Jewish Watchdog Group Challenges Child Sex Abuse Taboo

September 18, 2014  

One thousand Orthodox Jews crowded into a Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY hall Monday evening for a noble purpose: to raise awareness of, and educate themselves about, child sexual abuse – an issue all too often avoided as taboo within some circles.

The highly charged event served as an opportunity to show support to victims of abuse, to educate the public about the dangers of abuse and to present the relaunch of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), a watchdog group monitoring abuse in the global Jewish community.

Survivors (JCW makes a point of rejecting the term “victim”), Rabbis, politicians, mental health professionals and others repeated a dual message: that the Orthodox Jewish community will no longer sweep abuse under the rug, and that survivors who step forward will be embraced. Campaigners lament that all too often victims of abuse are urged not to turn to the police but to allow rabbis to deal with the crimes “within the community” – but a growing number of leading rabbis and communal figures are publicly rejecting such an approach and calling on victims to report such crimes immediately to the relevant authorities. JCW’s work has certainly contributed towards that change in attitudes.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Tompson as well as Deputy District Attorney Benny Forer, founder of Lamplighters Yeshiva, Yocheved Sidoff, marriage and family therapist Chaim Drizin and abuse survivor Meira Bookman also addressed the crowd. 

The event was held in memory of Dave Gordon – a lone soldier in the IDF who was himself survivor of child sexual abuse and an advocate for positive change in the Jewish community’s handling of abuse.

It was also an official “relaunch” of sorts for the group, which briefly shut down in February of this year due to a lack of funds. But thanks to generous donors JCW is up and running again – and priming the community to tackle the issue of child sexual abuse head on.

Zvi Gluck, CEO of Amudim Community Resources,  chaired the event, and urged the community to stand up and take action to prevent abuse against children.

“Any precious soul that is lost is on the hands of those who did nothing to stop it,” Gluck stated. 

Noted Rabbi and lecturer Y.Y. Jacobson spoke about the Jewish tradition of asking forgiveness before Rosh Hashanah, taking the opportunity to apologize to survivors on behalf of all educators who have not done enough to prevent abuse and support the victims.

Jacobson also urged past and present victims to come forward and promised them that “we will not judge you, we will not denigrate you, we will never blame you, we will embrace you.”

Clinical psychologist and Rabbi Benzion Twerski stressed that the responsibility for the harm that came from the abuse and its fallout lies squarely with the abuser – never the victim.

Twerski also gave some insights into the devastating psychological effects abuse has on a child, even if it’s only attempted abuse.

Eli Nash, a survivor of abuse and supporter of JCW addressed the controversial ‘Wall of Shame’ on the JCW website which exposes verified abusers. The wall has been lauded by some for ensuring predators cannot simply slip back into anonymity, free to continue abusing. But others have criticized it for acting “without due process” and for placing pictures of abusers who have already “served their time.”

Responding to the latter accusations, Nash said: “You ask: ‘why does someone who abused a child twenty years ago have to be on the wall today?

“I ask: why does someone who was abused 20 years ago have to suffer today?”

“When you answer that I’ll tell you why someone doesn’t have to be on the wall,” he stated. 

Helping survivors, helping the community

A short film, entitled “Speak Up” and produced for JCW by Danny Finkelman’s Sparks Next production was also screened. The film explores the stories of seven Jewish abuse survivors from the orthodox community.

In an impassioned speech, Meyer Seewald, founder and director of JCW, expressed his excitement and gratitude at seeing the community turn out by the hundreds to support survivors and commit to protecting children from sexual abuse in the future.

Seewald explained how each child is a holy gift from God to be cherished, nurtured, loved, and protected, as if they were our own.

“By gathering together and standing up for our children,” Seewald said, “we are making the greatest Kiddush Hashem [sanctifying God’s Name – ed.], and making a statement that we truly are a light unto the nations which will steadfastly face down this evil among us until it is eradicated.”

Seewald also discussed the relaunch of JCW with its increased focus, scope, and commitment to further helping victims of abuse.

He encouraged victims to seek the assistance and therapy they need, and to speak openly about their abuse. In doing so, they will not only help protect other children from abusers, but empower themselves to begin their healing and give others the courage to do the same.

“By helping another survivor, you will help yourself,” he said. 


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