A large crowd from the Miami Jewish community gathered at the JLC in Miami Beach on Sunday evening for an emotionally charged evening to raise awareness for child abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and learn what Jewish Community Watch (JCW) is doing to combat it.
The crowd heard from rabbis, survivors and therapists. By the end of the evening, which many described as ‘raw’, ‘vulnerable’ and ‘emotional’, over a dozen victims of abuse stood up and publicly acknowledged their abuse – some for the very first time.
The MC for the event, Rabbi Schneur Kaplan introduced the opening speaker, Rabbi and Licensed Therapist Chaim Drizin. Rabbi Drizin shared some of his experiences working with victims of abuse referred to him by JCW. Drizin also discussed some lesser known facts about the types of homes victim of abuse often come from.
Founder and director of Jewish Community Watch, Meyer Seewalddetailed how after the death of his best friend at the age of 17, the father of his friend set up a youth group and built close relationships with a number of young boys who he then took advantage of.
When Meyer, who himself was a victim of abuse, discovered the depth of the abuse in the community he realized that his mission in life was to battle CSA. “We must unite to confront this evil amongst us,” said Seewald. “We are slowly coming together to end the cover up; we are sending a message to survivors that they are not alone and that we stand with them.”
The next speaker, Dr. Norman Goldwasser spoke about the deterrent power of the “Wall of Shame” on JCW’s website where confirmed abusers names and photos are posted. He recounted a number of occasions where the fear of being listed on the Wall of Shame had caused abusers to agree to participate in breakthrough therapy sessions with their victims.
Miami businessman and philanthropist Eli Nash had many in tears as he shared his story of the horrific abuse he had suffered from age 8 to 11 – he spoke about the lasting effect it had on him into his adulthood. With the help of extensive therapy and the support of JCW he had confronted his abuser and began to heal. He is now a leading supporter of JCW and a voice against CSA.
“There is no middle ground,” said Mr. Nash. “You either publicly stand with the victims of abuse or you allow victims to continue to suffer. When an adult is taking advantage of a child, if we do nothing, an adult continues to take advantage of the child.” He declared that he will no longer be ashamed and urged others in the crowd who had been abused to stand. Over a dozen people stood up to thunderous applause from the audience.
A short film produced by JCW entitled “Speak up” was shown and as the evening wound down, kosher restaurateur Baruch Sandhauswho was sitting in the audience took the podium and revealed that he too had been abused decades before. “Be ‘alivers!’ by you being here, by continuing with your life you have proven yourself stronger than those who hurt you. You have the power to live successful and meaningful lives,” he said.
One of the attendees, Shainy Toron-Federman, posted afterwards on JCW’s Facebook page.
“Last night’s event was probably the most important one I’ve ever been to. The honesty, rawness, humanity and bravery that was shown by every single speaker and survivor affected me so deeply I really can’t describe it. Eli, Meyer, and Baruch–who were so courageous in sharing their stories straight up just saved countless lives. I have never been prouder to be Jewish than I was last night, when we all stood together and (sent a message) to the abusers and cowardly murderers who will never again lay a hand on anyone with the help of JCW.”