When Iron Dome Can’t Protect Us From Our Enemies

Author’s note-7/30/2014: I am no longer proud of the fact that I wrote this. I apologize for it, and recommit to never writing like this again. I have written an apology for it on this blog. Please see it here.

It’s been interesting following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalate over the past few weeks. It feels different this time. I think the world is taking notice of that. The completely unprovoked kidnappings and murders of those three boys, the non-stop rocket barrages, the media circus constructing its three rings, and the arguments for both sides: Israel’s right to defend itself vs. the disproportionate amount of casualties experienced by the Palestinians. Of course, if Hamas had its way, there would either be no disproportion, or the disproportion would be in their favor. Thank God for Iron Dome, a short range missile defense system designed to intercept and destroy rockets before they reach their destinations. It’s an impressive bit of technology, with close to 90% accuracy. Since the beginning of the most recent conflict, only one person has died as a direct result of rocket attacks in Israel. Iron Dome, with God’s help, is keeping our brothers and sisters safe.

As the conflict drags on and the argument continues to rage, I’ve noticed certain similarities in the arguments between the pro-Israelis and the pro-Palestinians and the arguments I have with people who are part of the cover-up culture concerning sexual abuse (whether out of malice or out of ignorance).

What I find most interesting, is that many of the people, specifically the more right wing communities, which are typically the most pro-Israel and its right to defend itself,  no matter the cost in collateral damage, are the same people who condemn victims and their relatives for coming forward to the authorities as mosrim (informants) because of the slightest chance that the accusations may be false, and because of the devastating effect the indictment, trial, and incarceration of an abuser with a wife and children may cause to his family. Never mind the fact that the likelihood of an allegation being false is miniscule, and the number of reported rapes is only 40%. Never mind the fact that of the 40% reported, only 10% are arrested, and only 3% will actually sit in a prison. So careful are these people with the lives and reputations of alleged abusers and the potential damage to their families, that they would force the victim into silence, further revictimizing him and endangering the community. And yet they have no problem with the amount of collateral damage Israel inflicts while fighting Hamas in Gaza. I’m not taking a position on Israel’s acceptable threshold for collateral damage, but the hypocrisy is clear.

I can hear you rolling your eyes, accusing me of building straw-men in favor of an argument for a cause many feel is overblown and exaggerated, but just spend an hour or two listening to Curtis and Kuby, or Geraldo Rivera in the morning, and you’ll hear tens of people, from every Jewish community in New York and New Jersey, calling in and unanimously supporting the bombing of and military incursions into Gaza—many of those communities have covered up and continue to cover up abuse.

Fewer than 50 Israelis have been killed in the recent conflict. According to Al-Jazeera, approximately 800 Palestinians have been killed. Not many frum (right-wing- religious) Jews would disagree with Israel’s tactics in Gaza. Hamodia, a frum newspaper which refuses to publish any stories about sexual abuse in the community because its editor is protecting her readers’ “right not to know,” has published several editorials justifying Israel’s tactics and collateral damage. The same with Yated, another frum paper that will never print a single word about sexual abuse. Fewer than 50 Israelis have been killed. Close to 800 Palestinians. Apparently that price is acceptable. 800 Palestinians for 50 Israelis.

1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused in their lifetimes. According to RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network), sexual abuse victims are 4 times more likely to kill themselves, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol. Of course the frum world likes to tell itself that the numbers are way lower in its communities, a theory which can never be refuted because people are too scared of the consequences to ever answer a survey on the subject. They’re scared of losing shidduchim (prospective marriage partners) for themselves or their families, of being thrown out of or denied admission to schools, and being shunned in their synagogues. The consequences have been made very clear, and the stakes have been set very high; reporting, except under very specific, limited, and completely arbitrary circumstances, is unacceptable, and will result in your life being made a living hell within the community.

I’ve worked with sexual abuse victims, victims whose abusers were never reported because of pressure, either implied or direct, from their community to stay silent. I’ve seen the effect silence has on victims. I’ve seen kids turn to drugs and the streets, seen them kill themselves, seen them throw their lives away because they’ve been so devastated by monsters who are elevated and respected while they’ve been discarded by their community. Thousands of our children die every year, and even more leave their religion behind, and hundreds of abusers are allowed to walk free, because of the remote possibility of 2% collateral damage. And yet, somehow, an 800 to 50 ratio of dead Israelis to dead Palestinians is ok.

My aim is not to take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not qualified to make the decision on how much collateral damage is acceptable to protect a country’s citizens. I’m not a learned man, nor am I the leader of a nation. I prefer to leave that determination to my betters, to people more experienced. My aim is to provide perspective, and ask for consistency in our fights against our enemies. I am not minimizing the loss of Israeli lives and the tragedy each loss is, not only to the families of the victims, but to the nation as a whole. That is not my goal. I am simply imploring the people in a position to affect change, the people who are faced, every day, with life and death decisions, the people who are aware of abuse and have thus far chosen not to report it, to please value the lives of your children, the lives of your loved ones, the lives of your brothers and sisters who are suffering and dying because of sexual abuse, as much as you value the lives of your brothers and sisters who are suffering and dying because of Hamas.

Israel, thank God, has Iron Dome, which protects it from 90% of Hamas’ rocket attacks. Please help be the Iron Dome for our children. God willing, Israel will see peace soon and never know war again, and never again will a child know the pain of sexual abuse.

 

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The Monster on My Bed

Theres a certain degree of scrutiny to which you open yourself as a writer, a certain understood and assumed lack of privacy which you invite into your life when you make so much of yourself public. There’s always a reason and everyone’s is different. For some it’s fame. For some, money. For others it’s a cause, a catharsis, or a little bit of both. Every writer has their reasons for what they publish and even better reasons for what they don’t. Certain things are private; certain secrets, struggles or hardships or beliefs which, for one reason or another, they feel will do more harm than good to either them or people that matter to them. We keep these secrets because the potential benefits don’t outweigh the potential fallout. Sometimes, however, there’s a sort of grey area where the cost-benefit analysis isn’t quite as clear cut as we’d like, but we write it anyway, over the cries of protest from our better judgment.

I don’t always make the best company. I make people uncomfortable sometimes. My friends reading this are probably smiling and rolling their eyes because they know I’m a fan of understatement. I’m either cracking an inappropriate joke, seeing how much I can get away with saying, or broaching a subject that people would rather avoid. I discuss abuse a lot. Mostly the abuse of others, open and public cases, how the public responds, proper awareness, debunking abuse myths—things that rank up there with politics and religion on the list of topics one should avoid as dinner conversation. Sometimes I talk about what happened to me in public, but I try not to because it makes me more vulnerable than I’d like to be. You can’t control the opinions that fly at you in public the way you can on a blog.

Even when I do discuss what happened to me, and even when it’s on my blog, I try not to talk about the effects abuse had on me; I prefer to let my readers draw their own conclusions. I have to live in the real world, a real world where people know me, associate me with what I write on my blog, a real world where what I say on this blog can affect my chances of landing a client, or, more importantly, someone with whom I can hope to share my life.

Sex worries me. I know that as a man I’m supposed to—expected to—want sex, crave sex, desire sex more than anything else—that it is supposed to be the center of my existence and the focal point of all my goals, but it’s not. I talk about it plenty; I joke about it plenty; I think about it plenty, but sex, actual sex with another person, as in not hypothetically, but actually contemplating having sex with someone worries me. Worries is perhaps the wrong word to use. Worried is the word people use when their erections don’t stand up quite as proud and tall as they’d like them to, or when they’re worried they’re lacking in the experience department. Lack of experience is the least of my worries. Scared, perhaps. No, scared sounds a little wimpy, like I’m worried I won’t be able to please my girlfriend. What’s the word…terrified. That’s the word—terrified.

Sex seems nice on paper, sometimes on the screen (God, I hope my rav isn’t reading this), depending on what I’m watching. My friends all do it, enjoy it, rave about it, tell me it’s nice, feels good, bonds them and their significant other in ways I’ll never understand unless I have sex, and while I can understand the appeal, feel the physical drive, want, on a base level, to have sex with someone, either significant or just for the sake of it, I can’t bring myself to actually, consciously, want to have sex.

I suppose it’s lucky that I subscribe to a religion that demands celibacy of me until marriage. It means that whichever girls I spend my time with will not only never pressure me to have sex, they’d be horrified if I asked for it. There was a time in my life when religion meant nothing to me, when I’d just as soon have broken my obligation to maintain chastity until marriage, but I never did. I never even tried. The thought never crossed my mind. Religion came in handy, in that sense, even when I didn’t believe in it; it was an excuse I could fall back on for being a 19 year old virgin. I’m 22 now and still a virgin, and while I take my liberties here and there, the one thing I’m happy to keep, the one thing I’m glad to be obligated to keep, is my obligation to stay a virgin until I’m married.

Everything I know I learned by negative example. I know how to treat people by having been abused. I know I would never want anyone else to experience what I did, certainly not by my hand. I learned how to have a relationship by seeing so many bad ones. I learned how to educate myself by seeing the cost of ignorance. The problem with learning by negative example is that there’s a steep learning curve when you try to infer positive from negative and apply it practically. Everything I know about sex I learned by negative example.

Age four, I watched my mother have sex with a man I barely knew from the foot of the bed they were having it on. Age 10 I had to beg my mother to come home and take care of me when she ran off and shacked up with some man she hardly knew for a few days, and told me it was because she wanted to have sex with him. Age 16, I heard my mother tell me that she wished I was dead because my not existing would benefit her sex life. There’s plenty in between that I’m not ready to talk about.

And that’s what I know about sex firsthand: I know that sex hurts, that it tears families apart, that it causes irrevocable damage—that I still suffer because of it. I know that every time I so much as think of actually having sex with someone I experience physical anxiety. I can’t count the number of times I’ve considered finding someone with zero interest in sex and just settling down with that person, resigning myself to a life which, while devoid of what I’m told is something wonderful and pleasurable, would also, thankfully, be less one more thing that could hurt me or anyone I love. I’d be secure in the knowledge that I could never be hurt, nor could I ever hurt someone in the ways I and so many of my friends have been hurt.

That doesn’t make me happy, though. I know that my experiences aren’t the only truth out there. I know that abuse, and pain, and suffering are not all the world, that relationships, that sex has to offer. I know that there are people, many if not most people, who live happily, have happy relationships, happy sexual relationships, happy sexual relationships which in no way involve anyone getting hurt. I just don’t even know what that looks like, and I am absolutely terrified of letting myself find out whether or not I can have that. Maybe I can; but what if I can’t? What if I hurt someone the way I’ve been hurt? I know I don’t want to, but does everyone who hurts someone else want to? What gives me the right to take that risk?

I faced something similar when I stopped being shomer negiah. I was scared of touching someone else, especially girls I dated. I was scared I’d do something wrong. I learned a lot from not being shomer negiah (shomer negiah is the Jewish law prohibiting men and women who are not either married or immediately related to each other from touching). I learned boundaries, what I like and what I don’t— I know I like cuddling, I know I like holding hands, walking down the street hands around each other’s shoulders or waists, and I imagine I’ll enjoy kissing and touching. I learned when to initiate and when to back off. But I don’t feel that’s enough for me to let myself consider sex with someone else. It seems like there’s so much more at stake—so much more potential for pain. I know one day I’ll have no choice, but…

Help?

 

 

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