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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The repercussions to our community are very real. I am sensing a distancing from elected officials and others — people who have been sympathetic to our needs in the past. There is a sense among them that no one at the top is addressing this crisis satisfactorily. People have called me aside and asked me off the record why our leaders aren’t dealing with this issue. They can’t understand how circumstances could have allowed a perpetrator to spend so many unsupervised hours alone with his victim. “Is that allowed?” they ask me. “Isn’t this against your rules?”

I fear that they are correct.

I am calling for a Marshall Plan, a total overhaul of the system similar to the one that re-created the infrastructure of the European continent after World War II. It is time for us to rebuild our own infrastructure. It is time to gather together all yeshivas and educational institutions to implement a new series of policies and procedures that can deal with these issues in a practical yet effective manner. Simple changes like windows in every classroom, audio and video surveillance, and licensed counselors and social workers are just some of the improvements that could be made.

All these changes should be administered under the haskama, a letter of approbation, and supervision of our Torah leaders. Procedures should be put in place that would protect both the victim and the accused in the event that false allegations are ever presented. And precisely those among us who are convinced that Weberman is innocent should be paving the way in implementing these changes. If this is not a wake-up call for our community, then what is? It will be costly, for sure. But it can be done. We have the resources to build magnificent buildings for our communal institutions. What good are they if we cannot protect our children from what may be happening in these very same buildings?

It is ironic that precisely our very own community, known for our trailblazing efforts to protect our children, is coming under fire for our meek response to this devastating crisis. We have managed to raise families largely unaware of the vulgarity of the world at large and the threats to our cherished traditions. Yet we can’t seem to take the necessary steps to safeguard our children from the villains in our very own midst.

I sincerely hope that recent events will force us to make the necessary changes. I pray that the outcry will finally come forth. But so far, the silence is deafening.

Ezra Friedlander is CEO of The Friedlander Group, a public affairs and government relations company based in New York City and in Washington.


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