Sex­ual abuse in the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox world: ‘Some se­crets shouldn’t be’

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By SARAH LEVI

Ta­hel, the cri­sis cen­ter for re­li­gious women and chil­dren, is reach­ing out to one of the most in­su­lated com­mu­ni­ties in Is­rael by tack­ling sex­ual abuse among the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox.

Mon­day was the first day of the group’s three-day con­fer­ence ti­tled, “Cre­at­ing Safe Com­mu­ni­ties; Cre­at­ing Hope.” The gath­er­ing at the Crowne Plaza Ho­tel in Jerusalem brought some 100 speak­ers and about 600 at­ten­dees from 15 coun­tries to dis­cuss top­ics of­ten not touched upon in the re­li­gious com­mu­nity. Those top­ics in­clude, among oth­ers, sex­ual mo­lesta­tion, get (Jewish di­vorce doc­u­ment) re­fusal and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

The con­fer­ence fea­tures pre­sen­ta­tions in both English and He­brew with five si­mul­ta­ne­ous ses­sions, seven times each day.

It was no co­in­ci­dence that the “#metoo” cam­paign has in­flu­enced the con­fer­ence or­ga­niz­ers to open the event to the press for the first time to reach the widest au­di­ence in its his­tory.

Ta­hel di­rec­tor Deb­bie Gross spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the evo­lu­tion of the con­fer­ence and how the at­mos­phere to­day dif­fers from three years ago: “In the past, a lot of the goal was to bring aware­ness to the com­mu­nity. To­day, peo­ple know there is vi­o­lence in our com­mu­nity,” she said. “To­day, peo­ple know chil­dren are sex­u­ally abused. The whole ‘metoo’ cam­paign brought the vic­tims for­ward.”

The con­fer­ence helps turn ideas into ac­tions, Gross said. “But what I think the typ­i­cal per­son doesn’t un­der­stand is that it is their re­spon­si­bil­ity to do some­thing. In other words, ev­ery mother and father has to make sure there’s a pro­gram in the schools and syn­a­gogues. And I think the idea of this con­fer­ence is how to build safe com­mu­ni­ties for our chil­dren. It’s not enough to say ‘This is ter­ri­ble.’ You have to say ‘You can­not let this hap­pen again.’”

Ta­hel was es­tab­lished in 1993 and works to help vic­tims of abuse and ter­ror­ism through so­cial and emo­tional-sup­port pro­grams.

One of the ses­sions ti­tled, “Why me? Deal­ing when bad things hap­pen to good peo­ple,” dealt with mak­ing sense of the chaos that re­sults from sex­ual abuse, from a re­li­gious per­spec­tive.

Manny Waks, the CEO of Kolv Oz, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that works to pre­vent child­hood sex­ual abuse in the global Jewish com­mu­nity, came from the Chabad has­sidic com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia, where he was a vic­tim of such abuse.

Waks, one of 17 chil­dren, spoke at the con­fer­ence about his own ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dressed in jeans and wear­ing an un­tucked but­ton-down shirt, the clean-shaven Waks ad­dressed a room filled with ob­ser­vant Jews and said: “Vic­tims are ac­cused of do­ing hilul Hashem (des­e­crat­ing god) for com­ing for­ward.”

Waks pre­sented ev­i­dence that showed one out of ev­ery five chil­dren in Is­rael, Aus­tralia and the United States are vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault, and that 70% of those as­saults hap­pen in the home.

He said that com­ing for­ward “tears fam­i­lies apart.” He also spoke of the symp­toms that ac­com­pany sex­ual abuse, in­clud­ing such mal­adap­tive be­hav­iors as: eating disor­ders, se­vere de­pres­sion, sub­stance abuse, vi­o­lent be­hav­ior and sui­ci­dal ideation.

Waks told the Post that the big­gest prob­lem in deal­ing with sex­ual abuse in the ul­tra-Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity is: “a com­plete lack of re­search in this area, so any­thing that we talk about is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and not re­search-based.”

He added: “If you can’t talk about sex, how can you talk about abuse? There are com­pli­cated fac­tors and I have seen many, many peo­ple leave the fold, and many of them have ex­pe­ri­enced child­hood sex­ual abuse.”

Deb­bie Gross also shared what she sees as one of great­est chal­lenges fac­ing the re­li­gious com­mu­nity in con­fronting the is­sue: “Peo­ple are still in denial and they don’t think they have to worry about their chil­dren in their com­mu­ni­ties and their schools. We have to change our lives to make our kids safe. And I think the big­gest as­set is that peo­ple are join­ing to­gether to take this on and that’s a big thing.”


TA­HEL DI­REC­TOR Deb­bie Gross gives the open­ing re­marks on Mon­day, the first day of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual con­fer­ence, at the Crowne Plaza Ho­tel in Jerusalem.

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