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Responding to Child Predators in the Jewish Community

Responding to Child Predators in the Jewish Community

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The children and families in the close-knit neighborhood used to help their friendly neighbor in his garden. The middle aged Jewish man was an athletic coach in a local junior high, and he had a way with kids. He gave them treats, always had a smile and a game, and earned the trust of the parents. Imagine the shock when one child confided to his mom that the man had been exposing himself to the kids for several years, as "just a game."

Leah sent her son to a small Jewish boarding school, which offered lots of personal attention. She was concerned when the supervision over the boys seemed a bit weak, but was somewhat mollified when the administration kept assuring her. To her dismay she learned that her gut feeling was right; halfway through the year word leaked out that the young men hired as dorm counselors were molesting the younger teenage students and offering them prizes to keep quiet.

These true and recent stories demonstrate the fallacy of a prevalent myth about child predators and abusers. These heinous acts are seldom committed by the shadowy character in a trench coat lurking on the edge of the park. About 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone who has painstakingly built up a relationship of trust with the children, someone they know and perhaps even love, often someone within their community, school or camp.

Yechezkel "Chezy" Goldberg was a Jerusalem based social worker passionately striving to educate the Jewish community about abuse when he was brutally murdered in a terrorist attack in 2004. In a series of articles, he elaborated on this issue:

"It's hard to face that someone we know — and even like — might be a sexual abuser. However, the statistical data is accurate. Consider yourself warned. Pedophiles confess time and again how they exerted enormous energies building trust with their victims. The fact that pedophiles often operate in positions where they have influence and trust of parents and children is validated by the reality that pedophiles do not commit the crime once and stop. Child sex abusers repeatedly molest. Often, when cases do finally come to light, it is discovered that sexual abusers have indeed worked on whole groups of children in schools, communities and families. They are trusted and so they continue to operate."

The second myth that the Jewish community has clung to is that this is not our problem. "Such things don't happen among Jews!" As with other social ills such as domestic violence and alcoholism, the Jewish community is not at all immune. One in five girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18. These figures are constant for every religion and religious denomination and socio-economic level—they apply to our kids too. As Chezy noted, "Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance and denial can lead to tragedy."

To fight abuse, the Jewish community must learn to overcome a prevalent attitude—the "shanda factor." Shanda, a Yiddish term meaning disgrace, is often the first response upon the uncovering of child abuse in Jewish settings. Rabbi Mark Dratch, director of Jsafe, explains: "These ills exist despite the denials, despite the skepticism that such ugly behavior can exist among our people always so proud of our exemplary home-life; despite the fear that exposing them will bring Jews into disrepute; and despite the apprehension that our reputations will be tarnished."

Denial is unhealthy in all types of abuse. But secrecy, shame and hesitancy to confront are especially favorable to creating the dank climate in which the child predator can thrive. "Child sexual abuse is a disease of secrecy," says Dr. Robert Bloom, executive director of Chicago's Jewish Children's Bureau. "It needs to be opened up. Like cleaning out a boil, you have to open it up before you can treat the underlying problem."

Dratch elaborates on the problems caused by denial. "Denial and shame makes the victims or parents of victims reluctant to come forward. We like to portray an image of ideal communities. It is important for our young people to have a positive image that they look up to. The problem is when we don't talk about issues that are very real and not perfect. We have to find ways to educate our communities and our leaders and have appropriate conversations about issues like abuse."

Through preventative education we can and must do everything we can to protect our precious children and make our communal institutions truly wholesome and safe.

A good starting place is this list of parental guidelines, compiled by Chezi Goldberg, of blessed memory:

· Watch for signs of inappropriate touching, closeness, dominating and abuse

· Teach and demonstrate how to say "no" when your boundaries and space are threatened or violated

· Speak up when you see "warning sign" behaviors.

· Teach children the proper names of body parts.

· Teach children the difference between "okay touch" and touch that is "not okay."

· Teach children that secrets about touching are "not okay."

· Teach your children that families have boundaries that have to be respected; there are private times and places that outsiders are not welcome

· Tell your children that you want them to tell you if anyone ever talks to them about or does "touch that is not okay."

Rabbi Dratch turns the shanda issue on its head. "The biggest shanda is when the community covers up these problems. We are not judged by other Jewish communities or by the non-Jewish world by the incidents of abuse themselves. Unfortunately, they can happen. We are judged by the way we take responsibility for them."

The same beautiful qualities that make Jewish communal life so endearing can be a breeding ground for a pedophile: the emphasis on modesty and privacy, the warmth and openness, and orientation toward seeing people in a positive vein and judging them favorably. Should we then live in isolation, suspicion and mistrust? "Don't separate yourself from the community," our sages advise. Communal life and support is an integral part of Jewish life. But, we cannot stick our heads in the sand or be foolishly naïve. By learning about the issues and signs, being aware and alert, we can properly educate and protect our children.

Communities can ultimately be a tremendous source of mutual strength and support in coping with the destruction wrought by child abuse. Once the true nature of the neighborhood pedophile described in the beginning of this article came to light, the entire community rallied, holding educational meetings at the day school and inviting a panel of police, mental health professionals and clergy to address the concerned parents. The children and parents who first came forward were lauded as brave and heroic, rather than being isolated or ostracized. The community charted a course of action to help all the children, those directly and indirectly affected, to heal.


Many Jewish clergy and mental health professionals are working earnestly to change the modus operandi of the Jewish community and create vehicles for better preventative monitoring, reporting and treatment.

Among them are:

Jsafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting An Abuse Free Environment is an organization led by Rabbi Mark Dratch, which provides a certification program for communal institutions, publications and educational initiatives. Jsafe.org

Ohel Children's Home and Family Services of Brooklyn, NY, has therapy and treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators, sensitive to Jewish needs. Ohel family, org, 800-603-OHEL

The Awareness Center is a coalition of Jewish mental health practitioners dedicated to building awareness in the Jewish community. Awarenesscenter.org

Shalom Task Force Hotline provides information on rabbinic, legal and counseling services for victims of abuse in the Jewish community. (888) 883-2323.

Faith Trust Institute, a clearinghouse for information on domestic violence and clergy abuse in the Jewish community. Faithtrustinstitute.org.

Association of Jewish Family and Children Services (AJFCA). (800) 634-7346. ajfca@ajfca.org.

National Center for Victims of Crime. (800) FYI-CALL.

National Child Abuse Hotline. (800) 4-A-CHILD.

National Hotline for Victims of Sexual Assault. (800) 656-HOPE.

National Organization for Victim Assistance. (800) TRY-NOVA.

Find Jewish resources by state at www.jewishwomen.org/directory/state_res.htm.

Sources for internet and general safety include kidsafe.com. Much additional information is readily available online, through family service agencies, and in the library.


Miriam Karp is an award-winning writer, artist, Judaic studies teacher and lecturer. Her paintings explore intimate moments in Jewish life. Her first book, Painting Zaidy’s Dream: A Memoir of a Searching Soul, shares her story of search. Miriam lives in Cincinnati with her husband and family. Visit her website here.
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jan schulman oxnard, ca January 19, 2012

who do we honor? by insisting that the child 'honor thy father and mother' no matter what, we are helping to perpetrate the horrors of child sexual abuse. we must always listen to our children and let our children know that a sexually abusive father is not to be honored and it must be told to a responsible adult! we are Jews, not ostrichs with our heads in the sand! at least that's what we must be --- and must not be. as Jews, we must be responsibile and protect our children from predators, no matter who those predators be: a friend, a relative, a Rabbi, a teacher, a parent. our children must feel safe and knows that nobody has to right to violate their safety. i despise the religious communities of all religions who cover up and hide and protect the pedophiles of those communities who inflict such terrible harm on the innocent children who live among them. we must stand up and let our children know we will protect them from ANY AND EVERYONE, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE!!! Reply

parent and a former student nyc, ny October 12, 2009

Important article ! An important issue in our yeshivas and communities.

Yeshiva classrooms camps etc. should be monitored & strong suggestion that :
. Girls yeshivas should only have women teachers/principals/ directors/instructors..
It is for tjhe students benifits as muchl as for the male teachers/princals etc.. who really don't belong teaching young women, or being put in a position that they might find
uncomfortable. Reply

Y Rabin Oak Park, mI July 20, 2009

Pedophile Thanks for sharing this EXTEMELY important article. Reply

Anonymous Kanata, ON July 18, 2009

I agree with affirmative and solid action as you have mentioned, and I definitely disagree with the faddish and an inordinate babying of and "hiding out" of a pedophile just because they are also Jewish.

Only maximum security institutions, skilled and medically educated personnel and not easy to manipulate retreats should deal with the violent sex predator. Reply

Frederic C. Schultz, Esq. Brooklyn, NY July 18, 2009

Call a lawyer, police, fight f/ Child Victims Act! I am a lawyer who moved back to NYC to fight these cases for survivors of child sexual abuse against the child molesters and rapists and the yeshivas that protect them. Reporters at TheJewishWeek.com have written extensively about this problem, and how many Jewish Organizations are wrongly opposing the NY Child Victims Act, a proposed law which will allow adult victims of child sex abuse to sue their abusers and the yeshivas that protect them, up to age 53, and extend the criminal law up to age 28. Often survivors of this abuse stay silent for decades out of shame or belief they could do nothing. The current law bars civil (lawsuit) or criminal prosecution after 23. This law must be changed to get these evil child molesters and rapists out of our yeshivas forever. Reply

Anonymous July 15, 2009

scream for the victim we need to scream for the victim. we need take action and move quickly by contacting the POLICE! Be a Jew and start by taking the right action, tell someone who can do something right away. Just move! Dont be wishy washy, talk talk talk talk to the person who will DO something!!!!!! Scream for the victim. Be the key for the innocent victim and DO something to set them freee!!! DO IT!!! Reply

Lifer lubavitch July 15, 2009

Thank you for addressing this VERY SERIOUS issue in a public forum. I feel it is time that our communities work on helping the victims instead of just protecting the abusers. Reply

Miriam Adahan Chicago, Il July 14, 2009

SEXUAL ABUSE Please continue to write about this problem! I am absolutely aghast at the cold indifference shown by some leaders when told about sexual abuse. Reply

Chaya B State College, PA July 14, 2009

Child predators in the Jewish Community Predatory behavior occurs not only in our shuls and classrooms, but also on the streets. Our daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, was walking home from a friends house one night when she was approached by a van driven by an obviously religious Jewish man. He called out to ask for directions and our daughter approahed the van, something she normally would not have done but she felt safe by his appearance.The man asked her if there were any bars around and then asked her if she wanted to go and talk with him and have a drink. She immediately knew what was happening and started to walk away from the van. The man said he liked how she was dressed and asked if she was Jewish She lied and said no! You can imagine how distraught we were when our daughter called us and told us what happened. We are trying to become more Torah observant and to inspire our kids to increase in Torah and Mitzvot. G-d willing, we will be able to help our daughter overcome the skepticism she now has. Reply

Miriam Karp Cincinnati, OH July 13, 2009

Absolutely right Sara, you are absolutely right. I am aware of a case where the victims family tried to protect the image of the perpetrator, and did not go to the police. The well meaning Bet Din did not have the teeth to enforce their recommendations. This is a crime and must be stopped with all available speed and force.
And the victims need intensive support and counseling by professionals able to deal specifically with sexual abuse. Reply

Anonymous Chester, NJ July 13, 2009

There needs to be more action I was sexually abused years ago by a Rabbi who was a Hebrew School teacher. When I told my parents, they could not believe it, and did nothing. Then he attacked another child in our shul (another Rabbi's daughter). Her parents listened to her and he was gone days later. There was no prosecution, no black marks on his record. How many other little girls did he rape and abuse? How many shuls told him to leave and did nothing? I have often wondered. Reply

Sarah MI/USA July 13, 2009

Anon Nice But... Run, don't walk, RUN to the police. He will go to jail, and that is where he belongs. You are still thinking of staying in Jewish circles, but that is not the solution. First, this person needs to be outed to everyone, in every community. You don't want to compound the problem by letting the molester move to a new place, that just increases the number of victims. (Catholic church style)

Do not make the mistake of thinking you must not speak loshon hara. We are REQUIRED to say negative things in order to prevent damage, and this is a textbook ready example.

And then get the victim(s) some help.... Reply

Anonymous chicago, il July 12, 2009

Nice, but What happens when the molester is the shul rabbi? Waht happens when he is still in the community, and he isn't leaving town any time soon? Reply

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Miriam KarpMiriam Karp is an award-winning writer, artist, Judaic studies teacher and lecturer. Her paintings explore intimate moments in Jewish life. Her first book, Painting Zaidy’s Dream: A Memoir of a Searching Soul, shares her story of search. Miriam lives in Cincinnati with her husband and family. Visit her website here.
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