I was raised in a very secular home. Though my mother was Jewish by blood, the only real mention of G-d was a family member telling me that G-d punishes the wicked and that bad things happen to bad people. I tried very hard to be good.
When I was 17, I was in a relationship with a very abusive boyfriend. It started as jealousy which I viewed as a compliment. He just wanted to be with me as much as possible. He loved me so much. He soon began to control so much of my life that I was unable to discern the “me” from the “us.” The emotional and verbal abuse became sexual. He told me he was sorry. He told me he couldn’t help himself. He told me I was beautiful. No one else had ever said that. Without knowing what was healthy, I stayed. After all, I had been told that any man is better than no man at all.
Once high school graduation drew near, I began to think of a new beginning, new possibilities, and I broke free. This is when the physical abuse really began, in private at first, then in public. I tried to defend myself, and asked about getting a restraining order, but I was told it was better to let it go away. It got worse. The defense by others only made the abuse more severe. I moved hours away for college, but there were letters, phone calls, and a surprise visit. For years afterward I was stalked. What do you expect, said some, you broke his heart.
Yet, somewhere in my own heart, despite everything done and said to me, I thought that I must have some hidden goodness. For years I was an atheist, convinced that no G-d would let this happen to me. Believers all around me, I studied religion. As much as I could get my hands on, I read, I interviewed, I visited houses of worship, but nothing stuck.
One Friday night, I went to services at a reform temple. The Torah portion was the Ten Commandments. The sermon was essentially this: The rabbi said, well, what can I say about the Ten Commandments that hasn’t already been said? Of the hundreds of commandments in the bible, all of the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” we break many daily, some even as we meet here tonight. Look, there are really three you must follow, if you do no others: thou shalt take no other G-d before me; thou shalt not kill; and thou shalt not rape. These are the things you can never take back, for which complete forgiveness in the traditional sense may perhaps never be given. These are things which can go to the very root of destruction of the soul. Yet G-d is there for us, to help us heal and come out stronger. I had found the higher power I had sought for years. In that moment, my life was changed. In that moment, I became a believer.
Yearly during the High Holy Days, I reflect upon what it means to forgive. To let go of the pain that I allowed to define who I was, and recognize it as a part of my past that I can use to help others. To teach my children well. To advocate for those without a voice. I know he will never repent, and probably never even see himself for what he is. Yet I no longer let him have the power to define who I am by what I have endured. The Jewish people are strong and resilient believers, and this is where I belong.