Giving Voice to Victims

By Larry Yudelson (NJ Jewish Standard)
July 12, 2013

David Cheifetz is not the first victim of childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox community to come forward.

But he may be the first who also is an executive at McKinsey & Company, the New York-based high-profile management consulting company.

He sees the problem of sexual abuse as reflecting the failure of the institutions that allowed it to happen.

And he is working to build his own institution, with the tentative name of “Mi Li — Who Is For Me?”

“This is not intended as a one-man shop,” he said. “There are many activists who have done fantastic work on a limited budget. This is meant to address it on some degree of scale.

“Activists have had a profound impact on helping victims,” he said. In Lakewood, he said, Rabbi Yosef Kolko eventually pleaded guilty of abusing a child, after years of denial, “because of activists behind the scene, whose names are not known, working very hard to identify other victims who were willing to step forward.”

The next stage, he said is “to step forward and create an organization of scale, with employees. We need to move from what has been to a great degree a guerrilla battle against overarching, large-scale, institutionally powerful organizations — whether Agudah, NCSY and OU in the days of Lanner, whether it’s Yeshiva University, whether it’s Lakewood, whether it’s particular chasidic sects — we need to assemble an operation that is of scale to help victims and their families.”

Cheifetz, who is a member of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, envisions a two-prong mission for the organization.

The primary objective would be to serve as an ombudsman, “to help victims and families go through the entire process, both in terms of managing the legal and social welfare systems and getting pro bono support.”

The other prong will deal in more general advocacy. “We need to fundamentally change the thinking of the community, including the modern Orthodox community, in terms of how we relate to victims and accusations,” he said. “We need to give the benefit of the doubt to victims.”

So far, Cheifetz has begun recruiting members for two boards: a governing board that would handle the financial side, and an advisory board. He has incorporated the organization and has begun the paperwork of setting it up.

And he is holding lots of meetings.

“I’m currently focused on growing a network of rabbis who are committed to the core principles, engaging with psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, and others with relevant insights and experience,” he said. “I’m also engaging with members of other faith groups. In general, the proposal has been greeted with enthusiasm.

“Major efforts are underway to build funding and other support, and I am delighted to speak to people who want to help create an institutional solution to this terrible problem, which has been largely ignored and hushed up by our community for far too long,” he said.