Resisting a sexual predator

Rabbi Ben Kamin

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — I keep thinking about the heretofore anonymous suffering of the boys—now men—who live still in the legal and social shadows of the crimes allegedly committed upon them by “mentoring” role models at more than one major university. “Penn State” has become a another metaphor for heinous pedophiliac misconduct; we can hardly imagine the actual felonies being inflicted on lads drawn into the steam, showers, and darkness of truly ailing men living in delusional fiefdoms of impunity.

When the victims were impressionable boys, they were profoundly violated. Now as men, they remain permanently scarred and they relive the horror every time they think.

What happened to me years ago, in my sophomore year of college, carries barely of trace of comparison—and can hardly be referenced as against the egregiousness of the now high-profile Penn State / Syracuse repulsions.

I was a member of semi-professional acting troupe in a rather well-known local theater. The director was a jovial, experienced man of the stage, a former Broadway journeyman with a significant regional following. He encouraged me and took a hearty interest in my work, my problems, and my life in general.

When my father suddenly took ill during that period, Mr. Berwick (not his real name) was—I thought at the time—exceptionally sympathetic and indulgent. He took me aside often, his hands resting firmly on my back and shoulders, and encouraged me to pour my fears out. After rehearsals, he’d invite me to long interludes of counseling and advice.
Before long, we’d be talking about many things other than my father. Mr. Berwick, so worldly, so funny, so well-connected with theater personas (he claimed) that he could connect me with, soon led me into discourses about music, books, careers, love, and my very sexuality.

It was a difficult and transformative period of my youth and I naively believed that my teacher was trying to shepherd me with insight and regale me with a vision of existence that seductively drew me out of what was a contented, but basically myopic immigrant existence at home with beleaguered parents and my much younger siblings.

One night, he suddenly produced a selection of fine slacks and fashionable sport coats that he suggested I try on. “You dress rather plainly,” he said. “I’d love to see a pleasing young man like you decked out in clothing that is appropriate to your elegant looks.” (This was flattery, not fact. It was also, I suddenly realized, sick).

“Shall I take them home to try them on, Mr. Berwick?” I asked, my sensitivity to his motives quietly choking my heart and provoking not a little bit of fear in me. “Oh no, no, Ben,” he responded, offering me a smile and a wink that I still sometimes see in nightmares. “Let me watch you as you check out this new wardrobe.”

I left the clothing and any serious career in the theater behind, running out the door in shame and disgust. And to this day, I despise that little part of me that stopped me from reporting my gruesome teacher—whom I had trusted with too many secrets.

Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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