David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Soul Travel

We recite in the Hagadah, “L’Shana Habah Bnei Chorin” – next year we should be free.

We read this passage at the beginning of the seder, a reminder of our slavery in Egypt, the yearning to be free to serve G-d in the time of the Messiah.

The freedom we yearn for is both physical and spiritual. We experienced a duality of oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, the ruthless physical labor for 210 years as well as the intent to prevent us from believing in and serving G-d.

Pesach celebrates many victories, most notably our delivery from bondage, that of the physical and spiritual.

How is freedom from emotional bondage delivered?

I recently saw a picture of a young girl and her father in a journal. A totally unremarkable picture save for the name of the girl that captured my attention.

I know her to have been a victim of incest at her father’s hand for several years.

I was curious why she would display a picture of herself with her father, a man with whom she’s had a difficult and complex relationship into her adult life.

The woman told me that this picture was the last photo she has with her father before he began to abuse her. It was the last photo she has with him in which she had an innocent smile. It was her last joyous memory of him.

She said she would not show any photo taken with him after the abuse began –  and that was more than 40 years ago.

We are at the eve of Pesach.

This morning, a woman and her five children enter OHEL’s shelter for abused women.

It is a clean and well maintained apartment.

She hugs the staff expressing her overwhelming appreciation for saving her from years of torment, her own form of bondage, and for providing the opportunity to have a Pesach that is free from harm for herself and her children.

Light travels at 186,000 miles per hour. How fast does emotional abuse travel?

How long does it last? How deeply does it penetrate?  Can those who are tormented by years of emotional abuse rid themselves of it?

Those who specialize in working with victims of emotional abuse know there isn’t a yes or no answer to these questions.

Abuse can manifest itself with such searing penetration that it can leave a permanently scarred soul. While many victims of abuse go on to live normal, healthy lives, the “innocent smile” they once had desperately yearns to return.

For too many of these victims, the Shana Habah Bnei Chorin they say on Pesach is a desire not only for physical and spiritual reawakening but for emotional redemption as well.

The soul travels at a considerably greater speed than light or sound. The soul that has been abused wishes to regain its smile, its life, its relationships.

Much of the world equates freedom with a right to vote, a right to free speech and protection from religious persecution.

So, too, the souls of many yearn for the freedom to express themselves, to break free from past nightmares and the shackles of stigma. The soul is ever patient, travelling great distances over time, seeking to unburden its many secrets.

At times, it awaits the return of its innocent smile –  even after 40 years.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.