Monday, October 12, 2015

The quasi-orthodox Jewish world compared to the BITE Model of Cult Mind Control

(This article was originally published by The Awareness Center on November 6, 2013, and republished by The Times of Israel on October 12, 2015)

Over the last fifteen years of my life I’ve been working within various movements of Judaism, from the unaffiliated to the ultra-orthodox. When I first got started I was unaware of the many facets of orthodox Judaism. What I used to consider extremely observant, is actually considered to be modern orthodox. As the years progressed I started to understand the diverse populations within the Jewish orthodox world. The vast majority of orthodox Jews do not fall into the category of being considered cult like. Yet there are some small splinter groups within the far-right movement of Judaism, which appear to fall into this category.

Recently I decided to go through Steve Hassan’sBITE Model of Cult Mind Control” to compare these splinter groups of the Jewish orthodox world to see if they would fall within the BITE Model to verify if my hypothesis was correct. Below are some of my findings when answering the 15 questions under the Behavior category. 

While reading the following please be aware that I am NOT comparing “mainstream orthodox Judaism" to the "BITE Model", only the extremist groups within ultra-orthodox communities; such communities as those in which Jewish survivors of sex crimes in the past have shared that they were not allowed to make hot-line reports when they suspect a child is being abused or neglected to the secular authorities without the permission of their rabbis first. It is in these types of communities, rabbis’ regulate just about everything that goes on in their community members life.

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality: In mainstream Judaism, a person who keeps kosher and shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) is considered an Orthodox Jew. In the eyes of many of those living within the eruv of an ultra-orthodox, extremist group, an individual is not even considered Jewish, let alone a Torah observant Jew –– unless the individual does exactly what their particular rabbi says to do. In these types of communities if one goes to a rabbi with a question and does not like the answer, they are NOT allowed to go to another rabbi to get another response. To do so is consider heresy. 

2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates. In some of the extremist groups, and depending on how insulated the community is, the rabbi will dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates with. 

The whole concept of the shadchan (matchmaker) is an example of this. One can not just find a mate and get married, there is a process to getting married. In many of these communities parents will hire a shadchun who will present possible suitors for a potential bride. If the woman is from the right kind of family then the possible mate may be a rabbi or from a prominent family. It’s sort of like what happens when trying to marry off someone from a royal family or like the concept of using a dowry.

If the child is not from ‘the right kind of family’ they may not be introduced to someone who has any standing within the community. Instead they most likely would be told by the shadchan they need to settle for someone who they do not feel comfortable with. If the individual looking for a mate is a troublemaker (doesn’t keep to the rules of the community or questions authority), they will not be able to find a good marriage partner. If the individual is male, they also may not be able to get into a good yeshiva (Jewish day school, high school or seminary). In these type of extremist communities, this almost like getting a death sentence. Without being able to study Torah under the right rabbi, could basically influence the standing within the community the rest of his life.

3. When, how and with whom the member has sex. In the more extremist orthodox communities, the issue of modesty runs rampant to the degree that no male over the age of 13 is allowed to touch a woman, except for a woman after he is married. In a more liberal chassidic or yeshivish community a woman is allowed to be hugged by her father and male siblings, even after she reaches the age of 13. In the more main stream orthodox community this is a non-issue. 

When a woman gets married and starts her monthly menstrual cycle –– up until the time her rabbi says she is allowed to go to the Mikvah her, husband is not allowed to touch her. This includes shaking hands or any other type of physical contact. In the more extreme orthodox communities, once a woman’s period is over she must wait 7 days before her husband will bring a pair of her panties to the rav or rebbe of the community, who will look at the underwear to determine if she’s “clean”. Meaning there’s no stains. In these more extreme orthodox communities, a trained rabbi will also be able to tell from the underwear (or a cloth used to wipe themselves to bring to their rabbi) if the woman needs to seek medical attention from an OB/GYNE for gynecological care. A woman can go at any time to see a doctor, as long as it’s a doctor recommended by the rav or rebbe. In a few of these communities there is NO such thing as confidentiality or doctors following HIPPA . Many Jewish survivors, who came from these more insulated communities described that they learned that it was vitally important for all doctors and mental health professionals to report their findings to their rav or rebbe, so the rav or rebbe can keep tabs on everyone. 

Once a rav or rebbe (rabbi) clears a woman, she can go to the mikvah. In some of the more extremist types of ultra-orthodox communities, once a woman has gone to the mikvah, she must return straight home and have sexual relations with her husband right away –– because at that time she is considered clean and pure. 

Again in some of the more extremist communities one of the beliefs for having sexual relations, is for procreating; yet it is also important to note that it is the man’s responsibility to please his wife.

The belief in many orthodox communities is that while making love, one must have only pure and holy thoughts. Afterwards both the husband and the wife should thank Hashem for the possibility of life. 

According to halacha (Jewish Law), it’s a sin for a man to have sexual relations outside of the marriage. Yet it is a forgive able sin as long as the act is with an unmarried woman or a non-Jew. The only exception to this rule is if a man is a kohan, and the the rules get changed up. A kohan can never have sexual relations with anyone except the woman he is married to, or else he can loose his status of a Kohan. If a male is sexually abused as a child, he then has to ask G-d for forgiveness to maintain his status as a Kohan. A Kohan is someone who is a descendant of Aaron. 

According to halacha, adultery only occurs when both the man and the woman are married to other people. This view is often taught in the yeshivish and chasidic world. In the more modern orthodox world this definition no longer is true, yet in the more extremist groups they believe halacha is halacha (Jewish Law). 

Getting back to the Mikvah. In a few of the more extremely insulated charedi communities, after the rav or rebbe gives the husband permission to have sexual relations with his wife, and sees the man the next day, the custom is to go up to him and say “Mazel tov”. Because having sexual relations is the potential of bringing a new life into the world.

It’s important to note that the reason why a man does not have sexual relations with his wife once she gets her period, is NOT because she’s “unclean”. It has to do with the fact that the belief is that she and her body is in a state of mourning -- for the potential life that never became a reality. 

4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles. The local orthodox rabbi or Vaad (rabbinical counsel) will determine what clothing and hair styles are appropriate for people to wear. A married woman will never show her hair in public. It will be covered by a snood or sheitle (wig). The only person who can see a married woman’s hair is her husband or children. In some groups, boys can only see their mother’s hair if the child is under the age of 13. Female children it doesn’t matter. 

A woman’s neck line should always be covered. No one but her husband should ever see her collar bone, elbows or knees. In some insulated communities, a woman always is wearing stockings so that her skin doesn’t show on her legs, including her feet. You’ll find this in the chassidic world and in some of the more yeshivish communities.

5. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting. The rules of kashrut changes from community to community. It all can get extremely political. The idea of hechshers is relatively new. Prior to WWII most people shechitaled (slaughtered) their own cows and chickens, and knew how to clean food properly to insure there were no bugs or other insects and also to be sure that what they were eating followed halacha. 

Today very few people kill their own animals or watch them being slaughtered (except in the more ultra-orthodox chassidic world, where people watch to make sure it’s being done correctly prior to buying meat). Also many people will only buy frozen vegetables what have the correct hechsher from the proper kashering group set by the standards of the rabbi they follow. Also to ensure food is kosher, there needs to be someone who is called the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) to supervise food preparations to insure everything is done properly at various gatherings and restaurants. 

There are TWO major fast days in Judaism and 7 minor types of fast days. How you do these are often regulated by rabboinm. If someone can’t fast for a fast day, they must get clearance from the rav prior to the fast day. Even if a doctor says it’s dangerous to fast the rav has got to give you permission to eat, and often he will instruct you in how to eat, i.e. small bits of food and small sips of water throughout the day, etc.

6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep. I've never heard of this happening in any Jewish groups, except on shavout, when men stay up all night studying Torah, yet some men at one point do go to sleep.

7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence. This is a tricky one. Rabbis of communities may determine where you can shop and the type of things you are allowed to buy. In a particular type of Chabad community you are not allowed to buy your children anything with animals on it, except if the animal is something you can eat. The same goes for children’s books. Because food has to be kosher and you may only be allowed to buy food at a particular store or with a particular kashering label, it can cost you 3 to 4 times as much as no kosher food. 

You can also only send your children to the schools chosen by your rabbi. These schools are extremely expensive. If you follow the rules and regulations you might be able to get discounts, scholarships, etc for your kids to attend school; along with several other types of perks given to those who are under the thumb of the rebbe or rav.

8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time. A rav or rebbe will determine what kinds of leisure activities are kosher, along with things you do for entertainment and vacation time. An example of this is during Halamod Pesach (the days in between the holy days passover), a religious group will rent out Hershey Park and make it kosher food available They make it into a huge party of sorts and it is over taken by the mostly frum population, yet they do allow anyone to come in.

When it comes to entertainment you are not allowed to have a television in your home and computer use is regulated. You are NOT allowed to go to movies, except at a shul or other Jewish establishment and the the movies are chosen by the rav or rebbe. Music is also censored. Your rabbi will determine what music is allowable and what is not. This includes concerts. Women are allowed to hear both men and women sing, but men are banned from hearing women sing, except if it’s their wife in private and their own children as long as the female children are under the age of 13. The issue is that a woman’s singing voice can an arose a man, and it is the woman’s responsibility not to be sexually arousing to men. According to the ultra-orthodox extremist groups, men can not control their impulses. This is also why they believe women get raped -- because it’s something the woman or female child has done. The same thing goes for dancing. That is why at weddings and other celebrations women are behind a mechitza (fence). I’ve attended weddings where the women are seated in a totally different room or even in an alternative building. 

9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the internet. I already spoke about the internet. Men are supposed to spend their days studying torah or learning with the rebbe or rav. In some communities this all they do throughout their lives and it’s the woman who not only cares for the children and home, but also works outside the home. 

10. Permission required for major decisions. This is required in almost all orthodox communities including in a few living in the more modern orthodox world.

11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors This happens all the time, including in some modern orthodox communities. They believe it’s one of those checks and balances to keep a community cohesive.

12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative. The answer to this in the ultra-orthodox extremist groups is ALWAYS. As long as you do what you’re told it’s amazing how kind folks are to you. You’d be amazed at the love blasting that goes on when someone first enters the community in a BT (Baal Teshuva) community. In the more chassidic world this is not necessarily true, because they don’t trust outsiders. Yet, if you don’t do what the rabbi says, your home could be set on fire, you can loose your job, your kids kicked out of the yeshivas, and or you can’t get a good marriage partner.

13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think. In the more insular extremist groups, this is absolutely true. Remember it’s unthinkable to question authority. If you think for yourself you are considered either a troublemaker or mentally ill.

14. Impose rigid rules and regulations. In the more extremist orthodox communities one must always follow the rules and regulations set down by the local vaad (Jewish religious court), or by the head rabbi of the community. In the more insulated communities, every aspect of a persons life is regulated by their rabbi. In these extremist, insulated communities if one does not follow the rules, their children will no longer be allowed to attend the local day schools or yeshivas, their children will not get good marriage partners which is an essential part of the more charedi lifestyle, and also if they own a business, community members will no longer be allowed to shop there. 

15. Instill dependency and obedience. In the more insulated, extremist types of orthodox communities this is absolutely. Your rav or rebbe because G-d like. They be come your ultimate parent (father). You are nothing without them. You need them to make every decision there can be to make. If you disobey them, your life and that of everyone you know and love can be ruined.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

No Resolution For Jewish Survivors of Sex Crimes

(Article originally published in "The Times of Israel - September 30, 2015) 

Over the past thirty years of being involved in the anti-rape movement, I’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse from just about every faith.

Though each religion has its own beliefs and protocols in the way allegations of sex crimes should be handled, there are so many similarities between the various in which these institutions have operated. 
Sadly it appears that the status quo has been to cover-up sex crimes after they have been committed, and then to turn around and blame those who have been victimized.  

For years many activists have joked, "that it’s almost as if religious leaders of all faiths went to the same school to learn how to mishandle cases involving clergy, along with employees of their religious institutions."

Though each faith might use different terminology in their rationals and religious laws, it all boils down to one thing;  The reputations of their clergy members, community leaders and institutions come first.  Very few really seem to care about the long term effects and ramifications sex crimes plays on those who have been victimized.  

I’ve heard it over and over again, from professionals working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, that it is as if those in affiliated with religious institutions in leadership roles “are nothing more then a part of  the good ole boys club”.  Which makes it appear that they care more about reputations, then about innocent lives of congregants (including men, women and children).

Over the last several weeks, since the first announcement that the Pope Francis was coming to the United States and since he left; I’ve been flooded with emails along with postings on both Facebook and Twitter regarding the Catholic churches inaction when it came to cases of clergy sexual abuse, along with complaints regarding the continued mishandling of more recent cases.

Every time I received one of these announcements regarding the Pope, I can't help but to thinking to myself that on some levels my Catholic friends have it so much easier then us Jews.  Within Judaism, there is not one central person in charge of our faith.  Meaning there’s not one person to place the blame.  Instead it feels as if we have zillions of pontiffs.  Within Judaism, there is no Pope.  Instead each and every rabbi is more or less like the rulers of their own kingdom.

According to years of research on the topic, I’ve learned that there is really no way to “defrock” a rabbi.  In the Jewish Renewal, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, receiving rabbinical ordination is like receiving a college degree.  There’s no taking it back.  In the orthodox world, there are some that say that if the rabbi who gave the ordination takes it back, then the person is no longer considered ordained.  The problem with this is that often rabbis receive multiple ordinations, meaning various rabbonim would have to remove their smichas.  Another issue is the fact that if the ordinating rabbi is deceased, there’s nothing one can do to remove the ordination.

Some believe that if a rabbi is a member of a rabbinical organization it provides some sort of protection for the rabbis followers.  The truth is that it does not.  The worst thing that can happen is that the alleged offender might have their membership terminated.  The alleged offender is still allowed to call themselves rabbi.

Over the years we have seen rabbis or other community members who have been accused of a sex crime chased out of town after committing heinous acts; yet allowed to move on to a new, unsuspecting community –– where the alleged offender can have free reign in victimizing more men, women and or children.

Another issue we have seen happen time after time is that an alleged or convicted sex offender will hop from one movement of Judaism to another to avoid suspicion, without any sort of notification to other branches of Judaism, which offers the alleged assailant the illusion they can roam free to offend again.

Unfortunately, to date there are no solution to any of these issues –– leaving our communities vulnerable.

(Originally published by The Times of Israel on September 30, 2015)

Friday, July 03, 2015

Guidelines For Disciplining Children Who Have Been Abused

(This article was originally published in 1995 and reprinted by The Times of Israel on July 3 2015)
Disciplining children who have been abused can be a real challenge! And while there is no single method which has been proven to work for all children, the following tips represent what mental health professionals who work with and/or study child behavior have learned.

Using the discipline techniques outlined in this pamphlet, in combination with what you already know about your child(ren); will help you to develop the best and most effective way to set appropriate limits. Remember children learn best when you practice consistency in your discipline techniques. 

Tip #1  Physical: means punishments that are inappropriate, ineffective, and harmful to children!

This includes spanking, hitting, pinching, whipping, slapping . . . Spanking children teaches them that violence is an acceptable way to deal with problems. There is a fine line between spanking and abuse. In addition, it simply does not work. Children, especially children who have been physical and/or sexually abused, often have learned how to dissociate themselves from pain. Basically, being hit or hurt in some way is nothing new to abused children. Spanking is also tremendously humiliating for your child. No child should be made to feel that way — it leads to shame and low self esteem, which in turn lead to further behavior problems. Spanking kids can lead to a vicious cycle. Hitting children is a way to take out your anger on a child (this should never be the guiding emotion behind any punishment). In short, spanking benefits the spanker more than the spanked. When you feel like hitting a child, go into another room, hit a pillow instead. Once you’ve cooled down, then you’ll be ready to go back and deal with the child.

Tip #2  Positive reinforcement works wonders. It is much easier to increase a positive behavior than it is to decrease a negative one. In simple terms, that means if you lavish praise on your children when they do well, they will continue to do the right thing. It is much easier to get a child to “keep up the good work”, than to get a child to stop doing something which gives him/her lots of negative attention. But if you give lots of
Remember children thrive on attention, (either positive or negative attention).

Tip #3  Use the time out method. If you isolate a child for a certain amount of time when he or she gets a little unruly, it gives him/her a chance to cool down. If a child is misbehaving, give a warning that he/she will need to go to a “time out”, if the behavior does not stop. The most important part of the warning is following through with the warning. If the behavior does not stop, send the child to a chair or a corner for a few minutes (depending on the child’s age . . . 1 minute for each year). Use a kitchen time to make sure the time out is exactly as long as you say it will be. One important lesson learned by giving a warning prior to “time out”, is that the child learns there are choices in ones life.

If you spank a child, you teach him/her violence. If you yell at a child, you teach him/her shame. If you use choices and fair, NONVIOLENT consequences, you teach the child that he/she has power to effect his/her own life, and that he/she can make a choice to behave or not to behave (and suffer the consequences of a “time out”).

Too Much Pressure?
  1. Take some deep breaths. Remember, you are the adult
  2. Remember that good parenting must be learned and, at times, is very demanding. It’s okay to ask for help to improve your parenting skills.
  3. Close your eyes and think about what you want to say. Don’t just say the first thing that comes to your mind.
  4. Put your child in a ‘time-out’ chair (one minute fore each year of age).
  5. Think about why you are angry. Does the situation call for such a reaction?
  6. Phone a friend.
  7. Splash water on your face.
  8. Turn on some music
  9. If someone can watch your child, take a short walk
Communication Tips
  1. Gently touch your child before you speak
  2. Say their name.
  3. Speak in a quiet voice.
  4. Look at your child in the eye so you can tell if he/she understands.
  5. Bend or sit down-get on your child’s level.
  6. Give children the same courtesy and respect you give your adult friends.
  7. Encourage talking by asking about your child’s day or asking his opinion about important things.
  8. Children are never too young or too old to be told “I love you”.
Find opportunity to praise your child, it is the best way to encourage good behavior. Be observant and you will find many.
Ways to praise your child:
  1. Way to go.
  2. I’m proud of the way you did that.
  3. Thank you
  4. I knew you could do it.
  5. Good job.
  6. Excellent.
  7. I trust you.
  8. You mean the world to me.
  9. Beautiful work.
  10. I love you.
  11. Well done.
  12. Good for you.
  13. You’re terrific.
  14. Great discovery.
  15. Fantastic work.
  16. Job well done.
Children need discipline
  1. Discipline is not punishment. It is a way to teach a child appropriate behavior.
  2. Set reasonable, clear and consistent rules and limits. Do not change from day to day.
  3. Ignore negative behavior. Children ‘act up’ to get attention.
  4. Let children help with your daily activities and give them responsibilities that fit their capabilities.
  5. Show children how to correct what they’ve done wrong, by apologizing, cleaning up, etc.
  6. Determine appropriate discipline for misbehavior.
  7. Change the environment. Remove the child from the situation.
  8. Talk to your child about self control and how t make better choice
  9. Avoid yelling. Speak in a clear, serious tone of voice.
  10. Rejection, Withdrawal of affection, or preferential treatment of one child over another can be as damaging as physical abuse.
 If you say “NO” too much, it loses impact.
  1. Try words other than “non” like “stop”, “oh”, or “wait”.
  2. Call your children by name when warning them.
  3. Explain the situation to them.
  4. Anticipate conflicts and address it before it happens.
  5. Suggest alternatives to unacceptable behavior. Explain you love them, but there is problems with their behavior.
  6. Listen to your children. You may change your mind.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Passover Prayer On Behalf of Abused and Neglected Children

(The author of this prayer is unknown, yet was originally published by The Awareness Center in 2007.  It was republished by The Times of Israel on March 16, 2015)

The following prayer was written for protective parents and their loved ones, child abuse advocates, and all who care about children to recite at their passover seder. A spring onion is added to the seder plate, or placed on the table as a symbol.

The Passover Seder is a time to celebrate our freedom and remember those who still struggle for the freedoms they deserve. Freedom from tyranny, violence, and oppression is a core value for us as our ancestors have known slavery, and our heart goes out to the enslaved and the imprisoned of any race, culture or creed. Tonight we remember a group of individuals often forgotten, trapped by a kind of slavery so cruel, that society often looks the other way—children (including adult survivors of child abuse) enslaved in lives of abuse. 

Today I remember ____________ (fill in name of a child or children you know trapped in lives of abuse. or substitute… “these children.”) Though many of us have tried to free them, the Pharaohs in our generation have blocked our efforts or looked the other way. Our hearts ache knowing the pain these children live with day after day. They are not forgotten. With this prayer we share our commitment to find a way to liberate them from their lives of exploitation and tyranny.

This spring onion on the Seder plate is our symbol for these children and their plight. The shape of the onion reminds us of the whips used on slaves to keep them subjugated. The tears we shed from the onion remind us of the silent tears of these children waiting for rescue. The newness of the onion reminds us of the promise of hope, that one day these children can grow healthy and free from the tyranny they are living with today.

We pray for the wisdom to find an effective path to liberate these children. We pray for the courage to stand up to the Pharaoh’s of our generation and speak the truth of what we know. We pray for the strength and fortitude to keep on fighting for their freedom.

May these children (including adult survivors) soon know the sweetness of freedom from violence and oppression and share Passover Seders and other celebrations of freedom, safely, with loved ones next year!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sexual Abuse: Getting Your Community To Talk

(This article was co-authored by Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH and originally published by The Awareness Center in 2003 and repubished by The Times of Israel on March 11, 2015)

Ever since starting The Awareness Center we have been getting a lot of feedback from various rabbis around the world. There seems to be one common theme in most of the letters. It appears there’s a lack of general knowledge of what to do and say when someone discloses his or her abuse history. Most rabbis who contacted us were unaware of sexual abuse cases in their communities. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness could be due more to the fact that most Yeshivas who train rabbis do not cover the area of sexual abuse.

Therefore, rabbis seem to be unaware of what the symptoms are, or the long-term ramifications. This is something as a community we need to change, if we are to move toward healing those who have been victimized. Until very recently, sexual abuse was a topic too taboo to even talk about, let alone learn about. We have a huge task in front of us: We need to start educating our communities (especially those who are seen to be authority figures) on the symptoms that children who are being molested might exhibit, as well as the long term ramifications of childhood sexual abuse. 

One rabbi wrote us:
Your article about sexual abuse in Jewish circles is on target. Although no cases were actually brought to my attention, I am aware of teachers in yeshivot who molested their (male) pupils, “left” the school to go to Israel (to do what, I don’t know), then returned to the USA several years later. To my knowledge, the problem is far less than in the Catholic Church. The cult and missionary angle (in a recent article on The Awareness Center’s site—editor’s note) in cases of sexually abused Jewish children is most interesting.

The odds are that many individuals this rabbi has known, were sexually victimized as children – after all, statistics show that one out of every three-to-five women and one out of every five-to-seven men (in the US) have been sexually abused by the time they reached their eighteenth birthday. What is more probable is that the rabbi, as well as many others, who voice similar statements, just didn’t recognize the symptoms of abuse. Another possibility is that on some unconscious level the rabbi gave the impression that they were not comfortable discussing issues relating to sexual abuse. Survivors need to feel a sense of safety with an individual if they are going to make disclosures of this sort.

Granted, the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are many and not everyone victimized will exhibit them all (see table for list of symptoms). What is of utmost importance is that survivors know that they can speak out safely, and that they can make the abuse stop—for them and for others who might still be in danger.

The question is, then, how do you get individuals to disclose their abuse, so that a rabbi can become aware of whether there is such a problem his or her congregation?

The first and maybe the hardest step is to admit to yourself that there might be a problem, and be ready to address it. Education is the key, learn about the issue relating to childhood sexual abuse. Read books published in the area (i.e. Courage to Heal and Victims No Longer). Contact other rabbis with whom you study, and offer to host a brainstorming meeting regarding the ways with which to address and deal with the issues of childhood sexual abuse in your congregations. Remember as long as abuse is seen as a taboo topic amongst the leaders; the rest of the congregation will also feel it is taboo to discuss (let alone disclose). As heads of the community, rabbis are expected to hold their head a notch above the rest, and to keep their eyes and hearts open to the hurdles facing their congregations.

During services you might let your congregation know that you are open to hearing and interested in learning more about sexual abuse. It wouldn’t hurt to mention that you are beginning to understand the severity of it, and how it eats to the core of the Jewish teaching of protecting the weak and needy. Let them know you are there to listen. The odds are that doing so would open up doors of trust and communications, and that some survivors will step forward. There is one draw back in doing this. A rabbi will have to be prepared to listen. You will open yourself up to hear dark and ugly secrets. It’s important for you to have a support system in place so that you can debrief. There are times that care providers (including Rabbis) develop something called “compassion fatigue” (secondary post-traumatic stress disorder), some people call it vicarious victimization. Basically you end up having similar symptomology as the individuals who are disclosing their histories (see list).

The second step is to educate your congregation. Bring speakers into your community to discuss the topic. Get speakers from your state’s child protection service and/or your local rape crisis center – they are well equipped to explain “how and when to make hotline reports”, as well as the process of investigation reports. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have monthly speakers to present about the various aspects of sexual abuse. Topics could include, “good touch, bad touch”. What to do if your child is abused? How to cope when your spouse molested children (please note that both men and women can be offenders), what to do if your child is sexually aggressive, sexually reactive and/or a juvenile sex offender, etc.

The third step is to locate resources in your community. Make a list of therapists who are trained in the area of sexual abuse and familiar with Jewish tradition (or offer these therapist your counsel if they needed it when working with people who are shomrey-mitzvot). Find and/or start self-help or networking groups as resources for survivors in your congregation and the surrounding area.

We at The Awareness Center will be happy to assist you in finding these resources in our upcoming International Resource Guide, which will include professionals experienced working with Jewish Survivors. Also, our constantly updated web pages are chock-ful-of information about sexual abuse and its multitude of after effects; as well as references and articles about treatment, support groups, etc. Our board of directors and members of our advisory board are here to read and respond to your questions via email.

Opening up darkened spaces is a scary, saddening task, but it is a sacred one as well. For as we have been taught by our learned rabbis of the Sanhedrin, “anyone who saves one soul of Israel, it is said about him that he/she has saved a whole world” (Sanhedrin 37/a.)
Let us be “or La-Goyim”, a light to show the way for other nations, by mending our communities without fear or shame.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Anti-Semitism, Sexual Abuse, and The Jewish Community

(This article was originally published in 2003 by The Awareness Center, and republished by The Times of Israel on March 10, 2015)

Over the years there have been many reasons why the Jewish Community kept silent about sexual crimes committed by individuals in our community. To this day there is a legitimate reason why we may want to remain silent. We have to remember that there is a large number of hate groups that would love to promote their propaganda by posting information about Jews who molest on their web pages and publications. Their eagerness is a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving.

Since the beginning of time, Jews around the world have been watched as if we were under a microscope. We can’t ignore this fact. The question is what should we do? Can we afford to expose our vulnerabilities and show the rest of the world that we are also human? The truth is that we have a choice. We can choose to live in fear, or we can allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse a voice, so that we can take steps to make the necessary changes to heal our community.
When it comes to sexual abuse in any community (Jewish or non-Jewish), “silence is NOT golden.” Things will never change unless we bring attention to the problem and work as a community to come up with solutions. In the secular world there is often talk about all sorts of issues (i.e. civil rights, anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and other forms of violence). We need to remember that whenever anyone wants to make a difference, make changes to the status quo, there will always be someone or a group of people who will attempt to destroy the efforts. Look at slavery, women’s rights, democracy. Without taking risks, nothing would have changed. Without taking risks, our children WILL continue to risk sexual abuse from within our community.

When it comes to child molestation, we need to say and believe in our hearts –“NEVER AGAIN!” We need to do this in a public venue. It’s the only way for things to change. Yes, anti-Semitic groups have, and will continue to use any information they can get their hands on to promote hate. Yes, they have used some of the information posted on The Awareness Center’s web page. When this occurs, The Awareness Center’s policy is to make reports to the FBI (, and to encourage others to do the same. Don’t forget—hate is a crime in the United States, as in many other countries. Hate is a topic we need to speak out publicly about, just as we do about childhood sexual abuse. We need to do our part by reporting all forms of violent behavior, including hate crimes on the Internet.

So yes, hate groups will wave their supposed “proof for Jewish perversion.” They will wave a twisted reality of our efforts. Still, we need to have faith that the rest of the world’s communities have to deal with similar issues to our own (e.g. problems in the Catholic Church, issues of domestic violence in the Islamic world). That people of hate aren’t everyone. We cannot let individuals who promote hate prevent us from healing our community.

As Jews, we strive to live by the teachings of compassion and courage. Would we allow intimidation and other forms of violence to keep us silent? By keeping the secret that Jews are not immune to abusing their children, whose agenda would we be following? What opportunities for growth would we be missing?

When Jews talk about sexual abuse within our community, you can bet that extreme Islamic groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and other Aryan groups will use this material for their benefit. However, keeping in mind the righteous attitude that most hate groups flaunt, one can still wonder about what the statistics are for the same various hate groups when it comes to sexually victimizing their own children. Until they show otherwise, there is no reason to believe that they are any more immune then any other group of people, any more immune than we are. 

The question for us is what do WE do? Do we continue to keep our eyes closed in hope that if we don’t see something is wrong, others won’t see it, either? Should we continue to force our children who were sexually abused to be silent? Or do we take a risk and expose sexual abuse in our midst, knowing full well that it will be used by some sick individuals to promote their agenda of hate?

Let us remember the words of David Hamelech:
“When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me, even then I will be confident…for in the day of trouble Hashem will keep me safe…then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me… Teach me your ways, Hashem, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of you, Hashem, in the land of the living. Wait for Hashem, be strong and take heart and wait for Hashem.” (Psalm 27)

This article was originally publshed by The Awareness Center, Inc. in 2003 and was co-authored by Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH