MARCH 16, 2007
There was plenty of herring, whitefish salad, pastries and crackers to go around. There was coffee and for those that wanted, wine.
Blessings were said over food and drinks.
Collective "amens" responded.
About 10 men sat on chairs around two tables. They all seemed to be friends. They ranged in age from their 20s to 50s.
There was a D'var Torah given over the week's portion Ki Tissa. It was a chabura or gathering after shul in this Pikesville home.
Many of the men had something in common that made this group unique here. Several told about the sexual or physical abuse they had endured over the years as students at one of the area yeshivas. It wasn't a one-time get-together. Some of them have been friends since childhood. They know one another's stories almost by heart. Some tell their stories, because it feels good to know they weren't the only victims.
On this cool, sunny morning, with men in black hats and women pushing strollers just yards away on the street, a debate broke out.
A businessman with rabbinic ordination had a friendly confrontation with another friend, also a businessman. Both men, happily married with families, had been sexually molested while teens by a now-deceased rabbi of an area yeshiva and synagogue. It should be noted that men as old as their mid-60s have contacted the Baltimore Jewish Times about this man.
"He was a father figure to me," said one man. "How can we talk just about the bad when he also did some good?"
"You are a textbook case," answered his friend––as in "textbook denial."
Their stories were graphic, and might be too uncomfortable for some people reading this publication.
Finally, the question posed to the businessman who called the rabbi a "father figure:" Would he have permitted his own children to be alone with this man? The answer: an unqualified "no."
There were plenty of other discussions. Only the name of the rabbi would change. The stories of molestation, inappropriate touching and intimidating glaring was a commonality.
One man joked that he was given good grades sometimes for classes he never really took as long as he kept his mouth shut about being molested at both the rabbi's home and school. Another said that should the group write a book, it would be called "Touched by a Rabbi."
There was the issue of protectxia, Hebrew and Yiddish for "protection." Their parents, they said, sometimes went to community leaders, but little was done.
And then there was the hitting, a virtual black- and-blue-board jungle of hitting and humiliation.
One man told of being six years old and placed in a classroom trash can by his teacher.
Others spoke of being hit or poked. One man took his hand, put four fingers together like a wedge and showed how his yeshiva teacher would poke and hurt the students.
As lunch time approached, the crowd started to leave, guests rolling up the plastic tablecloths and crumbs swept into the trash can.
There was not much more to say today.
On the way home, the discussion turned to city politics. And when the walkers started splitting off, one person's parting words: "When I was in ninth grade, I was one of the smarter students. But then this happened, and I started on the way down."
Or as one man had said minutes before: "I held this in for 14 years until I was sitting in the car driving with my wife, and I told her. The more I thought about it, the more I understood what happened to me and to others. It's something that I think about now every day of my life."
The men went home to their wives and children.
They'd sing Shabbat songs, give words of Torah, entertain guests and return to shul for Mincha and Ma'ariv. The week would come and go.
They'll be back this Shabbos.