'Ub-u-sive'

Spelling Out Abuse After Nechemya Weberman's Conviction

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published December 20, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
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Guilty on all 59 counts: guilty, guilty, guilty.

On Monday, December 10, a jury of 12 found Nechemya Weberman enormously guilty. The jurors convicted him of sexually abusing an underage girl entrusted to his care. They declared the respected member of the ultra-Orthodox community to be a criminal and a fraud, and thousands of survivors, advocates and victims, many of whom still live in silence, breathed a sigh of relief as one.

Once, an ultra-Orthodox man could not be found guilty of sexual abuse. He could not be charged with a word that did not exist.

I was 9 years old when I first encountered the word “abuse.” I was at my friend’s house. I found a book on a desk near her room, and ran to the staircase to read it. I don’t remember the title, or what the book was about, only that across its white cover was a picture of a gun, and on the first page, in the subtitle, was an adjective I’d never seen.

I read it, slowly: “Ub-u-sive…”

My friend’s mother came up the stairs just then, and when she saw me holding the book, she gasped. I wanted to ask her what ub-u-sive meant, but she grabbed the book right out of my hands and scolded me. She warned me never to take books without permission. Clasping the book firmly in her hand, she closed the door of her room behind her, and the book disappeared, hidden away, I suppose, in that mysterious, forbidden place where all books go that are not meant to be read.

It remains a vivid memory in my mind, the first of many similar episodes with books, magazines or pictures. Every incident reinforced the dominant ideology of the ultra-Orthodox world: More important than what you are allowed to know is what you are not allowed to know.

In the ultra-Orthodox world, words are important. Words are powerful; they give life to an image, reality to an idea. If you use only pure words, your mind cannot be tainted; bad words will leave a stain, marking you as less-than-good.

Abuse was not a word. If there was no such word, than there were no such children. And truly, for decades, there were none. They did not dare to exist.


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