Ortho­dox chiefs con­fronted over child sex abuse


IT TOOK David Chaifetz 34 years to share his dark­est se­cret. “I was walk­ing around with a tick­ing time bomb,” he said.

It was the sum­mer of 1979 when then 13-year-old Chaifetz was sex­u­ally abused at his Ortho­dox sum­mer camp in the US. Su­per­vi­sors swiftly sent him home as if it were he who com­mit­ted the crime. His abuser, a 28-year-old rabbi at the camp, was al­lowed to stay on staff un­til the end of the sum­mer.

In 2013, af­ter a bat­tle with de­pres­sion, Mr Chaifetz came out as a vic­tim of child sex­ual abuse. Around the same time, high-pro­file cases of child sex abuse in Jewish com­mu­ni­ties around the world mo­ti­vated him to be­come an ac­tivist for other vic­tims too. “I re­alised I can’t change what hap­pened to me, but I can help oth­ers,” Mr Chaifetz said. Last week, Mr Chaifetz and his ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion, Mi Li, joined 50 other ac­tivists, physi­cians and Jewish lead­ers from around the world in New York for the Global Sum­mit on Child Sex Abuse in the Jewish Com­mu­nity. The goal of the gath­er­ing was to “cre­ate a more col­lab­o­ra­tive and united coali­tion” to fight child sex abuse in the com­mu­nity, said Manny Waks, a for­mer vic­tim him­self and the CEO of Kol v’Oz, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that hosted the sum­mit. The three-day con­fer­ence, which was in­vite-only, be­gan with a panel on the role of the rab­binate in deal­ing with child sex abuse. The panel, which was mod­er­ated by Mr Chaifetz, fea­tured Rabbi Mark Dractch of the Rabbinic Coun­cil of Amer­ica, rep­re­sent­ing Modern Or­tho­doxy, and Rabbi David Zwiebel of Aguda th Is­rael of Amer­ica, rep­re­sent­ing Charedi Jewry. The two rab­bis an­swered ques­tions on how their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties are re­spond­ing to the is­sue. In a heated ex­change, the rab­bis were taken to task for op­pos­ing a change to civil law that would ex­tend the time-frame time in which a vic­tim can ini­ti­ate le­gal pro­ceed­ings against an in­sti­tu­tion such as a yeshivah fol­low­ing an in­ci­dent.

Rabbi Zwibel, in par­tic­u­lar, was crit­i­cised when he called these in­sti­tu­tions the com­mu­nity’s “crown jew­els”.

“Those two words, ‘crown jew­els’, are still ring­ing in my head. Are our chil­dren not the real crown jew­els?” Mr Waks asked.

Rabbi Zwiebel con­ceded his poor word choice and ad­mit­ted Agu­dath “is not do­ing enough. We need to do more,” he said.

De­spite nu­mer­ous dis­agree­ments with the rab­bis, the con­sen­sus amongst the con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants was that there had, in fact, been pos­i­tive move­ment on this is­sue from the or­gan­ised Jewish world and both rab­bis we rec­om­mended for com­ing to speak in the first place.

“Ten years ago this kind of dis­cus­sion never would have hap­pened. The em pa­thy that both rab­bis showed felt real ,” Mr Chaifetz said.

Other events at the con­fer­ence in­cluded de­lib­er­a­tions on how to deal with per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims, the role of ad­vo­cates and physi­cians and how to main­tain mo­ti­va­tion when deal­ing with such dark is­sues.

The dis­cus­sions through­out the three days pro­duced some in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

Rabbi Zweibel rec­om­mended go­ing to a Bet Din, a rabbinic court, when the sec­u­lar ju­di­cial sys­tem fails. One par­tic­i­pant pro­posed mak­ing for­mal men­tal health train­ing a pre­req­ui­site for rabbinic or­di­na­tion. Mr Waks sug­gested of­fer­ing a pe­riod of im­mu­nity for any­one in­volved in a cover-up who is will­ing to come for­ward with in­for­ma­tion.

Among the del­e­gates were dis­tin­guished child ad­vo­cates Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Michael Mel­chior, a for­mer MK, and Dr Yitzhak Kad­man, Is­rael’s lead­ing ex­pert on chil­dren’s rights. In­fa­mous per­pe­tra­tor Daniel “Gug” Hayman was also present.

Deb­bie Gross, the di­rec­tor of Ta­hel, an Is­rael-based cri­sis cen­tre for re­li­gious women and chil­dren, held a train­ing ses­sion two weeks ago in Lon­don for 80 Charedi rab­bis and reb­bet­zins at the Hil­ton in Wat­ford. Ms Gross, who leads sim­i­lar cour­ses in the US, Canada, Aus­tralia and South Africa, noted that “the progress in the UK on this is­sue is a bit slower” than it is in other coun­tries but that things are, gen­er­ally, get­ting bet­ter.

Ten years ago this dis­cus­sion would not have hap­pened’

Vic­tim turned ac­tivist: Waks

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