This is why the Internet asifa (the large-scale rally, planned by haredim against the Internet, which took place on Sunday night at Citi Field) is important for K’lal Yisroel: because a wholesome lie is better than any broken truth; because denial must be protected at all costs; because ignorance is sacred in a world whose existence depends on it.
And this is why it is important that we be there too: because we hold the broken truth, the one we experienced firsthand when our rabbis, teachers, and leaders ripped their own lie piece by piece, life by life, in front of our eyes, and then intimidated, threatened, brutalized and suppressed any victim or witness who dared speak out, warning that they would destroy us and our broken truth if we did not accept their lie.
The Internet is an enormous threat to the ultra-Orthodox world for the same reason it is a threat in Syria, Iran and Russia; a population that is aware is a population difficult to control. They say that they must fight the Internet for it brings moral decay. What they do not say, even to themselves, is that they must fight the Internet so they can conceal moral decay. That the only thing they fear more than the outside corruption the Internet brought inside, is the inside corruption the Internet has revealed to the outside.
The Internet is terrifying to the rabbis perhaps because of porn, perhaps because it exposes youth to foreign ideas. But even more importantly, because it enables open dialogue and an honesty they cannot afford if they are to survive as a community, the community they insist they are; pure, innocent, and above their own frailties. And if a few children must be sacrificed for this wholesome lie, then so be it. It is better than any broken truth.
In the last few years, the Internet has served as a crucial tool for victims of sexual abuse. It is through blogs and online discussions that many victims first realized they are not alone, that this is a communal problem. The silence that has kept victims in such utter isolation, unable to connect with others, has been broken by the anonymity and connectivity of the Internet. It was there victims could finally speak honestly without fear. It was there they could hear of so many similar experiences, and reach out to other victims. The Internet played a large role in tapping at the wall of denial, and for the communal authorities this was a dangerous thing.
Denial is a terrible thing to lose. We know. For many victims it takes years to face their own traumas, to break away from the security and warmth of a well taught lie. But no one knows like we do that it is never technology that corrupts man, but man that corrupts technology. Because decades before there was the Internet or computers, there was sexual molestation and the worst forms of moral decay. We were there when it happened, when men who did not have access to the Internet turned into beasts, groping, fondling and raping boys and girls half their size and strength, then terrorizing them into silence.
On Sunday night we stood outside Citi Field with our cardboard signs. There were thousands of Orthodox men walking past us. Some looked quickly away, some laughed in pity, some wished they were standing with us. We’ll stand for the first time as a united voice, in public, telling them that we are no longer afraid; that we, who have seen the darkest parts of their world, will never be silenced again; that we will make as big a Chillul Hashem [desecration of God’s name] as we need to, and for as long as we need to, because there are basic morals and there are cultural traditions and for too long the ultra-Orthodox world has confused one for the other.
The Citi Field rally, which drew some 40,000 haredim, is so important to the community because it is another form of denial, another excuse rabbis can point to. It allows them to avoid confronting the most dangerous enemy of all: themselves. The Internet does not molest, only people do; they always have. But if they can just persist on blaming internal problems on evil outside forces, they can continue to remain blind to what they refuse to see: themselves. And that is why we were at at Citi Field, because this is the broken truth.
Judy Braun is the author of “Hush.”