Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Hush Author Unveils

In a rather brave and well-written piece on the Huffington Post, Hush author "Eishes Chayil" has revealed her identity as Judy Brown. (Interestingly, someone outed her on Frum Satire months back though it seems to have been the only prior mention.)

In her piece:
I accidentally learned what the words molestation and rape meant at age 23, after telling a therapist I met about something I had witnessed happening to a friend when we were children. Suddenly I realized I had been talking to strangers all my life. After I started meeting with victims and speaking with therapists, I began to encounter the community's wall of denial. These are things Jews don't do, I was told. It was easy to say it was all a lie or just faulty memories of childhood.

When I first tried to write about abuse in our community, to use the words needed to describe what was happening to so many children, I was firmly told not to.

Some subjects are better left in silence, the rabbis said. Orthodox Jews did not need such words. Those were words for gentiles. We had built walls and had built them high; the outside world could never enter. But as the walls grew higher and wider, we forgot look inside, to see that the most dangerous enemy always grows from within.

The abusers, trusted men wearing traditional garb, had not killed their victims, after all. But they did not need to. Some victims, driven to despair by years of enforced silence and secret shame, killed themselves.

"What will it take for them to listen?" one young man, a victim of horrific abuse, once asked me. "What will it take for them to finally realize what they're doing to their own children?"

It took something unspeakable, something none of us even knew could happen: a murder so brutal, so uncomprehending, we still wake up each morning wondering that life dares go on. What do we teach our children now? How had our walls failed to protect us?

But things haven't come to this. They have always been like this because of that misplaced blind trust. Perhaps now it is time to see it, to crack wide open the secret box of words and give them to our children as weapons, as a promise that they will always know what is happening to them, and be able to describe it so they can ask for help. A world without words is not a safe and warm place; it is a dangerous one, where children become mute victims of torture.

Six months after my book, "Hush," came out, my publisher and I began receiving threats in the mail intended to intimidate us for daring to expose these unspeakable truths about my beloved community. The message was clear: I had violated the rule that said victims must protect the community from their own crimes. Now, I would pay.

For too long we have tiptoed around our flaws with fear and caution, pushing them into the shadows in hopes they will disappear. For too long, victims have been made to be the villains, and abuse was called loshon harah, evil talk. For too long, we have refused to honestly discuss the horrific possibilities, and in doing so allowed our children to fall victim to them. And for too long, I have allowed my own fear to make me part of a wall of silence -- guilty for what I had seen, guilty for what I had written.

I refuse to continue to allow that fear to force me into hiding over a book that should have been written long ago. I no longer want to be known only as Eishes Chayil when my name is Judy Brown. I must find the courage to stand with the victims who carry the burden of our silence for the rest of their lives.

I originally wrote my book under a pseudonym to protect my family and friends from community retribution, but so far we have only hurt ourselves. Maybe now, because of Leiby's tragedy, things will change. Maybe now, we will finally teach our children what we should have taught them years ago: morality has no garb.

Children have always gotten hurt in our world -- sometimes quickly, walking home from school, sometimes slowly, piece by piece, over years of abuse and terror. Perhaps we live in a world that is black and white, perhaps we want to keep it that way, but we must at least know that there is still a whole lot of gray in it, strangers live among friends and that such words, after all, are very complicated to define.

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