“If I can help one person, if I can bring some sort of healing to one person by telling my story, then it's worth it," Rabbi Avrohom (“Avremi”) Zippel said after testifying that his former nanny, Alavina Florreich, sexually abused him for 10 years.
“I think he's a hero for speaking out,” said Elizabeth Smart, who has met with Rabbi Zippel on multiple occasions and advised him on his case. “I mean the amount of courage it takes to stand up there — I know, I've done it — the amount of courage it takes to stand up in that box and talk about what happened openly. It's terrifying."
Rabbi Zippel's story is historic in many aspects. According to Gillian Friedman from the Deseret News:
"Rabbi Zippel said he was inspired to come forward by the #MeToo movement, in particular by Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who testified in court alongside 156 other women who said that former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar had sexually abused them. "But he is also making history: Rabbi Zippel may be the first Orthodox Jewish rabbi to come out during the #MeToo movement as a survivor of sexual abuse — a topic he said is rarely discussed in the observant Jewish community."
Within many religious communities, including our own, victims of sexual abuse are often frightened to speak out because of the shame, guilt, or fear they experience in connection to that abuse. Rabbi Zippel's story "can become a voice for the voiceless," according to the Deseret News, "the story of a man who for years grappled with shame and guilt as a result of his alleged abuse, and who, in part because of his religious beliefs, was convinced he was a 'terrible sinner' who was entirely to blame. He hopes that by coming forward, he can become an example not just to his own observant Jewish community, but to other survivors of sexual abuse suffering in silence."
It is a story we can all learn from.
Smart appeared at Rabbi Zippel's hearing to offer support.
“When you think of victims, usually it's women,” she said.“It's not acceptable to be a man and to speak out because then it makes you look like you're not as tough or you're not as macho or, you know, maybe there's something wrong with you, like you should have been enjoying it. Some sick and crazy idea (that) it's unacceptable for a man to speak out about what happened. . . . But the truth is that there's still a lot of men who have been sexually abused and we don't care about their stories. So I definitely wanted to come today to support him.”