In the past fifty plus years, there has been a lot of individual and unnecessary sorrow within the closed-up and religious communities; frequently, an effect of recurring, age-old patterns of coercion. This also has been the case in the Jewish, sometimes (ultra-)orthodox communities where I come from. I talk about the survival journey of my youth in my new book, called Exodus from the lighthouse. I grew up in an isolated, cold and fundamentalist home. Amongst other things, I had to deal with violence, I had to take care of my mother who was physically and mentally ill, while trying to hold on to my internal compass and all the precious and beautiful aspects of life.
The community – for instance the Jewish Orthodox school the Cheider in Amsterdam and the (spiritual) leaders – did not intervene consistently. I experienced how much can go wrong when people look away and do not act adequately. After I got married, I built up a life outside that community. I am amazed by how successful I was in doing so, especially with such a start in life and everything that still happened in the meantime, but which nobody had any idea of. For example, I carried pepper spray around until I was 28, because according to the latest threats from my half-brother, just before I left home, I ran the risk of honor revenge.
Financially, it was a challenge. Emotionally, I was dealing with the effects of where I came from. Physically I was struggling. As much as my life turned out to be nothing less than magnificent because of the choices I could make, in the end, the traces were indelible because of the choices I was not able to make: I had endometriosis. As a teenager, my mother would not let me go on the pill. The biological childlessness as a result of that could possibly have been prevented, if I would have followed the doctor’s advice in my teenage years. Suddenly, I was overtaken by history, as if being in the middle of a domino game.
Now, I am just one voice. In the documentary One Of Us, other, similar voices are heard from people who have detached themselves from an ultra-orthodox Jewish environment. The danger of a dogmatic web is showcased. In One Of Us, a leader from the community talks to a victim of child abuse. He apologizes, because he will not do anything. God’s will will have to prevail. In the Netherlands, Rabbi Raphael Evers wrote about child abuse recently. Theoretical constructs created from a Jewish law point-of-perspective and partially also common sense, but why is it that offences took place, not just in the distant but also recent past? In short, leaders fail regularly and often miss the mark entirely. This also goes for leaders within the Christian and Muslim communities and the civil entities, such as child protection. Besides, it often stays impossible for supporting organizations to truly enter those closed-up communities and offer help.
I’d like to advocate for a trust committee, consisting of women who come from the communities themselves, focused on reviewing, prevention and healing – if necessary, supported by civil organizations, such as child protection.
There is an immense role for women. They can connect to the male leaders and the families. They can review, assist, mediate, intervene and encourage the humane interest of all those involved within the families. Let the trust committee be recognized by the male leaders within all those communities worldwide, in order for those women to really get a say. Let those female leaders break taboos, which no longer serve a purpose and obstruct humanity. Let them go for radical transparency, instead of keeping the “dirty laundry” inside, silencing whistleblowers, looking away or brushing problems under the carpet. Let them realize that children are owned by humanity as a whole and that we are responsible for each other’s well-being. Let those women present appropriate solutions. Yet at the same time, let them realize that nowadays, people want to think for themselves and that a lot of knowledge is accessible via the internet.
Let it be women who love and know their own community and lifestyle through and through, yet at the same time, who comprehend that no one can force another person in terms of beliefs and fulfillment, not even in a mild manner. Let it be women with empathy, intelligence, thoroughness, respect and mostly inclusivity; women who always put human dignity first. I only offer a solution and am available to help with the implementation. However, after that, I will let it out of my hands. I know enough suitable women for this. Then, I will be able to focus on other matters again.
This opinion piece was originally published via the Dutch newspaper, called Nederlands Dagblad.