Thursday, August 02, 2007


As an adult who survived incest in a Jewish family, I am thankful for being alive today. I grew up afraid to tell anyone. It was better to have my "daddy" the way he was then not have him at all. I loved my father. He was funny and enjoyed life. He was also sad and had times of extreme anger. He was against organized religion and refused to join a temple. I was the one who loved to go to services with my grandfather, my Zada.
As an adult I studied and completed an Adult Bat Mitzvah. Whem my father died in 1984, I ask my mother for his tallit (prayer shawl). At my Bat Mitzvah I wore his tallit. While I am waiting for my turn to read from the Torah I look down at the corner of the tallit. There I read (in Hebrew), property of Tifereth Zion. This must be the congregation that he "borrowed" the tallit from. That was my father.
So, today, I am active in two congregations. I feel it is important to be connected to community, whatever faith you are. I also find myself active in a 12 step program for adult children of alcoholics. I dont believe my father was an alcoholic. He was bi-polar, and a pediphile among other things. Yet, as I listen to the questions "Did you grown up in with a problem drinker?" , I anwser yes to most of them.
Think about these questions and how they relate to the way you have survived?
1. Do you constantly seek approval and affirmation?
2. Do you fail to recognize your accomplishments?
3. Do you gear criticism?
4. Do you overexten yourself?
5. Have you had problems with your own compulsive behavior?
6. do you have aneed for perfection?
7. Are you uneasy when your life is going smoothly, continually anticipating problems?
8. Do you feel more alive in the midst of a crisis?
9. Do you still feel responsible for others, as you did for the problem drinker in your life?
10. Do you care for others easily, yet find it difficlut to care for youself?
11. Do you isolate yourself from other people?
12. Do you respond with fear to authority figures and angry people?
13. Do you feel that individuals and society in general are taking advantage of you?
14. Do you have trouble with intimate relationships?
15. Do you confuse pity with love, as you did with the problem drinker?
16. Do you attract and/or seek people who tend to be compulsive and/or abuse?
17. Do you cling to relationsips because you are afraid to be alone?
18. Do you often mistrust your own feelings and the feelings expressed by others?
19. Do you find it difficult to identidy and express your emotions?
20. Do you think someone's drinking may have affected you?\
The first time I heard these questions read, I was blown away. The statement after reading this :
If you answered YES to ANY of these questions, Al Anon may help.

Those of us who work very hard at covering up our past. I spent years thinking I had done something wrong and then I kept myself so busy so I didnt have to think about what really happened at home. I started doing volunteer work while I was in High School. I was president of every club I belonged to in school. I was an overachiever from early school years and continued as an adult. If I kept busy, kept doing good things for others, then maybe my past would go away.
Well it does not go away by keeping busy. It never goes away. However, the way I see the past now is in a very different view. It still happend. Just how I hold it in my past now is different. When I allowed God to be my guide and I realised I had no control over what happened to me, I let go of the shame of the past. Just think about the fact that you had no control over what happend to you. The others were the trusted the adult in your life and were betrayed by that trust. You cant change the past, only how you choose to live your life now.
Let this be a space for you to share your insights and your journeys. I am here to listen.
blessings and joy for this beautiful day,
Chaplain Bonnie

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Journey Begins

Incest in the Jewish Family

In this discussion of incest in the Jewish family, I feel it’s important that you know what I am not, before you perceive what I am. I am not a therapist. Although I have been in therapy for most of my adult life, I am not a trained therapist or psychologist. I am a 56 year old Jewish woman who has survived incest in my Jewish family. I have been a recreational playground leader, a receptionist, spent time as documentary film editor, a media specialist and an employee trainer in the hazardous waste management business. I also have run my own business as an event planner and caterer for hundreds of b’nai mitzvot parties. Near the end of the catering time of my life, I realized I wanted to be in the sanctuary more than setting up the party in the social halls of synagogues.

Although I grew up believing I was Jewish, prior to my first marriage I found out that my mother was not Jewish at the time I was born. I therefore needed to complete the mikvah as a conversion ritual to become officially Jewish. I have been married twice and have a “get” from the first divorce. I was so honored to be Jewish when the rabbis presented my “get”. They said, mozel tov, may you find happiness with someone else. I was single for about 10 years before the second marriage. During that single time I found myself with memories of my childhood incest and began a healing journey within my self, my soul, and my connection to Judaism.

I have a son from my second marriage, who will be 21 in February. I have been in a committed relationship with my partner for more than seven years. Both know my story and are very supportive of this thesis project.

I spent years in darkness. I spent years pretending that all was well, when the truth inside my soul was total chaos. I lived in confusion of what was truth and what was fantasy. I had dreams of falling into blackness and would wake up before hitting the bottom. Over and over and over and over, the same dream was a part of my life. I was an over achiever, working and going to school to attempt to cover the darkness of my soul.

When beginning this project, I was directed to the readings that are heard every year on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. The laws of incest are in detail, as to who may sexually be with another. Year after year, Jews around the world are required to listen to these laws. On Yom Kippur afternoon, after hours and hours in prayer and fasting, Jews are to listen to the laws of sex. I questioned many of my Jewish friends about these readings of this afternoon torah portion and most of them had no idea what was being discussed.

I would stand next to Zada in services and would play with the fringes of his tallit. I loved the chanting. I loved the calmness of prayer. Although I did not understand the Hebrew, I felt God’s presence within my young soul.

This was also a place to be safe. I had no knowledge of my own family history of incest. I didn’t know what my Zada, my wonderful grandfather, had done with his daughter. I didn’t know that incest could be passed on, generation to generation. I only knew of what was happening to me at home, which I was to never tell anyone.

I was 15 years old when Zada died. I remember riding in the car while my father was driving. Zada’s wife, we called “Aunt Bess”, my mother and sister, all sat quietly. When we ask what happened, Dad started crying and said Zada had died. Life changed dramatically after that moment.

At Zadas funeral I found out that he was a Kohanim. I knew about the way he could hold his fingers in a special way. I didn’t know what being a Kohanim actually meant until now. I found out that Zada never married “Aunt Bess” because she was a divorced woman. She had been his common law wife for more then 20 years.

Yet being a Kohanim carries an honor, much more than issues of marriage. A Kohanim is a direct descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was the first Kohain Gadol or high priest. In the time of Aaron, the Kohanim led the blessings of Israel in the Temple and Tabernacle and were looked upon as the role models of the Jewish people. However, from the time that the Roman army destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, membership in the Kohanim priesthood was maintained by keeping ritually pure. This meant kohanim could not marry a divorcee because the woman had already shared herself with another man, and kohanim couldn’t marry a convert because their life prior to the conversion had likely been filled with impure acts, according to the Torah. Kohanim were also commanded to avoid contact with a corpse in order that they maintain the highest level pf purity. And even though it safe to assume that most kohanim have likely walked over some sort of unmarked grave in their lifetime, the Torah commands that they not further impurity themselves by knowingly doing it again.

The status of Kohain is passed on through the male side of the family. Therefore, my father held the status of being a Kohain. I, therefore, am a Bat Kohain, daughter of a Kohain. So, according to Jewish law, I can not pass on this connection to my son. I am the Bat Kohain who is taking my priestly responsibility seriously. I accept that I am probably a descendant of Aaron and that Kohanim are supposed to be the role models of the Jewish people. I need to share my story so that others will heal.

The irony of this pure Kohainim responsibility, in contrast to the lives that my grandfather and father lived, is overwhelming. Zada was such a “pure” man that he could not marry a divorced woman. Yet, for years following the death of his wife, and mother of his four children, he slept with is oldest daughter as if she were his wife. My father, the Kohanim descendant of his father, sexually abused both of his daughters for years. Not only is this pain and suffering to those abused, it is also an insult to the Jewish people.

The shame of incest has lived within my being for most of my life. From the time I was 7 years old, until I was almost 16, I was continually incested by my father. I didn’t tell anyone. I loved my father. I wanted the attention and lived confused and constantly tricked into loving my father the way he wanted. He said this is what people do when they love each other but don’t tell anyone. Today I feel there is shame in being from a Kohanim family which overlooked the spiritual connection to Judaism. My father refused to belong to a synagogue. Our family never attended services together. My sister was telling others that our father was sexually doing things to her. No one believed her. Yet, when my sister had an older Catholic boyfriend, our father went into one of his rages. He ripped his shirt and said his daughter was dead to him. He sat shivah for her. He ordered my mother and me not to talk to her. When another aunt asked if my father had done anything sexual to me…I lied to my aunt. I was protecting my father. I was confused beyond words. My sister found comfort in Catholicism and became a Catholic at the age of 12. I spent more time with my cousins and was able to go to “shul’ with them. As I shared before, I found comfort in the chanting of Hebrew prayers. I never understood the words. I didn’t get to go to Sunday school or Hebrew school like my cousins. Yet, here I am, at the age of 56, in a continuation of this journey of healing and connected to my Judaism

The research for this project feels as if this has been my life purpose. I have healed in the journey of writing and uncovering the past. The uncovering of my past has returned me to the soul that I was born to be. I reclaimed my maiden name, seen on the title page of this project, and no longer have shame associated with who I am. I am alive to tell the story so others may heal.

Statement of the Problem

Incest does exist in the Jewish family. There are no lines of division by culture, religion or economic means. It is estimated that 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse live in America today. Approximately 1 in every 3-5 women and 1 in every 5- 7 men have been sexually abused by the time they are 18 years of age.[1]Another study found that 4.5% of women report an incestuous experience with fathers or stepfathers before the age of 18. [2] Long term effects of childhood incest include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships. [3]

There is no evidence to indicate that sexual abuse in the Jewish community is any less than or different from what occurs in the general population. As Rabbi Julie Spitzer wrote, “the mezuzah on the doorpost is no charm, warding off the ills of society at large.” From the Talmud to the New York Times, there are stories of sexual abuse and incest in the Jewish community. They aren’t new: They are not caused by external factors. They don’t just happen among those who are somehow “different.” People molest because they are wounded and because we do not stop them.[4]

Up until now there have been very few individuals who are “survivor friendly” in the Jewish community. We need to start opening our minds and our hearts to begin listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse bearing witness. Just like holocaust survivors, who were initially shunned, survivors of childhood abuse need to be allowed to speak in order to heal, to be able to learn to connect with God, to see God as something other then neglectful, abusive and cruel. [5]

I know I am not alone.
[1] Web site
[2] The Secret Trauma, Diana Russell, Basic Books, 1986
[3] Browne & Finkelhor, 1986
[4] Lev, Rachel. Shine the Light, Secual Abuse and healing in the Jewish Community. Pg23
[5] The

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Healing from childhood abuse

As an incest survivor, I am working on my thesis project..creating healing rituals for healing from childhood incest and sexual abuse. I am researching stories, interviews with adult survivors and want to hear how they have survived. What have you done to heal yourself from the trauma of childhood? How are you today?