Story of Recovery: Elisha Perlman

I consider myself to have been "religiously abused." This means that I was forced to absorb -- and consider true -- a bunch of myths of the Jewish variety. I watched with great dismay as my parents became more and more religious. And this, of course, includes subjecting their children to the same level of religious belief and practice with complete disregard about how the children feel about this.

I participated in the breaking ground of our family's conservative synagogue. My parents weren't half-hearted, wishy-washy Jews. They actually obeyed the laws of Kashrut (kosher) and observed the Sabbath with all the restrictions that entailed.

We walked to shul every Friday evening, and every Saturday morning was spent listening to the Torah being read and davening (praying) in services for FOUR hours. My sisters and I attended Hebrew School and the only parent-approved social functions were the ones organized by the temple.

Somewhere along the line, (in the 80's) my father decided that this Conservative Synagogue was not traditional enough for him. Our family's break with this shul was over the hiring of a female Rabbi. This was not acceptable to my father and he opted to attend an Orthodox shul five miles from our home.

Deprived of a normal childhood

This obviously meant that I could not have any normal social life like every other teenager. Even if I had the option of NOT going to temple on Shabbat, my parents wouldn't drive me anywhere because driving is restricted on the Sabbath.

My mother eventually started the temple's library and handled all the donations and kept everything organized. She became very active in the Sisterhood and my father was President of the temple for 5 years in the '80's. We lived next door to the Rabbi and his family and they became a fixture at our house for years.

The problem with this lifestyle is that I never believed any of the prerequisites of Judaism, and I resented all the restrictions which were placed upon me due to my parents' beliefs.

I went to a public school but yet I was not allowed to have non-Jewish friends. Well, I had them because my parents couldn't prevent what went on at school. However, I couldn't bring them to my house and spend time with these friends outside of school.

So, I did a lot of sneaking around; especially when it came to dating non-Jews. There was also tremendous arguing which went on in my house over these religious rules that my parents chose to burden me with.

In 1985, I was 15 years old. I always had a terrible time at school because I was teased endlessly. I had Tourette Syndrome and my tics annoyed the other kids and kids are just cruel in general, at that age. I was also sent out in the hall to take tests when my tics were really bad. This would never fly nowadays -- we have laws preventing discrimination against students with disabilities.

All I ever wanted during that time period was to attend a different school. I thought that would solve some of my problems. Little did I realize, though, that these problems at school, would have continued where ever I went because my parents were unable/unwilling to advocate for me.

They could have threatened a lawsuit over the bullying I was subjected to. They could have made the school enforce their own "no bullying" policy. They could have demanded that I not be isolated in the hall. Something. Anything to get under the authorities' skin and demand that something change.

The cowardly "solution": deception and betrayal

So, in 1985, my parents told me that I was going to go to a different school. It would be a school where I would actually LIVE there. I was sooooo exited. A new school AND NOT having to live in my parents house with their stupid religious rules. New people, new teachers. I couldn't wait!

So, I get all packed up with my new clothes, that my parent bought for me for the occasion, and we went on our way. I fell asleep in the car, so I missed the sign on the grounds of this school.

When we went inside, I was interviewed with such questions like, "Do you think about killing yourself?" (no) "Do you drink or do drugs?" (no, not at that time, anyway) "Are you depressed?" (a little, but who wouldn't be in my situation?)

They led me down the hall to the place where I would be staying. The lady asked me, "Why are you here?" as she unlocked each adjoining door. I naively replied, "To go to school." She just smiled.

When we got to the area where the dorms were, I asked for my luggage. She said that it was being inspected and would be up shortly. Meanwhile, I was introduced to some of the other kids who asked me similar questions as to why I was there.

When my luggage came up, my makeup mirror, hairdryer, shoelaces and belts were all missing. I asked the lady where the rest of my stuff was. She said, "You can't have them here."

"Where the fuck am I?" I yelled.

She said, "South Oaks Psychiatric Hospital."

Thrown into the nuthouse

HOLY SHIT. I ran into my room and threw myself on the cot and screamed in agony. Almost instantaneously, three men in white coats ran into my room and told me that I was not to behave in this manner. If I did, I would be put in a straight jacket, shot up with Thorazine and sent up to the "Flight Deck," a highly supervised unit where the REAL violent kids were -- or, at least, the ones who were ordered by the court to be there.

Words can't describe the betrayal that I felt. My parents TRICKED me. They told me that I was going to a private school and I end up locked in this mental institution. I couldn't use the phone to call them. I was locked in this hellhole with crazies. I witnessed WAY too much for my sheltered, Jewish upbringing. (that is an entirely different story, in and of itself).

They put me away in here because I wouldn't follow their "house" (religious) rules and I rebelled. I wanted to be a normal teenager. Instead, I couldn't go out (with girls or boys) with non-Jews, couldn't go out on a Friday night or Saturday, couldn't go anywhere to EAT with anybody. Just school and temple.

Depressed? Who wouldn't be?

They told the institution that I was "depressed." That was how I got in.

After 30 days, the doctors reviewed my case and we had a meeting with my parents. Our insurance coverage only paid for the first 30 days UNLESS there was a severe issue which required continued incarceration. (oops, I mean "hospitalization." lol)

The doctors told my parents that they were scheduling me to be released within the next two days, with a prescription for an anti-depressant and to follow up with my psychiatrist.

My parents actually REFUSED to take me home.

I spent 6 months (most of the kids stayed less than 3 months) locked up there, against my will, and my parents paid $5,000 per week, out of their own (and my) pockets, just to keep me there.
I spent my "Sweet 16" locked up in a mental institution. I didn't belong there. All the doctors agreed. I rose up the ranks in their system of "earning privileges." Almost immediately, I was granted weekend passes to go home.


Why? Because the weekend passes started on Saturday mornings and they won't drive on Shabbat.

So, when the people who "behaved" and followed the rules, got to go home and get the hell out of the locked institution for 2 days, I was alone on the ward with the staff. Occasionally, my parents visited me on Sundays, but we had "Family Counseling" to attend to. This resulted in many unhappy and angry visits.

I didn't see my sisters for six months. More religious abuse.

Stole my money to lock me up

Later, I found out that my parents used ALL MY MONEY that was saved for my future to pay for this incarceration. They also had to take a loss because the cost EXCEEDED the balance in the account.

I had approximately $50,000 - $80,000 saved from bonds from when I was born and gifts from my Bat Mitzvah. I'm not sure precisely how much was there but I was told at least $50,000. I assume that there was some interest which accrued in 15 years.

I was always aware of this money and was informed that is not to be touched. It is for college expenses or a car or a down payment on my first home. Whatever. It was MY nest egg.


After finally being released from the hellhole, I continued to be "abused" by their religion. One day when they were at temple, I left. Packed up my shit and I went to stay with a guy I just met.

Foolish, I know. But I was desperate to get out of my parents' house. After finding out some stuff about this guy, I decided it wasn't smart for me to continue to associate with him. I lived with several different people for the next year, or so. I refused to go home and be subjected to their crazy rules.

I was three months from my 18th birthday and I was not going to school or doing anything productive with my life. My flitting from house to house with strangers just wasn't working out.

Back to the loony bin

I made the voluntary decision to GO BACK TO South Oaks, the mental institution. Yes, I CHOSE to go back to that environment. At that point, ANYTHING was better than living with my parents. I was familiar with the structure of the institution. I excelled there. I liked the staff. They liked me. And I was popular there.

How pathetic it is that I would chose to go back to an institution rather than live with my parents.

Upon my 18th birthday, I immediately signed myself out of the institution, as that is the freedom which adulthood provides. I was allowed to sleep in my parents' basement, on the floor, in a sleeping bag, for a month, after being released. (One of my sisters took my room when I was gone.) There were five bedrooms in that house. One was vacant. Yet, I slept in the basement, like a dog.

Oh, and they locked me down there at night, so I couldn't go out (escape). It was then I developed mild claustrophobia, which I still have to this day (although claustrophobia is not difficult to avoid -- just don't put yourself in situations where you would feel boxed in).

It is so sad how far my parents went to try to get me to conform. According to them, I was a bad influence on my sisters. They were glad to have someone else take care of me. It was a high price to pay, but they'd pay any amount so I didn't subject the rest of their little sheep to rebellion.

Three little sheep

It was also a good lesson for my little sheep sisters. (I have three sisters. More about them at another time.) My incarceration in the mental institution instilled in them what precisely would happen if they choose to rebel and think differently than their parents. It said, We will get rid of you and treat you less than human if you do not obey. So, little sheep, don't even think about it.

It worked.

Two of my sisters married rabbis, and the third lives in the same Jewish enclave (when Jews create ghettos for themselves, they're called something else, but the result is the same). Their children all attend the local Jewish day school, where two of my sisters teach.

Judaism is no different from other religions: piety and correct ritual trump good behavior, almost always. My Mother passed on a few years ago. My father now lives in Israel, where he follows as many of Judaism's innumerable rules as possible, considers himself a good Jew, and has no remorse (that I know of) for the inhumane way he treated me.