Chaim Levin responds to Eli Nash’s defense of Dr Norman Goldwasser

Chaim Levin has supplied Aleph Melbourne with his response to Eli Nash’s defense of Dr Norman Goldwasser.  Eli’s comments appear in block-quoted italics below and his original post is on Facebook is here.  Chaim’s original post on Facebook is here.

Eli Nash, a powerful and important advocate for survivors of sexual abuse recently declared his frustration and concern that Doctor Norman Goldwasser was disinvited to speak at an upcoming event hosted by Tzedek in Australia about issues of sexual abuse. I’ve written this in response and am posting it here as well as on this thread. I believe that this conversation is long overdue but it’s crucial that we keep it respectful and honest.


Dear Eli,

I wanna start out by saying thank you for everything you have done for us survivors on a big scale and on a small scale. Just a few months ago you stepped in to personally assist me through something that I probably wouldn’t have survived without your generous help. Please know that there isn’t a day that goes by where I am not grateful for your unrelenting support.

That being said, you might understand why I’ve been very very hesitant to throw myself into this debate with you.  I realize that I most likely won’t change yours and your supporters’ minds on this issue but that isn’t my goal anymore. I want the thousands reading this thread see that there are two sides to every coin. There’s the way you’re presenting it based solely on your personal experiences, but then there’s the clinical and scientific side which is ultimately what needs to be adhered to the most.

Firstly, I’d like to address your full post section by section. Your initial post is separated into sections and in quotes in Italic, my response are in regular font. After that, there’s a list of reasons why despite all the praise you have given this person, he is not the right guy to be lecturing anyone about healing sexual abuse.

“Tsedek decision to cancel Dr Goldwasser is as tragic as it is predictable. Perhaps the most challenging feat for any organization is to stay true to their mission in the face of pressure, criticism and intimidation. In canceling Dr Goldwasser, they failed to demonstrate true commitment to their stated mission of providing advocacy and support to Jewish victims/survivors of sexual abuse.

The few in the LGBT community that were vocal and outspoken against Dr Goldwasser, in a combined effort with websites who view Jewish Orthodoxy as a failure or anonymously publicize what they consider to be the “foolish” aspect of Jewish orthodoxy, would like you to believe that by allowing Dr. Goldwasser to speak, they are hurting victims and survivors of sexual abuse who identify as LGBT. They assert that the suggestion that sexual orientation is in any way influenced by abuse or that they can be “fixed” is damaging and offensive. By Tsedek supporting a Doctor who has said both these things, they are not staying true to their mission of supporting survivors.”

So far, I haven’t heard anyone in this debate refer to orthodoxy as foolish and I’m not quite sure what this anonymous aspect is that you refer to. So far, on our side of this conversation we have all been using our real names and have been respectful and fair. We choose to focus on the facts and information while many of you have resorted to personal attacks. By telling people that this is a conspiracy to “have you believe”, you are implying that we are trying to make people believe something that isn’t true, this is where your first problem is. The only thing we would like people to believe are the facts and the data. I don’t need to try and convince people to believe us that this hurts LGBT survivors, we are telling you that it hurts us but you are continuing to categorically ignore it for your own personal reasons that have nothing to do with the date, science and the facts in this matter.

The suggestion that orientation is influenced by abuse is not offensive as much as it is ignorant. There are no studies that prove anything of the sort. The suggestion that we can and need be fixed is offensive and rightfully so. Using people’s abuse as a means to convince them that they are broken is cruel and irresponsible especially when these theories were born out of your own logic and personal experiences/understanding of this.

“This is what they would have you believe.”

Because a doctor who says these things is not someone who should be telling abuse survivors how they can heal when his philosophy is clearly rooted in something other than legitimate science.

“In actuality though, Tsedek would be wise not to take their cues on mission from groups whose own mission is to shame the constituents Tsedek is there to serve. If Tsedek intends to accomplish their stated mission of supporting and advocating for Jewish victims of sexual abuse, being dragged into a debate for the political or agenda-driven benefit of some will not allow them to do so. This is especially so considering the fact that those most vocal on this matter also take issue with Orthodox Judaism’s view on homosexuality.”

We are not trying to shame anyone, especially not orthodox survivors of abuse. Where you got this conclusion from is as mysterious as the rest of what you believe but you’re entitled to your opinion. Personally, I do not take issue with orthodoxy’s view on homosexuality. There are many issues that many orthodox Jews  themselves have with the Torah but this isn’t about debating the Torah. Yes, I take issue with the homophobia that’s been created as a result of this view but it’s not my mission to change the Torah.

“There are many clear and obvious reasons why the LGBT community does not want to be told their condition can be fixed or is the cause of abuse. They are understandable goals and continuing to push this can and will have obvious benefits to many in the LGBT community. LGBT’s have suffered from horrible discrimination. By advocating the above in other instances, they have helped to improve the lives of many who identify as LGBT and their families.”

Being LGBT isn’t a condition.

“In this case, sadly, their argument was hijacked, distorted and used for subversive means.

As an example, while there are survivors who are offended when one asserts that abuse can result in sexual confusion, there are also many survivors who are hurt by the fact that some would have them believe that their struggles with sexuality are NOT a result of their abuse. A young woman I know was repeatedly abused by older men and women as a child. To this day, while the woman considers herself to be straight, she feels a compulsive urge to have sex with older men and women. The few times she does engage in this behavior results in uncontrollable bouts of self loathing, depression and more.

Were we to suggest to this young woman that she was born with a compulsive urge to have sex with older men and women (by her own words they are people that she does not find beautiful or physically attractive) and that the abuse played no part in it, she too would be offended and hurt.

Several months ago, I spoke before a group at an in-patient recovery center about my story of child sexual abuse and the continuing healing process. After I finished my story, a young man heavily addicted to drugs, stood up and told everyone in the crowd how a relative of his performed anal sex on him when he as a young boy. To this day, he reported, he has an obsession with viewing pornography similar to his abuse experience. While he identifies as gay, he is unable to engage in certain sexual behaviors that remind him of the abuse although he derived pleasure from viewing it.

To somehow suggest to him that his experiences in no way shaped his future struggles (specifically unable to engage in certain behaviors) would be offensive and hurtful to him – a card carrying member of the LGBT community.

On and on we can go. What one finds comforting, another will find hurtful”.

You are using anecdotal evidence to support claims that have zero basis science. We don’t use anecdotal evidence to help people with medical and psychological issues. While these examples are indeed sad, you’re again missing the point. Your highlighting the TYPES of people are attracted to within those gender groups, not on the fact that they’re attracted to the people of those genders. You are comparing the type of man or woman someone is attracted to, rather than the fact that they are attracted to a man or a woman or both. It’s different to analyze and to try and discover parts of our attractions but this conversation is about the actual gender which is completely different and again, impossible to be changed. We don’t use anecdotal evidence to cure health issues, and we should absolutely not use anecdotal evidence for psychological issues either. Unsurprisingly, groups like JONAH rely purely on anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

Lots of facts surrounding these issues are indeed terribly painful for many different people based on their experiences. But what you’re suggesting is that we should disregard  facts, science, and the research in order to make people more comfortable. Yes, people should feel safe, respected and more comfortable, but we can’t appeal to people who don’t feel safe by lying to them and telling them that they can in fact change when we know they can’t.

I fully agree that these patients should address the issues surrounding their sexuality and intimacy with professionals but I do not agree that you can make such a bold claim based on experiences of a few and expect that to speak for everyone else. Yes, being sexually abused causes serious issues with sexuality in many ways, but the issue of who we are attracted to is not one of those issues. We need to focus on how the abuse affected our capacity to be intimate and feel safe while having intimate encounters in our adult life. One detail, the detail of the gender of who those encounters are with is not nearly as important as the rest of them. But to be clear, I’m not saying that someone struggling with who their attracted to shouldn’t be addressed, but it certainly shouldn’t be addressed by lying to them and offering them false hope that this can be cured or fixed.

Finally, even if we accept the premise that one knows that his orientation of whom he’s attracted to was impacted by abuse, that does not mean that they can alter it and I have yet to see anyone prove otherwise.

“Some of the arguments proposed by those demanding of Tsedek to disassociate from Dr Goldwasser, is that science is clearly on their side. But these same proponents of science today and the absolute infallibility of the reports they quote, were the same that railed against science when homosexuality was included in the DSM. Science can not be used as one desires to support a claim and Tsedek need not involve themselves in these studies that others feel are politicized and agenda driven.”

Yes, 40 years ago scientists believed many things that we know to be true today. That logic isn’t enough not to listen to science today.

“There are no doubt many areas where the LGBT community disagree with Orthodox Judaism. Tsedek should not allow those differences to be highlighted but instead continue to focus on the areas where we all agree: children should not have to experience sexual abuse.”

Correct, and survivors who were already sexually abused should not be manipulated into a situation where they will be abused again by those claiming to help the.

“To add to the complexity of human sexuality, Dr. Goldwasser’s beliefs are understandably influenced by his religion. After all, he is an Orthodox Jew. While I find his beliefs in this particular area to be extremely nuanced allowing for the complexity of human sexuality, human behavior, religious beliefs, the right of self determination, and many other considerations, there is no doubt he advocates for a belief that some in the LGBT community find threatening. What they won’t tell you though is that anyone he were to be replaced with, others who also happen to be survivors would find threatening. With subjects as divisive and complex as human sexuality and religion, is there anyway for one person to appeal to everyone?”

Maybe not but it’s possible to feature someone who isn’t as offensive and controversial as Doctor Goldwasser is.

I hope this sufficiently addresses your grievances with the recent cancellation of Doctor Goldwasser. The truth is that many of the things you expressed are more of a sideshow and ignore the substance of the concerns that many of us have had for a long time. Most people involved in this conversation can’t fully debate science because we are not doctors and aren’t involved in the scientific research that goes into these arguments.

We know that there are other professionals with vast experience dealing with trauma who exist and who the frum communities trust. Why must you insist that Doctor Goldwasser is the only one to deliver this message? Isn’t the fact that this issue has already caused so many problems for many supporters of JCW enough to reconsider? That engaging in this protracted debate is damaging to your cause? Meyer Seewald couldn’t be more accurate this morning when he told me by text that he would much rather be facing criticism for organizing an anti abuse event in Williamsburg or Lakewood and I agree with that. While this is a legitimate conversation that is long overdue, the us against you nature of the way this conversation has turned is toxic and divisive. I can only assume that the insistence to defend someone with so many issues comes from ego and not from logic. Logic would say that we should do our best to keep everyone happy within reason. Doctor Goldwasser not speaking until he publicly clarifies his positions and commits to never saying and doing such things again is very much within reason. Defending every action of his and trying to portray this as some type of agenda driven problem is not within reason.

So far Eli, you have accused me and others of having an agenda even though you fail to clarify what that agenda is. In a phone call a few months ago you said to me that your only concern is to keep children safe and you accused me of not sharing that concern. Others have resorted to personal attacks against us and yet NO ONE has addressed these glaring issues that would be enough to get anyone else under any other circumstances fired and disinvited from speaking publicly about such serious issues:

  1. License/suspension issues: No matter what the reasons behind them are, the fact is that this happened and he was disciplined on more than one occasion. Maybe by itself these are things that can eventually forgotten but this is just the first in a long list of problems with Doctor Goldwasser. When someone has a long list of separate issues that many find unappealing it would be wise to stay away from controversy and use someone whose message won’t be distorted by the many different problems that people have with them.
  2. Recent remarks about gay people: Doctor Goldwasser’s recent remarks at JCW events highlighted that he still does not only believe in this, but practices it himself. His snarky references to his patient from South beach was inappropriate and didn’t belong in a speech about sexual abuse. Moreover, Doctor Goldwasser himself said that this patient was “convinced” that he couldn’t change and that it was too late for Doctor Goldwasser to help him in this aspect. Those are not the words of someone who distanced himself from these things.
  3. Issues raised by previous patients: More than one former patient of Doctor Goldwasser have recounted some very concerning issues with him during their course of treatment with him. The fact that there are multiple people making these claims, some of whom are survivors of abuse, should be more than enough reason not to give Doctor Goldwasser a platform as has been done for quite some time. The fact that the people who gave him this platform have been alerted to these concerns and have still failed to act is what’s even more perplexing. Just because some and maybe even many people had good experiences with him, that isn’t the standard that we set for professionals who we entrust to treat the most vulnerable. By answering these claims of people with your current logic, that you know over 30 people who have been helped by him, once again you are ignoring the more important aspect of this which is that the first rule of medicine is “Do no harm”. If there have been complaints about Doctor Goldwasser in the past and you continue to support him you are telling those people that their experiences don’t matter as much as your own. In my opinion, that is not the way to reach survivors and those who care about us.
  4. Association with conversion therapy. Despite what you would like to have the world believe, by his own admissions, Doctor Goldwasser’s is still very much engaged in this practice. As I’ve told you and others at JCW privately over a year ago, it is not on us to guess his current position after he’s made that position clear and public over the course of many years. By writing articles in favor of groups like JONAH and their affiliates, by signing the Torah declaration and not since removing his name, and by making comments such as the one mentioned above as recently as 3 months ago, he is proving that you are you are lying for him.

To dig a little deeper though, conversion therapy has been decried as a form of sexual abuse. While I’m doing my best to make this conversation less personal about me, I can safely say that I was sexually abused in conversion therapy. In other words, the folks who Doctor Goldwasser endorses told me that they have the answers for survivors of abuse and the tools to heal us. And yet, instead of helping us, they retraumatized us in more ways than one. Are you telling me that you’re comfortable being that closely associated with something that in itself is considered a form of abuse? Are you saying that even the perception that you endorse this isn’t enough to make you fully denounce this and any association to Doctor Goldwasser? Rational thought would say that this in itself should be problematic enough for you to accept that this was maybe a mistake on Goldwasser’s part and the most you can do now is be quiet and accept that all actions have consequences, not even Doctor Goldwasser is immune to that.

I’d really love it if you can explain how even though these concerns about retraumatization and nudity have been made public, did Doctor Goldwasser signing a document that states unequivocally that the only answer for Jewish LGBT people is exactly those things. How can he as a supposed professional ever justify saying that the only answer for survivors of abuse it to be placed into an environment where unlicensed professionals conduct human experiments based on junk science that has been condemned over and over again. I have yet to receive a straight answer to this question and now would be a really good time.

JONAH has been exposed to have treated sexual predators and pedophiles. They have admitted under oath that they “treat” pedophiles in their groups and on their weekends. Yet at the same time, they target survivors of abuse and lure them into using their services. How can anyone ever justify putting survivors and abusers in the same therapeutic group? If you need proof that JONAH does this just ask Meyer about the time that the head of JONAH contacted him and tried convincing him to list JONAH on JCW’s website as a resource for survivors of abuse. What’s worse, these organizations never bothered reporting any of this. Can you explain how it is that you’re willing to overlook such a problematic detail? One would think that your claim to be advocating first and foremost for victims of abuse should make you want to distance yourself as far as possible from being associated with this by any extension, unless you think that survivors and abusers in the same group is acceptable. At this point I’m starting to think that this is your opinion because you’ve repeatedly failed to address this. And while I recognize that this is more of an issue for Doctor Goldwasser, you’ve made it your mission to defend and support him so these are things that you are now personally on the line for.

They say that with great power comes great responsibility. You were granted great power to speak to and for many of us who were victims of abuse. However at this point you have taken that power and used it to promote something that’s evil and dangerous. You have made this conversation about the few that are being helped by this and disregarded the many others who were hurt. You are ignoring the scientific evidence and the data that states unequivocally that trying to change one’s orientation can result in disastrous consequences.

Some people on this thread have correctly pointed out that the Tzedek event wasn’t about conversion therapy. While that’s very true, Doctor Goldwasser’s remarks have turned it into just that. If he would’ve not said those things and the most recent events during April, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation now. So yes, this isn’t about conversion therapy but it’s been turned into that by Doctor Goldwasser and his supporters.

I will not continue to comment on this and go back and forth with others. I have no intention of addressing petty comments about who is a better advocate and who has done more, those are side issues and aren’t relevant to the bottom line. We can have a pissing contest over who has done more but at the end of the day we all have the same goal in mind and that is to protect children. We need to make sure that the children we protect aren’t only the ones who sexual orientation fit within the parameters of one belief system over another. Remember, that words in the hands of a psychologist can be like a scalpel in the hands of a surgeon. If a psychologist isn’t careful with that scalpel he can cause long term irreversible damage. That’s what this is about, that’s what this has always been about and that’s what this will continue being about.

In closing, I think that Tzedek’s decision was not only the right one, but exemplified what true leadership looks like. The ability to admit that you made a mistake and to accept other people’s feedback in order to accommodate everyone is one that eludes many others involved in this debate. I truly hope that we can learn by example from Tzedek and make sure that no one is ever given a platform to disseminate such harmful, inaccurate and cruel messages about certain abuse survivors as long as they are nice to the rest of them.