I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I knew I shouldn’t have pushed her to share the secret she’d been sitting on but I could tell my friend was so palpably uncomfortable I asked her to blurt it out. I told myself I needed to hear this critical piece of information for “tachlis” purposes and that I was better off for hearing these accusations. After all, when dealing with abuse, aren’t we told it’s always better to clear the air and give the survivors a voice? But I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A beloved rabbi, one who built our community, was being accused of abusing a teenage girl.
My friend knew, she said, because a family member of hers had finally gotten the terrified teenager to admit to the abuse and they were ready to go public once they found more “survivors”. My friend believed they might and professed these thoughts along with her newfound disillusionment with the rabbinate at large. I wasn’t so sure. I found myself caught in the unique place you often hear described by the victims of sexual abuse when they speak about the predator’s supporters. This shocked state where you can’t imagine the person being spoken about could ever commit an act so vile and repugnant that the allegations just couldn’t possibly be true. I was suddenly caught in this strange emotional limbo and undergoing a bizarre paradigm shift.
Having always heeded the call to verbally support the vague category of “victims of sexual abuse” and denounce accused perpetrators and their supporters I suddenly understood the complications of a situation like this when it hits so close to home. If these allegations about our rav were to be proven true it would unravel our community like a ball of yarn. Everything he’d built for the baali teshuvah in our area, the multitudes he’d inspired, would fall apart at the seams. The ramifications would be unimaginable. I was battling between disbelief – these accusations couldn’t possibly be accurate – and fury at the rav for being so selfish and hurting that young girl as well as putting his congregation and community in such a terrible position.
And I am still in this place. Nothing has been resolved. No secrets have been aired as of yet and I am still sitting in this foggy medium between rejection of these ideas and feelings of total betrayal and despondency. I still strongly support the exposing of abuse in the religious community and the bolstering of those strong enough to do the accusing. But suddenly I am aware of how completely perilous a situation like this is, and how much our community stands to lose by its exposure. I get the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that a role model you had trusted so much could be capable of something so disgusting. I am now “burdened” with the knowledge that people are complicated and grief and denial go hand in hand. Perhaps those individuals that find themselves on the sides of the accused in situations such as this simply cannot deal with the destruction and utter betrayal that comes with believing the allegations are true.
I guess that is the kind of perspective you can only relate to when you find yourself in a similar uncomfortable situation. I sincerely hope that these accusations against our rav are based on misinformation, though I think in my heart I know they aren’t. I just hope that when all the information is brought to light my community, as well as the global Jewish community, can bounce back from the misdeeds of one self-centered, destructive clergyman and rebuild something stronger on the remnants of what had been there before.