As Yeshiva Child Sex Abuse Scandal Grows, Why Are We Afraid To Speak Out?

Community Will Be Judged Harshly If We Stay Silent


By Stacey Klein

Published March 31, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

We in the Orthodox Jewish community claim to value children deeply. We want to have children, and we pressure our own children to get married and have children, and yet, when it comes to really ensuring those children’s utmost protection from harm, somehow the silence is deafening.

As a Yeshiva University alumnus and a psychotherapist who works with abused children, I was horrified to learn that my alma mater was apparently involved in a 30-year cover-up of sexual abuse that affected hundreds of children and protected known abusers. Y.U. — an institution to which I am grateful for making me who I am today — also has refused to commit to releasing to the public details of its investigation into these abuses.

So I created a petition urging Y.U. to commit to sharing the report findings with the public. Nearly everyone I know — many alumni from Y.U. and its Stern College for Women, including rabbis, did not sign. Other than one or two brave figures, the people I worked with for years through Y.U., programs teaching Jewish children worldwide about Jewish values, wouldn’t sign, nor would they do anything else I am aware of to support victims.

I am deeply saddened by this blinding lack of empathy for our fellow suffering Jews.

Click to see the rest of the section, Click for more stories about abuse at Y.U.

As a psychotherapist, I know firsthand about the long-term effects of sexual abuse on children: It impacts their self-esteem, their faith, their trust in others — especially in the community. Silence in the face of abuse conveys the message to victims that their suffering matters much less than protecting the abuser or the leaders who covered up the abuse. With each day of silence that passes, the victims feel more isolated and betrayed. What is this passivity in the face of such terrible injustice?

I have come to understand that most people in my community are blocked by fear. Most people want to do the right thing, but are afraid of being judged by others, or they don’t want to “break with Y.U.” While loyalty is an important value, it cannot take precedence over the safety of our children.

People invent intellectual arguments that enable them to avoid doing what’s difficult. They argue that holding someone responsible for particular actions will amount to vilifying an institution they care about. But this crisis is about holding specific people accountable for criminal and reckless behaviors and cover-ups, not about indicting a beloved school.

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.