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And this is how the Orthodox Jewish community turned into a world that went to war with its own children.
The Orthodox Jews are not alone in this. Over the past decade, they have partnered with their historical enemies, the Catholics, to battle the grave threat posed by men and women scarred by the sins of their leaders. Among the Catholics, the lies and the scandals tore the forefront 10 years ago, opening the doors to thousands of other victims to come forward. A decade and billions of dollars in settlements later, the cases are ongoing.
For us Jews, the process toward justice has been much slower, with victims emerging from the shadows only recently. But a little more than three weeks ago, on November 26, a trial began on the 20th floor of a building in Downtown Brooklyn.
Tens of thousands watched — Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular — following the story on blogs, Twitter and newspapers. Tens of thousands watched as, for the first time, an 18-year-old girl from a Hasidic enclave took the stand as a witness to her own hell. They watched the slight, just-married, slip of a girl say — and say again — that she’d been abused and molested repeatedly, and that what happened to her had a name, a label, a word. She existed. They watched the girl, not quite an adult, stand up to a community that refused to acknowledge an act of evil because doing so meant there was evil among that community, they who were inherently pure. ‘
On the December 10 the jury came out, and something changed in our world. Something happened to the long and paralyzing silence, frozen for decades with fear. It cracked open. It shattered with finality.
Guilty, guilty, guilty; 59 times guilty. The jury of 12 declared Nechemya Weberman to be a criminal, one who was enormously guilty. And survivors, advocates and victims breathed in relief as one. Because we had long known that bricks and stones, traditions and ancient rules do not ensure morality, only a dangerous pretense of it. We have long known that the greatest enemies lie not behind the walls, but here, inside, deep within ourselves.
There are those in the ultra-Orthodox community who say that much has changed, that there is more awareness than before. They say that many schools have taken on the issue, bringing in experts and educating teachers about the symptoms and dangers of abuse; so why don’t the survivors just shut up already? Why do they still demand attention and embarrass the community in the media? What more do they want?