I read the open letter you published on the Jewish Community Watch website. Firstly, an apology to you is in order – to you and to your fellow survivors of abuse. Until now, we have been derelict in our responsibility to ensure the safety of our most precious possession – our youth, the future of Klal Yisroel. It is no excuse, of course, but the situation is somewhat akin to cigarette smoking – we did not know how far-reaching and how pervasive the damage was. We should have. We now realize that the matters of abuse and of predatory behavior are so pervasive that we need to make a sea-change. Specifically, we need to do four things:
1] Warn children about what to do when faced with inappropriate touching and to say something immediately to parents.
2] Vet our staff better and create the logistics necessary to eliminate or minimize opportunities for predatory behavior.
3] Think more about the victims than about ourselves and the reputations of our institutions. We owe it to you and your fellow survivors to investigate more thoroughly. Tragically, we have failed in this area and others have suffered because of our failure. We “investigated” without knowing how to actually go about investigating properly.
4] Help the victims receive closure, thank them for coming forward and helping protect other members of Klal Yisroel. We must also help the perpetrators genuinely apologize – both for the sake of the victim as well as the sake of the predator.
Secondly, we have been negligent in recognizing what a heroic thing that you and others like you have done. You risked all in order to ensure that others do not suffer this fate. And ironically, instead of being rewarded for this, we ostracized you.
But, hopefully, we do see some changes in these four areas. This year, Poskim and doctos have joned together to tell parents to have the conversation with our children. In the second area, we have not really changed things much, but some plans in some institutions are in the works. It is not enough, however. In the third and fourth area, we are also not making that much headway, but some Poskim are seeing things in this light and change will b’ezras Hashem come.
In regard to doing more – there is the factor of ensuring that people are not accused falsely. Although it is not a comfort to the growing number of victims of predators, there is something to be said about ensuring that evil people not abuse our sensitivity toward victims by falsely accusing the innocent. It is a delicate balance – and there have been innocent people falsely accused rachmana litzlan. This is not, however, an excuse for our collective inaction. But it is something that mitigates our inaction somewhat.
And finally, one last thought. The Satmar Rebbe said that anyone who survived the holocaust and has still remained frum is worthy of giving people brachos. The same can be said of survivors of abuse from ostensibly “observant” predators. You survived predatory behavior from a Rebbe or camp counselor and you are still observing Torah and Mitzvos?? Wow! We stand in awe of you, truly. You are the unsung heroes of Klal Yisroel. Thank you for that, and for help setting us straight and regaining our balance. Thank you for helping safeguard the next generation of Klal Yisroel.
Bracha and Hatzlacha,
Rabbi Yair Hoffman