Friday, July 14, 2017

I did not talk about my molestations. I did not even think of myself as molested the way other people were molested. I had not yet codified those experiences as stories. They lived in the wordless darkness of my childhood mind, mired in confusion and shame."

How to Digest Sludge

After leaving the Ultra-Orthodox community she grew up in, Leah Vincent finds a way to break free of years of abuse and trauma she endured as a child. The secret lies somewhere between science and religion.

"I went to therapy. While it was a relief to talk about my suffering, a painful distance remained between adult speech and childhood trauma. Self-harm worked better. From the ages of seventeen to twenty-two, I cut my arm and leg, tearing the inviolable and poking at my tender innards. I see now that this was a symbolic reenactment of Mendy’s and Kaila’s violations but I could not see that then. I only knew that cutting provoked the response in myself that I wished I had once received from my own mother: a rush of pity for the gashed child I was, a dose of care for the wound.

Eventually, I stopped cutting. Self-harm only managed the sludge’s spread, it never actually transmuted the original material. And it scared people. Instead, I play-acted my experiences of rape with men that I loved in an attempt to grapple with some of what had been done to me. I found pleasure in safely enacting my powerlessness, but no healing. Next I turned to words, building my own language to work through later layers of sludge left by the violence I encountered after I left ultra-Orthodoxy. I wrote a memoir. I was brutally honest about the stories I did tell, but I did not talk about my molestations. I did not even think of myself as molested the way other people were molested. I had not yet codified those experiences as stories. They lived in the wordless darkness of my childhood mind, mired in confusion and shame."



Anonymous said...

I feel sadness and pity for children who are trapped in the cult of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. One wonders if the high rate of child sexual abuse compared to non-ultra-Orthodox Jews is due to the the lack of socialization of children of both genders. Of course, even if this is true no changes to their cultural norms will be made. Protection of these cultural norms is more important than protecting children.

How can these people live with themselves? How can they atone for their sins during Yom Kippur?

Anonymous said...

I was a camper at Agudah in the summers of (best recollection) ’67, ’68 and ’69. I remember Rabbi Borchart bellowing on the dining room PA system unconvincingly, “There will be no Color War this year,” and I remember the teams from one summer as being Ahavah vs. Yirah, and another as Zekainim vs. Naarim. At the end of that Color War we learned a song composed specially for the occasion, “Zekainim Im Naarim Yihallilu Es Shem Hashem.”

During one of those summers my bunk was located in the multi-story building, and the picnic tables where our daily learning sessions took place were not far away. One morning I left my group to use the bathroom near my bunk, and an older guy (a camper, I think from another bunk) appeared out of nowhere and pulled me into his room. He pinned me down on a bottom-level bed and started forcibly kissing me. He touched me through my clothes, which was both painful and ticklish. I was obviously too young to understand the nature of what was happening. I remember feeling that the kissing was disgusting, having no idea as to why a man would kiss another man. I was physically incapable of freeing myself and was terrified. And then he just stopped and got up. He told me leave and not to tell anyone about this or he would kill me. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and just returned to my group, shell-shocked. I quickly put the matter out of my mind, somehow reassuring myself that it was a strange, inexplicable occurrence. A few days or weeks later it happened again, the exact same way, only this time rougher and more violent. And again, I was cautioned to talk to no one. After that second time I do recall telling someone, I don’t remember who. I think he was from that guy’s bunk. I remember him laughing knowingly and saying I was lucky he stopped. He told me the guy did this all the time. From that point forward I was mindful to never go back to my building when it was unoccupied. I told nobody else about any of this, certainly not my counselor. I don’t think I knew how or that I would be believed. And I was scared. And amid all the camp activities it was soon forgotten.

I am not from New York and am not hooked into local news. It was only about two years ago when I was reading for the first time about the charges against Yiddi Kolko, that I recognized his name from my summers at Agudah. I don’t remember his position, but I remember he was a “macher.” I remember a song about him and a guy named Zorch, the lyrics being “Zorch and Yiddi, what a pity...”

And then, like a bolt of lightning, all the memories described above came flooding back. Those events were completely out of my consciousness all these years as though they never happened. And now the recollections were crystal clear. I was stunned; this whole concept of suppressed memories was actually real – because it indeed happened to me. I was raped.

Is any of this responsible for F’ing up my life? I don’t really know, but I can tell you that I just turned 60, and my encounters that summer were the first and last time I was ever intimate with anyone.