Rape is not exactly uncommon in YA fiction. After all (and very unfortunately), rape is not exactly uncommon in “real life.” In the Orthodox Jewish community, however, rape is something that most people refuse to acknowledge. Friends and family members are told that the victims are crazy; that they must have misunderstood something that happened; that they are making it all up. They are taught to keep quiet, and threatened that they, themselves, will suffer if they spread “hateful lies.” In this story, much like in the author’s own life, a young girl ends up killing herself to escape the abuse because people she tried to reach out to were more worried about whether they might ruin their family’s standing than how they might be able to help her. Chapters alternate between the present and the past so that readers can see how Gittel might not have known what was going on and how she finally came to understand. For a “Goyim” reader like myself, it was simply shocking to read about how very differently Orthodox Jews react to allegations of sexual abuse — especially knowing that they continue to react this way today.
Eishes Chayil (which translates to “Woman of Valor”) is a pseudonym the author chose so she could tell this story without worrying about how the community might treat her family and friends. Earlier this month — in response to the July murder of Leiby Kletzky (an 8-year-old Chasidic boy from Borough Park) — she came out and identified herself as Judy Brown. One can only hope that her act of bravery will inspire the people of the Orthodox Jewish community to see the error of their ways. Only by acknowledging the existence of abuse can people bring abusers to justice and spare future victims.