Beginning to forgive a rapist on Yom Kippur

A mosaic depicting the priestly blessing, performed as part of the Yom Kippur Neilah service, which asks God to give the worshippers peace. | Supplied by Kleuske [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Yom Kippur is a day we all associate with asking forgiveness. It is a day when every Jew admits in public that they are not perfect. That they have sinned. We ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life despite our transgressions. Over the course of twenty-five hours we hit our chests while listing our sins. The prayers give us a list of sins to recite, but I always add my own. The past three years, I’ve added one that might sound a little abnormal. I have asked God to forgive me for not being able to forgive my rapist.

There is a saying I have heard when people talk about the Holocaust: “In Judaism we forgive, but never forget.” This is because anger and hate don’t damage the perpetrator, but instead eat away at the survivor. The past three years there have been anger, hate, and shame deep within me that have prevented me from moving on from that horrible night. On Yom Kippur, I ask God to forgive me for giving my attacker power over me. For allowing him to cause me to lose myself and be replaced with a frightened, skittish, angry girl who often times just wants to disappear.

This year, the rabbi’s sermons largely focused on the concept of shame. This is a topic I can relate to. I feel ashamed for my anger. I feel ashamed for “allowing” myself to be taken advantage of. I feel ashamed for not fighting back hard enough. I feel ashamed of being raped. As the rabbi spoke, I began to realize that I was not alone in my shame. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I’d always viewed my rape as something that isolated me from others. That set me apart, making me feel like a leper. I felt like no one could ever understand how I felt. The truth is, though, everyone at Yom Kippur services understood.

At the end of the closing Neilah service, as I was hitting my chest and listing my sins, I didn’t repent for not being able to forgive my rapist. By the end of the service, the feelings of hate I’d had toward the man who raped me had been diminished, replaced by a feeling of connection to my fellow Jews. I thanked God for opening my mind and my soul in order to give me the opportunity to reflect on my feelings and change my point of view.

Being raped will always be something that I have to deal with, but I don’t have to deal with it alone. I have a whole community of people who may not be connected to me by similar experience, but are connected to me by similar emotions. Shame thrives in silence. This year I have vowed not to allow my shame to thrive anymore.

The scary fact is that 1 in 5 women will be raped or sexually assaulted at some point in their college careers. I want those women to know that they are not alone in their shame. I want them to know that being raped does not make them a leper. It does not make them a failure or an object. It makes them a survivor.


Jourdan Stein is a student at the University of North Texas.

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