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