“Me too”: Two simple words that mean so much. This week it meant “yes, I have also experienced sexual harassment and abuse”. I can say “me too” for that.
But “me too” used to mean something else for me. I wasn’t born Jewish, but I wanted to be. I wanted to be able to say “me too, yes I’m also Jewish!”
I wanted to be Jewish so badly, that I put up with years of rape and blackmail.
I met a guy when I was questioning my religious identity, and we started dating. He was Jewish, and I was interested. I began converting to Judaism while we were dating. It wasn’t the best relationship, but it was fine. But the more I learned about Judaism, the worse he treated me.
Insults, curses, pushes, hits… All because I was becoming “too religious”. This was all being said by a man who attended a minyan three times a day, wore a kippa, and kept kosher. I was getting “brainwashed” and “ruined”, he said. I was no longer a hot shiksa. I was becoming just like every other Bais Yaakov girl: BORING.
But it all became worse when he pressured me to pose in front of my laptop during a skype call. He wanted my shirt off. I gave in because I loved him, and what harm could a few seconds of flashing do? Answer: A lot.
With one instant screenshot, my life changed.
He used that screenshot to blackmail me into sending more. He said that if I didn’t, he would show my conversion rabbi the picture he already had. He would show my chavrusa. He would show the Jewish family I was living with.
I felt trapped and did whatever he told me. What could I do? I wanted to be Jewish. “Me too, yes I’m also Jewish.” Those words kept me going. One day, I would say them.
It only progressed. After he got bored of pictures, he needed the real thing. Unwanted touches turned into unwanted kisses. Kisses on the mouth turned to kisses in other places. Before I knew it, I was pressured into doing everything and anything. His begging turned to sharp words. Sharp words became disgusting insults. Insults became threats, and threats became force.
The incidents turned more frequent, until I was being raped multiple times in one day. I begged for my life on more than one occasion. I was powerless. Afterwards, I would always put my stockings back on, cover my collarbone with my shell, and think it was my fault. He told me I was too hot to resist. No matter what I wore, I was always a target. I would learn tznius with my chavrusa who told me the purpose of tznius was to keep men from having inappropriate thoughts, so what was I doing wrong?
I wanted to leave him, of course. But I didn’t want to not be Jewish even more. Every Shabbos, when I lit candles, I would cry and beg Hashem to let me finish converting so that I could be free of my abuser.
Until one day when he told me that he would never stop threatening to reveal my photographs. Unless I married him, I would never be safe. I remember the moment when I made the decision that to be Jewish was worth any abuse I would experience, and that I would even marry him if I had to. If that’s what it would take, I would do it. I would become a Jewish woman, even if it killed me…and it might.
I felt this way until a few months later, when something made me change my mind. One Shabbos, he broke into the empty home I was staying in and raped me for hours. When I tried to resist, he punched me so hard I blacked out. Somehow I could feel everything happening, but couldn’t move my body or make myself wake up. In that moment, I wished for death. I wished Hashem would take me out of my misery and let me just die.
The next day, I drove away from the community and didn’t look back. I no longer cared what he told people or what he did to me; I wanted to be free of him. I didn’t want to be Jewish, if he was a Jew. I didn’t want to live that life if he was in it.
I worked on healing. Nine months later, I felt pulled back to Judaism. I moved back to the same Jewish community and restarted my conversion process. I converted, and now I can say “me too, I’m also Jewish.” But I also can say “me too, I’ve also been raped.”