Aliya Stories: Triumph over trauma

Genendy Radoff, 43, made aliya from Silver Spring, Maryland to Ramat Beit Shemesh in 2005.

Genendy Radoff (photo credit: MAX RADOFF)
Genendy Radoff
(photo credit: MAX RADOFF)
When Genendy Radoff was in school, singing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, was considered religiously controversial. She was encouraged to move her lips but not actually sing along.
“Eretz Yisrael was a place we belonged when Moshiach came. It wasn’t a place we were supposed to be before then,” she recalled.
Her first trip to Israel came as a reward for passing all of her classes in 10th grade. Up until then, she had been failing high school.
“I was sexually abused as a very young child by my maternal grandfather and some of his students, including my father,” Radoff states forthrightly. The abuse stopped when she was about seven, but in a very real sense, it became an important theme in her life.
“There were 18 children and four adults living in my home. I’m one of 12 children. My grandfather, aunt and her six children were also living with us. The situation at home was crazy. I was planning to run away.” Instead, she convinced her parents to let her stay in Israel and continue high school in Bnei Brak, where she lived with extended family.
“I had a little Hebrew background from school. At first I didn’t understand anything going on and I didn’t care. I just wanted to disappear into my own bubble. Even when I started to understand, I pretended I didn’t. There were no English speakers in my class, so I started catching on to the Hebrew pretty quickly.
“I felt in my neshama [soul] that it was special to live here. Living in Eretz Yisrael was considered a mitzva. But the real reason was that I just wanted to get as far away from home as possible.”
Radoff’s time in Israel came to an abrupt end during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when her parents insisted that she return to the US.
The idea of living in Israel resurfaced when she was dating her husband. Radoff said that the time he spent touring Israel “completely changed his life. While we were dating, he asked if I would be open to moving to Israel at some point. I said yes, but not yet. I was still in serious therapy. I just wanted life to settle a bit.
He also said not yet. We were both on the same page that someday we would return to Israel.”
That “someday” came in 2001 when the Radoffs made their aliya decision.
“There are three main reasons why it was hard to make aliya – safety issues, hard to leave family and hard to make a living. We decided to make aliya after 9/11, after my family cut me off [for speaking out about having been abused] and after my husband lost his job. So there went those reasons. That’s when we began planning our aliya.”
A few years and two babies later, they made aliya in 2005, when their oldest child was three and a half.
Radoff was always fascinated by babies and young children and became certified in early childhood education.
“My work with young children has been especially healing for me. I’m healing myself as I work with children. I’m giving them something I never had as a young child. I’m also giving to my hurt younger self.”
After making aliya, Radoff opened a private preschool in Ramat Beit Shemesh that ran for nine years. Called Gan Ulpan, it focused on integrating English-speaking children into Hebrew in a gentle way. Ironically, she credits the popularity of her progressive, Reggio Emilia-style school, which at its height had 40 children in three classes, in part to the many stories of abuse going on.
“My gan was a safe gan,” she recounted with pride. “Parents also loved it because it was a place where their children were respected and encouraged to be creative.”
To have more time for her growing family, Radoff closed Gan Ulpan and is now teaching in a local kindergarten.
Parallel to her family and career in early childhood education, Israel has given her opportunities to advocate on behalf of other survivors of sexual abuse.
When her son’s first-grade teacher was accused of molesting children and the local rabbis turned against the families who spoke out, she became a founding board member of Magen – the Beit Shemesh Child Protection Agency.
“I wanted to do something to fix the problem that had so hurt me and my family. When Magen began, we had three goals: education, awareness and support for families working through the system. Rabbis meant well,” Radoff contends, “but they didn’t understand the issue. They didn’t really understand the illness of pedophiles.”
Although it started with the Anglo community, today Magen works in both English and Hebrew and offers its services to many communities throughout Israel.
More recently, Radoff founded Mitzva l’Sapper to help adult survivors of sexual abuse heal. The organization offers emotional support and resources to people all over Israel. In addition, she blogs at The Price of Truth under her maiden name and has penned a booklength memoir. Her book, for which she is currently raising funds to publish, describes her personal healing process.
“By sharing my own path to healing, I got to a place where I feel like I have something to offer to men and women who have been abused, especially those who have been abused in the Orthodox community,” Radoff related.
Reflecting on her own healing process, she commented that, “A big part of writing the book was finding my own voice. My priority is education and awareness. The only way this type of abuse can happen is through secrets and silence.
“I started speaking as part of the healing process, to reclaim my existence. Art and prayer have also been tremendous tools in my healing. I’m raising awareness and breaking through the secrecy and removing the stigma around this topic. As I’m speaking, I’m helping others and also myself. The first time I spoke was three years ago. Coming out and speaking was terrifying, but the supportive response of the community and the parents of children in my gan was so healing.”
The nature of Israel itself played a role in Radoff’s healing. “Israel allowed me to take back my heritage. I could have what was rightfully mine. The physical distance [between Israel and the US] helped me separate emotionally from my family and helped me focus on building my own career.
“Israel is about healing and coming back home to our personal identity and mission, as well as our national identity and mission. It goes together. Acceptance of personal growth and spiritual growth is so much more widespread here.”
Life in Israel helped Radoff triumph over tragedy. Not everyone has been so blessed. “Child sexual abuse is a plague and it must be acknowledged what it’s doing to our families and our communities.
“Our job is to witness the destruction, mourn the loss and rebuild. By healing our sexuality as a community, we are bringing the geula [redemption of the Jewish people]. Part of my mission is to give something back to myself, my family and the greater community,” she said.
For more information about her memoir and her work with survivors of sexual abuse, contact [email protected]