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Trust and Repentance
By Carrie Devorah © 2005
Jewish Women International Magazine published an excerpt from David
Berger’s last letter written, 1941, before he was murdered by the Nazis.
It stands to consider that David, like many other victims of Nazi
degradation, was stripped of his sexual identity, head shaved, dressed in
shapeless clothing, then dehumanized with verbal, physical and sexual
abuse. When dead, Nazis left their victims, forgotten. David was committed
to living eternally. He wrote, “I should like someone to remember that
there once lived a person named David Berger.”
Victims of other abuses wish to be seen and heard, while still living.
Some speak up. Social pressure and religious beliefs step in the way of
their allegations being paid credence, so the abuse continues, a
tradition, so to speak, passed down within families, even Jewish families,
along with recipes for Passover’s French toast, gefilte fish or chicken
soup. Victims are reproached with, “he’s a Rabbi,” “you must be lying,”
“God forbid people should find out,” “what would they think,” and “it is
your fault, he/she wouldn’t have done it without you starting it.”
Plausible, except sometimes victims are toddlers, or younger.
Abuse is no longer a Jewish myth. Trusted people- grandparents, aunts,
uncles, cousins, teachers, rabbis, baby sitters, friends, and youth
coordinators- are being reported as encouraging sexually inappropriate
behaviours. The abused struggle to shed their shame. The abuser moves
forward public in their life, their secret kept too often, allowing them
to abuse again. Sometimes, the victim becomes an abuser themselves, even
toddlers. On a recent airing of the TV show, “yes, dear,” a pre-schooler
mooned his kindergarten classmates. He told the teacher, he watched his
Dad mooned a picnic. So, he thought it was ok to moon his classmates.
Mooning may be a mild example. What does one say when a toddler performs
fellatio on classmates, that children live what they learn?
Cycling non-sectarian behaviours of violence, neglect, emotional and
sexual abuse within the community, is a recipe for Jewish disaster.
Crossing economic, ethnic and religious boundaries including
Judaism-Orthodoxy, Reform, Conservative, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi,
interfaith balabustahs and homemakers, “abuse” is now part of the
contemporary Jewish vocabulary, with victimizations being reported from
Jewish spouses, elderly parents and children.
There is a finger to be pointed but not at the victims often shunned after
making public allegations.
Two such people holding molesters and communities that harbor them
accountable are The Awareness Center’s Rabbi Yosef Blau and his colleague,
Vicki Polin. Rabbi Blau is a member of the RCA, a graduate of Yeshiva
University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Polin,
establishing a network of Jewish practitioners experienced with sexual
victimization issues and Judaism, is familiar with special needs of Jewish
sexual abuse survivors. She advocated empathetic support for victims prior
to starting her own Center.
Rabbi Blau stood at the lectern, front of the Capitol Hilton meeting room,
up the street from the White House in Washington, DC. Co-hosting a session
with Polin, at the Jewish Women’s International Conference on Domestic
Abuse, "Lost In The Shuffle: Jewish Survivors of Sexual Victimization,”
Rabbi Blau focused his audience on the challenge the Center faces
educating Jewish community leaders and others, lacking training, to
recognize signs of abusive relationships and to understand victims’ needs
of religious and physical healing.
Blau and Polin addressed victims’
spiritual struggle to maintain faith in traditional teachings, such as
Sanhedrin’s “one who teaches another’s child torah, is regarded by the
tradition as one who gave birth to the child,” in light of their abuser
being an outwardly religious individual.
Rabbi Blau’s and Polin’s eclectic audience was filled with people wanting
to make a difference. Men, women, old, young, North American, Middle
Eastern, were “called to action” at Jewish Women International’s
conference to pursue, within the framework of the Jewish Community,
justice and righteousness from abuse. A representative from “Shalom
Bayit,” a Northern California domestic abuse shelter for women and
children was present.
“Shalom Bayit” advocates to victims they do not have
to suffer alone, they are not to blame as often they are accused by
congregants, family and community members. “Shalom Bayit,” “Peace In The
House,” advocacy that no one deserves to be abused, recalls a hand drawn
poster, probably long forgotten, victims need to reminded. A young boy is
pictured. Under him the words, “God don’t make no junk...”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Review Board
requested New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice examine Catholic
clergical abuse against under 18 year olds. The report investigated 10,667
abuse claims lodged against 4, 392 priests in 52 years. Some clergy
reported they were abused as children. 50% plus of their victims were
children aged 11 to 14 years old. 81% of their victims were male.
surveyors were asked to profile alleged abusers characteristics. They
studied diocese and church records of the accuser, the accused, and the
lay leader. The surveyors concluded sexual abuse is under reported. And
the surveyors requested corresponding data from Muslim, Buddhist,
Protestant, Jewish and other denominations and movements.
Non-denominational statistics that bear heeding are; 95% of the abusers
are men; one of every three to five women, one of every five to seven men
have been sexually abused by their 18th birthday; 2.78 million men have
been victim to attempted or completed rape; one out of every eight
reported rape victims was male. By the time they are high schoolers, 28%
of students, have experienced abuse. 48% of the abused are in grades 5
Women teachers sexually molest children too; Seattle teacher
Mary Kay Letourneau, married mother of four, Florida teacher Debra LaFave,
23; Oklahoma basketball coach Elisa Nielson, 29; Tennessee
physical-education teacher Pamela Turner, 27; and California teacher
trainee Margaret De Barraicua, 30. Each of the four was charged with
sexual assault of a male student aged between 12 and 16. A Jewish
statistic- 20 to 30% of Jewish families in Israel and the United States
suffer domestic violence
Victimization practitioners are encouraging women to come forward and get
help. Often, victims are unaware they are being abused. They think the
behaviour is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable,’ a sign the abuser ‘likes them,’
rather than danger signals. Industry practitioners release information
outlining abusive behaviours.
Signs of abusive behaviour include “approval
withheld as punishment, locked into or out of the house, held against ones
will or pushed around, punched, shoved, slapped bit, kicked, burned,
choked or hit, personal items destroyed, abandoned in strange places,
ridiculed or insulted, abandoned in strange locations, harassed about
fictitious affairs, publicly or privately humiliated, criticized, or
shamed with names called, isolating victim from family and friends, makes
them feel bad, demands to know whereabouts, does not want victim to share
time with others, threatens to hurt or kill sell if victim leaves,”
Rabbi Blau said, the Jewish commandment against “lashon harah,”
gossiping, in the matter of suspected abuse, is waived, overridden by the
teaching of Lev. 19:16, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your
neighbor.” Abusers must be reported. It is a “hilul hashem,” a moral
desecration, of God’s name and of the Ten Commandments, for a Jewish
individual not to report suspicions of abuse.
Abuse is a matter the “law
of the land,” “dina demalkhuta dina,” can adjudicate in secular courts and
must pursue. Enforcement has raised its own concerns for responding to
claims of abuse within Jewish communities. Officers have reported being
charged with anti-semitism in the course of their doing their job,
responding to a citizen’s call for help.
As Rabbi Blau waited for his ride to the airport, I told him, a few blocks
away in Lafayette Park, there stands a monument titled “Military
Instruction.” A sculpted older man is seated, a naked young man at his
side. Then I pointed kitty corner to the hotel, a Planned Parenthood
abortion clinic. September 4, 2004, I told him, a pregnant twelve year old
was escorted by her mother past right-to-life advocates. Blocks away from
the hotel, on Constitution Avenue, I described a display at the National
Gallery of Art.
Mythological statues. Mercury, in all his glory, stood
above a crowd of NE DC junior high schoolers. Down the corridor, on a
marble pedestal, stood Bauccus, with a pan, half-boy, half goat. The pan’s
eye is level with Bauccus’ erection. I noticed that in the photo I took of
the junior high schooler’s walking by, giggling. In a media week, when
ober-icon Michael Jackson was accused of feeding Jesus-Juice in a can to a
kid alleging sexual abuse, it was no wonder, some kids grabbed their
crotches emulating the one-glove wonder’s Moon Walk as they passed by.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Rabbi Blau shook his head. In a world of mixed signals children are
expected to sort better than adults can, distinctions between good touch
bad touch, appropriate behaviour versus inappropriate, being told not to
talk to strangers but answer the “nice man” talking to grandma since
“convicted sex offender” isn’t stamped on his forehead, get lost.
The night before, details of the confirmed murder of 9 year old Jessica
Lunsford, by a man who lived across their street, were being released. I
told the Rabbi, one interview from the Couey killing stands out as
textbook to facilitating citizen’s understanding why abusers remain at
large until a murder trips them up. A restaurant owner in Jessica’s town
told reporters he employed Couey, until he fired him.
The restaurant owner
aware of Couey’s colorful background, felt badly for “the loser.” So, he
hired him, firing the 30’ old only after Couey wrote a love letter to a 14
year old co-worker. No one complained to authorities about the incident.
Until, Jessica was kidnapped, raped and sexually abused over days, before
being murdered. Her community failed her. Not just the community in which
she died but the global community in which other children still live.
Heading towards the Metro, I leafed through the Jewish newspaper in my
hands, filled with holiday activities for children, puppet making,
noisemaker activities followed by megillah readings for kids. Growing up I
heard about a rabbi, sent packing, for abusing bochers at a Yeshiva, north
of our house. Eventually, news filtered north the rabbi had been accused
of molesting bochers at the American yeshiva that sent him north. His
resume listed many attributes Sexual offender and deviant were not amongst
them. Nor did it contain those warning when he was sent packing, again.
I looked inside the information packet for conference attendees. Amongst
letters from various Democratic Congressmen was Gary Ackerman’s. He wrote
“If we are serious about tikkun olam, repairing the world, we need to
begin in the home, the place where our values are most strongly rooted,”
“one home at a time.”
As I walked, I wondered if parents would ever take as much time to vett
their children’s caretakers- teachers, babysitters, friends parents, the
kids friends themselves, families they marry into- as they take in
selecting holiday outfits they wear. An ad caught my attention. A Rabbi
offering Jews “may the Lord bless and protect you,” if they prayed in the
language of their forefathers.
I thought about the young girl attacked by
three classmates in the basement bathroom of her yeshiva. An older boy
came to her rescue. Her parents refused to take action, after all, it had
to be her fault. I stepped off the curb, asking myself who protects
victims from those who prey in the language of their forefathers. Trust
must be earned; granting of tikkun, repentance, sought by some abusers,
remains in control of the abused….
BIO: Carrie Devorah is a DC based investigative photojournalist. Trained
as a PI, mediator, crime analyst and profiler, she writes on themes
related to faith, homeland security and terrorism. I dedicate this piece
to the memory of Yechezkel Chezi Scotty Goldberg,
www.goldbergmemorial.org. He will never be replaced.
from the April Passover 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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