Picking up the pieces

Chaim Walder (Wikimedia Commons)
Chaim Walder (Wikimedia Commons)

It is a story that makes anyone recoil in horror. A well-known Jewish children’s author and therapist is accused of committing serial abuse of the worst kind and then takes his own life.  There are more questions than answers.  How was this allowed to happen? What stopped the innocent victims from speaking up earlier? How do we discuss the matter with our children, and do we allow them to read his best-selling books?

I cannot profess to have all the answers but the fact that this newspaper is printing this article and we can discuss these disturbing issues already means we are moving forward in a positive way. For too long abuse has been denied and hushed up.  Victims have been intimidated and been too scared to speak out. The more that we, as a community, are willing to confront the issues, the more we encourage those suffering at the hands of others to find the courage and strength to reach out and ask for help.

That is why we set up Jteen, the anonymous and confidential text helpline for teenagers.  Teens can feel empowered to share whatever may be affecting them, from the serious threats to life, abuse, bullying, anxiety or problematic relationships to less life altering issues and concerns as well.   It does not matter how big or small the worries are, our children need to feel that they can speak out and that as adults we are listening loud and clear in a non-judgmental manner.  Unfortunately, children are often given the opposite message.  They are told to smile and pretend, to maintain either a personal reputation or a family name, whilst continuing to torture themselves with pain and guilt.

As parents, we also need to feel confident that our children are safe when they interact with a therapist or counsellor.  There are too many so-called “professionals” claiming to be experts who are not registered or accredited with any organisation. Every therapist should also be insured, and DBS checked.   Vulnerable groups of people need to be protected and DBS checks assist in ensuring that the clinicians who are not suitable or safe are not allowed to work with these groups.  Every professional working in mental health should receive regular supervision and personally I believe that work should only be done within a therapy clinic/office rather than a private home.

Our children may at best be confused or at worst disillusioned that another person, who they have looked up to has now let them down so spectacularly.  Unfortunately it may not be the first time that children have encountered a person whom they thought was genuine and real, only to be later exposed as corrupt and fake. If our children can speak openly about it to us, then we are being parents in every sense of the word. We can demonstrate to them the importance of validating a person’s feelings.  We may not always have the answers, but we have to allow them to ask the questions, to process and to heal.   We tell our children that we are always there for them to talk about whatever is troubling them.

At the same time we should help our children and ourselves by not devaluing everything that is good about our communities, our Rabbonim and our communal institutions, because of those who never deserved to be members in the first place.  We have to continue to trust, because without trust we cannot form relationships and without relationships what do we have?

But as I take the books off my shelves, I think of the victims and the inevitable repercussions, the bitterness and the anger.  We simply cannot allow our children to read these books because otherwise what kind of message are we giving to my children?  We may not know all the facts of this particular case, but we know that we want our children to be surrounded by role models, authenticity and truth.  I also hope and pray that we can learn something from what has happened; that as a community we break stigmas and provide a voice and a safe haven for those who cannot speak for themselves.  That we stand up for those who suffer silently every day and every second.  If we can do that, then perhaps we can ensure that these terrible events never have to happen again.


About the Author
Yaakov Barr MSc, PG Dip is a Founder and the CEO of Jteen (a Registered Charity providing mental health support to Jewish teenagers). He is a qualified and accredited Psychotherapist specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He is also a Clinical supervisor for the BABCP.