We are wonderful

There is a recent story in the NYT about child sexual abuse in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn. It seems that when parents of abused children – who were abused in places like the mikveh, or ritual bath-house, and in religious schools – spoke out and went to the police, they were shunned by their own community.

Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.

One quote in particular caught my eye. The mother of an abuse victim told the paper:

“There is no nice way of saying it,” Mrs. Engelman said. “Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”

Other than that, we are wonderful. I wonder if her son agrees with her.


The Most Depressing Sight I Ever Saw

The view from Brooklyn

Below is a poem I wrote while siting in a Chinese restaurant in the days following Sept. 11, 2001. It was rejected by the New Yorker. I hope the general feeling is still recognizable.

“Still Life with City”

Our terrible future has just arrived.
The telephone now rings ominously
As we answer, scanning briefly a sky
Of asphalt gray, frightened of what we seek.
The air outside seems somehow to have died
While claustrophobic clouds conceal the week.

Pitifully our fingers indicate
Who is responsible, who is to blame.
Decisions become actions: a face, name,
Age or town of birth will at first suffice
To take the place of what some have called fate.
Comfortable with facts, though, we comprise

A list of enemies, a fraternity
Of evil, where oppressor meets oppressed
In a rhetoric of shadows. Unrest
Claims us with numbers, trivial asides
We rehearse in our sleep—a parody
Of what plagues us, of what tomorrow hides.

Fear is a language we begin to speak.
Murmurs of the uncountable dead fall
Mutely on our ears; our thought has moral
Consequences it never had before.
Our actions aren’t meaningless, but seek
A love greater than typical ardour.

As time distils in us the daily dread
Preoccupations and a need to know
Beleaguer us with headlines that may grow
Darker, still, as we begin to view them
As normal. Our eyesight adjusts, we read
Not knowing how or where to place the blame.

It is our impotence that we detest,
Our powerlessness to function normally
In a familiar environment. We
Suffer on the most casual of terms
Still finding time to enjoy life, subsist,
Root for our team. All evidence affirms

The notion that simply to live is best.
Beyond our guilt exists no common mind
Beneath the surface; yet, as one may find,
We are free to choose a new way of life,
Free to accept our anger, or to rest
Assured that whatever happens, we survive.

Copyright 2007 by Marc Alan Di Martino