I was greeted this morning by two important news reports. The first was about a 19 year old counselor having been arrested for molesting a young camper at the all boys’ summer camp outside of New York that they were attending. The news was originally very local and was printed initially only in the Pocono Record, a small circulation source. Once the news broke, however, it spread rapidly, as it should have, mostly via the internet but also by word of mouth. The report, brief and to the point, indicated that the arrest resulted in a charge of “indecent assault” of a person under age 13 and that the offender was arraigned and out on bail. I have no direct information of this situation and have no specific interest in this case but I have been told by parents who had some dealings with the camp that there was a fair amount of denial and minimizing that the camp administration initially used to cope with the problem until they realized the significance; Kudos to them if they did make the case against the molester. It shows signs of a developing maturity in accepting that the problem exists and must be dealt with, not within the community but by properly trained professionals. Several years ago a report to the police would have never been made and the molester would have been hidden and even protected. Those accusing a molester would have been criticized for their appropriate actions. Unfortunately, in some circles this continues to be the norm.
The second bit of news is of a situation with larger implications and has been reported in several important media sources including Haaretz, Arutz Sheva and even the Yeshiva World News. It was about abuse of a different sort. I believe that the two situations may have some subtle but very significant links. Apparently Rav Shalom Cohen, the Dean of Yeshivat Porat Yosef and a member of Shas’ Moetzas Gedolei Yisroel (Council of Sages) exclaimed that the dati leumi or Modern Orthodox communities, those who wear the kippah seruga, are in his words Amalek. We are commanded to eradicate Amalekites – Rav Cohen suggested that there can be no complete Jewish religion as long as the kippah seruga exists. He then went on to warn via insinuation that his community should see to it that there is no dati leumi chief rabbi elected. Several of the reports of the Rav’s talks take him to task for his hateful, incendiary, verbally abusive and purely venomous attacks.
What do these two situations have in common? When I began writing about abuse in the Jewish community several years ago I too was attacked. I still have several of the E mails sent to me some filled with pure hatred and real threats. Others, sent from religious leaders on the far right who attempted to couch their words in gentle questioning but who clearly were attempting to demean me, simply for reporting the reality that abuse and molestation does exist in all communities. In an attempt to engage with some of them and provide useful information to cope with the threat of molestation and abuse I sent them responses which they in turn attempted to discredit. Perhaps as a technique to give them the benefit of the doubt I wonder still if perhaps they simply did not understand the professional jargon. The reality is that they were doing what most people do when they feel trapped, even if trapped by reality and personal disbelief; they acted in a critical fashion and sought to scapegoat whomever they could. It’s a form of cognitive dissonance in which the frustration they experience is deflected as criticism and anger on to another person or group. A colleague calls this type of reaction “Ugly, sadistic, hostile, and arrogant – Dissonance for the sake of Heaven.” It is an all too common reaction to dealing with disbelief linked to a religious fervor that has no real basis in anything religious. It occurred and still does occur with sanctimony when discussing and dealing with abuse and also apparently in religious politics in general.
When people are critical to make a point they miss the point completely. That is because critical is not confident. Critical is also not kind, creative or compassionate. Critical is controlling and cruel. Critical is narcissistic, nit picking, disparaging and immobilizing. Critical is not synonymous with credible. It is nothing but critical and as a result it is meaningless. The sooner leaders learn to lead by modeling warmth, kindness, concern and care the sooner we will be able to cope with our conflicts. Just as we see things slowly changing in reporting abusers so too we may at some point see such a change among those who lead by critique. Until then we must label their words as what they are – critical, and therefore not constructive, critical and not credible.