The email had arrived that morning from Rivky, a woman who was like a sister to me. In the past few months, though, there had been silence between us.
When I first saw Rivky’s name in my inbox, I felt dread. I knew why she had written and what she wanted to say to me. It had been a year since I’d anonymously published “Hush,” my book about a sex abuse cover-up in Boro Park, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood where I grew up. And it had been just weeks since I had gone public with my real name.
I hadn’t told the friends I’d grown up with about the book I’d published. It was the conversation we could never have. In the world I come from, there are lines you don’t cross, stories you don’t tell, agonies you keep to yourself. And I knew the nuts and bolts of this mindset. After all, I spent so much more of my life in that mind than I ever did in my own. So I already knew what was in the email: a terrible sense of betrayal that would fill every word and line.
I read it three times.
She had not read the book, she said, but knew what it was about. The title was enough. How could I have done such a thing? I had slandered yiden, yiden who were kind and good. Sexual abuse was something that only happened to people with issues — people with a lack of moral guidance, who had secular magazines in their homes.
I had encountered this perverted denial too often in the community — the need to blame the victims, to feel better by invalidating the agony of the most vulnerable. Such things never happened to pious Jews, she explained to me, never to those who followed our rabbis’ rules. One day, she said, I would clearly see the evil I had done, and repent.
I would never speak with Rivky again.
I printed out the email and folded it neatly. I put it in my pocketbook. I was shaken, deeply depressed, but I couldn’t understand why.
“I’ve received death threats because of what I wrote in the book,” I told my therapist that week. “I’ve received far worse than this,” I said, waving the printed email in my hand. “Then why this reaction? I should be relieved that it’s over, done with. No more pretensions.”
“Maybe,” my therapist said. “But still. It’s a loss.”
“It’s a loss I chose,” I countered. “Or I would never have written the book.”
“Still,” he repeated. “It’s an enormous loss.”