In Jewish context, whenever I hear the term “survivor”, the immediate word-association is “holocaust”. There are different types of holocausts and different sorts of survivors, but from time immemorial there has always been a silent slaughtering of souls cutting across all borders of culture, race, religion and socio-economic conditions. The crime is abuse, the victims are children, and the emotional survivors are few. One in four girls and one in six boys are abused before the age of 18, but a growing nationwide consensus is attempting to move Jewish communities from the darkness of shame and denial into the light of healing.
In an unprecedented attempt to address the problem, the Orthodox Union and a powerful coalition of other organizations declared National Jewish Child Abuse Prevention week. To promote the first of many nationwide workshops, an impressive lineup of speakers gathered under the title, “Protecting our Children against Molesters”. The Chicago seminar, which drew 400+ attendees, was sponsored by the Jewish Board of Advocates (JBAC) and joined by the OU, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the Rabbinical Alliance of America (Iggud HoRabbonim), the Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment (JSafe), the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) and Associated Talmud Torah (ATT) of Chicago.
The purpose of this first seminar was:
- Increase awareness of the incidents of molestation and their impact on individuals/community
- Facilitate recognition and reporting knowledge of such incidents
- Hear first hand survivor accounts and what communities/parents need to do to support victims of abuse
Kimberly Steward, a native of Illinois, attended the seminar as a resource person. For years, Kim has helped abuse victims heal and thrive beyond their experiences. She has worked as a youth volunteer and has welcomed many broken and perplexed victims into her heart, home and family to act as a mentor and role model.
Throughout her life, Kim has wanted to help more than one or two people at a time, but was unable to do so until the publication of her book, “The Doghouse Angel”. Now Kim travels the country offering training resources for parents, educators, community leaders, and children. She also offers guidance and hope to empower victims so they can rise above their past, step into the present, and experience a future where they are in control of their lives.
Kim is no longer a victim. Kim is a survivor, and this is her outlook:
As a victim of child abuse, I was afraid to confront my childhood traumas. However, because I had not processed the traumatic experiences I remained a victim. I found it difficult to confront the past, in part because I wasn’t sure I had the strength and also because I didn’t know where to begin.
Who we are and who we become is greatly influenced by how we are nurtured and how that nurturing embraces the nature within. Individuals who are damaged as children have a more difficult time processing what is right because the very essence of individual character, their spirits, are broken by unrighteous or abusive treatment. Often it is the abused individual him/herself continuing the self-debasing process. For when one’s ego is destroyed, it is very difficult to reclaim because the foundation for individual validation, a good self-image, is not established as a resource.
If the ideologies of ones controlling force are abusive, survival requires accommodation, no matter how heinous the command. Individual growth remains elusive, and one exists in a survival mode for whatever length of time the condition lasts. This conformity is anti-self.
The bump for the soul comes when one’s good nature struggles against the injustice of life. Where the injustice exists for too long, the realization of self may have an extended journey or, in some cases, be so lost in the anti-self messages, that it remains impossible to self actuate. The comfort of sameness serves to keep even a severely abused child from advancing; also due to fear. There is a false sense of comfort in remaining focused on the helplessness or hopelessness we feel, because of its familiarity.
The exchange we make for remaining victims is our sense of peace and, in some cases, sanity. Not becoming who we are meant to be is to live a lie. Whatever comfort results from a lie is short lived. No matter how rich life becomes, it is never fulfilling for long. To be fulfilled, we must reclaim that which was forfeited; our identity or ego.
The important step is to choose to survive by changing the cycle, not enduring and perpetuating it. The goal must be to fight the inner messages that tell us we must hurt to keep from being hurt, and to choose to extend the kindness and compassion we desired, not what we have experienced.
I believe we are each born with a multi-faceted soul, with each facet representing a life experience. Our brilliance is dependent on the love we receive as we mature. Childhood experiences influence the definition we give to who we are, and are the foundations on which our souls are built. The way knowledge is processed determines the individual choice to be helpful or hurtful to others…we choose to be good seeds or bad seeds. I also believe that we are cloaked in a spiritual energy, which impacts the soul by forging positive energy when the right choice is made, and negative energy when the incorrect choice is made.
History and memory serve to teach me that I have only been forsaken (without positive energy/influence) when I have forsaken myself (chosen to relinquish or deny the positive strength within). Recognition of this power/energy, becomes far more difficult if one is bullied into certain behaviors or reactions that are contrary to one’s nature. Each time an event occurs which alters our spiritual substance, we must forever acknowledge that a rebirth of who/what we want to be must also occur. Thus, we are born again and again. If we pay attention to our internal messages, we will say no to perpetuating abuse and yes to becoming healers; individuals who strive to act justly and not play into the abusive nature cultivated by unrighteous beings who have temporarily been in control.
Focusing on abuse causes fear, paranoia, sadness, anger, loss of trust, loss of faith and, often, more abuse to others and one’s self. Individuals who remain seated in past abuses are those who perpetuate the cycle of abuse or drown in the negative emotional quicksand. They are unable to reach for the rope (ego), grasp it and begin the difficult journey from the ugliness of the past, to spiritual cleansing and rejuvenation of the body, mind and soul.
It is the spiritual strength we draw on that determines the path chosen for rebirth. It is not easy to do the right thing, when one has existed in an environment that has nurtured wrong thinking. The struggle against fear is often more than can be undertaken and remain within pre-established, erroneous personal safety zones. Most individuals, therefore, opt to do what seems the safest path and remain within those parameters…existing in an atmosphere of despair.
Abuse is similar to an addiction. Once programmed, the mind is very difficult to reprogram. Patterns set by abuse are hard to reform. Yet, if reformation is the goal, the abused individual must rise each day with the conviction that s/he has been incorrectly programmed and that s/he must be willing to work to correct the incorrect thinking patterns. Fear is the obstacle. It anesthetizes feeling. As the anti-self messages are eliminated, the anesthesia wears off and the process of self-actuation is begun.
I am convinced that the only purpose of pain is knowledge; the knowledge to help others whose souls have been imprisoned or destroyed by abuse. The answers lie within. If we act on our spiritual instincts; not our conditioning, the majority of our choices and actions will be just.
-“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” – Vaclav Havel
For more information on Kimberly Steward’s training programs (for both adults and children) or resources, please visit her Stewards of Children website at:
For more information on Jewish organizations and resources to prevent child abuse in our communities, please visit the Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment (JSafe) website at:
To read the Rabbinical Council of America’s (RCA) resolution regarding the report of child abuse to civil authorities, please visit Condemning and Combating Child Abuse at:
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.