David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

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This is a frightening story of sexual abuse.

A story that when told over elicited audible gasps to experienced professionals, working in sexual abuse at an International Conference in Jerusalem this week.

Unfortunately it was not wholly surprising.

On December 1, 2014 two Israeli soldiers in the Givati Brigade reported to their commanding officer that their katzin — their sergeant — had sexually abused them. Their commanding officer assured them he would deal harshly with their katzin.

Relieved that the man who sexually abused them would be appropriately dealt with, they returned to their duties. However to their horror, a day later they saw the same sergeant who had assaulted them, walk by, engaged in his regular activities.

The two soldiers sharing their story on Israeli national television were so despondent they spoke of seeking an assignment near Gaza so they can cross over and be killed by Hamas.

I related this story at a “The Jewish Community Confronts Violence & Abuse” conference in Jerusalem this week.

With hundreds in attendance involved in excellent work in abuse, violence and bullying, the question I posed was if such a classic story of power and control can occur with an Israel soldier what can we expect of a child or adolescent who is molested.

Inroads in sexual abuse prevention, education and response in the last fifteen years within the Jewish community in general and Orthodox Jewry specifically has been significant. Such progress can not compensate for decades of inaction, or worse, benign neglect. Yet, we can point to tangible areas of increased awareness, child and parent trainings, victim advocacy, reporting and prosecution.

We have turned an important corner to protect our community more than worrying what may happen to the molester.

Our community is exhibiting more compassion and support for victims and more contempt for sexual offenders.

I wondered why a community surviving the ashes of the Shoah exhibiting such remarkable resilience to a culture of forced labor and persecution could permit itself to be held hostage by the perverse action of a relatively small number of child molesters.

Moreover, our community has over the last fifty years built enormously successful systems for assisting the sick, hungry, destitute, those needing emergency transport to hospitals, even bone marrow and kidney transplants. These sophisticated systems have helped untold hundreds of thousands of people and tens, if not hundreds of millions have been raised in support of these programs worldwide.

Yet a similar community wide system to respond to sexual abuse is lacking.

There is no one number to call such as exists with Hatzolah or Magen Dovid Adom.

The hungry can get a food package delivered to their home every erev shabbos, the sick and elderly in hospitals are assured a visit by volunteers, thousands line up for a bone marrow swab for those suffering from Leukemia and other forms of cancer.

No such good fortune for victims of sexual abuse.

Many reasons have been given over the years even if we consider them to be excuses. Amongst these are a perceived prohibition of moser, to report an abuser to authorities, our community’s sense of modesty not to discuss or educate our children in sexual matters and in turn they do not discuss or disclose such issues to parents.

The warped and sexually hungry mind of a child molester has successfully stepped into this vacuum.

There is of course no one answer to any complex problem most especially a societal issue. A systems issue requires a systems response.

The system through which our community responds to death offers a possible framework to build upon a system to respond to sexual abuse.

When a death occurs in the orthodox Jewish community the response is well known and immediate the world over. A local funeral director picks up the deceased, arranges the tahara (ritual cleansing), and internment takes place on the same or following day. Should a medical examiner intervene there are a handful of knowledgeable people ensuring no autopsy will be conducted.

By the time the family arrives home from the cemetery the shiva house is set up with all the accouterments of chairs, sidurim, a Sefer Torah.

A systemic response to ensuring a proper and timely burial is sophisticated, well publicized and with little exception works in sync with the needs of the community.

With an avalanche of sexual abuse taking place every day with a significant number of children why have we not been successful in modeling and replicating these systems.

Do we still have to debate if one in seven or one in ten children are victims of sexual abuse?

When an Israeli soldier an adult trained to respond to the Arab enemy feels disbelieved, isolated and shamed and contemplates suicide it should serve as a stark reminder that our protection of children who are such victims remains woefully inadequate and irresponsible.

We as a community have the enormous capacity to do more to protect victims of sexual abuse and prosecute offenders. We do not lack the knowledge, the sophistication, and the funds. We require the resolve to replicate highly successful models of community wide support we have built in our lifetime.

There is absolutely no need for any victim to feel isolated or to contemplate death. Sexual abuse has been described as murder of the soul. There can be equal or greater gain to build a system for life as we have built a system for death.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.