Instability. That’s what being your student was like. Like walking on eggshells. Like trying to jump into air, and asking it to catch me. You were so kind at first, and I was so happy you were my rabbi. You told me I was loved. You told me you thought I could do all these amazing things, I truly believed you believed in me.
You pushed my buttons. You pushed my boundaries. You made a joke about how you’d never ever sexually abuse me in the middle of a Torah study. I should’ve ran, but I didn’t know how to. I think you picked me out because I didn’t know how to run. I never knew how to run. You told me you couldn’t be responsible for my reactions, and that made me feel like my reactions were the problem here. Taking responsibility for doing something wrong was not your style. I was scared at this point. Usually when people bring it up that they would never ever do something as a joke, it’s because maybe they would do something. And anyways, you knew I was a sexual abuse survivor, who was bound to be afraid by something like that. You never crossed that boundary, but sometimes I wonder if it’s just because I got out of there soon enough and never gave you that opportunity. It was like you were testing me. How far could you go before I pushed you away?
What you did do though, was nefarious, and destructive, and harmful. Any time I questioned you, any time I stepped outside where you thought my spiritual journey should take me, you reacted in anger. You told me I was rejecting you. You asked me “Who are you to question me? I’m the teacher, and you’re the student.” You denied any premise of equality here. You said I rejected your authority, couldn’t accept you for the progressive leader you were. You called me borderline, and manipulated my mental illness for your abuse. You said I was just triggered by you, and denied that you were doing anything that could possibly have been triggering those reactions in me. You gaslit me. You squashed my journey in seeking out different parts of the Jewish community, like my desire to become more observant and start going to Orthodox synagogue sometimes. You told me Orthodox communities would never accept me, and that I would have to change myself to be there. I don’t find that an acceptable option. My drive towards exploring other realms of Judaism could’ve been something you encouraged, were understanding of, were accepting of as part of my spiritual journey. I ended up finding a home in Orthodoxy. It became the place I was accepted, but instead, you told me only you would accept me. That was wrong, and harmful.
And when I finally got the courage to leave, you told me I was sinning, that I had rejected your gratitude. You contacted my friend about me without my consent, breaking confidentiality and blaming the whole situation on me, and saying I was a burden you could not deal with. I am not a burden, I am a human. And you shouldn’t have treated me like that. You were not my only option. I did not reject you, you rejected me through the abuse you put me through. I did not sin by telling you I was no longer going to communicate with you, and you misused the concept of sinning and my desire to not commit an aveira when you accused me of sinning in that manner. What is a true aveira is misusing your authority to hurt vulnerable people.
But I’m okay now. As I said, I found a home in a place you told me I’d never find one. I learned what fit me in terms of observance. I found people who encouraged my spiritual growth. You weren’t the only rabbi who would help me. You weren’t the last one in Judaism to reject me. Many people have accepted me and welcomed me into their community. I found my place in Orthodoxy, which is where I always wanted to be. I didn’t have to squash parts of myself to please you, or to appease you, or to stop you from hurting me. I don’t have to deal with your constant back and forth between praising me and demeaning me. I have found a community that truly accepts me, and it is worth everything I have ever been through.
I am sad you don’t seem to be willing to admit what you did wrong. I’m sad when I tried to report you to your rabbinical association for breaking confidentiality, and for everything you put me in, they instead tried to silence me into submission. I would not be silent though, I refuse. Survivors of emotional and other types of abuse by rabbis need to know there is hope, and that what is truly a shame is the abuse, not the ways victims react to it.
We will be okay. We will find a place where we will be able to heal from what the people who hurt us. To our joy and our health and our happiness, and to healing, and to life!