I’m writing to you as a broken-hearted parent, because I need an eitzah about how to help my child. My child fell in badly twice. When the person that my child married was first redd, we heard only good things. That family is very big in their community, and nobody wanted to say anything bad about the person my child married. When we all found out after the wedding what a terrible person my child married, my child had no choice but to get divorced. I can’t go into details, because I don’t want anyone to know who we are or who we are talking about. It was not easy getting out of the situation, because nobody wanted to help us, but we did, and my child got divorced.
After the divorce, we knew that my child couldn’t find a shidduch the way we are used to in our family, because the other side said such horrible things that are all lies, and no shadchan wanted to redd my child a normal shidduch. I spoke to you on the phone, and even though I didn’t tell you my name, you were so kind to give me your time, and you recommended singles events as an idea for my child to meet someone. That was a long time ago. My child did go and did well at these events.
Time went on, and COVID came, and the events that my child liked going to stopped. Online events did not work for my child. Then my child heard from friends about a frum group, and my child started going there. It was a disaster! The people who go there are mechalel Shabbos, eat treif food in nearby restaurants, and other things that I don’t even want to talk about. We spoke to our rav, and he said that my very frum child needs to distance from those people.
My child told just one other person about it, and it went around. The bullying that my child is going through—Hashem yeracheim! Even the friends that my child made after the divorce are staying away. To make matters worse, somebody called my child’s former in-laws to strengthen their case in destroying my child. What can we do? Our entire family is shattered now. Anyone I speak to has never even heard of such a case. Is there something we can do to stop the bullying or help our child?
Due to my extensive experience dealing with issues of adult bullying in the singles population, I deliberately did not indicate the gender of your child, so please forgive me for changing what you wrote as your son/daughter to “child.” Your anonymity is completely protected.
You need to understand that whatever group your child got mixed in with is not composed of frum Jews. Even if you were to tell me that they keep Shabbos to the fullest extent of halachah, only eat food with a reliable hechsher, behave morally, etc., considering what they have done to your child, they are not frum people. I will take it one step further. They are not normal people. Normal people do not deliberately hurt other human beings.
Sadly, as those who have been victims of adult bullying can attest, your story is not unique. Contacting the victim’s former spouse is an old-school tactic used by enemies in an attempt to gain strength in numbers by being able to claim that the victim is really the aggressor. Kind of like, “See, I found another person who had a problem with him/her!” These people are frantically searching for credibility. And because it is not unusual for people to have an enemy or two—and more so in a divorce situation—their scheme worked.
I appreciate that you wrote this letter, because in addition to helping your child, I hope the advice I offer you will also help others who are in a similar predicament. So, let’s piece this all together and come to a resolution that will be to the benefit of your child.
Your child was deceived into marrying somebody about whom everyone made sure to never disclose the truth. I am not so sure the people who protected the ex-family did it out of fearing their power. There are self-proclaimed do-gooders who do not want to ruin a shidduch opportunity, so they deliberately withhold vital sensitive information that could potentially have devastating effects on the innocent person falling in. In most cases, it is not meant to hurt anyone. Rather, there are folks who believe that marriage will cure whatever is not right!
When the reality that the marriage was based on deception presented itself, your child walked away. True, it was not easy. It is never easy to walk out on a marriage, especially when dealing with a family that is influential in the community. Yet, against all odds, and knowing that it would cause irreparable harm, your child courageously did what was best for him or her. That is no small feat. Do you know how many people in similar situations remain in destructive marriages? But not your child. Your child dusted himself or herself off and moved on.
Armed with the knowledge that tongues wag in communities, yet determined to rebuild life, your child started attending singles events where people have the opportunity to meet and get to know one another in a natural setting. And for a while, things were going well until this new group entered your child’s life. But what frum reputable group would organize outings where the participants are openly mechalel Shabbos and eat treif? And this is in the middle of a pandemic, no less!
Adult bullies are really terrified, insecure children with no stability or direction. They have no sense of purpose, they lack empathy for their victim, will threaten, exclude, etc., and, most importantly, will utilize public shaming to the highest degree. The reason the bullies are doing this to your child is because they are afraid of repercussions. They believe that by marginalizing him or her, anything that may be said about them will then be disregarded. Your child may not realize it, but the leader of the pack is petrified of your child. It is your child who has the power to make or break the ringleader! The people who are going along with it are mostly insecure, self-loathing individuals who finally found a sense of belonging. But they are insignificant players, sort of like extras in a screenplay.
The most practical way for somebody to get back at one’s enemies is not by standing up to them. That’s a waste of good energy, best spent on productive self-improvement. Becoming a success is the best revenge against those who seek to hurt you. Your child needs to ignore whatever the bully and followers are doing and pretend they don’t exist in this world. After all, until recently, those people were not in your child’s world.
Your child needs to carry on with life. In his or her case, for now, I recommend finding a shadchan to help with shidduchim. It does not have to be someone from the community of the ex-spouse. But even if it is, do not kid yourself in assuming that everyone likes those people. The most powerful folks have enemies; although others may be afraid to talk disparagingly about them, nevertheless, they may not like them. Do not give your child’s former in-laws more power than you presume they have. Additionally, there are frum internet matchmaking sites that have many matchmakers your child can choose from who will search on his or her behalf.
If your child has a social media page, my advice is to close the account. Much bullying is made possible by means of cyberbullying. Not only that, but the old expression “out of sight, out of mind” holds true in this type of circumstance. When your child has disengaged entirely from those bullies, they will find another unfortunate victim to torture. That is the pathology of bullies. At that point, your child will be a distant memory to them. And when they see that your child was not broken and succeeded in spite of the terror inflicted, those who were once his or her friends will want to reestablish a relationship.
If at any point your child feels that there is immediate danger to his or her life or property, then law enforcement must be engaged to deal with the matter, because at that point all bets are off with regard to discounting their existence. It is important to document everything that happens, with the date and time and characters involved.
There is much work to be done about adult bullying in the frum community. Although child bullying is nowadays aggressively addressed in schools, camps, and youth groups, adult bullying can have detrimental consequences in the areas of employment and finding a marriage partner. It is interesting to note that when it first happens to an adult victim, it is often overlooked. A sarcastic comment or snide observation, true or not, as disrespectful as it may be, is sometimes disregarded. It becomes more apparent as time goes on until it reaches the point of spreading rumors. As feathers in the wind cannot all be collected, rumors cannot be entirely stopped.
Your child has a strong network of people who love and care about him/her. You and your family are his/her cheerleaders. That is the steppingstone to healing. What you and your family can do is acknowledge the pain of the abuse. Keep reminding your child that it is not about him or her, and that these abusers are just reflecting their own insecurities because they are most likely jealous small people. Your child needs to keep away from them and find a new network of friends in addition to seeking a shidduch. If your child still needs additional healing, I recommend that he or she seek a therapist with strong expertise in mental abuse. Encourage your child to practice self-love in doing whatever brings him or her joy. In conclusion, your child should continue living life as he or she intended, and he or she will have defeated those that seek to harm.
Baila Sebrow is president of Neshoma Advocates, communications and recruitment liaison for Sovri-Beth Israel, executive director of Teach Our Children, and a shadchanis and shidduch consultant. She can be reached at Bsebrow@aol.com. Questions and comments for the Dating Forum can be submitted to email@example.com. Read more of Baila Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.