Saturday, November 22, 2003

Ragsdale: More faith communities struggle with alleged child sexual abuse

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register - November 22, 2003
American Jews have joined Catholics and United Methodists on the list of U.S. denominations that are wrestling with how to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse.
This year, the Rabbinical Council of America joined the other three Jewish denominations in voting to report allegations of child abuse to the police.
Prompted in part by the case of a rabbi, whose appearance in Des Moines was cancelled earlier this month, the rabbinical council reversed a long-standing Orthodox practice of protecting accused rabbis or trying to take care of scandal internally. The organization's ethics policy is being rewritten with the help of mental health professionals and survivors of clergy sexual misconduct.
It's a huge step forward for a faith tradition with a history of persecution. That history undoubtedly contributed to an ancient Jewish prohibition called a Mesirah, a mandate that no Jew should betray another Jew to civil authorities.
The urge to stifle scandal and preserve the status quo has been a common reaction for congregations that are confronted by allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy. But it's a bad choice that ill-serves everyone involved - the victims, the accused, the congregation and the community.
Resorting to secrecy got the Boston Catholic Archdiocese in trouble, because when 50 years of accumulated accusations of sexual misconduct poured out over six months, it exaggerated the scope of the problem.
A similar reaction by a Winnipeg, Canada, Jewish congregation to allegations of child sexual abuse has permanently scarred the synagogue, the victims, their families and the alleged abuser.
Beth El Jacob Synagogue on Nov. 13 cancelled the appearance of New York Rabbi Ephraim Bryks because of an e-mail campaign to alert Iowans that Bryks was accused of molesting children nearly 20 years ago when he was the leader of a Canadian synagogue and Jewish day school.
Like the Boston Catholic cases, the charges are decades old.
Like the Catholic cases, synagogue leaders did their best to hush things up.
Instead of immediately asking police or child and family services to investigate, they held an internal "investigation." A number of meetings were held which reportedly disintegrated into yelling matches between the families of the victims and the rabbi's supporters.
Winnipeg social services agencies didn't get the case until later, after the congregation had taken sides and possibly victims had been intimidated. No criminal charges were filed. But investigators said Bryks' actions were inappropriate and unprofessional.
Bryks has always denied he did anything wrong. He left Canada in 1990 and settled in New York where he worked as a principal and a teacher. This year he resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America after some members sought his ouster.
Victoria Polin, founder, and Na'ama Yehuda, advisory board member of The Awareness Center, an international organization dedicated to addressing sexual abuse in Jewish communities, have said that Jews carry an extra burden when it comes to going public with a sex scandal.
"Over the years there have been many reasons why the Jewish community kept silent about sexual crimes committed by individuals in our community," Polin wrote on her Web site "There is a large number of hate groups that would love to promote their propaganda on their Web pages and in publications by posting information about Jews who molest. Their eagerness is a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving."
Additionally, some fervently Orthodox congregations feel bound by the Mesirah, that no Jew should betray another Jew to civil authorities.
The prohibition arose because Jews have lived under autocratic governments and biased judicial systems for much of their history. Informing could lead to dangerous persecution of the entire Jewish community.
Congregations relied on the judgment of special Jewish courts to settle disputes and deal out punishment. While those courts still exist, their power is limited, according to Rabbi David Jay Kaufman of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines.
"These special courts operated with authorities from civil authorities," Kaufman said. "They dealt with Jewish law, which many times was more stringent than secular law. It was useful for keeping community social structures intact."
While the local Jewish community is still mindful of anti-Semitism and avoiding scandal, it would be unconscionable for anyone in the Jewish faith tradition to hesitate to report a child abuse situation today, Kaufman said.
"In some states, clergy are required to report suspicions of child abuse," Kaufman said. "As far as I'm concerned, it is a good thing. My primary concern is for the children. The people who do this kind of thing usually don't have just one victim, so if you don't do something to stop them, you are endangering other children. I can't think of a reason that would morally or ethically make it allowable not to report."
The work of Jewish leaders who share Kaufman's attitude toward reporting child abuse and the Orthodox community's decision to embrace a reporting policy show an "ongoing maturation process for the community in general to have the courage and determination to act aggressively against problems which have always been with us," said Rabbi Mark Dratch, who authored the Rabbinical Council resolution. 

"A lot of factors are forcing us to deal with (child abuse) to assert leadership and not just to look for cover," Dratch told The Jewish Week. "We need to do what is necessary for the welfare of the community and the integrity of the Torah."

Friday, November 14, 2003

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations
The Jewish community in D.M. received e-mails accusing the man of a history of child abuse.
By SHIRLEY RAGSDALE, Register Religion Editor
Des Moines Register - November 14, 2003
A Des Moines orthodox synagogue has canceled the appearance of a prominent New York rabbi scheduled to speak this weekend, after the Des Moines Jewish community was barraged with e-mails suggesting the guest speaker had a history of child abuse.
Rabbi Ari Sytner of Beth El Jacob Synagogue had invited Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Richmond Hill, N.Y., to speak at an event today. Bryks had spoken twice before in Des Moines at Sytner's invitation.
Members of a victims advocacy network found the announcement on and sent messages to the newspaper and members of the Iowa Jewish community, said a member of that network.
Bryks would not speak to a Register reporter Thursday, but in a May article in a New York newspaper denied the allegations, which are more than 20 years old. Despite the fact that he's never been charged with child abuse, Bryks said in the article that the allegations are like a ghost trailing him from city to city, school to school.
And to Des Moines.
"Rabbi and Mrs. Bryks have visited our community twice before in the last few years (before we knew of the allegations), and they were welcomed, loved and respected by all that met them," Sytner said Wednesday in a written statement.
"Nonetheless, I still have absolutely no basis for determining this man's guilt or innocence, and unfortunately with the program scheduled for this weekend, time is not on our side to further investigate. As a result, I have decided to cancel Rabbi Bryks' trip to Des Moines until we can further clarify the matter."
When approached about the e-mail messages earlier this week, Sytner said he believed it was a case of mistaken identity, noting that Ephraim Bryks is a common Jewish name. After Sytner received forwarded e-mails from "all over the country," he decided to cancel Bryks' trip.
One of the early e-mails came from the executive director and founder of The Awareness Center, an international organization dedicated to advocacy and education on sexual abuse in Jewish communities. Founder Victoria Polin said Bryks is one of about 100 alleged abusers whose names are posted on the center's Web site. 
"Pedophilia has no religion," Polin said. "Some Jewish communities are 30 years behind the times in terms of addressing sexual abuse. In some Orthodox communities, they do not watch TV or read the newspapers. All they know is what the rabbi tells them. Someone has to speak out because nobody listens to the victims."
The allegations stem from a period in the late 1980s when Bryks was the leader at a Winnipeg, Canada, Jewish day school and congregation, according to The Jewish Tribune, a publication of B'nai Brith Canada.
According to various media reports, Bryks was accused of abusing five Winnipeg students, including a 17-year-old boy who committed suicide in 1994 after talking about the alleged abuse with his parents and police.
A 1988 report by the government agency, Winnipeg South Child and Family Services on a 14-year-old girl's allegations, said there was no evidence to support a finding of criminal wrongdoing, but said Bryks' interaction with female students was inappropriate. A year later, parents of a young boy took a sex abuse complaint to Winnipeg police. The allegations were investigated, but there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary.
Bryks left Canada in 1990, relocating in New York, where the allegations blocked his hiring by at least one congregation and forced his ouster from at least one other, according to the New York newspaper.
Attempts have been made to remove Bryks from the Queens, N.Y., Va'ad Harabonim, a council of rabbis that makes important decisions in the borough.
Earlier this year, Bryks resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America under criticism. In June, the 1,200-member Rabbinical Council voted to report acts or suspicions of child abuse to the police, a break from a longstanding practice of protecting errant rabbis rather than reporting them to civil authorities, according to reports in The Jewish Week newspaper.

Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Throw Away Children of God?

© (2003)  By Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, ATR-BC, NCC

Can you imagine being deserted on the streets by your parents at the age of six or seven? What would you do? How could you fend for yourself? What happens when you get hungry, tired or when darkness comes? Can you imagine the terror? These sorts of predicaments are exactly how one would describe a “Throw Away Child". Recently this term has been used by several adult survivors of child abuse -- coming from all faiths, as a way to describe their feelings of being turned away when trying to connect or re-connect with various religious leaders, faith based communities and or even to God.
The first representative a child has of God is that of their parents. If one or both of their parents were abusive, the child believes that God is abusive. The same could be said for those who are incest survivors many believe that God must also be a pedophile.
Survivors who were abused in their home, often grew up without mentally healthy role models, or even a stable home environment. One of their issues is learning how to trust. This is not an easy task for the survivor, nor will it be easy for an individual who wants to reach out to mentor them.
Individuals who want to help survivors have to remember that even though a person may be physiologically and chronologically an adult, on an emotional and even on a spiritual level an adult survivor of abuse may still be in their infancy. We all must be mindful when survivors discuss their thoughts and feelings -- especially when it comes to their own personal experiences and understanding when they describe the problems they have connecting with a higher power (AKA: God). One should never shame or blame a survivor of child abuse for their victimization, their beliefs, or their inability to feel safe when it comes to spiritual matters.
Survivors of child abuse often have never been allowed or given the opportunity to work through various issues and or to learn and develop the needed skills to grow spiritually. The good thing is that these misunderstandings can be turned around with the right interventions.
To help these types of survivors, one must try to understand the individual person they want to help. No two survivors are alike. It is important to really understand where each individual survivor is coming from emotionally and how much time, energy and patience will be required to establish a trusting relationship.
When a survivor trusts someone enough to disclose their childhood abuse histories, they are often shunned or ignored by those in faith based communities. When this occurs the survivor not only feels that they had been deserted by the community they may also feel as if God is once again doing the same thing.
All too often survivors of child abuse feel as if they are wearing a scarlet letter. They often feel as if their very essence is no good. Too many feel as if they have no purpose in life and or that they were born evil.
It is also not that uncommon for those who were abused as children to feel suicidal. Unfortunately too many survivors have acted out these feelings, and way too many have died.
"Maureen", a professor at a major university in the United States said she felt as if she was "a bad, dumb, dirty, little girl" after an encounter with her rabbi. Maureen was having a spiritual crisis, and needed guidance. She went to someone she trusted. She did the right thing, yet the rabbi had no training or experience dealing with abuse issues. He told her that he didn't believe her. The rabbi not only knew Maureen's parents; he also considered them to be his friends. The rabbi didn’t have the education or training to understand that there could be a connection between Maureen's eating disorder and the abuse in her home as a child. During the encounter, Maureen disclosed she was crushed and described that "her child within" her was emotionally devastated.
After several attempts of connecting with other forms of spirituality, Maureen decided that "organized religion wasn't for her". She came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as a God. She even stated "If there was, why would God allow these things to happen to me?"
Maureen also figured that since the other rabbis she contacted, or other religious leaders from other faiths could not answer her questions, then the concept of a God was just a myth.
Times are changing, Maureen is trying once again to connect with her spiritual identity, along with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other adult survivors of all faiths.
Our religious leaders and communities are being given an opportunity to help heal some of these very deep wounds.
Many adult survivors are filled with a lot of anger, mistrust, and sadness. My hope is that everyone will open their hearts and be able to embrace those who have been victimized as children, so that they can heal and grow. This is not going to be an easy task.
We all must realize there are thousands of survivors who feel as if they have been "thrown away", not only by our spiritual leaders, yet by the communities they grew up within.
As a society, we all have the responsibility to listen, learn and allow them to bear-witness.

The truth is that we will also be forced to deal with our own personal feelings. There is a possibility that those who mentor survivors, may end up with symptoms of secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, compassion fatigue, and or vicarious victimization. But as civilized people, we MUST help them heal.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Father's Day and Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

© (2003) Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC

Most people don't stop to think about, or understand how difficult it can be for survivors of childhood abuse on holidays (which include mother's day and father's day).  These days can bring back memories (flashbacks), make someone who doesn't have contact with their families to feel depressed, lonely, out of place, etc. 

If you are a survivor this is a reminder to do something good for yourself; go for a walk, ride your bike, go to see a good movie, and if you feel the need -- it's OK to cry. Some people find it helpful to to be with others who either lost their father or also won't be with family members.  Those who will have contact with their families may have to make special plans to debrief with a good friend afterwards. 

Like all holidays, it's important that you take time out to celebrate YOUR life.  Many survivors have to re-parent themselves, on both father's day and mother's day don't forget to celebrate the parent-within.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Sexual Abuse: Getting Your Community To Talk

(This article was co-authored by Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH and originally published by The Awareness Center in 2003 and repubished by The Times of Israel on March 11, 2015)

Ever since starting The Awareness Center we have been getting a lot of feedback from various rabbis around the world. There seems to be one common theme in most of the letters. It appears there’s a lack of general knowledge of what to do and say when someone discloses his or her abuse history. Most rabbis who contacted us were unaware of sexual abuse cases in their communities. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness could be due more to the fact that most Yeshivas who train rabbis do not cover the area of sexual abuse.

Therefore, rabbis seem to be unaware of what the symptoms are, or the long-term ramifications. This is something as a community we need to change, if we are to move toward healing those who have been victimized. Until very recently, sexual abuse was a topic too taboo to even talk about, let alone learn about. We have a huge task in front of us: We need to start educating our communities (especially those who are seen to be authority figures) on the symptoms that children who are being molested might exhibit, as well as the long term ramifications of childhood sexual abuse. 

One rabbi wrote us:
Your article about sexual abuse in Jewish circles is on target. Although no cases were actually brought to my attention, I am aware of teachers in yeshivot who molested their (male) pupils, “left” the school to go to Israel (to do what, I don’t know), then returned to the USA several years later. To my knowledge, the problem is far less than in the Catholic Church. The cult and missionary angle (in a recent article on The Awareness Center’s site—editor’s note) in cases of sexually abused Jewish children is most interesting.

The odds are that many individuals this rabbi has known, were sexually victimized as children – after all, statistics show that one out of every three-to-five women and one out of every five-to-seven men (in the US) have been sexually abused by the time they reached their eighteenth birthday. What is more probable is that the rabbi, as well as many others, who voice similar statements, just didn’t recognize the symptoms of abuse. Another possibility is that on some unconscious level the rabbi gave the impression that they were not comfortable discussing issues relating to sexual abuse. Survivors need to feel a sense of safety with an individual if they are going to make disclosures of this sort.

Granted, the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are many and not everyone victimized will exhibit them all (see table for list of symptoms). What is of utmost importance is that survivors know that they can speak out safely, and that they can make the abuse stop—for them and for others who might still be in danger.

The question is, then, how do you get individuals to disclose their abuse, so that a rabbi can become aware of whether there is such a problem his or her congregation?

The first and maybe the hardest step is to admit to yourself that there might be a problem, and be ready to address it. Education is the key, learn about the issue relating to childhood sexual abuse. Read books published in the area (i.e. Courage to Heal and Victims No Longer). Contact other rabbis with whom you study, and offer to host a brainstorming meeting regarding the ways with which to address and deal with the issues of childhood sexual abuse in your congregations. Remember as long as abuse is seen as a taboo topic amongst the leaders; the rest of the congregation will also feel it is taboo to discuss (let alone disclose). As heads of the community, rabbis are expected to hold their head a notch above the rest, and to keep their eyes and hearts open to the hurdles facing their congregations.

During services you might let your congregation know that you are open to hearing and interested in learning more about sexual abuse. It wouldn’t hurt to mention that you are beginning to understand the severity of it, and how it eats to the core of the Jewish teaching of protecting the weak and needy. Let them know you are there to listen. The odds are that doing so would open up doors of trust and communications, and that some survivors will step forward. There is one draw back in doing this. A rabbi will have to be prepared to listen. You will open yourself up to hear dark and ugly secrets. It’s important for you to have a support system in place so that you can debrief. There are times that care providers (including Rabbis) develop something called “compassion fatigue” (secondary post-traumatic stress disorder), some people call it vicarious victimization. Basically you end up having similar symptomology as the individuals who are disclosing their histories (see list).

The second step is to educate your congregation. Bring speakers into your community to discuss the topic. Get speakers from your state’s child protection service and/or your local rape crisis center – they are well equipped to explain “how and when to make hotline reports”, as well as the process of investigation reports. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have monthly speakers to present about the various aspects of sexual abuse. Topics could include, “good touch, bad touch”. What to do if your child is abused? How to cope when your spouse molested children (please note that both men and women can be offenders), what to do if your child is sexually aggressive, sexually reactive and/or a juvenile sex offender, etc.

The third step is to locate resources in your community. Make a list of therapists who are trained in the area of sexual abuse and familiar with Jewish tradition (or offer these therapist your counsel if they needed it when working with people who are shomrey-mitzvot). Find and/or start self-help or networking groups as resources for survivors in your congregation and the surrounding area.

We at The Awareness Center will be happy to assist you in finding these resources in our upcoming International Resource Guide, which will include professionals experienced working with Jewish Survivors. Also, our constantly updated web pages are chock-ful-of information about sexual abuse and its multitude of after effects; as well as references and articles about treatment, support groups, etc. Our board of directors and members of our advisory board are here to read and respond to your questions via email.

Opening up darkened spaces is a scary, saddening task, but it is a sacred one as well. For as we have been taught by our learned rabbis of the Sanhedrin, “anyone who saves one soul of Israel, it is said about him that he/she has saved a whole world” (Sanhedrin 37/a.)
Let us be “or La-Goyim”, a light to show the way for other nations, by mending our communities without fear or shame.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse

By Stephanie Saul - Staff Writer
Newsday - May 26, 2003

This is the first in a three-part series.
It was the sound of ripping cloth, they said, that woke them up.

On an August night in the Catskills, with summer camp almost over, the boys had fallen asleep in their bunkhouse, exhausted from play and religious study. Only minutes later, they would later testify in court, the noise awakened them. Then came mysterious movements in the dark cabin. The campers lay still. Why was a human figure hovering over the bed of a 10-year-old Woodmere boy?
The terrified boy blurted out his allegation to a camp counselor almost a day later: Someone, he said, had torn open the seat of his pajamas and sexually abused him.
The boy's parents were called to camp more than a day later, but police were not notified.
"We all concurred that considering the trauma that would possibly result from further action, it would be best not to take any additional action," according to the camp's notes, later filed in court in a civil suit. A state Department of Health sanitarian later found that the camp violated state regulations by not reporting the accusation.
Police learned of the allegations two months later, alerted by a psychologist who was treating the boy. The boy's mother later told a state official she felt pressured to remain silent, according to state health department records. After all, the alleged abuser and the camp officials were revered religious leaders.
The accused was eventually acquitted by a judge, who said "contradictory and sometimes retracting statements" left him unclear about what happened. The camp suggests that the alleged incident was fabricated.
After more than a year of charges and disclosures concerning sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests, the story may sound familiar. But the camp, Mogen Avraham, is a popular summer retreat in Bethel for Orthodox Jewish children. And the accused was not a priest, but a teaching rabbi from Forest Hills.
The alleged 1998 incident at Camp Mogen Avraham is just one in a growing dossier of allegations that rabbis, cantors and other Jewish religious leaders have abused children and teenagers in their care, a Newsday investigation has found.
In sheer numbers, the problem is unlikely to rival the Catholic Church's, since priests outnumber rabbis by roughly nine to one. While there is no data on the number of clergy with sexual disorders, experts say that, anecdotally, the problem does not seem as severe in the rabbinate as in the priesthood, even in relative terms.
Even so, some rabbis call the sexual abuse allegations a "crisis," and religious organizations are grappling with ways to handle it.

"We have a huge problem on our hands, a problem that is just beginning to be addressed in religious circles," Vicki Polin, a psychotherapist, said in recent testimony to the Maryland legislature.
Polin, who is Jewish and calls herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, runs The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based clearinghouse that tracks sexual abuse allegations against Jewish religious leaders. The center's Web site lists about 40 alleged cases of abuse involving rabbis and cantors. As with the Catholic scandals, Jewish victims say they still struggle years, even decades, later with this betrayal of trust.
"I can honestly say that he ruined not only my Bas-Mitzvah, but my faith in Judaism," wrote one woman, now 30, referring to Rabbi Sidney Goldenberg. In a letter to California prosecutors, the woman said Goldenberg, then a cantor, made lewd comments and rubbed her thigh in her parents' home in Seaford in 1985. At the time, he was supposed to be helping her prepare for her bat mitzvah, the joyous and solemn religious celebration when a Jewish girl turns 13.
Goldenberg was convicted in 1997 of abusing a 12-year-old California bat mitzvah student, after investigators uncovered a 27-year trail of complaints by girls against him. He served three years and is now living on Coney Island, according to police.
Like the Goldenberg case, the abuse allegations tend to have common elements, including some familiar from the Catholic scandals:
Children and in some cases parents are reluctant to accuse respected clergymen. When they do, they are often disbelieved, dismissed, even derided.
"You have to understand the extent to which the guys in the school looked up to [the rabbi]," says one man, now 38, who says he was abused as a teenager by a rabbi now teaching in Israel. "He was beyond question."
And another rabbi recalls dismissing several girls' complaints against Goldenberg as "some giggly thing."

Religious authorities fail to report abuse charges to the police. Among strictly observant Orthodox Jews, this tendency is bolstered by the ancient doctrine of mesira, which prohibits Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities, a legacy of centuries of oppression of Jews in many countries.
When religious leaders try to investigate cases and prevent abusers from having contact with children, their efforts often fail. "Few rabbis have any training in recognizing abuse, and the rabbinical courts have no investigative arm," says Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual counselor to students at Yeshiva University.

Alleged abusers continue to operate freely by moving among congregations, states, even countries. Avrohom Mondrowitz, a self-styled rabbi who once had a popular radio show in Brooklyn, is living openly and teaching in a Jerusalem college although he is wanted on charges of sexually abusing four Brooklyn boys, aged 10 to 16. If he ever returns to the United States, he will be arrested, according to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.

Many of the alleged abusers were popular, even charismatic leaders, who were thought to be particularly good in relating to young people. Rabbi Baruch Lanner, convicted last year of endangering the welfare of two girls at a New Jersey yeshiva, sidestepped abuse allegations for years, in part because of his reputation as a dynamic figure in an Orthodox youth program.

Unlike the Catholic Church, Jewish authority is not centralized, but various groups within the branches of Judaism have begun to strengthen anti-abuse policies for their members.
At its annual meeting, which starts today in Rye, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, features programs on curbing abuse, including one entitled "Rabbinic Behavior: Confronting a Crisis of Accountability."
"We're trying to establish that inappropriate behavior is inexcusable," said Rabbi Hershel Billet, president of the organization and rabbi at Young Israel of Woodmere.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a psychotherapist who is also the Orthodox Union's executive vice president, said he hopes the rabbinical council will make a firm commitment during the meeting "to develop a real, real tight program" combating sexual abuse.
The rabbinical council is expected to discuss ways to adjudicate abuse allegations against its members, with penalties that include ouster.

Sources within the organization say that the impetus for the panel's work includes old abuse allegations against Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Kew Gardens Hills, which he has repeatedly denied, and the recent arrest of Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum of Highland Park, N.J.
Kestenbaum, a chaplaincy leader for the New York Board of Rabbis, was charged in February with endangering the welfare of a minor after allegedly discussing sex with an undercover police officer posing as a teenage girl in a chat room called "I Love Older Men." Kestenbaum has pleaded not guilty.
Rabbis concerned about sex abuse say accusations against a rabbi are often handled quietly, or not at all. Accused rabbis go on hiatus briefly, then revive their ministries in other congregations, even other countries in the far-flung Diaspora.
One of those was Rabbi Matis Weinberg. Accused of sexually abusing students at his California yeshiva two decades ago, he is said to have agreed to leave teaching. But Weinberg resurrected his teaching career in Israel. When Yeshiva University in Manhattan recently unearthed the allegations against Weinberg, the New York school severed its ties to the Jerusalem college where Weinberg had lectured until recently.
Weinberg has never been charged with a crime and has denied the former students' allegations. Through a friend, he declined to discuss the charges with Newsday.
The allegations against Weinberg have been widely reported in the Jewish press and have helped bring the issue to the fore in recent months.
Like the Orthodox rabbis' council, representatives of other branches of Judaism say they are taking steps to combat sexual abuse.
"I would rather this not become an epidemic and I think what we need to do is take affirmative steps to guide people before they make mistakes," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the lay arm of the Conservative movement. Epstein said the group's committee on congregational standards is currently working on a "best practices" document.
Rabbi Steven Rosenberg of McAllen, Texas, formerly the leader of the Jewish Center of Bay Shore, said his Conservative congregation already has adopted such rules.
"If I have a bat mitzvah in my office, the door is never closed," said Rosenberg, who also tells his 23 religion school teachers "they are not allowed to touch students, not a pat, not a hug."
"It is very important for me for my congregants to know: That kind of behavior -- we will not tolerate it," said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg was sensitized by the case against Sidney Goldenberg, the former cantor, who had worked at the Bay Shore synagogue before moving to California.

Many rabbis say their groups would always notify police about abuse although their rules usually do not spell this out. Such notification was one of the remedies embraced by Roman Catholic bishops in the priest abuse scandal. And Reform rabbis are in the process of revising their ethics code to include such a requirement, according to Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
The National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox group, does have a policy requiring that police be notified, an outgrowth of its scandal involving Lanner, a longtime youth leader with the group.
In that case, a religious court called a bet din concluded in 1989 that the most serious charges against Lanner were unfounded, clearing the way for his continued youth work. Last year, more than a dozen years later, he was convicted in New Jersey on abuse-related charges.
Orthodox Jews frequently rely on the batei din, but Blau, a member of the Lanner bet din, has become an outspoken critic of the religious court system.
For one thing, he said, judges in the religious courts often know the accused, making fair decisions difficult. In addition, he said that perjury before a bet din is rarely punished.
Appearing in February before dozens of students in the main study hall at Yeshiva University, Blau and the two other members of the Lanner bet din issued an extraordinary public apology for their role in allowing Lanner to continue unchecked for so many years.
"We must do everything in our power to protect potential victims from abuse," the apology said. "This includes reporting accusations of abuse to Jewish and, at times, to secular authorities."
Such a secular-reporting requirement is controversial among some Orthodox groups, partly because it appears to run counter to the doctrine called mesira.
In ancient times, one who violated the doctrine and reported a fellow Jew to secular authorities could be killed on sight. Today, the punishment is generally ostracism in the community.
The vast majority of rabbis agree that mesira is overridden when there is imminent danger to possible future victims, but Blau says the taboo remains, particularly among the most traditional Orthodox.
Civil authorities who seek to act against rabbinic abuse often become frustrated by the reluctance of witnesses to testify.
Prosecutors in Sullivan County complained during the case that their witnesses faced pressure when they tried to prosecute Yaakov Weiner, the teaching rabbi acquitted in the Mogen Avraham case.
"It was a bitter pill for me," remembers Tom Cawley, the former Sullivan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the Mogen Avraham case. "They sent their kid to camp up here in Bethel and thought he'd be taken care of. Someone was taken care of, all right, but it wasn't him."
Weiner, who has taught in several yeshivas throughout the metropolitan area, consistently denied the charges. Attempts to reach him through one of his lawyers were unsuccessful.
The boy's mother and father, a rabbi himself, would not discuss the case with Newsday. But camp and State Health Department records filed in court indicate that the parents were not told of the alleged abuse until nearly 48 hours after the boy spoke of it, while the 36-year-old Weiner's father, a rabbi well-known in the Queens Orthodox community, was notified sooner.
Contacted recently, the camp's current executive director, Moshe Wein, defended the camp's handling of the accusation, saying, "There's no evidence to indicate that an incident took place." He added, "This may be one of those cases in which a child lied."
Lawyers for Weiner at his bench trial made much of contradictions in the boy's statements. But the most confusing testimony came from the alleged victim's bunkmates.
One of the boys reversed his story between the time he spoke to police and the trial several months later, Cawley said in court.
"We believe that there was pressure placed on the victim and children's families to get them not to testify," said Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen in a recent telephone interview. "There was a child who could have substantiated what was said, and that family would not cooperate."
Judge Frank Labuda
The entire matter left Sullivan County Judge Frank Labuda confused.
"It is clear in the evening hours of August 8 and the morning of August 9, two years ago, something happened at bunk 3 Gimel bunk... " he said in his January 2000 ruling. But Labuda concluded that trial testimony "does not create a clear picture for this court of exactly what happened in Gimel bunk nor who did it."
He found Weiner not guilty. 

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Anti-Semitism, Sexual Abuse, and The Jewish Community

(This article was originally published in 2003 by The Awareness Center, and republished by The Times of Israel on March 10, 2015)

Over the years there have been many reasons why the Jewish Community kept silent about sexual crimes committed by individuals in our community. To this day there is a legitimate reason why we may want to remain silent. We have to remember that there is a large number of hate groups that would love to promote their propaganda by posting information about Jews who molest on their web pages and publications. Their eagerness is a reminder that anti-Semitism is alive and thriving.

Since the beginning of time, Jews around the world have been watched as if we were under a microscope. We can’t ignore this fact. The question is what should we do? Can we afford to expose our vulnerabilities and show the rest of the world that we are also human? The truth is that we have a choice. We can choose to live in fear, or we can allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse a voice, so that we can take steps to make the necessary changes to heal our community.
When it comes to sexual abuse in any community (Jewish or non-Jewish), “silence is NOT golden.” Things will never change unless we bring attention to the problem and work as a community to come up with solutions. In the secular world there is often talk about all sorts of issues (i.e. civil rights, anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and other forms of violence). We need to remember that whenever anyone wants to make a difference, make changes to the status quo, there will always be someone or a group of people who will attempt to destroy the efforts. Look at slavery, women’s rights, democracy. Without taking risks, nothing would have changed. Without taking risks, our children WILL continue to risk sexual abuse from within our community.

When it comes to child molestation, we need to say and believe in our hearts –“NEVER AGAIN!” We need to do this in a public venue. It’s the only way for things to change. Yes, anti-Semitic groups have, and will continue to use any information they can get their hands on to promote hate. Yes, they have used some of the information posted on The Awareness Center’s web page. When this occurs, The Awareness Center’s policy is to make reports to the FBI (, and to encourage others to do the same. Don’t forget—hate is a crime in the United States, as in many other countries. Hate is a topic we need to speak out publicly about, just as we do about childhood sexual abuse. We need to do our part by reporting all forms of violent behavior, including hate crimes on the Internet.

So yes, hate groups will wave their supposed “proof for Jewish perversion.” They will wave a twisted reality of our efforts. Still, we need to have faith that the rest of the world’s communities have to deal with similar issues to our own (e.g. problems in the Catholic Church, issues of domestic violence in the Islamic world). That people of hate aren’t everyone. We cannot let individuals who promote hate prevent us from healing our community.

As Jews, we strive to live by the teachings of compassion and courage. Would we allow intimidation and other forms of violence to keep us silent? By keeping the secret that Jews are not immune to abusing their children, whose agenda would we be following? What opportunities for growth would we be missing?

When Jews talk about sexual abuse within our community, you can bet that extreme Islamic groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and other Aryan groups will use this material for their benefit. However, keeping in mind the righteous attitude that most hate groups flaunt, one can still wonder about what the statistics are for the same various hate groups when it comes to sexually victimizing their own children. Until they show otherwise, there is no reason to believe that they are any more immune then any other group of people, any more immune than we are. 

The question for us is what do WE do? Do we continue to keep our eyes closed in hope that if we don’t see something is wrong, others won’t see it, either? Should we continue to force our children who were sexually abused to be silent? Or do we take a risk and expose sexual abuse in our midst, knowing full well that it will be used by some sick individuals to promote their agenda of hate?

Let us remember the words of David Hamelech:
“When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me, even then I will be confident…for in the day of trouble Hashem will keep me safe…then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me… Teach me your ways, Hashem, lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of you, Hashem, in the land of the living. Wait for Hashem, be strong and take heart and wait for Hashem.” (Psalm 27)

This article was originally publshed by The Awareness Center, Inc. in 2003 and was co-authored by Na’ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Ways To Help Children With Their Feelings

Developed by Honore M. Hughes, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology, University of Arkansas

1. Children show their distress and anxiety by being extra sensitive, by withdrawing or by acting out. Give the child extra support, encouragement and patience when she/he is under stress.

2. Be sensitive to the feelings that a child is communicating nonverbally as well as verbally.

3. Help children learn to talk about their feelings rather than acting them out, and learn to solve problems verbally rather than physically through modeling better ways to handle situations.

4. Model talking about feelings by expressing your own feelings and commenting on the child's emotions. Example: "I feel sad sometimes when I argue with my friends, etc. Maybe you do sometimes, too."

5. Young children need help in learning to label their feelings. This helps them tap into emotions, identify them more accurately which will make them better able to deal with them. Example: To a young child, "I think maybe you're crying because you're very tired." Or "I know you're crying because Joan took away your ball so you are unhappy."

6. Help children learn what they can do to calm themselves down when they're upset. Example: sometimes a little time alone is helpful to an older child.

7. Reassure a child that all children have feelings in certain situations. Example: Sometimes kids get scared; that's O.K. It's frustrating and you're mad when something doesn't work."

8. Children are sometimes better able to respond to a comment rather than a direct question about what's wrong. Example: "Gee, you seem a little upset. Maybe you're thinking about your mommy."

9. It's helpful sometimes to comment to a child about feelings in the context of a lot of children having those feelings. Example: Most kids feel sad or scared when their mommy and daddy fight."

10. Help children OWN their feelings. Example: You feel angry", rather than "He MAKES you angry".

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Legislators reject bill requiring priests to break seal of Confession

 By Henrietta Gomes
Catholic Standard - March 6, 2003
Last week, Maryland State Senators rejected a bill which would require priests to report any information about child abuse obtained in the confessional except from the abuser. The bill was unanimously defeated by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee a few days after it was introduced by Sen. Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore). Asked whether the measure overstepped the boundaries of religious freedom, Kelley said during the hearing, "sometimes the state must intervene" to protect children.
Before the hearing, many Catholics from the Archdiocese of Washington contacted legislators by phone, e-mail, and fax, urging them not to pass the legislation. Writing in his weekly column in the Catholic Standard, Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he would instruct his priests to disobey such a law and would be willing to go to jail on the matter. Breaking the seal of Confession would violate canon Law, causing any priest who does so to be excommunicated.
Since 1987, a law in Maryland has been in effect that requires priests to report all instances of child abuse they hear about outside of the confessional.
"There is a mandate in Maryland that teachers and police must report any type of abuse, and so clergy should also report," said Kelley at the hearing last week. Passing the bill, said Kelley, would be in the best interest of Maryland's protection of children, "who are most vulnerable."
Ellen Mugmon, representing the Coalition to Protect Maryland's Children, testified that the state must "regulate religion when children need to be protected."
Vick Polin—a member of the Awareness Center that provides resources for Jewish survivors of childhood sexual abuse or assault—testified "because many cases have been covered up in the past, the bill should pass." Polin added, "If clergy were mandated to report then these people (abusers) will get help."
Arguing against the bill, Dick Dowling, the executive director of Maryland Catholic Conference, said, "There is not one example of a person suffering of being abused because of our Sacrament of reconciliation." About Confession, Dowling said "this is a time honored agreement," and he said the sacramental seal of Confession is a central tenet of the Catholic faith. He noted that the current abuse reporting law, which respects the privacy of the confessional, was "carefully scrutinized by elements of the interfaith community: when it was drafted in the late 1980s.
Father Daniel Mindling, a dean of Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmetsburg called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "an act of worship which needs protection. You can't admit sins with no guarantee," he said. "It would weaken our ability to practice our faith. We believe God instituted this," the priest said about the sacrament. About abuse, he said, "If I learn about it in any other way, I report it."
The controversial bill would have required priests to report suspected abuse heard about in the confessional from a non-abuser, such as a family member. Church policy in the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington requires priests and any church workers to report suspected abuse to civil authorities, but information learned in the confessional is confidential according to canon law.
David Kinkopf, an attorney for the Baltimore Archdiocese said, "Our country was founded on religious freedom and religious exercise." He said the proposed measure would be unconstitutional and violate the separation of church and state. 

State Sen. John Giannetti Jr. (Prince George's and Anne Arundel), a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said in a statement that his office received hundreds of calls and e-mails on the matter. "When a man becomes a priest, he takes certain sacred vows," the senator said. "No law should impose on those sanctified vows, and I am going to make sure that they are upheld.

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Spirituality, Sexuality: How Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experience God

© (2003) By Vicki Polin, Michael J. Salamon and Na'ama Yehuda 
Originally published by The Awareness Center's Daily News Letter - 2003
Reprinted by The Examiner on May 16, 2011

Spirituality and Sexuality are very often confusing issues for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and for several valid reasons. In families where the concept of God is present, a child's first representation of God is either of their parents or through their parents. If you have loving, kind parents you may develop a view of God that is loving and kind. If, however, you grew up in a family of violence your perception of a higher power would be of a being that is controlling, explosive and violent. For children who have been sexually violated by their parents, their role model for God is that of a sex offender. Survivors' internalize a view of a punishing, abusive God, who only allows bad things to happen to them because "God loves them." They live in a place where nothing is safe, not even their thoughts, because God can read those and therefore punished for even feeling angry, upset or disrespectful. Given the way children develop a perception of the world, a survivor of the heinous crime of incest would naturally question the veracity of a kind, loving God.

The Talmud (Moad Katan, 17a) relates that a respected Rabbinical educator was rumored to have been involved in behavior that was "hateful." The commentators suggest that he was either an adulterer or seduced young women. The Rabbis ostracized this individual. Unfortunately, despite this tradition to ostracize such offenders, Jewish communities have not taken such a strong, responsible position toward molesters. Too often when allegations of child molestation are brought to the attention of community leaders, parents or relatives of victim's are reminded that discussing issues of molestation within the community or bringing these types of allegations to the public would result in any number of negative outcomes for the survivor. These consequences include difficulty finding a marital partner of substance for not only the survivor, but also other family members, or could result in the survivor or family members of survivors not getting into good yeshivas (schools). There are tales of families of abuse victims of having to relocate to another town as a result of the political pressures following disclosures. Not only does the survivor have to struggle with their trust and belief in God so does the survivor's family.

We have begun to discuss the possibility of a correlation between assimilation and childhood sexual abuse. According to the most recently available data one in every three to five women, and one out of every five to seven men, have been sexually abused by their 18th birthday. As part of the healing journey, the majority of survivors of abuse reach the point where they try to integrate what happened to them on a spiritual level. Many are in twelve-step programs, surrounded by individuals of other faiths, yet the Jewish survivors often feel different. Jews have very different customs then that of their Christian friends. When a survivor is from an unaffiliated background, they may feel at a loss -- unsure of what to do, or how to do it while survivors from backgrounds that were more traditional and included a Jewish education may feel betrayed by that background. The confusion of the healing process adds to the inability to find a healthy spiritual place within their own religion. So what is a Jewish survivor of childhood abuse to do?

Up until now there have been very few individuals who are "survivor friendly" in the Jewish community. We need to start opening our minds and our hearts to begin listening to survivors of childhood sexual abuse bearing witness. Just like holocaust survivors, who were initially shunned, survivors of childhood abuse need to be allowed to speak in order to heal, to be able to learn to connect with God, to see God as something other then neglectful, abusive and cruel. Those listening to these disclosures have a responsibility to themselves, their families and to the survivors. It is vitally important to make sure they have access to a support group conducted by a trained facilitator who is experienced with compassion fatigue (secondary post-traumatic stress disorder), so they are allowed to debrief and maintain balance, after hearing the voices of survivors.

Karen is a thirty-year-old survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She indicated that she spent her life trying to connect to something that was spiritual, yet felt she was failing. Over the years she approached many rabbis asking them questions. Unfortunately, the Rabbis, due to a lack of training, were unable to help her understand either her questions or the concepts with which she need the most help. Most had difficulty listening to her disclose her abuse history. When Karen was a child, while her father was molesting her, he would say "this is how you know God loves you . . . you know anything that feels this good has to have come from God . . . this is how you know God is inside you." Knowing this information would be critical in understanding Karen's difficulties with the concept of God. Yet most Rabbis doing outreach were unable to help her reframe her experience and make it possible for Karen to learn to connect.

Rivka was in her teens when she first disclosed to a friend that her father, a rabbi was molesting her. Her father was also a principal of a school for young boys. Her friend told her mother, who in turn, went to a local community leader to ask for advice. Because of the stature of her father, the community leader suggested they keep quiet about the abuse. As time went on, Rivka was unable to cope. As a teen she ran into some difficulties and ended up moving into the home of one of her classmates. Due to political pressure within the community, the family that Rivka resided with was asked not to daven (pray) in the synagogue they had been members of for years. The family was dedicated to helping Rivka heal, and were not about to put her out on the streets. Rivka eventually went to college, was able to support herself financially, got married and is the mother of three. Rivka came from a Torah observant upbringing, but from her experiences with the denial of the community, she no longer practices. She feels betrayed by her family, the Jewish community, and most importantly by God. When speaking to community leaders of the town she was from, and when her name is mentioned, they make comments such as she's happy, she is married and has children. But they are not completely correct. Rivka's is in mourning. She misses her biological family, she misses her connection to her community and she feels that has no one to talk to about her feelings about God.

Mitch grew up in family filled with physical and sexual violence. The family belonged to a synagogue and his parents made sure to enroll all their children in programs so that they could learn about Judaism. There was a problem -- Mitch was deaf. None of the Jewish educational programs had interpreters. Mitch was not proficient at lip reading and disclosed that he was bored and felt left out. Growing up Mitch never felt that he was a part of his family since the majority of his family members were not proficient in sign language. He was alone isolated in his deaf world.

School was Mitch's only respite. He was enrolled in a school for the deaf, and could communicate freely with people who could understand and relate to him. Growing up in the South and being deaf meant that he didn't have any Jewish friends. As he reached high school, he wanted to be like his friends. Most of them went to church. Mitch had no concept of God, and was like a sponge to learn, to connect to something spiritual. Mitch's concept of God was that of a father who was filled with anger and rage. No one in the Jewish community ever took the time to meet Mitch's needs. He never was given the opportunity to express his thoughts and feelings about his concepts of God to anyone Jewish. But then the missionaries reached him. Like so many survivors, the desire to feel loved was strong. His new friends knew this and showed him unconditional love. He would do anything to feel loved and cared for, and if it meant learning about another religion, then he did it. When his family realized what was happening they tried to rectify the situation, but again it was done in a way that appeared to be an attempt to control and abuse him. Their attempt was unsuccessful. To this day Mitch's views Judaism as something that is abusive and wrong.

The more our communities, and our leaders are educated on the issues relating to childhood sexual abuse the easier it will be to help heal the oozing wounds of childhood sexual abuse. Band-Aids can only cover up an infection. Our communities need to do major wound care, some individuals may require "spiritual surgery," while others my just need a topical ointment. But together as a community, as a people we can come together and heal the world.