October 4, 2018


10.5.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

Parashat Bereishit

Last Friday night, I spoke about the hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.  I spoke about their effect on survivors of sexual assault – the countless many of us who are experiencing re-traumatization.  Precisely now, when our national conversation focuses on sexual assault and some of us are reliving our worst memories, when some of us are confronted with our complicity in creating those traumas, we can embrace this moment as an opportunity to heal – if we’re willing to heal.

Robyn, a friend of mine, embraced this opportunity for healing by writing an article in The Huffington Post about her experiences in middle school.  First, she became known as a “slut” after she had kissed a classmate.  That reputation led to a series of sexual assaults in school hallways and stairwells all before 8th grade, which then led to attempted rape and statutory rape in high school.  After all, a “slut” is without “any right to withhold consent.”

After Robyn published the article, several former classmates reached out to her, thanked her for her courage, and asked if they’d contributed to what became her defining and gutting life story.  And to many of them, she said yes.  One former classmate wrote on Facebook:

As we spoke, she recounted moments we shared in middle school that left her feeling hurt and emotionally scarred.  She mentioned she believed it was likely out of youthful ignorance, but nonetheless had made a negative impact.  I was devastated to learn that not only had I inflicted lasting pain on another, but that I couldn’t even recollect our interactions taking place.  I believe her though.  It made me realize that this is a big part of the problem with bullying, harassment, and abuse.  Offenders can be entirely unaware of the weight of their actions.  What may seem like light-hearted playful behavior can be perceived differently by others and leave serious damage…. Regardless of what took place and the outcome of this Supreme Court drama, there is great need for improvement in this part of our culture.

Both Robyn and her former classmate want our culture of “boys will be boys” to change, to improve, so that no person is subject to the life-diminishing abuse and violence that Robyn experienced.  This kind of profound cultural change is not only a matter of law and policy.  It is a matter of profound personal healing.  For Robyn, that healing comes by sharing her experience publically and towards positive social change.

She reached out because the first boy who ever called her a “slut” never would, and likely wouldn’t even remember his hurtful words.  She knew, as it says in Bereshit – at the very beginning of the torah – that it is not good for a person to be alone.  Adam needs a partner like unto him, a partner like Eve, to share a lived experience.  Robyn shared her lived experience like many survivors of sexual assault are sharing our lived experiences right now – because we know that our loneliness compounds our suffering.  We were lonely when our friends, the police, or even our own mothers didn’t believe us, and we can be lonely when no one reaches out to say I’m sorry for hurting you.  But now, across Facebook and Twitter, and cell towers, and even a cup of coffee, we know we are not alone.

Healing can come from publishing online, yes, but it also comes more quietly.  Another friend of mine recently told me that she started shaking last week while listening to the Kavanaugh coverage.  She had been raped when she was 14, and hadn’t told anyone – until now, until our national conversation turned to sexual assault, and she is in her early 50s.  Last Friday, she picked up the phone and made an appointment with a trauma therapist.  As viscerally as she has felt this political moment, my friend didn’t recommit to her victim-ness, she chose to instead to heal.  She saw she needed help, even after all of these years, and she’s asked for it.

Because now, in this moment, we can control our own healing by sharing, by not carrying this weighty burden alone – in fact, our own healing is one of the few things that any of us can control.

The outcome of the Kavanaugh hearing will impact our country, yes, but it need not impact our healing if we are willing to heal.  Reach out for professional support, to a sponsor, to your current friends, to your partner, to the people who were there, or if it’s right for you like it was for Robyn, put it on the internet.  You will know who to ask to help you carry the pain, the shakes, the memories, the questions.  It’s not good for a person to be alone.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kerry