MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL
I spent the better part of my 20's pursuing justice and dignity for LGBTQ people, especially within the Orthodox Jewish community.
As a survivor of four years childhood sexual abuse and conversion therapy in my late teenage years, I have been on a very public journey of healing and seeking justice after 8 years ago I decided to share my struggles with the world as I was going through and coming to terms with them.
I believed that the only way for me to survive was to take my battles to the public in order to try rectify some of the injustices that were done to me and many others at the hands of the conversion therapy industry. In 2010, the words conversion therapy weren't known to the world like they are today. With the help of Wayne Bessen, a mentor and friend who founded the organization Truth Wins Out, Benjy and I appeared in a Youtube video in which we described the specific things that organizations such as (the now-shuttered) organization JONAH once did to their clients in order to supposedly cure us of [what they called] same-sex attraction. Some of those things included having us strip naked while standing in a locked room alone with a JONAH ‘life coach’ who himself ‘struggled with same-sex attraction.’
That Youtube video was the first step of many that ultimately led to a consumer fraud lawsuit against JONAH. Ferguson v JONAH was filed on behalf of myself and six others by the Southern Poverty Law Center on November 27th 2012. It was because of this lawsuit that conversion therapy was found to be a fraudulent and unconscionable business practice by a jury. More importantly, it was because of this lawsuit that we got a real insight into the inner workings of the conversion therapy industry. In open court and in depositions that are mostly public record now, the junk science and emotional manipulation that fed and continues to feed groups like JONAH affiliates such as People Can Change (now known as Brother’s road), was exposed in public for the world to see.
After 3 and a half of some of the most challenging and grueling years of my life, we won our lawsuit and JONAH agreed to shut down. It was at that time that I, Chaim Levin, really started focusing on my future career and how I would finally realize my dream of getting a real education. Being in college at the age of 28 is technically a little late (don't tell me it's not, I know it's not but I'm being technical), I have gone through fire and water and many other obstacles to get to where I am today for my education. Every moment I spend in class or working on school work is the best spent time of my life in my day to day life today.
A little bit before the JONAH lawsuit, right when I turned 23, I filed a separate lawsuit against my first cousin, Sholom Eichler, who sexually abused me from when I was 6 to 10 years old. Eichler was close to 6 years older than me. At the time that I filed that lawsuit, I publicly wrote Eichler’s name online for the first time and was met with a pretty strong response from people who attempted to defend and belittle the accusations that I was making in my lawsuit. Some people tried to frame it as “just two kids messing around” and that Eichler shouldn’t be held to responsible because of that. These assertions by people, even from random strangers on the internet were at times excruciatingly painful because every time I hear such sweeping statements made about minor children abusing other minors, I am reminded how woefully uneducated people are when it comes to the issue of sexual assault. So, to those people who have attempted to frame what was done to me by my abuser as just two kids fooling around, I say now just as I said when I first went public: no, we were not two kids fooling around. When my cousin lured me into the basement of the synagogue that we used to pray at on everyshabbat morning and forcefully moved my hand to his groin area and then persuaded me to do many things to and with him, I was not in control because I was SIX YEARS OLD. When at 8 years old my cousin raped me with a blue Bic pen, I was not in control. If you cannot grasp that, then there isn't much more that I can tell you that would lead you to conclude that Sholom Eichler brutally and viciously sexually molested me for four years of my childhood. If you're reading this and still believe that it's possible that Eichler isn't at fault or shouldn't be held responsible, just know these things: 1. Eichler has admitted his actions to members of my family. 2. Another individual has approached me and alleged that Eichler attempted to assault them during that same time period. 3. One-third of sex crimes are committed by minors against minors. Eichler has not once taken any responsibility for what he did to me.
The civil lawsuit that I filed against Eichler in civil court led to a default judgment in my favor because Eichler did not respond to the lawsuit. As of this writing, Sholom Eichler owes me $3.5 million dollars. Documents about this judgment will eventually be uploaded to this website.
One other issue that I am passionate about and have spoken about numerous times is the issue of education within the ultra-orthodox/Hasidic/haredi school system. While attending an orthodox Chabad–Lubavitch school in Crown Heights, I was not taught any fundamental reading, writing or math skills. We were never taught any history, science or geography. We were not taught anything that was NOT the old testament. Since I first publicly discussed this in 2012 I’ve received lots of positive and negative feedback from members of the Chabad community in which I grew up, but the negative feedback tends to always return to a frustrating but very often used trope to quell anyone who challenges the status quo: “This is what the Rebbe [the late Menachem Schneerson, leader of the Chabad community] wanted, and by challenging Oholei Torah (the school that I was sent to, the main Chabad school in Crown Heights), you are challenging the Rebbe and that’s dangerous.” In other words, they are telling me that by challenging the words of the Rebbe, a man who went to college himself, by doing that I am opening myself to the possibility of “bad things” happening to me (whatever that means, I’m still trying to figure that out. I wish those who say things like this to me would finally realize that this isn’t a tactic that will be effective in convincing me not to care about the disastrous state of education for thousands of Hasidic boys and [some but not as many] girls today. This is a human rights issue that is not only being ignored but enabled at the highest levels of the city and state of New York. The state of New York continues to refuse to enforce its own laws that require private schools’ to substantially equivalent to what is being taught at public schools in terms of basic studies like reading, writing, math, science, and history.
I choose to proudly publicize these facts about myself because I don't think - as many people have suggested and told me outright over years - that by being so open about these things I am perceived as weak or as a professional victim. I disagree with that characterization very strongly because I took concrete action in all areas of my life to remedy the injustices that were done to me. I did not just call out my abuser or JONAH on Facebook and blog posts, I took action and took them to court. In both cases, I won and I'm proud to add that to my list of accomplishments. While the Eichler matter is still not settled and likely won't be until one of us are dead, I will never stop pursuing justice because what was done to me was not just wrong and evil, it is something that continues to be done to people at this very moment.
I have taken a lot of my pain and tried to transform it into something that is actually positive. By using my own experiences as a survivor and as someone who comes from a more insular and conservative community in which concepts of sexual assault and rape are still evolving and becoming understood, I hope that my pain can lead to the healing or support of others who continue to be on this life-long journey of healing from one of the most unimaginable types of pain. Some people don’t realize this but there is never a singular moment in which one is suddenly free from the demons of the past. Sometimes they go away or get quieter, but keeping them quiet or away requires constant work and maintenance. While some people think I’m stating the obvious, I want the ones who don’t know this to know that it’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to recognize and accept that something bad was done to you. The moment you do that you can start focusing on a plan of how you will transform this terrible experience into something useful and good for the world. Honestly, sometimes I feel like the simplest way to explain this concept as making lemonade out of lemons. I’m not sure if Beyonce redefined that term already but in plain English, it means taking what was given to you and trying to flip it into something that can help you and others in the long run. But, you need to survive in order to experience it! Keep holding on, there is always hope.
If you are still reading this then you might have more questions about the things you just read and I get that, that's why - after pushing it off for so long - I created this website!
Thank you for reading part of my story and I hope that website will give you some insight into the world that I come from as well as support to those still in that world. Make sure to check out the links section for support, resources, and a blog that I hope to maintain at least for commenting on current events or the occasional piece of writing about my past that I could summon up the courage to create.
I grew up as an Orthodox Hasidic Jew within the Chabad Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, in Brooklyn New York.
I still live in Crown Heights, a few blocks away from the house that I was raised in.
As of this writing, I am 28 years old, in my sophomore year at Brooklyn College pursuing an undergraduate degree in communications and history.
This website exists in part as a hub for me (and for others!) to keep all my work in one place. By work I mean some of the activism that I do for causes that are close to my heart. My story has been written about but in fragments and in many different places.
Part of my hope for this site is to gain a little more autonomy over my story and how it’s told in a larger context throughout the years of my activism.
I want this website to exist as a resource for the many people who contact me for support or guidance.
With that said, below is a somewhat basic outline of who I am, what I’ve been through, and what I’ve achieved.
Please be advised that some of the content is graphic and contains references to childhood sexual abuse.
If you are easily triggered by reading about this topic, please exercise self-care if you decide to read on."