Every year, the stories of sexual misconduct find their way to the media spotlight: Josh Duggar molesting girls as a teenager including his sisters. D.C. Rabbi Barry Fruendel, caught videotaping over 152 Jewish women as they entered the mikvah, ritual bath, naked, sentenced last week to six and a half years in prison for voyeurism.
Unfortunately, neither Josh Duggar nor Rabbi Fruendal’s story is new or original. Older siblings aren’t immune to sexual misconduct. Religious leaders certainly aren’t immune to sexual misconduct. The only part that makes it unique is that it is public. Many times, as with many cases of abuse, the survivor keeps silent. The reasons are varied, but usually women keep quiet out of fear of being ostracized by their community or fear of retribution, or worse, they blame themselves for the abuse of power.
I’ve walked around with a scarlet letter for two years.
My already dysfunctional marriage went up in flames when I got caught having an affair with a rabbi, thirteen years my senior. Like me, he was married with two kids. As a result of the affair, I lost everything. Yes, I shouldn’t have cheated. I should have been braver.
I should have found another way to end my marriage.
However, this man felt like the answer to my misery: like an opening into the piece of the Jewish world I’d given up when I married my non-Jewish husband. We knew the same people. We shared the same belief system. He impressed me with his power and his connections. He knew my marriage was falling apart. He knew I was unhappy. He told me he followed my writing. He made me feel good and wanted. At first, I said no to his advances, but his wanting me felt so good, and I was so hungry. We lived in different states, but he was going to a rabbinical conference close to me, so we decided to meet. It was the start of an affair that soon became twisted and dark. He’d call me from strip clubs, and text me as he walked onto the pulpit for Friday night services. We met again while he attended another conference. He took me to dinner and drinks all on his synagogue’s dime. Soon, he grew darker.
He stopped calling me by name: I was now bitch, slut, mistress.
And then one day, he sent me pictures of his wife without her knowledge. There are no words for that type of violation. I should have stopped then. I should have stopped for his own marriage, but most of all, I should have stopped for her. When I tried to speak up, he reminded me of his importance in the Jewish community. I was scared. I was scared to lose my own friends and ruin his life. And then, my husband found our texts, and threw me out. And then the rabbi turned his back. I lost everything bit by bit. It ate at me. His world stayed the same and mine was destroyed. His wife found out, and she didn’t leave. Eventually, I went to the head of the ethics committee of the movement. He took my story and was kind, but nothing happened. I had to be the one to decide if they would start an investigation. The decision plagued me. I had to reach out to a therapist.
And then I learned that I wasn’t the only one. And I learned from other people that he wasn’t the powerful man he pretended to be. He needed to be stopped, and I had to be brave.
More than anything, I felt obligated to stop him from hurting other women.
In the end, he refused to be investigated. In the end, he was kicked out of the movement. In the end, his wife moved him across the country. And in the end, he remained a rabbi. None of the other rabbis know the details. No one can help me. Worst of all, he is still a danger. He is still a predator. He still has access, and no one in his new world knows.
We forget that predators who take advantage live among us. Whether they live inside our own homes, or stand on high at their pulpit. They ruin our lives and many times get to move on with theirs. Even when they get a slap on the hand; even when they get kicked out of their movement. Even when they get 6 years; if they hurt 1 woman or 152.
They get to move across the country, start a new life, and are presented a plateful of new women. Women who have no idea. Congregations that have no idea. Even when you stare us down with gag orders and secret meeting or trials. These men still find our weakness.
The sisters that spoke up about Josh Duggar are brave. The women who spoke out against Rabbi Freundel are brave. I wish the rest of us ruined by certain rabbis were strong enough to do the same.