Thursday, May 26, 2022

Kohelet teaches us that there is “a time to remain silent and a time to speak.”  When Judy Brown was growing up in a Chassidic community in Boro Park, she was taught that certain words were tainted and forbidden to be read or even spoken.  Sexual abuse was not a real phrase; it simply didn’t exist.  There were no such children as abused children. To speak aloud about witnessing her good friend’s molestation by an older brother, would destroy and contaminate the entire tightly knit community, Brown’s life and the reputation of every member of her family. An obedient child, Brown thought what she was told to think by her teachers, her parents and her neighbors. It was better to ignore what was strange and aberrant lest you become like “the crazy lady” in the neighborhood who suddenly disappeared after she went to the police with a similar story of abuse.

On Wednesday evening, July 10, the Libby Kolb Chapter of Emunah sponsored a lecture featuring Ms. Brown, author of the 2010 novel Hush.  Ms. Brown was introduced by Ronnie Faber, Emunah Field Director, who recounted how Emunah’s Beit Elizraki children’s home in Netanya provides a caring and nurturing environment where abused children can develop their full potential to “build a Jewish Future.”

Hush however, a thinly disguised fictional account of sexual abuse in the Chassidic community tells a different story; a story of deviance and the neglect of innocent children by the suppression of the truth.    At the time of its publication, the author used the pseudonym “Eishet Chayil, “to protect herself and her family from the inevitable negative fallout and community response to her expose. It was only after the murder of Leiby Kletzky in 2012 and the realization that everyone recognized who she was despite her pen name, that Judy Brown decided to go public and face the ensuing wrath of the community.  She told a shocked audience that she was subsequently forced to run away from her home amidst the increasing threats of violence.

When she was 20 years old, Judy Brown began writing articles for various publications about the world she knew so well.  However, she did not respond to the many requests to write about the secret problems in her community; such as drunkenness, gambling, rape and suicide.   She was too afraid to include stories about this underworld.  It was only a few year later, when she was seeing a therapist in Israel where she was studying, that she understood that what she had witnessed as a child was actually rape. She then responded to the pleas of those who urged her “not to be a murderer like the rest of them.” and finally found the courage to reveal “some of the cracks in her insular world.” “Hush” was born.

In response to the varied and numerous questions asked by the rapt audience, Ms. Brown further explained how painful and isolating the fallout from her novel has been. A divorced mother of young children, Brown refused to go into detail about her current relationship with her family, acknowledging only that her book has been a “loud scream,” which has divided her and the Chassidic world. Her community could not accept her story which they feared would lead to the destruction of their ideology, their families and hamper future shidduchim.  At the same time, Brown acknowledged to the questioners that her sacrifices have been therapeutic for her and might even prove worthwhile if they manage to effect change. One would wish that Ms. Brown would have also mentioned some of the positive aspects of her estranged community, known also to be a place of values, warmth and chesed.  She did concede that the book may have contained some exaggeration in order to make her point and that in the years since the book’s publication things have slowly begun to change. There is now is a segment of the community that is more open towards listening to abused children and establishing vehicles for them to receive help.   Hopefully, the price Judy Brown has paid for opening a painful discussion will be healing for her and her community.  The screams of the children of the underworld need to be heard.

By Estelle Glass

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