One of the positive outcomes of the brouhaha regarding the harassment of Dr. Benzion Twerski – which led to his resignation from Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s panel on child abuse – was the realization on the part of many members of our community that they cannot afford to sit on the sidelines any longer. However, the question arises: What can I do to become part of the solution?
Last week, someone posted a remark on my website that sums up that sentiment pretty well in a short-but-to-the-point comment. Referring to Dr. Twerski’s treatment, she writes, “This is an outrage! This is horrible! But what can I as an individual, do about this?”
Well, al regel achas (on one foot), here are some of my thoughts:
For starters, we should resist the knee-jerk reaction of blaming ‘the gedolim’ for everything. These attacks are not constructive and will not save the fingernail of even one child. If you are disappointed or even upset with the response of rabbinic leadership to the abuse issue; “Deal With It,” as the kids say. And do something constructive with your passion and energy.
In the early 1990’s, I was an eighth-grade rebbi and was frustrated to tears at what ‘the system’ was doing to the weaker talmidim that I was teaching. I wrote a column, An Ounce of Prevention, submitted it to a mainstream publication, The Jewish Observer, who ran it despite the fact that it pointed out fundamental flaws in our chinuch system. At the age of 36, I was given an open microphone by Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’tl – with no scripting whatsoever – at the 2006 Agudah Convention at a plenary session with 4,000 delegates, hundreds of rabbonim and several members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah present. I have proudly served as a department head of Agudath Israel for 12 years now in my capacity as Director of Project Y.E.S. and never once have any of the gedolim s’hlita even suggested to me that I tone down my writings or remarks despite the fact that I am, well, … outspoken at times (OK; often). I was invited to several meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Rabbinic Board of Torah Umesorah to share feedback with our Roshei Yeshiva s’hlita from the at-risk kids and their parents. And whenever I have the zechus of spending time with our gedolim s’hlita, they thank me for my efforts to improve things for our children and offer their assistance.
So, if you want to make positive change in the arena of abuse prevention – and we all know that much change is sorely needed – roll up your sleeves and become part of the solution instead of complaining or just hoping that things will improve on their own.
• Organize lectures in your community to train parents and educators about how to speak to their children about safety, privacy and personal space. These are very easily done in a Torah-appropriate manner. Awareness saves lives. It is just that simple. You cannot follow your children around for the rest of their lives, but you can teach them to have the self-confidence to ward off predators. My experience has shown me that pedophiles have a twisted sixth-sense that immediately lets them know which kids are ‘safe’ to molest and which are not. The ignorant and unaware ones are always the ‘safest.’ To quote U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
• Reward and support the moderate, progressive educators. It is so frustrating to watch child-friendly programs get shot down time and again by judgmental communal attitudes. Principals who give children sufficient play time get their schools branded as shvache (weak) mosdos. Schools that are tolerant in their admission policies or with the misdeeds of their students are often shunned and relegated to second-hand status. The result is that there are lots and lots of really great people in our chinuch system whose hands are frozen on the wheel – afraid to do reasonable things for the kids because they rightfully assume that it will be the ‘kiss of death’ for their schools. I keep seeing this time and again – and I keep listening to such educators complaining to me that their hands are tied by parental pressure. “They” (our gedolim) didn’t create this mindset. We did. And we must stop this self-destructive behavior if we would like to see our schools initiate much-needed abuse-prevention programs.
• Do your homework and see what you can do to support organizations whose mission it is to prevent abuse and treat its victims. There are quite a number of established organizations who have programs for abuse prevention and/or treatment and several which have been created over the past few years to address this issue.
One such effort is “Project Innocent Heart” (http://innocentheart.org, firstname.lastname@example.org) founded by my dear friend Dr. Sam Lupin and his wife Lynda in memory of their beloved daughter Lois a”h, who tragically passed away after a long bout with cancer. Innocent Heart is a visionary project looking to train therapists, help parents and educators teach their children about safety and provide abuse victims with professional therapy on a sliding-scale payment basis.
Dr. Lupin prepared a budget that would allow for the treatment of ten abused children in the first year – a number he felt was far more than a new unadvertised program would attract. Well; six months later there are twenty-five children receiving help, and whenever I see Dr. Lupin in shul or around town, he tells me how he takes calls from parents of victims that leave him sickened and heartbroken, and wonders how he will continue to fund this program. So, drop him a line and offer your support. Contact your local bikur cholim or other communal agency and ask if they are providing services for abuse victims – and then offer to give your time and some of your charity funds to support their efforts.
To quote the Mishnah, “The day is short and there is much work to do.” We all know what the problems and challenges are regarding the abused and molested children in our community.
Let finally, “Deal With It.”
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.