search

Humble Toast’s humble reminder: Safeguarding our kids from sexual abuse today

The walls of Jewish schools, synagogues, camps, youth groups, and kosher restaurants do not protect our kids from being touched and bullied. As adults, the onus lies on us to make institutional changes and foster communication on abuse with the next generation. Last week,  The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC) announced that they will be revoking their kosher certification of The Humble Toast and La Cucina Di Nava, both owned by Shalom Yehudiel, who was arrested in New Jersey around Purim on grounds of sexual misconduct at a synagogue and in his restaurant. This current event brings to the foreground once again that sexual abuse, in fact all kids of abuse, can and does occur in Jewish institutions and even kosher establishments. Whatever allegedly happened here is an important reminder that we must have important conversations with our children as well as our institutions about what they are doing to safeguard our children. As a community, this is once again, an opportunity for introspection and making sustainable changes that will create safer Jewish schools, synagogues, camps, youth groups, and owned restaurants.

With the limited available data on sexual abuse in religious communities, we know that statistically, the prevalence of abuse is pretty consistent in faith communities when compared to secular groups (Doxey, Jensen, & Jensen, 1997; Elliott, 1994; Spröber et al., 2014). And, despite a dearth of existing scholarship on sexual abuse within the American Jewish community, from what we do know, sexual abuse doesn’t discriminate based on age and where you pray – abuse happens across Jewish denominations.

Groundbreaking research conducted by Dr. David Rosmarin and colleagues in a study funded by   Harvard’s Mclean Hospital, identified that childhood sexual abuse happens across the spectrum of Jewish religious affiliation and that formerly Orthodox individuals reported higher incidence of abuse than the rest of the participants. The study also identified that a history of childhood sexual abuse can become associated with a greater risk for future mental illness and less religious involvement as adults (Rosmarin et. al, 2018). The take away from this research is that abuse happens across the Jewish community and that work towards preventing and addressing sexual abuse in the Jewish community is a preventative measure to address mental illness and kiruv (Jewish outreach) down the road.

Looking back, 15 years ago to a study of married Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jewish women, Dr. Rachel Yehuda and her colleagues, identified that 26% of the respondents reported a history of sexual abuse, and that 16% reported that the abuse occurred by the time they were 13 years old (Yehuda, Friedman, Rosenbaum, Labinsky, and Schmeidler, 2007). Consistent with the findings by Rosmarin et. al. a decade later, this study concluded that the participants who reported sexual abuse, were also more likely to suffer from depression, emotional or psychological problems, as well as seek counseling for difficulty in their marriages.

If these studies are just a sample and even remotely representative of what is happening in the American Jewish community, we cannot ignore that victims of sexual abuse are likely friends, family, and acquaintances at our schools, shuls, camps, youth groups, and even local kosher establishments like the Humble Toast. And, based on the available research, victims of abuse are suffering. Although Covid has been difficult for everyone at different times and to different degrees, for victims of sexual abuse, already more vulnerable, the last two years have been extremely isolative and whatever pre-existing mental health issues people were struggling with, were exacerbated by the pandemic. (Chatterjee, Barikar, & Mukherjee, 2020).

I am not an expert in the field of sexual abuse, but I can share resources and encourage you to continue this dialogue with your friends, family, and community leaders. From personal experience, I know these conversations are difficult. It is not easy going to your school administrator asking what is being done, and needing to keep on following up when you are not pleased with the answer. Or bringing an idea to your synagogue or camp board and asking over and over again, despite the financial commitment that it is an ethical imperative and even liability in this day in age not to be doing more. I am empathizing with you, but I also have the perspective that we cannot afford to ignore this recent arrest and continue to operate like abuse does not exist. Rabbi Twerski wrote back in 1996, “The Shame Borne in Silence: Spouse Abuse in the Jewish Community” as a response to his concern about the silent crisis of domestic violence in Jewish homes. Sexual abuse is a shame born in silence of our time.

Educate:

We must have conversations with our children (of all ages) about consent. The difficult message to reiterate over and over again is that lines of communication are always open and that you will unconditionally love and believe them. So, G-d forbid, the child is in a situation where an acquaintance engages in grooming practices (see here), that they know they can come to you as a trusted parent (or even aunt, uncle, clergy, or educator).

Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined the term “good enough mother (parent).” Who is a good enough parent? That parent, according to Winnicott, doesn’t need to be perfect, but is consistently available and meets their basic needs in order to create a home (what he called a “holding environment”) that can protect him from threats of the outside world. In attachment parenting, renown researcher, Dr. Ed Tronick found that in the typical parent and infant interaction, being in sync just 20 to 30% of the time is sufficient to development of a healthy relationship.  Interestingly, these scores are consistent with Winnicott’s theory that parents aren’t expected to be perfect, but that with just enough attuned parenting there is a foundation for secure attachments. Again, this means that in the event that a youngster find themselves in a situation that can lead to sexual abuse, that the child is able to turn around and come to a parent for guidance or at least know that if they go to someone else, that they can also trust a parent to support them unconditionally.

Advocate:

As members of synagogues paying membership dues, parents sending tuition to our local day schools and yeshivas, and supporting camps and youth groups, we need to ask our institutions about what they are doing to protect our community from sexual predators. It is incumbent on each of us to understand that without sexual abuse and harassment policies in place as well as education available on best practices for all Jewish communal employees, the culture in Jewish establishments will not change. These decisions on how and what to do cannot be left up to a school administrator and in my opinion, needs to be overseen by a board of governors at every intuition since the culture of change needs to happen from the top down so everyone is accountable.

Even though Jewish institutions are so stretched and financial resources especially now are tight, we need to ask our community institutions to prioritize developing or revising existing policies on sexual abuse and harassment. There are consulting groups such as the Bayar Group and communal resources such as Sacred Spaces (the Keilim Tool Box), to now assist Jewish non-profits with culturally sensitive expertise on how to introduce best practices. As identified in the research, by investing in sexual abuse and harassment policies now, we as a community are investing in prevention of mental health issues down the road – ranging from substance abuse, to depression and anxiety, to domestic violence as well as leaving the Jewish community altogether.

As a social worker with a foot in counseling, teaching, and volunteering, I have the benefit of looking at the research and sharing what I have learned from colleagues, clients, and callers.  My experience working at a community mental health clinic in Brooklyn with Jewish victims of sexual abuse and as a volunteer for the past decade on several Jewish mental health hotlines, did not prepare me personally for the experience of volunteering on the Zaakah Shabbas and Yom Tov Hotline, under the Hashgacha of Rabbi Yosef Blau. The men and women calling are isolated and many report a history of abuse. Whereas when I worked in the clinic, I would hear from clients about their struggles of loneliness after the fact on a weekday. Now, I am witnessing first-hand the shame, pain, and thoughts of self-harm triggered by past trauma as they are happening on the loneliest of Shabbats and holidays. On the hotline, volunteers are able to support these community members in the moment of their suffering, helping to locate the appropriate resources when necessary, and from what I have seen, when possible, support callers to lead more meaningful Shabbats and Yom Tov. We as a community can and must do better. Please share these resources. Speak to your children and local institutions and turn to the professionals for guidance in how to take steps to end this shame borne in silence.

Reading material for families on consent:

Don’t Touch My Hair, by Sharee Miller

 

I Said No!

by Zack and Kimberly King

 

My Body Belongs to Me

By Jill Starishevsky

 

Consent (For Kids!)

Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of You

By Rachel Brian

 

My Body Belongs to Me from My Head to My Toes

The Recess Queen

By Alexis O’Neil and Laura Huliska-Beith

 

Let’s Stay Safe!

The Malka and Arthur Krausman Edition; Artscroll Youth Series

 

*Thank you to Samantha Leapman MSW, the Safer Communities Coordinator at JCFS Chicago for recommending these children’s books

 

Resources for Victims:

Zaakah:

ZA’AKAH is dedicated to advocating for survivors of child sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. We do this by raising awareness in the community, organizing and participating in educational events for parents and teachers on how to identify and correctly handle suspicions and disclosures of child sexual abuse, and by advocating for legislative reforms designed to prevent sexual abuse in the future and secure justice for survivors

The ZA’AKAH Shabbos & Yom Tov Peer Support Hotline 1-888-4-ZAAKAH (492-2524) https://www.zaakah.org/

 

SAVI – MOUNT SINAI (NYC ONLY)

SAVI is dedicated to validating, healing and empowering survivors and their supporters to lead safe, healthy lives through advocacy, free and confidential counseling, and public education. (212) 423-2140

https://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/community-medicine/sexual-assault-and-violence-intervention-program-savi

 

The Shalom Task Force Confidential Hotline assists victims of domestic abuse and their families in obtaining and maintaining safety. Highly trained advocates help callers address concerns about family abuse, sexual assault, healthy relationships, dating, and more. We provide emotional support, encouragement, safety planning, and referrals to local resources.

Confidential Hotline 718.337.3700      888.883.2323

Confidential Text / Whatsapp Line  888.883.2323

https://shalomtaskforce.org/

 

THE RAPE, ABUSE & INCEST NATIONAL NETWORK (RAINN)

The National Sexual Assault Hotline is a 24-hour, toll-free phone service that routes callers to the nearest local sexual assault service provider. More than 1,000 local partnerships are associated with RAINN to provide sexual assault victims with free, confidential services.

https://www.rainn.org/get-help

 

Institutional Resources:

The Bayar Group

The Bayar group provides sexual abuse and harassment prevention training for schools, camps, organizations that creates lasting change, as well as offers resources to parents and educators on their website.

https://www.thebayargroup.com/

Sacred Spaces (Aleinu & Keilim):

Keilim is a project of Sacred Spaces, an organization that builds healthy Jewish communities by partnering with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power. To learn more about Sacred Spaces, visit jewishsacredspaces.org.

If you are looking for youth-focused resources, Aleinu, a project of Sacred Spaces, provides Jewish youth serving organizations with the education and practical tools they need to prevent child maltreatment and take responsible action should instances or suspicions of maltreatment emerge.

https://keilim.org/

References:

Chatterjee, S. S., Barikar C, M., & Mukherjee, A. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on pre-existing mental health problems. Asian journal of psychiatry, 51, 102071. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2020.102071

Cynthia Doxey, Larry Jensen & Janet Jensen (1997) The Influence of Religion on Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 7:3, 179-186, DOI: 10.1207/s15327582ijpr0703_6

Elliot, D. M. (1994). The Impact of Christian Faith on the Prevalence and Sequelae of Sexual Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9(1), 95–108. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626094009001006

Rosmarin, D.,  Pirutinsky, S., Appel, M., Kaplan, T., & Pelcovitz, D. (2018). Childhood sexual abuse, mental health, and religion across the Jewish community. Child Abuse & Neglect, 81, 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2018.04.011

Spröber, T. Schneider, M. Rassenhofer, A. Seitz, H. Liebhardt, L. König, …, J.M. Fegert. (2014). Child sexual abuse in religiously affiliated and secular institutions: A retrospective descriptive analysis of data provided by victims in a government-sponsored reappraisal program in Germany BMC Public Health, 14 (1), p. 282

Tronick, E. (1986). Interactive mismatch and repair: Challenges to the coping infant. Zero to Three, 6, 1-6.

Winnicott, D. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89-97.

Yehuda, R., Friedman, M., Rosenbaum, T. Y., Labinsky, E., & Schmeidler, J. (2007). History of Past Sexual Abuse in Married Observant Jewish Women. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(11), 1700–1706. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.06122030

About the Author
Rachel Fryman PhD LCSW is a psychotherapist at Adelphi University and in private practice on Long Island, NY. Her doctoral dissertation at Smith College centered around divorce in the New York Jewish community. Rachel is a graduate of Yeshiva University Wurzweiler School of Social Work with a Certificate in Jewish Communal Service. She has received advanced clinical trainings and completed courses at Nishmat and JOFA to be a kallah teacher instructing premarital Jewish education classes. Rachel has taught, presented, and written on the intersection between mental health and Judaism.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments