Inna Serebro-Litvak
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Silent memories: When sexual violence is not condemned

While my own experience was horrifying, it was nothing compared to what Israeli girls and women had to endure from Hamas

Memory is one of the greatest gifts we have, unless it is a memory we want to erase.

How clearly I remember that day. I am 23. I sit in the courtroom in Tel Aviv. I sit out of the way because I don’t want to see him. It is too painful and scary. I think that if I see him, I will have to relive that night, the night when he assaulted me.

I hope I don’t have to testify. I know there is another girl in the courtroom. We’ve never met, but we share a similar story.

When she went to the police, they didn’t have enough evidence. When I filed a report, he was immediately arrested because of the previous report on file.

Luckily, neither of us had to testify. He pleaded guilty and received a sentence of two years in prison. I thought it was not long enough, but I did not want to have to think of it again.

As I always do, I store these memories far, far away in the back of my mind. I moved on from that trauma and never let the past tarnish my life.

However, these memories resurfaced when the first reports of sexual violence occurring on October 7 began to circulate.

I did not want to read the articles that described gruesome details, let alone watch the videos from the body cameras that the Hamas terrorists wore to record their actions on Telegram.

While my own experience of being locked up overnight and threatened with a knife was horrifying, it was nothing compared to what Israeli girls and women had to endure from Hamas.

The first reports quickly sent a shock wave throughout Israel and the Jewish community in Diaspora. It took a longer time though, until such reports were made public by the mainstream media in the US.

And immediately there were denials. It was the same reaction as occurred in response to the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. But the denials only made it worse as the world had to face the reality that human beings are capable of such brutality.

These brutalities were all part of the Hamas plan. The actions not only terrorized the victims of the attack themselves, but also brought terror to all of us — Jews and non-Jews alike. It was clear that Hamas was sending a message of fear.

The use of sex to dominate and create deep fright is not new. According to the teachings of the Midrash, the Pharaoh issued a decree to stop the growth of Jewish families by ending sexual relationships between spouses. But the brave Jewish women went out into the fields where their husbands worked and encouraged them to lay together so that they would become pregnant and bear Jewish children. No matter what the Pharaoh declared.

But it is impossible to fathom how the actions against women and girls by Hamas can be ignored. It is no surprise that after the October 7 information about mass rape taking place was made public, so many women reported they could not bring themselves to have sex. Even without actually seeing the images, the mind subconsciously paints a picture of various scenarios as described by the witnesses and medical personnel.

Creating a world filled with this overwhelming terror was exactly what Hamas wanted to achieve. The physical trauma they inflicted on each victim became a mental trauma for thousands (or more) of women and men alike.

Throughout history, rape has been used as a weapon of war, as a means to terrorize entire civilian populations and demoralize the troops. But the extreme sadistic acts committed by Hamas were unprecedented and the memory of them will last for decades, if not longer.

From my personal experience I learned that in order to heal from a traumatic situation others need to speak up and acknowledge what happened. Family and friends need to legitimize the trauma and offer the victim their whole-hearted reassurance that the action is NOT their fault. They are the victim. Rather it is the fault of the person or people who committed the crime. Of course the devastating memories will always remain, but the pain will eventually lessen with the support, sympathy and empathy of others.

Unfortunately, in the case of October 7, there is still no worldwide condemnation of the mass rape and extreme sexual violence. This is damaging for all and only serves to exacerbate the trauma for the survivors and all human beings – whether Jews or Israelis or not.

Memories can be both individual/personal and collective. The memories of October 7 will be both of our generation and those yet to come. This is because we are all witnesses and we are all victims – directly and indirectly – to what happened. As witnesses and victims, our responsibility is to testify. It is our responsibility to continue to demand- loud and clear – that Hamas’s actions be condemned by the whole world, let alone the United Nations.

As much as we want to push all bad memories to the back of our minds, we cannot afford to do that today. Actually, if we try to forget, it will do a disservice to future generations if we do. Instead, we need to keep the memories fresh as a reminder of what happened. Only then can we, as a society, prevent such things from happening again.

Hopefully, the healing will come eventually but we need to have all the world – from each individual to all government officials, politicians and celebrities – say that they acknowledge and condemn sexual violence that took place against Israeli women and girls on October 7 and beyond – for all time.

About the Author
Rabbi Cantor Inna Serebro-Litvak was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. She made aliyah to Israel with her entire family. There, she pursued her undergraduate studies at the Music Academy of Tel Aviv University. After graduating, she move to the United States and enrolled at JTS Miller Cantorial School. Rabbi Inna was the first woman from the Former Soviet Union to graduate from JTS. Rabbi Inna served as the cantor at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, NJ and Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, NJ. While serving as the cantor at Temple Beth Am, she enrolled and completed her Rabbinic Ordination and Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies at AJR. Rabbi Inna is currently serving as the senior rabbi at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ She is married to Anatoly Litvak, and has two daughters Emily and Abigail. In her free time, Rabbi Inna enjoys hiking, practicing yoga, going to theaters, listening to audiobooks and learning French.
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