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These fear-based justifications need to be challenged. We Jews are good at challenging our own thinking in the realm of learning, but of what use is this skill to us if we can’t apply it to our lives as Jews and to protecting our children?
Those who are part of Y.U.’s leadership can set things right. They can hold those who erred accountable, insist that the school’s rosh yeshiva, or chancellor, Norman Lamm, resign and then they can clean house. They can publicly apologize on Lamm’s behalf instead of ignoring the victims, and set up a fund for the victims’ therapy costs. They can commit to making their abuse report findings public. This will demonstrate empathy, console victims and exemplify true moral leadership. (Not to mention reduce lawsuits.)
Each of us can help victims, too, by writing to Y.U. and other Jewish organizations, asking them to take a stand for all children, withholding donations until we achieve a more ethical response, and pressuring board members we know to take action. We can encourage everyone in our community to open his or her heart and connect with the victims’ pain.
Here’s how to open your heart: Ask yourself what blocks you from speaking up. Take some time to reconnect with how it felt to be a small, helpless child, dependent on adults for security and love — and then imagine that a trusted, powerful figure in your life (a parent or teacher you admire) violates your trust by humiliating you or sexually abusing you at an age when you are still making sense of your world sexually and otherwise. If you are able to, for a moment, feel how these people have suffered, you will be able to stand up for them.
If we — as Jews, as community leaders, as institutions — do not stand up for our victims, we will become a community that enables abuse. Pedophiles know that in communities where fear of speaking out is high, they stand a better chance of getting away with their crimes. They know that in those communities, people are more concerned with their own reputation and with the reputation of their leaders and their institutions than they are with protecting their children.
If we don’t insist that abuse is intolerable in our midst, it will affect our children and grandchildren. I do not want us to become that type of community.
Stacey Klein works as a psychotherapist in New York City.