennobling and uplifting and edifying, that spirituality is a muscle that must first be exercised and strengthened, and that can then, and only then, be redeeming. Learn from Jacob , to work you way to the , despite the dreariness, despite the loss and despite the depression. Learn from Jacob to fulfill His and study His Torah and recite His prayers--despite it all, and you will find , that they will absorb you, and be absorbed by your children, and that they will be sources of strength, of support and of spirituality.

October 21, 2005 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Dratch,
Thank you for taking the time to post a response. I have such a hard time connecting to my Jewish identity. I'm so tired of everyone telling me to just move on, that what happened to me is a thing of the past. The problem is that my offender is still out there. I read the words you wrote, but I just can't connect anymore. I don't care about Jacob and his faith. I feel pretty self-centered saying this, but it's how I feel.

Where was G-d when I was being molested as a child?

Where was G-d when I felt I was so different then everyone else?

I really want someone to answer those questions for me. I'm so tired of the line that people have free will to molest their children.

At least holocaust survivors were not alone in their pain. There were others with them. Most of my childhood I wish I was dead. I knew I wasn't loved. I was just a sexual toy for my offender.

October 23, 2005 12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Dratch (tries to) Respond(s)

Thanks for your response to my comments. Wishing that there was an easy answer for you is not glib, it's true...and, unfortunately, impossible.

When we are young, our parents, rabbis and teachers serve as models for us in our understanding of Judaism and our perception of God. When they fail us, as yours did, then we are robbed of many things,,, including that warm, personal, loving relationship with them and with God and Torah.

The Talmud understood this and warned people, especially those in positions of authority, to be careful how they act and treat others. (The Talmud states, Yoma 86a: Abaye explained: As it was taught: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? ‘Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds! . Of him does Scripture say: And He said unto me: Thou art My servant, Israel, in, whom I will be glorified. But if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? ‘ Woe unto him who studied the Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah!’ This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: In that men said of them,: These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land.)

This is the sin of chillul Hashem, desecrating God's Name, for which there is no repentance. Chillul (desecration) comes from the root- ch-l-l which also means a vacuum or a void. Not only did your perpetrator desecrate God, he desecrated your soul as well. And it is very hard to recover from that.

As to why God could let this happen... I don't know. And I beleive that anyone who says that they can tell you is a charlatan. No one deserves to be treated as you were treated.

That being said-- permit me to make two comments.

1. The fact that you are blogging here on a "Jewish Survivors" website says a lot about your desire/need/hope to reconnect Jewishly and to do so in the positive ways you deserve. As hard and hollow as that may seem, and as tainted and corrupt as you may perceive Torah at the moment, I don't think we'd be having this dialogue if you really didn't care. So deep down... really deep.... perhaps you feel there is something worthwhile here. Personally, one of the resons I am so involved in combatting abuse and violence in the Jewish community and have founded JSafe is specifically because I beleive that Judaism has much to offer survivors and that we need to clean up our act as a Jewish community, hold perpetrators responsible, and create a safe and nurturing space for all our children, women and men. And because I beleive that we fail them as well as God and Torah when we allow (through our inaction and our mistaken policies and ideas) Judaism to be misrepresented and corrupted and Jews to be harmed in the process.

And 2. The perpetrator stole your innocence, your sense of safety, your childhood, your spirit and much more. DO NOT LET HIM STEAL YOUR LIFE! I know, again, easier said than done. But if we have only this one life to lead, we can't let others destroy it for us. And if we have obstacles to overcome, and some of us have larger obstacles than others, then let's figure out how to do it. Therapy, support groups, political and communal activism... there are many ways. DON'T LET THE PERPETRATOR STEAL YOUR DREAMS. IT IS N E V E R TOO LATE. And I beieve that God can be a part of that. Take God to task for not being there for you. Yell and scream at Him. Work through your issues with God as you would someone else. Perhaps you'll come to some kind of understanding or truce. Perhaps a lot more. Perhaps a lot less. But you will be better off for the experience.

If you couldn't believe in God again because of your experiences, I would understand and I would respect you. I would also cry. I would also think that you are missing out on a significant part of life and the world that you deserve to know and experience.

Corresponding through blogs is so difficult and artificial. But let's continue our dialogue.

October 27, 2005 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you talk to God? I feel like I'm talking to the tooth fairy? With a real person, they talk back. They respond. If there was a God. He just sits there and says nothing.

October 28, 2005 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Rabbi Dratch...

How do you talk to God? You're right, it's not like a conversation you have with a friend. But people have found all sorts of ways... through prayer, meditation, Torah study, philosophy, art, nature, song, poetry, community, good deeds...

Another good way is to be around "God sensitive" people. What I mean is... for survivors of "Jewish" perpetrators, their God experience has been corrupted and polluted. Whatever "voice" they heard in the past is frightening, distorted, insensitive, manipulative, etc. And it is that Voice continues to resonate as they think about God or as they connect with things Jewish or religious. But that is not the God Voice that I hear. Despite many problems and suffering, the Voice that I hear is kind, compassionate, forgiving, accepting, suportive. And I learned how to hear that Voice from some amazingly good, kind and loving people. Some were rabbis, others were regular people who were motivated by their Jewishness to wonderful acts of kindness. And I find those ideas reinforced through my own observance and study and deed.

It's not a naive position, and it's not an unchallenged one. Especially when I come across some Jewish charlatans who abuse and manipulate and corrupt... sometimes cloaking themselves in the mantle of Torah and Jewish life. But I beleive that they do not speak the true Voice of God.

So, bottom line, seek out those who speak with purity, kindness, love, compassion, integrity, dignity. At the very least, you'll meet some phenomenal people. And perhaps, you'll begin to hear the echoes of the Voice as they hear it. And perhaps you'll be able to begin your own dialoge.

October 30, 2005 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Rabbi Dratch,

I am Jewish and a survivor of incest. I'll admit my experience with God has not been that good.

I've tried surrounding myself with "God sensitive people." The problem is I have a difficult time knowing if they are trustworthy or not? I've been burned by those who I thought were authentic with their commitment to Torah. I'll be honest I'm scared of being hurt again. I know that I'm an easy target for "charlatans." I think I have a neon sign that flashes on my forehead that tells them so.

How do I change this? I really can't handle being manipulated again. How do you know if someone is legitimate or not?

November 06, 2005 12:18 AM  

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