My Personal Exodus from Egypt
Those of you who have been following this blog for a long time will remember that I lived for 20 years in a different Jerusalem neighborhood called Nachlaot. For 16 of those years, we loved Nachlaot. We loved our home, we loved the market next door, we loved the huge collection of friends and neighbors we met over the years.
But that all changed when, after 16 years in the neighborhood, we discovered that many of our once trusted (or at least not-suspected) neighbors had been molesting large numbers of neighborhood children. Our last four years in Nachlaot, we did what we could to publicize the case on the internet, in the media, and among Nachlaot parents. We also b”H raised enough money to provide a year of therapy for a lot of the young victims and their parents. But our highly-public efforts meant that for four years we were subjected to regular harassment and threats from the local child molestors (three of whom, b”H, were eventually convicted and are today serving long prison sentences).
The day we finally left Nachlaot 2 Septembers ago was right up there with the day I became a wife and the day I became a mother as one of the all-time happiest days of my life.
I was ecstatic to finally be living in a neighborhood where I felt safe walking the streets, safe raising my children.
And for an entire year after we moved to Kiryat Moshe I didn’t go back Nachlaot. Why go back to that neighborhood where I had suffered so much?
But after a year, I realized there were some things I missed from my old neighborhood. So I started going back, to enjoy the sounds and smells of the market, to visit a friend or two.
But then, on one of my first visits back, I saw him. From a distance. The child molestor who had threatened me and threatened to kidnap my children on multiple occasions before we moved.
The pedophile didn’t do anything. He just stared at me from a distance. But just seeing him brought everything back. The terror I had lived with for those 4 final years.
And after that I couldn’t shake the fear for weeks. I stopped, of course, going to Nachlaot. But I also, for the first time, started avoiding all sorts of public places around the city where I might possibly run into any of the Nachlaot pedophiles. Looking back, I guess I feared that if I saw one of them, it would destroy me, it would pull me back into the trauma of those final 4 years which I had been so earth-shakingly relieved to leave behind.
I knew I needed help, but I wasn’t able to get through to the psychologist who had assisted me several times when we were still living in Nachlaot. So before Rosh Hashana I went to the grave of a tsaddik to pray that Hashem should help me find a good psychologist to work through this, to finally heal.
Two days later, I overheard my husband speaking with someone about his excellent psychologist who specializes in trauma.
And I asked my husband to get the psychologist’s phone number, and I called her. And that was how, from right after Succot until two weeks ago, Yaffa and I started meeting every Tuesday.
There were several stages of our work together. The first stage was learning how to find a safe space for myself, where I could go in my mind if I felt scared. My first safe space was my bedroom. But after a few weeks it turned into my living room, overlooking the large tree by the parking lot behind my house. When I was still living in Nachlaot, and waiting what seemed like an eternity for this house to be ready to move into, every day I would visualize already living in Kiryat Moshe, holding my newborn baby (I was pregnant at the time) overlooking that tree. When I thought of my safe space it reminded me– I’m HERE, I’m safe, I’m not living THERE anymore.
Then we worked on a resource list of things I can do to make myself feel happy. Sitting down and reading a book or magazine, going to the museum, listening to a class from that teacher, talking with that friend. If I did encounter one of the pedophiles, Yaffa explained, I wasn’t helpless. I didn’t have to just feel powerless and terrible. I had resources on this list to help myself feel better.
Then Yaffa taught me to consider the odds of actually meeting one of the Nachlaot pedophiles. If I was downtown, I realized, the chance of meeting one was something like 1 in 1000. At the Central Bus Station, the chance was more like 1 in 10,000. Even at the shuk itself, the chance was a mere 1 in 500. And I realized I could live with those odds. I started going back to those places I had been avoiding, and felt calm instead of panicked, since I knew that the odds of meeting one of the people I didn’t want to meet was so slim. I even started going back to Nachlaot itself for classes, for simchas, for shivas– to pick a few things up in the shuk.
Then Yaffa and I worked on my tendency to catastrophize. So, if you saw one these people, she asked, what exactly would actually happen? What’s the worst case scenario? If I was sitting at a cafe and one of them came in and started yelling at me in front of all the other customers (as happened to me and Josh a few years ago) what would I do? And I thought about it and I realized I would get up and leave. And then I would call Josh. And I would call a friend. And I would do some things on my resource list. And within a few days I would be fine. On a scale of 1 to 10, how awful had this worst case scenario been for me? A 6…Not pleasant, but I’d been through worse, and recovered.
I discovered that I am resilient, and walking around with that feeling of resilience in my gut made me feel brave, made me feel strong.
Right before Rosh Chodesh, I had my final session with Yaffa. I felt so immensely grateful to her for guiding me, like a modern-day Moshe, out of own my personal Egypt.
But looking back, I now realize that regarding my family’s escape from Nachlaot, I left Egypt twice.
The first time was when we left Nachlaot.
And the second time was when I finally went back.