Here is the testimony of a young woman about meetings with an esteemed rabbinic personality. Because of her alertness and awareness, she realized that she should not cooperate and stopped the sessions. This is a testimony of "close to", of "almost", of "on the door step", and not one of the most serious cases. We have chosen to present it here to raise awareness that behavior of a religious person of authority, which goes beyond accepted norms in interactions between the sexes, must raise wariness and a red flag so much as to stop cooperation. In particular, we wish to bring to attention the testimony's conclusions.
"I was raised on four important values - the honor of the Torah and its rabbis (rabbis see with the eyes of the Torah), seeing the best in people, not speaking ill of people (Lashon Harah), and modesty. The first three values put me in danger, the last value - modesty was for me the cause of danger but also what saved me.
I was very upset by a difficult national event. In the institution where I studied there was a rabbi who girls use to consult with. When I could not find answers to the questions disturbing me, I turned to the rabbi, whom I had studied with in previous years, and appreciated his wisdom.
At the end of the interesting and even calming conversation, the rabbi began asking me questions about the institution and my studies. At the end of the conversation he told me that the discussion had been important for him, and that it was important that we continue to meet and discuss these issues, and so that he would know how to promote the institution. I liked the offer very much, I was flattered and delighted my opinions were meaningful and could be influential.
After a few more meetings (I do not remember how many) the rabbi asked if I wrote poems. The question excited me greatly. As a child I wrote a lot but at some point I stopped writing and I now suddenly felt that writing was the missing link at this stage of my life. I was thrilled that someone recognized the need, the rabbi saw the storm and encouraged me to write.
I tried to write but felt completely blocked. In random meetings in the corridor and in sessions, the rabbi did not stop asking if I had succeeded writing, and when I finally succeeded and the writing barrier was broken I felt grateful.
(Years later I realized that he asked almost all the students this question to trigger closeness).
Now in the meetings the rabbi asked me to call him by his first name, because we were speaking as equals. Either miraculously or a suppressed gut feeling, I vehemently refused the offer. Later, I suddenly realized that for the first time in my life I was addressing someone in the third person. I noticed that when I refused the offer, an unpleasant spark flashed through the rabbi's eyes, but I was used to silencing intuitions with exercises in seeing the best in people, and in general I was angry at myself for the suspicion.
Something else that seemed to have served as a warning sign for me, although at the time I also tried to see the best in him, was that when someone entered the room by mistake, the usually gentle rabbi would shout at her with unreasonable rudeness. I told myself that no one was perfect, and everyone had to cope with their own shortcomings, and perhaps it was important for him to respect the students who came to consult with him and did not want others to hear what they said.
One time the rabbi suddenly asked me about sexual fantasies. I was very surprised. Completely. My thoughts were not there at all. Even if (God forbid) I wanted to share - I had nothing to answer. The rabbi saw the complete surprise and quickly returned to the general issues.
The question was strange to me, but it was so far removed from the happenings of my life, that I did not even realize the extent of the horror. I repressed it, and again tried to see the best in him (maybe that's good, he's a rabbi, so he cannot be asking for no reason, maybe educators are supposed to talk about these things with students?). Nevertheless, unlike the other meetings, I did not share the content with anyone else - speaking ill of someone, Lashon harah! (I must have realized that this was not normative behavior, and perhaps I felt shame and guilt). Even though I did not answer, and the event had passed as if it never happened, it still makes me feel very uncomfortable, and for years I have been wondering how such a situation was possible (I found out later that this was also something the rabbi asked many students, and sometimes was answered).
The meeting diminished and stopped, and then I stood before a change in my life. My friends, who knew about the expected event, urged me to go and receive a blessing from the rabbi - as is customary in our institution. I came to receive a blessing, the meeting was extremely strage, and I cannot elaborate.
After the "blessing," the rabbi stopped talking to me completely - the meetings had stopped long before, but he stopped answering in the hallway and made a point of turning his head away every time I passed by. I accepted this with a smile. I felt a kind of unclear but forgiven childishness.
I did not even know much this weighed me down. Only seven years later, when my mother-in-law asked me by chance if I had heard that a rabbi from the institution where I had studied was accused of sexual harassment, and without knowing the name of the person, I shouted "YES!" (I am a quiet person) with a sudden and complete understanding of everything that I had suppressed, I realized how much what had happened festered in me and weighed down my life.
During a visit to the institution, I met girls whose relationships with the rabbi were long and known. Their faces were hollow.
My story is a story of 'almost', not one of the very difficult ones. In retrospect, what could have happened (and happened to others), did not happen to me, because of my subconscious defense mechanisms.
When asked why I did not turn to the police, it was clear to me that I had nothing to tell them - 'the rabbi asked me to call him by his first name?' 'I saw an unpleasant spark flash through his eyes?' After all, I myself did not trust these feelings. 'I felt impure?' What is that anyway? The rabbi asked me a question that I still cannot believe came from him?
I felt that from a legal aspect there was no value to these things.
What is their value, then? In other stories of sexual harassment, I hear accusations of the victim who felt dependent on the attacker and wanted to be close to him and therefore she was to blame.
From my experience I feel that the sexual part is only the tip of the iceberg. What really happens is an attempt to make a person dependent, enslaved. The actual exploitation takes place before sexual exploitation. Creating dependency is the offense rather than the justification. From my experience, I saw that this dependency does not occur on its own. It is clear to me (although I cannot prove it legally) that the rabbi acted deliberately to make me feel dependent on him; A dependence that would allow him to control my life and my desires. That is why he took the conversation from the national level to the personal level, that is why it was important for him that I feel that our relationship was not a student-teacher relationship but a close personal relationship, that is why he took a risk and asked which had I answered, I am afraid that mentally I would have to justify his actions further and feel that he is doing me a great favor. The shame and guilt would strengthen the desire to justify even more difficult behaviors.
In terms of my personal life, the story has impacted my life on two levels -
1. A random meeting with the rabbi (at funerals, weddings and public events) who is still a desirable and active personality in our society causes me physical paralysis and long term distress.
2. When rabbis and public figures support the suspects, I feel personally injured. By the grace of G-d and thanks to intuitions that apparently survived and unequivocal modesty I did not fall into the abyss in to which the rabbi tried to pull me. But since there was only a small step between me and that abyss, and when a rabbi stands up for his friend without knowing what really happened, I feel like he is throwing a boulder at me. That he accuses me of what happened, and strengthens the assailants and the exploiters. The enlistment of a well-known and respected rabbi in favor of his friend breaks my spirit far more than hearing a story about another sexual exploitation (and I am not saying, heaven forbid, that a defendant should automatically be blamed).
Apart from these effects on my life, the personal experience has led me to a number of insights:
1. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is no alternative but to set restrictive rules for the work of educators (even for the pure of heart) with youth and to inform the youth about these boundaries; Issues that under no circumstances and without any justification may be discussed by people of authority, intimate issues with teenagers - for these there are consultants and professionals.
2. Emphasis on the need to maintain rules of distancing - conversations in a visible place, and a correct relationship without deviation.
3. Someone asked me why I call that person 'rabbi'. I replied that I still accept the Torah I learned in his lessons, along with the shock of his terrible deeds. But more than that - it is important for me to say this - the rabbi harassed me, the rabbi exploited me, so as to completely uproot the offensive statements I have encountered when I finally told some of my friends about the event - 'It cannot be, a rabbi does not do such things.' Even a rabbi who says words of truth that uplift the soul can do terrible things that we would not want even the most vile and despicable person to do. "