When I was just 12 years old I sang in the adult choir at my synagogue. My rabbi joked with me that I brought the average age down by about eighty years.
Each Friday night I’d put on my white robe and, with the rest of the choir I’d ascend the back stairs behind the bimah (stage) and take my place in the alto section behind Cantor Grossman.
The entire bimah was adorned with golden planks, fake I am sure, but as a child they seemed so majestic. Despite it being almost thirty years ago I can still remember the names and faces of some of my choir members and the tunes we sang.
Back when I was twelve I wanted to be a rabbi. I don’t think I connected to Judaism on a spiritual level. I am fairly certain I didn’t even know what that meant, but I knew I wanted to go to rabbinical school. I wanted to chant Torah. I wanted to wear teffilin. I wanted to use my voice in a way that moved people – though I’m sure this is really just my adult perspective looking back on a childhood memory.
When I came out of the closet everything changed. It became harder and harder to feel connected to my Judaism when the people around me insinuated that I did not belong. I attended services less and less. I stopped singing in the choir. I ceased my interest in rabbinical school. I set my sights on other things. I was still a Jew, but it was not the same.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. All month long colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and activists bring awareness and give voice to all forms of sexual harm. For six years I have participated in, created and supported Sexual Assault Awareness Month as a professional and public survivor.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not random at all), it is also the month of April that I honor the anniversary of my rape which occurred when I was 16 – the event that stole both my voice and whatever shred of faith I had left.
In college I briefly sang in a band, but I was timid and scared. I could not emote any feeling because I was dead inside. After a few short months I was kicked out of the band in a way that still haunts me.
And for a very long time I remained silent. I had no voice and I had no purpose.
In 2014, I somehow found the voice deep within me and came out publicly as a rape survivor. Coincidently (or perhaps not random at all), it was that same year I found my Judaism again. I joined Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Washington in July of that year. Then, in 2016 I joined the adult choir. The choir didn’t wear white robes and we didn’t sit on the bimah, but it was here that I learned that I was never an alto, I was born to be a tenor!
Life happened. We moved to Orange County, California. I joined a new synagogue and a new choir. It was during my time at this synagogue that I truly learned the importance of having a voice and using it for good; using it to stand up for others.
As with most things in life, I had no idea where that path or lesson would lead me.
Ultimately, it lead me to the Tefillah Team at HaNefesh. I’m no longer part of a choir. HaNefesh doesn’t have a building, let alone a bimah. Yet, each Friday night I sit in front of my computer camera and I make music in ways I didn’t know were possible; in ways I did not know I was capable of.
I had forgotten all those years ago that my voice and my authentic soul could move people. I had forgotten that it could move me.
This Shabbat is the 22nd anniversary of my rape. It is the anniversary of the event that changed the entire course of my life; the event that stole my voice and my Judaism.
But here I am, experiencing my Judaism and using my voice in ways I never knew were possible. I am so grateful for my HaNefesh community and for the opportunity to lead them in song from the depths of my soul.
This Shabbat is special to me in ways I can’t put into words. My hope is that if you join us for services you’ll hear in my voice all the words I’ve not yet formed to describe where this journey has lead me. There is one thing I know to be true – I have a voice that I will never stop using it to stand up for others – to stand up for what is right. And I will never stop singing from the depths of my soul.