Orthodox Jews Face a Moment of Reckoning

A Plea To Deal Directly With the Problem of Child Abuse

Reform: Orthodox Jews need a Marshall Plan to confront the scourge of child abuse.
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Reform: Orthodox Jews need a Marshall Plan to confront the scourge of child abuse.

By Ezra Friedlander

Published December 30, 2012, issue of January 04, 2013.
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After the verdict in the infamous Nechemya Weberman trial was announced, the Satmar community found itself reeling. This story of an unlicensed therapist who for years was sexually abusing a young girl multiple times a week has inflamed our passions to unprecedented levels, and rightfully so. But now that the dust has settled somewhat, it’s time for some personal introspection.

This was brought home to me, a Hasidic Jew who lives in Borough Park, just as the trial ended when I met someone who confided that his daughter’s best friend was also abused by this very same perpetrator. Stunned, I asked him if anyone else knows about this. “No,” he answered. “And that’s how it should remain.”

Who knows how many other young children are living among us, playing, learning, studying, sitting at the Sabbath table, and yet hiding a deep, dark and terrifying secret in their hearts? Who knows how many shattered lives walk among us? Those who come forward are indisputably courageous and bold. But instead of being embraced by our community as heroes, they are shunned and terrorized. The victims are being treated as though they were at fault. Why?

We need to have an honest conversation. The Weberman trial, for all practical purposes, has brought to light a painful issue with which our community is reluctant to deal. For many of us, it’s just too difficult to digest the truth about this case. As a parent of two young children, one of whom is now in kindergarten, I am personally horrified. I simply cannot fathom how vulnerable my child, or anyone’s child, can be and how devastating it would be if any harm would befall him.

To be fair, our community has so much to be proud of. We are second to none in every category of chesed — kindness — and caring. Our record of achievement in terms of aiding the poor, the ill, the suffering and the lonely is outstanding. We were the envy of the rest of society when our people joined forces en masse to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. We showed compassion and caring to Jew and non-Jew alike. So why is it that in the area of protecting our children from predators, we have failed so miserably?


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