On Jewish Trauma and Its Relation to Drug Abuse and Suicide

Let’s talk about talking. Specifically trauma. What is the elephant in the room in the Jewish community?

Basically the fact that all the social problems of the secular world, also exist in the frum world.

The difference between the two is that the frum world still cannot come to terms with this. And so all people are divided up into two imaginary categories: “Trouble” and “a good girl” (or boy).

There is no need to prove this to anyone who is honest. If you’re not being honest no amount of details will matter.

Finally I got fed up the other day having a conversation about faith that felt very scripted and stilted.

Unable to hold it back, even though it felt fruitless, I said something like: “I will never forgive the rabbis for the way they are failing to speak up about child sexual abuse. It is a complete DISGRACE!”

Shockingly, my friend agreed!

My friend then went on to say: “You talk about this stuff all the time, and honestly it makes me very uncomfortable. I would rather not think about it.”

That surprised me. I was thinking something at the words, but decided to keep my mouth shut.

My friend went on to say, “I remember when the boys used to chase me in shul. I was afraid of them.”

I kept on keeping my mouth shut.

“They had a lady there. But she didn’t do anything.”

Finally I asked the obvious question.

The answer:

“No, nobody touched me. I ran away from them.”

This left my mind troubled. Because the obvious extension of that answer is as follows:

  • If they had caught her
  • And they had touched her
  • And she would have gone to somebody about it
  • Nothing would have happened to the boys
  • She would have been “marked”
  • No matter what her parents said or to whom they said it, it wouldn’t have mattered except to hurt her reputation and victimize her twice
  • She might have had to leave town with her parents or go to seminary in Israel

So she was fortunate:
—both that “nothing happened” (although something did happen – she realized that she was a potential victim with much to lose, and repressed this)
—and that she did not have to suffer the excruciating shame and double-victimization that religious victims experience.

The astounding thing is that literally everyone in the frum community either experienced or is close to someone who experienced sexual abuse, yet the community acts to silence and sever the trauma.

Individually, people fight like cat and dog to protect their loved ones. But socially, the topic of trauma is still not something you cover in social situations except to say that someone “wrote a very nice book.”

We have a social sickness among us. It is caused by a few, I am confident of that, statistically and numerically. But the number of their victims is far greater than anyone knows, because pedophiles tend to have many many victims, and as mentioned there is still a significant stigma around reporting and discussing it.

The so called “shidduch system” and the “yeshiva world” are supposed to be the antidote to secular problems. But they do not work for most people, because they are extreme. What therefore happens is that we have a subculture of often-traumatized Jewish young adults who can’t live up to the ideal and can’t keep up with materialism, either.

These are the kids who are needlessly at risk for drug abuse and suicide.

So let’s make it okay to talk about trauma. But let’s not force people into conversations that are mentally painful, either.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.