by David Framowitz (Special To The Jewish Week)
March 4, 2009
When I arrived at the Boro Park Y last Sunday for Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind's morning of chizuk (strength) for survivors of sexual abuse, I really didn't know what to expect. But my first reaction upon hearing about the event was that victims don't need a day of prayer; we are not the sick ones. What we do need is for the community leadership to publicly acknowledge that there is a problem and to direct the victims of abuse and their families to the police. It is only by doing this that we can protect our children and obtain justice.
But my curiosity got the better of me and I went. After all, since I came forward three years ago with my story charging abuse at the hands of Yehuda Kolko, numerous other victims of child sexual abuse have come forward to tell theirs — some of them most recently to Dov Hikind. Hikind began speaking about the issue on his radio show last summer and, to his self-confessed horror, the broadcasts prompted a flood of calls and visits to his office by victims. This ultimately led him to form a task force to address the problem he says is of epidemic proportions. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
I listened as speaker after speaker said nice things about Hikind's role in bringing this issue to the forefront, and also about the need to protect our children. One rabbi even gave specifics, claiming that one of the solutions to this problem lies in our making sure that all classroom doors have unblocked windows and that no student is ever alone with a teacher.
All fine and good. But not one speaker actually uttered the words "sexual abuse." And, even more amazing and disturbing, particularly considering Hikind's claims that he has collected information about thousands of cases of sexual abuse, there was no mention of the imperative to report suspected molesters to the police. Instead, there was talk of balancing Jewish law and civil law and the need to work with rabbis in order to address the problem.
I am no scholar. But even I know that Jewish law dictates that it is incumbent upon anyone with knowledge of the existence of an abuser to report the abuser to the police. This is not my opinion. This is undisputed halacha as recently publicized in the written opinion of the most revered fervently Orthodox rabbinic leader alive today, Harav Elyashiv.
While Hikind and his fellow apologists talk of compromise solutions that involve rabbis and further cover-up, children are continuing to be abused.
Sadly, the history of the past 40 years has shown us the dangers of trusting our rabbis with issues related to sexual abuse. Their instinct is to protect the reputation of their communities by covering up the incidents and intimidating the victims into silence. It seems the occasional death is an acceptable price to them.
I know I'll be on my flight back to Israel this week with these unanswered questions racing through my mind. I know my brethren will ultimately do the right thing and protect their children using the only means available to us — the police and justice system. I also know that as well meaning as Hikind may be, his actions serve only to protect the monsters within our community.
At the close of Sunday's event, I asked Hikind when he'd be releasing the names of the pedophiles whose names he had been given. After all, how can parents protect their children if they don't know from whom they must protect them? If Hikind had not run away from me after responding "Never," I would have asked how he can possibly live with the knowledge that children are still suffering at the hands of some of those pedophiles.
While we wait for Hikind to respond, I hope parents take this to heart and if, God forbid, are ever faced with an incident, will immediately go directly to the police.
David Framowitz, who lives in Israel, is a founding member of Survivors for Justice, a group that advocates on behalf of victims of sexual abuse.