I was a Jewish girl from the Valley (The San Fernando Valley), which used to be considered the far reaches of Los Angeles. Barren acres of land stretched as far as the eye could see. But today it’s well-developed and rare to find an empty plot of land.
Despite the elevation from small town to metropolis, I would not want to live there again. The Valley has a powerful hold on me, and though I’ve worked my whole life to get my parents’ messages out of my head, I’m still vulnerable on the extremely rare occasions I find it necessary to go there.
It started when I was four when I wet the bed. My mother was furious. She picked up the phone, dialed a number, and asked if this was “the bad girl’s school.” She told them she had a daughter she wanted picked up and placed there. She continued to talk to them through my screaming and begging, “Please don’t send me away.” Finally, after some time passed, she set down the phone. But from that point on, I never knew what the next thing I might do or say would trigger her to send me away again, this time for good.
My safety, security and well-being were always at stake, even if the objects of derision changed.
When I was 12, my mother gave me “the talk.” It was a very clinical talk, yet tears fell down her face as she spoke. Pretty soon, I started to cry. I didn’t know why either of us were crying, but at that moment I had the distinct feeling sex was painfully unpleasant and something to avoid.
When I was 14, my parents took me to Highland Springs, a resort about two hours from L.A. I was 14. The resort had a party for teens and I met a boy. He was 16, handsome, and he liked me. After a while, he asked me if I would like to take a walk, and I said yes. He led me to a chaise lounge where we began kissing. I was deliriously happy! He was the first boy I had ever been attracted to, but I had no intention of letting it go any further than kissing.
In the middle of this bliss, my parents found me, sent the boy away, and told me “only prostitutes enjoy sex.”
“I wasn’t planning on having sex,” I said. But they didn’t believe me. They dragged me back to the cabin and we left the next day.
I prayed for a sign from God Prayed for any indication that someone cared about me. Prayed for reassurance I wasn’t as alone in this world as I felt.
We weren’t religious. My mother cooked holiday dinners, but that was about it. My father and mother did have ideas about what being Jewish meant, particularly stories of World War II and how the Jews were tortured, but the only time we went to Temple was for other people’s events. A wedding. A bris. A Bar Mitzvah.
I was proud of being Jewish and of all the accomplishments the Jews had achieved. I was proud of their efforts to survive at all costs. I assumed there was a God, but if there was a God, surely he wouldn’t be so neglectful as to let my parents inflict their destructive messages on me. Surely, there was some way to make them love me. A God, it seemed to me, would have some good ideas about that. But there was no sign.
I came to associate Judaism with my being unlovable, and made a deliberate effort to avoid going to Temple. On the time or two I did go, I felt empty inside. I couldn’t identify with the loving families who were there to worship, congregate and solidify the closeness and love they felt toward each other.
I took my parents’ word as gospel, took every single denigrating word to heart. And I continued where they left off, blaming myself for my circumstances.
Through years of therapy, I now grasp that their messages, for the most part, were crazy, that what I had bought, hook, line, and sinker, I don’t have to listen to anymore. As a child, I took in their verbal and non-verbal messages/abuses inside me and let them define me, but as an adult I can, after many years in psychoanalysis, look at them objectively.
After nearly a lifetime of sexual repression, I had an awakening at 70, and wrote a book about it (“My Sexual Awakening at 70). Freedom has finally come.
So what does this have to do with Judaism? I realize it wasn’t only therapy that helped me, but like my Jewish brethren, I was out to survive at all costs. And I have. And, I have a renewed sense of being Jewish and again feel so proud of my heritage.
Lynn Brown Rosenberg has written many screenplays and books. She has written articles for SALON, The Sunday Times of London, Kveller, JTA, done numerous podcasts and has spoken at MENSA’s Annual Gathering in San Diego, CatalystCon, a sexuality conference, and many others. Her memoir, “My Sexual Awakening at 70” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.