By Elliot Pasik (The Jewish Press)
October 6, 2010
So soon after Yom Kippur, please find forgiveness in your heart for my Winston Churchill-style excess. I am a lawyer, in the thick of the fight, and as my colleagues and family can attest, my occasionally mordant sense of humor helps preserve my sanity. I am a witness to the great evil of child sex abuse, and the aftermath of fractured lives, drugs, alcohol and suicide.
Above all is the good news that we are winning. With the help of God, we are winning.
The eight days of October 17 through October 24 - k'neged the holy mitzvah of bris milah - have been officially declared the National Jewish Week for the Prevention of Child Abuse. This historic declaration has been issued by the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Iggud Harabbonim-Rabbinical Alliance of America, JSafe-The Jewish Institute for an Abuse-Free Environment, the Chicago Rabbinical Council, and Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago.In the war against child abuse, what are we asking you to do?
Speak out against child abuse - now. Speak out! Recall the words of Moshe when he witnessed one Jew about to strike another. "Rasha, lama takeh reyecha?" - "Evil one, why do you hit your friend?" Moshe asked that question even before the blow had landed.
At the unforgettable Boro Park rally against child abuse on March 1, 2009, organized by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, those eternal words of Moshe were quoted by psychologist Asher Lipner, whose speech was published in these very pages a few days later.
I am president and co-founder of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. The idea for National Week originated with our Executive Committee member Dr. Vivian Skolnick, a Chicago psychoanalyst. The kickoff event for National Week will be a community seminar in Chicago on Sunday, October 17, addressing questions on preventing, detecting, and treating child sex abuse.
Seminar presenters will be Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Dr. Vivian Skolnick, Dr. Asher Lipner, survivor/advocates Mark Weiss and Pinny Taub, a Chicago prosecutor, and this writer. Every aspect of the child abuse problem will be scrutinized - the history of the problem, the halachos, the laws, the psychology, the medicine, the prevention, the detection, the treatment.
Please visit our website, www.jewishadvocates.org. There you will read about what we are asking all Jewish communities to do during National Week. We call for drashas, shiurim and seminars in all shuls and mosdos throughout America. Following the example of Moshe Rabbeinu, we call for the denunciation of child abuse. It is in darkness where child abuse thrives. Our Moshe-inspired words will be the candle that banishes the darkness.
On our website you will also find our position paper to the New York State Legislature and our online petition. To prevent child abuse, we need new laws. New York State has the weakest laws in the country for preventing abuse of religious schoolchildren.
Public school students in New York receive the benefit of mandatory employee background checks, strong mandatory abuse-incident reporting laws, compulsory termination of sexually abusive employees, and no silent resignations of abusive employees.
Religious schoolchildren receive none of these legal protections. It is any wonder that child abuse, over the decades, has been allowed to fester and grow, like weeds in a vacant lot?
In 2007, our group was responsible for a new law allowing New York non-public schools to fingerprint their employees. It had been illegal since 1937. A few months ago, I made a Freedom of Information Law request to the New York State Education Department asking how many non-public schools were utilizing the new law.
The answer, which was published in the New York Post, was disturbing. Of 1,900 non-public schools in New York educating 475,000 children, only 17 - less than 1 percent - were fingerprinting employees to determine whether they were registered sex offenders or had other dangerous criminal histories. Of 390 Jewish schools educating 135,000 children, only one - North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck - was fingerprinting.
Employee fingerprinting and background checks need to be mandatory, not optional. And child abuse occurring in religious schools must be reported to the government - it should not be optional. All child protection laws protecting public school children should be extended to the nonpublic schools. Are fire extinguishers optional for non-public schools? Of course not.
Indeed, the 1,000 Orthodox rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of America agree that our yeshivas need to be governed by child protection laws. Their May 2007 resolution, "RCA Seeks to Combat Abuse of Children by Applying Public School Standards to Nonpublic Schools," can be viewed at www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=100916.
The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children proposed the idea and worked closely with the RCA in securing this groundbreaking resolution that has opened many doors in government and our communal institutions.
The war on child abuse continues. As we read in Pirkei Avos, the day is long and much work remains. But if not now, when?
Speak out. Speak out during National Week. Speak out as if your children's lives depend on it. Because they do.