Wednesday, September 30, 2015

No Resolution For Jewish Survivors of Sex Crimes

(Article originally published in "The Times of Israel - September 30, 2015) 

Over the past thirty years of being involved in the anti-rape movement, I’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse from just about every faith.

Though each religion has its own beliefs and protocols in the way allegations of sex crimes should be handled, there are so many similarities between the various in which these institutions have operated. 
Sadly it appears that the status quo has been to cover-up sex crimes after they have been committed, and then to turn around and blame those who have been victimized.  

For years many activists have joked, "that it’s almost as if religious leaders of all faiths went to the same school to learn how to mishandle cases involving clergy, along with employees of their religious institutions."

Though each faith might use different terminology in their rationals and religious laws, it all boils down to one thing;  The reputations of their clergy members, community leaders and institutions come first.  Very few really seem to care about the long term effects and ramifications sex crimes plays on those who have been victimized.  

I’ve heard it over and over again, from professionals working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, that it is as if those in affiliated with religious institutions in leadership roles “are nothing more then a part of  the good ole boys club”.  Which makes it appear that they care more about reputations, then about innocent lives of congregants (including men, women and children).

Over the last several weeks, since the first announcement that the Pope Francis was coming to the United States and since he left; I’ve been flooded with emails along with postings on both Facebook and Twitter regarding the Catholic churches inaction when it came to cases of clergy sexual abuse, along with complaints regarding the continued mishandling of more recent cases.

Every time I received one of these announcements regarding the Pope, I can't help but to thinking to myself that on some levels my Catholic friends have it so much easier then us Jews.  Within Judaism, there is not one central person in charge of our faith.  Meaning there’s not one person to place the blame.  Instead it feels as if we have zillions of pontiffs.  Within Judaism, there is no Pope.  Instead each and every rabbi is more or less like the rulers of their own kingdom.

According to years of research on the topic, I’ve learned that there is really no way to “defrock” a rabbi.  In the Jewish Renewal, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, receiving rabbinical ordination is like receiving a college degree.  There’s no taking it back.  In the orthodox world, there are some that say that if the rabbi who gave the ordination takes it back, then the person is no longer considered ordained.  The problem with this is that often rabbis receive multiple ordinations, meaning various rabbonim would have to remove their smichas.  Another issue is the fact that if the ordinating rabbi is deceased, there’s nothing one can do to remove the ordination.

Some believe that if a rabbi is a member of a rabbinical organization it provides some sort of protection for the rabbis followers.  The truth is that it does not.  The worst thing that can happen is that the alleged offender might have their membership terminated.  The alleged offender is still allowed to call themselves rabbi.

Over the years we have seen rabbis or other community members who have been accused of a sex crime chased out of town after committing heinous acts; yet allowed to move on to a new, unsuspecting community –– where the alleged offender can have free reign in victimizing more men, women and or children.

Another issue we have seen happen time after time is that an alleged or convicted sex offender will hop from one movement of Judaism to another to avoid suspicion, without any sort of notification to other branches of Judaism, which offers the alleged assailant the illusion they can roam free to offend again.

Unfortunately, to date there are no solution to any of these issues –– leaving our communities vulnerable.

(Originally published by The Times of Israel on September 30, 2015)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Debriefing: Survivors of Child Abuse Testifying at Legislative Hearings

© (2015) By Vicki Polin
(Originally published by The Examiner)

There comes a time in the lives of several adult survivors of child abuse when they feel the need to do something pro-actively as a way of transforming their child abuse histories into something positive. It’s not uncommon for survivors when they reach this stage of healing to start volunteering time for various non-profit organizations that deal with sexual assault, write a book about their lives, go back to school so they can better help others, or even getting involved in the legislative process in hopes of helping to create better laws to protect children –– along with advocating for the civil rights of adult survivors. 

There are many pros and cons about going public and speaking out that really need to be considered. For that reason it is vitally important for survivors to discuss their thoughts, feelings and plans with trusted and supportive friends, family members, along with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience working with adult survivors. 

Going public in any venue about ones abuse history in hopes of helping others, is an extremely noble cause, yet it is also important to be aware of the risks (which you can read about in the article “Questions to ask yourself before disclosing, confronting or going public“).

Providing testimony at legislative hearings has its own set of issues, which can be extremely different then other types of public speaking engagements or even writing a book. Prior to testifying one may feel that the legislators will hear their words and want to respond in a positive way. Unfortunately, that is NOT what usually occurs. To understand the legislative process one must understand that what appears to be more important then hearing the testimony of survivors, is the lobbying that occurs both before and after legislative hearings. The politics of the legislative process involves favors being repaid, friendships and alliances and campaign contributions. 

Over the years I’ve spoken to hundreds of survivors, family members and others supporters, who provided testimony and shared that they felt extremely vulnerable, betrayed and devastated when the bills they testified for failed. Several survivors also shared that after providing testimony they felt suicidal. 

Unfortunately, at most hearings there was no plans made to have support people available for survivors to debrief with immediately afterwards, or individuals to follow up with for the weeks or months afterwards. 

Years ago I volunteered as a disaster mental health worker. My job was to help the disaster workers debrief after each event. Disaster workers were not allowed to leave the disaster site until after they debriefed and had a plan in place for them to continue to debrief for the next 72 hours –– or longer if needed. This sort of plan is something that should be in place any time a survivor or family member is expected to share their life experiences as a part of the legislative process. By doing this, we all can lesson the likelihood that these brave heroes will be re-victimizing themselves. 

If you are a survivor or a family member, perhaps you may want to rethink providing testimony unless this type of program has been set up by the organization which has been suggesting you speak out. If there is no program like this, then perhaps you can help organize one. It would be helpful for those who want to help debrief survivors along with others who testify, to learn how to help others by through a disaster mental health training, a suicide prevention program or rape victim advocacy training prior to the legislative hearing. It’s important for there to be follow up with those who testified as long as needed. Once again each survivor is different and the time in which they may need support can be from anywhere from 72 hours to a year. The goal is for everyone to feel as if they did something good, instead of feeling battered and abused by the legislative process.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Anatevka relocating to the United States?

(This article was originally published by The Times of Israel on Feb. 27, 2015)

I recently heard the song “Anatevka” from the film “Fiddler on the Roof” on the radio.  As soon as I heard the song, my mind became flooded with the history of the Jewish people –– and the fact that anti-semitism is alive and thriving throughout the world.  I once again started wondering if it was time for my family and I to relocate to another country, in order to stay alive as my ancestors did a little over a hundred years ago.

Though the lives of American Jews living in the US has been much easier then it had been for my ancestors; who were forced to reside within “The Pail of Settlement” during the time of czarist Russia (between the years of 1835-1917).  As we all know, history has a tendency of repeating itself. 

The fear for many Jews, is that our safe haven within the borders of the United States could be taken away from us within moments notice.  That once again we could be rounded up and slaughtered.

My mind has been flooded with conversations my family would have while I was growing up regarding the decision my paternal great-grandparents made to leave Motele, Russia in the early 1900s.  I was told the last straw was when my great-uncle was turned away from entering medical school because he was a Jew.

Sholom Polin, who was my great-grandfather, was a university trained medical doctor.  He had a thriving practice, a beautiful home and was highly respected in his community.  When my great-uncle Abe, was refused admission to medical school because of our faith, my great-grandparents had the insight to know much more was coming.  They made the decision to sell their home along with all the family’s possessions, so that they could move to Chicago –– in hopes of keeping their children safe.

Over the years I heard countless stories from people sharing their personal stories of how my great-grandfather saved their lives.  Not only because he was a doctor, it was because he encouraged others to leave Motele with my family –– in hopes of saving their lives too.  In his gut Sholom knew much more was coming and wanted to save the lives of his friends, neighbors and other community members.  Sadly, Sholom’s fears that more hate against Jews was correct.  The destruction of the town he loved, became reality in 1941.

I remember several years ago while working on my families genealogy, finding the story of my grandfather’s hometown in the book “The Destruction of Motele”, which was originally published in Yiddish back in 1956.  The horrors of what occurred really hit home, when I saw my great-grandfather’s name mentioned in the book (Shalom the doctor).

My maternal grandfather’s family was not as fortunate in their journey to America as my paternal grandfather’s.  I remember reading a letter sent by a great-aunt who shared the story how the family had to hide in the stalls of a non-Jewish neighbors pig farm just outside of Kishinev for months, prior to finding safe passage to the United States.  My maternal grandfather was around five years old, when he and his family went into hiding.  I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors they experienced and saw during the pogrom in Kishinev back in 1903.

Though my family has been living in the United States for over a hundred years, and the fact that neither one of my grandmothers ever experienced the horrors that went on in Europe (since they both were born in Chicago); the fear of what could happen in a moment’s notice has been embedded in my families DNA, including mine.

With the increase of anti-semitism not only overseas, yet in the United States too, I find repeatedly asking myself, what would Sholom Polin do?

Monday, February 23, 2015

No More Tolerance For Radicalized Islam

Over the past few years I’ve been reevaluating my life long views and beliefs that with patience, love, understanding and tolerance the world could change and become a beautiful place.

With the growth of antisemitism worldwide, my mind has been preoccupied with the lecture series I heard on “Genocide and the Holocaust” provided by Professor Emeritus, Leon Stein, while obtaining my undergraduate degree at Roosevelt University

I am not unlike so many other liberal thinkers who truly believed that as a society, if we learned enough about our past history we would be able to prevent the ugly horrors from repeating themselves.  This utopian dream could be a reality, if only there were not so many charismatic, murderous pseudo-Islamic cult leaders –– who use their power and control over their subservients, as Adolf Hitler did during his reign of terror.

There are so many different types of cults that kill, which includes those who manipulate religion to promote the personal agendas of sociopathic cult leaders.  One such example is that of Jim Jones, who bastardized Christianity when he murdered his congregants at Jonestown with tainted Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately, when individual’s get involved with dangerous cults, they often lose their ability to utilize their own critical thinking.  Cult members are unaware that their minds have been manipulated to the point that they are no longer able to make rational decisions, think for themselves and to recognize the maladaptive influences, motives and or biases their cult leaders may have used to manipulate them.  I personally believe this is exactly what is happening with those who are aligning themselves with such hate groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS or any of the other radicalized Islamic group out there.

The psychotherapist in me wants to believe that there is hope for those who became subservient to these murderous cult leaders –– who use mind control techniques to maintain their power and control over their followers.  I want to believe that those who have been manipulated stand a chance of being deprogrammed, to learn or relearn how to think for themselves –– without outside influence from their cult leaders.  I want to believe that these followers of these various contaminated forms of Islam are capable of feeling remorse –– for the horrendous crimes they have been committing.

Just as in the case of Adolf Hitler, these newest version of murderous cult leaders have a team of marketing experts.  The have learned from history that by creating hate aimed at the State of Israel and blaming Jews for the worlds problems, that the likelihood of other hate groups will join forces will increase.

What most people don’t understand who are buying into this anti-Israel propaganda, they are opening the flood gates for horror stories like we have never seen before.

So many individuals really want to believe that the solution is to just put daisies in the ends of assault weapons, yet the reality is that with these radicalized Islamic brainwashed terrorists, daisies won’t work. As much as I’m against war and the murder of innocent people –– if we don’t all join forces and stand behind Israel the rest of western civilization will end.

Monday, February 9, 2015

How To Find A Therapist

© (2015) By Vicki Polin
(This article was originally published by Times of Israel on Feb. 9, 2015)

When seeking therapy to help deal with past events in our lives (as either an adult and or as a child), most of us may feel clueless in how to go about finding the right mental health professional for guidance.  It’s not uncommon for individuals to ask a friend, a trust family member, your doctor, or even their insurance company for names of mental health professionals; yet that may not be all that is needed.  It is vitally important for survivors of trauma to be educated consumers.  It’s important to find someone who you feel comfortable with and trust.  A therapist who works well for one person, may not be the right person for another.

Finding a therapist is like buying a pair of shoes.  You can go to the store and see a really cool pair in the window, yet when you try them on they hurt your feet.  So you end up moving on to another pair.  How often have you tried on another pair and walk around in them in the store, and when you get them home, they are not as comfortable as you thought, so you end up storing them in the back of the closet?  Most of us have also found a pair of shoes that is so comfortable that you never want to let go of, even though they are looking pretty rundown.  The truth is that’s not so good for your feet either. 

What is important is to find that perfect pair of shoes that are very comfortable, do the job, and when you’re ready to move on, you can just let them go.

When someone has been abused as a child or experienced a violent crime as an adult, self-esteem issues may come into play when searching for a good therapist who can help you grow.

Most individuals feel unsure about how to screen out potential psychotherapists to help them work through their issues.  For that reason the following list of questions have been developed in hopes of helping survivors screen out the type of therapist they feel the most comfortable working with.

You can use the questions provided in this article and or come up with your own.  There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions.  What is most important is how you feel with the responses. You can ask the following questions on the phone, prior to setting up your initial appointment or during your initial appointment.

It’s not uncommon for many to feel uncomfortable or awkward asking these questions, so only ask what make sense to you and see how you feel as you go along.

It is also important to note that it IS okay if the therapist doesn’t feel comfortable answering some of questions you are asking.  What matters is how you feel about the answers they provide or how they decline answering them.  It doesn’t mean the therapist is bad, it just shows you what boundaries they have and also provides you with information to help you make a tough decision.  Bottom line is coming up with a screening process of your own in finding someone you feel comfortable sharing some very personal thoughts and feelings with.

It’s also important to know that it is okay to ask the potential therapists if they were abused as a child or experienced some sort of trauma in their lives as an adult.  If they said yes, it’s important for you to ask if they have work through their own issues with their own therapist. It is unfair and incongruent for a therapist to expect YOU to do work with him or her if she or he hasn’t been willing to do their own work.  Please remember it is vitally important for you to be an educated consumer, and to trust your gut.

Possible Questions To Ask On The Phone Or During First Meeting With Potential Therapist:
  1. How old are you?
  2. What is your educational background?
  3. How many years have you been practicing?
  4. What populations have you worked with in the past?
  5. Do you have experience doing family or couples counseling?
  6. Do you offer group therapy?  What kinds of groups?
  7. Are you licensed by the State to practice?
  8. What kind of therapy do you practice? (e.g., cognitive, transformational, Freudian, etc)
  9. Do you use “therapeutic touch” with any of your clients?
  10. What are your professional plans in the next few years?  Do you plan to remain (city, agency) in your practice?
  11. If you left this agency or move your private practice out of the area, and we haven’t completed our work, would you be willing to continue working with me or give me a referral?
  12. How will you handle termination?  In the event you cannot give me notice of your intent to terminate me as a client, will you follow up with a written or oral communication to me to ensure closer for our work together?
  13. Have you ever treated individuals who have been abused as children (emotional, physical and sexually)? If so, what was that like for you as a therapist?
  14. What appointment times are available for me?  day time, evenings? or weekends?
  15. What are some of your hobbies and interests?
  16. Would you tell me a little about your philosophy of life?
  17. What are your fees for individual, family, couples and or group therapy?
  18. Do you offer sessions using “Skype”?
  19. Can I send you e-mail?
  20. Could I reach you in a crisis or emergency?  How would I do that?  Would there be a charge?
  21. Do you accept my insurance?
  22. Do you offer a sliding scale if my insurance doesn’t cover psychotherapy and I can’t afford your rate?
  23. Do you think sex with a client can sometimes or always be therapeutic? (If the answer is “YES”, find a different therapist).
  24. Do you think child/adult sex can sometimes or aways be beneficial?  (If the answer is “YES”, find a different therapist).
  25. Have you ever been sanctioned by a licensing or certification board or sued during your years in practice?  If yes, what happened?
Questions To Ask Yourself After Making Contact And After First Session With Potential Therapist:
  1. How did you after your initial contact with the potential therapist?
  2. How did you feel after asking the questions (if asked over the phone)?
  3. How did you feel after the initial session?
  4. Did the location of the therapists office make you feel uneasy?  If so, why?
  5. How did you feel about the furniture, paintings, books and or aroma in the therapists office or waiting room? Did the furnishings make you feel comfortable? Did you notice anything that made you feel uncomfortable or uneasy? If so, what was it? Is it something you could talk to the potential therapist about?
  6. Was the therapist direct and open in answering all your questions or did he/she “dodge” any of them?  If he/she dodged any, how did that make you feel?
  7. Did you get the impression that the potential therapist feels he/she has all the answers to every problem and or felt controlling?
  8. Did you get the feeling that the potential therapist was interested helping you explore your issues with you?
  9. Does the therapist have similar values and interests as you?  Does that make you feel more or less  comfortable?
  10. Did you get the feeling that the potential therapist was empathetic, sensitive, and someone you felt comfortable opening up to?  If not, you may want to find someone else.


TRUST YOUR OWN JUDGEMENT!  Choose a therapist that makes you feel comfortable and safe.  It doesn’t matter if you choose a licensed counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.  The most important thing is to remember is to choose someone who has the right education, training and a good track record of working with individuals who have a similar history as yours. Your potential therapist’s office should be a place where you can feel comfortable and protected, as well as a place where you can be encouraged to take risks.  Survivors of childhood trauma and also traumas as an adult need to feel they have a companion, not a crutch or someone who they feel is controlling.  It’s important to remember that YOU are in charge of your life.

Believe in yourself, and  TRUST your own gut reactions and judgement.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Aliyah Question

(This article was originally published by The Times of Israel on Feb. 7, 2015)

Over the last few months, with the increase of anti-semitism globally, there has been so much chatter over the internet asking the question –– Is the only safe place for Jews Israel?

I was fascinated in reading the discussions on various social media sites.  A vast number of individuals who are Torah observant believe that Israel is only safe place for Jews, yet many of those who are from other movements of Judaism or who have stated they were unaffiliated, voiced concerns stating it was too dangerous to make aliyah (migrate to Israel).  The names used in this article are pseudonyms, in hopes of protecting   the true identities of those who responded. 

Jonah Levin from Los Angeles believes that “if all Jews moved to Israel, we would be sitting ducks.  It’s like rounding us all up on cattle cars of a train and shipping us off into a country that could be considered like a concentration camp”.  
Jill Schwartz from Chicago said she learned a great deal from watching movies growing up that had a holocaust theme.  “Movies like the Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago made me think.  I personally believe we are much safer moving out to the countryside, much easier for us to hide.  That is until we can join forces and organize –– like in the Russian  resistance”.

Rhonda Green from Pittsburg shared:  “I remember during the time of the Golf War, I lived in Philadelphia.  My sister lived in one of the far off suburbs.  We had this conversation about what we would do if they were going to round up Jews. We came up with a plan where we would meet, before taking off to farmland. We figured we would be safer there then in the heart of the city and life would be safer for our kids.”

Kevin Rosen from Toronto stated: I am a Canadian and I love my country.  I also love Israel.  I really don’t know what the right thing to is.  I keep going over stories I heard from my grandfather, who’s family first went to the United States before going north to Canada.  I keep asking myself, what was it that made my great-grandparents decide to leave in Russia in 1900?  What was the last straw that made them sell every thing they owned and leave the only country they knew?  I wish I knew the answer to that question.

Robert Marcus from Boston, shared that he’s “not the kind of person who believes that Jews should run and hide, or go to Israel. I am one who believes that when good people help others, regardless of their racial or religious views, THAT is how the enemy can be defeated. Along with being armed, and this time never running away, but standing and fighting for our right to exist.”

Suzanne Brooks of Baltimore, shared how much she loved Israel and her thoughts of one day making aliyah.  Her concerns about migrating to Israel had to do with leaving her friends and family behind.  “I don’t know what the correct thing to do is.  What I do know is that I could not leave my family behind.  My parents are elderly and there’s no way they would come with me if I made aliyah.  I just couldn’t leave them behind.”

After reviewing all the responses and thinking about what I know about what happened during the pre-holocaust days, all I can say is there are no right or wrong answers to these very difficult questions.  The responses are so hauntingly similar to the answers our people had to toy with over seventy years ago.  Do I stay or do I go?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Would you hide Jewish friends?

 (This article was originally published by The Times of Israel on Jan. 25, 2015)

We have been taught and hoped that with education the chances of history repeating itself may be reduced. Watching the increase of anti-semitism globally and knowing the history of the Jewish people, there is an unspoken fear amongst many that there is an increased possibility of another pogrom.

Recently I asked the question on a social media site: “If there was another holocaust or pogrom against Jews, how many of non-Jews would hide their Jewish friends in hope of saving their lives –– even if it meant you and or your family could also be killed?” 

I was astonished at the responses I received. At the request of those who responded and their desire to remain anonymous, I have given the responders pseudonyms.

Chris Curtis stated: “I live in the southwest, surrounded by desert. We could hide a lot of people out here.”

Marvin Field shared: “I’m not Jewish, but I would hide any and every Jew to the best of my ability, because if I sat by and did nothing while such a systematic crime against human decency took place, I wouldn’t and couldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Lynne Smith believes things would be different today then they were in the last century. “Jews wouldn’t go down without a fight. And if it happened I imagine I would be fighting side by side with the Jews not just hiding them. The Jews have become a tough as nails people. Probably out of necessity.”

Karrie Rosa voiced her concerns: “I don’t think anyone really knows how they would respond to these types of situations, until they actually happen. We can all share what we hope we would do, yet when there’s a gun aimed at a loved ones head and the rest of your family is sitting right in front of you, you never know how much of a righteous gentile you will be.”

Jeff Jones is under the impressing that most American Jews are naive like he was. “Most Jews living in the US believe they are safe, that something like what happened in Nazi Germany could never happen here . . . They think their friends and neighbors would never stand for it. After spending three years in Israel and returning to his hometown, he was shocked at things his non-Jewish friends would say to him. Prior to living abroad, he was unaware of how many of his non-Jewish friends would say anti-semitic things. Upon returning he realized they had always been stereotyping Jews.” He said it was “a huge wake-up call” for him. When he asked his non-Jewish friends if they would hide him, and they said yes –– he doubted he could trust them.

All I can say is what everyone shared is a lot of food for thought.