Sunday, March 26, 2006

Letter from a Kiruv worker to a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

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The following e-mail comes is from a kiruv worker (an individual who does Jewish outreach). It was sent to a survivor who was e-mailing information to the kiruv worker in an attempt to educate the individual on childhood sexual abuse.

I wish the kiruv worker realized that the statistics on childhood sexual abuse, so that he/she could realize that at least a third of the women and a fifth of the men he does out reach to have been sexually abused as children. Can you imagine the difference the kiruv worker could make in the survivors lives if he only understood some of the basics? I personally wish I knew who the "kiruv worker" was, so that we could all help the individual deal with his/her secondary PTSD issues. It's obvious that the individual is overwhelmed by the material.

The survivor stated that the kiruv worker was responding to something I posted on this blog: "Four Questions for Passover"

First of all, I want to tell you that I share your pain and see that you are still suffering from abuse inflicted upon you at some earlier time. For that, I pray for your release from mental anguish and hope that we will one day be free from this scourge.

However, it is painful to me to see that your only (public) association with Judaism and its holidays and times of joy are all linked to sexual abuse; and that the only times you write about Jewish leaders (rabbis) is when you feel they have done something wrong.
Please understand that the pain you cause me by constantly writing about these issues in a public way leads me to sincerely question your methods. Since I am committed to kiruv (bringing Jews closer to Judaism) and since I feel that your methods bring (more) Jews away from Judaism (since they constantly create bad feelings by linkage), I must ask you to remove my name from your mailing list.
May Hashem send his Healing to you and to all Jews who suffer and may we be zocheh to see the coming of His true prophet soon in our days.
Best wishes for a wonderful stress-free yom tov. If you need anything for the upcoming Passover holiday, please let me know and I'll try to help.

Also see:


Anonymous Lawrence said...

I wish this kiruv worker would understand that when you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and the abuse happened in your home that it would be normal to have a difficult time with holidays.

I keep reading over and over again that the first impression of a relationship a child has about God, is that of their parents.

If you have kind and loving parents, you would see God as loving and kind.

If you have parents that are rigid and strict. You will perceive God in the same light.

If you were sexually abused as a child, it would make sense that you would have difficulties seeing God as anything other then a sex offender.

I feel bad that this kiruv worker doesn't have the education or experience in working with survivors of child abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse). The holidays are a difficult time for all of them.

March 26, 2006 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I keep reading this letter the Kiruv worker wrote to the survivor over and over again. There's something about it makes me feel like he's blaming the survivor for having the life experiences they had.

How is a survivor of child abuse supposed to feel connected to Hashem when the Kiruv work blame them for sharing life experiences with them?

Perhaps instead of attacking the survivor, the kiruv worker could learn from the experience?

March 26, 2006 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Mark Dratch:

The letter from this kiruv worker is very bothersome and I disagree with what he said. I do not believe that sharing information about abuse or challenging abusers turns people off or away from Judaism. Not only is it the right thing to do, but confronting evil is good for the victims/survivors, and it is good for everyone. In my experience, people respond to the search for justice and goodness. People understand that we live in an imperfect world and that there are bad people that do bad things. The test of Torah is not how it creates a perfect world, its how it challenges and helps us and others to confront the challenges and problems and faults and difficulties. "Justice, justice you shall pursue" and "Do not stand by the blood of your neighbor" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" are just three of many verses that speak to interpersonal obligations and responsibilities. The test of Torah is how it deals with the vulnerable and how it treats those on the margin of society.

The Midrash explains what Moses was doing for 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai. It tells us (in metaphoric language) that he was in debate with the angels. They wanted the Torah to remain with them in Heaven, unviolated and uncontaminated. After all, they said, if God allows the Torah to be brought down to earth, people will sin and the Torah will be desecrated. Moses responded: But the Torah says: Don't murder and don't steal and don't commit adultery. It wasn't written for angels. It was written for fallible humans. Those who need it it to correct their lives and who need it for inspiration and guidance. And Moses won that debate.

The test of Torah, dear kiruv worker, is how it inspires us to prevent injustice (if we can) and how to correct injustice (when we couldn't). A Torah that is responsive to abuse victims/survivors and calls perpetrators to task (no matter who they are--family, clergy, teachers...) is a Torah that will gain the respect of others and draw them closer to their Jewish roots.

And if talk of abuse and abusers turns people off-- it is not the fault or responsibility of the victim/survivors; IT IS THE FAULT OF THE PERPETRATOR. Start with the damage done to the body, mind and soul of his victim(s). Consider the impact on those that see or hear about the abuse. The perpetrator is responsible for alienating them from Torah (just read this blog and others for proof). The victims/survivors are rightly turning to you and us for help. If we let them down, then it is we, not they, who are guilty of richuk (alienating and distancing them and others)from Judaism.

Sure you can ask to be taken off the mailing list-- but doesn't the Torah that you teach and preach tell you that when you see someone in need, YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO IGNORE THEM??? And doesn't the Talmud elaborate thet WE RE NOT PERMITTED TO PRETEND THAT WE DON'T SEE THE PROBLEM??? Dear Kiruv Worker-- your eyes have been opened-- what right do you have to close your eyes now? to refuse the e-mails? to refuse to hear the cries of those who long for a Torah that is a "sam chayyim--an elixir of life"?

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, AND is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? ‘Happy the parent who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this person 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 AT THE SAME TIME is discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? 'Woe unto a person who studied the Torah, woe unto his parent who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah!' This person studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: "In that people said of them, These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land."

In other words, religious and ritual observance is an important prelude. the real test of the greatness and reputation of Torah is how much of a mentsch (decent, ethical human being) we are. Torah is "beloved by others" when it enables us and empowers us to stand up for what is right and expose what is wrong-- not cover it up, deny it and wish it away.

March 26, 2006 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Rabbi Dratch!! Reading the letter by this "kiruv worker" made me so angry. It is hurtful on so many levels. It blames, rejects, and tries to silence an abuse victim instead of addressing the issue. I would recommend that this "kiruv worker" read the book 'Off The Derech'. It will help him understand that letters like his are exactly what turn many people AWAY from Judaism. His attitude is expressed by many who are well meaning but have no clue and is what forced me to leave observent Judaism. Talking about abuse or the problems rabbis cause by ignoring the problem is NOT the issue!

March 28, 2006 12:48 AM  

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