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

The Blame Game

When something, anything, goes wrong with us we instinctively look for the default button.

Whose fault was it? My spouse, my boss, my neighbor?

It could hardly have been my fault.

There is no shortage of social, economic or religious ills that befalls our community.

As has been often said, what occurs in the world at large so too takes place within and amongst our insular Jewish and religious community.

We are not exempt from the litany of societal mental health psychiatric illnesses, violence, divorce, abuse, addictions (drug, alcohol, gambling, internet), joblessness, and any other example that all too often sends us searching whom to blame.

And, no doubt in some situations blame is warranted, especially when it can help identify a clear cause, and help prevent a re-occurrence.

Whom can we blame for the rising divorce rate, for underachieving boys and girls not getting into schools, or those who are expelled without an alternative school acceptance. Who is at fault for an alarming increase in drug addictions, and most disturbing, the young people who die from an accidental drug overdose or those who attempt suicide, and tragically succeed.

The answers are as complex as the questions.

There are certainly those circumstances where one can identify a certain event, a moment in time, that may be a root cause, a trajectory that spirals a person into an abyss that is difficult to escape from.

Like a recurring medical illness that does not respond to an array of medications, so too a deeply personal upheaval can result in a recurring emotional illness.

Naming the monster is a phrase commonly associated with the healing process of sexual violence and abuse.

Rather than suffering in silence and shame a victim is encouraged to disclose their horrifying experience, identify their perpetrator and seek legal recourse

This may include different conversations with a therapist, family member, and law enforcement.

The key factors are for the victim to feel safe, to unburden their sense of guilt or shame, to get emotional support, and to prosecute the offender.

It is indeed important to name the individual monster be it a perpetrator of sexual abuse, a serial offender, a drug dealer.

In two generations following the Holocaust our Jewish community has flourished.

The institutions that were the very target of the Nazis, community leaders, our schools, synagogues, and even the very institution of parenting-separating parents from children in concentration camps- have re-multiplied and flourished in Israel and Diaspora.

We are a strong people, even if often, not united.

Two societal institutions underpinning our successful resurgence have been family and schools.

The partnering between a school and its community of parents/children constitute an essential fabric.

At times a fabric tears and not all is perfect. A reminder that as individuals, we are all perfectly imperfect.

I have commented on these pages on certain bold leaders in our schools who have gone to great lengths to help girls and boys succeed, who without a second chance may not have.

But, that said, the reality is that there is a growing number of students in an increasingly competitive school environment, who often find themselves without a school that will accept them, nurture their abilities and ensure that they can thrive.

There are, unfortunately, some in our school system who make comments to children, and even to parents however intentioned that are so callous that these words are seared in their minds and etched on their souls.

These words can become a refrain like an app on auto play. These hurtful words don’t fade with time.

Several years ago a successful businessman in his 50’s recounted how his Rebbe in high school told him that he was the worst boy to ever attend that yeshiva.

He was very successful raised good children but these words stayed with him for decades. He could not forget its impact nor forgive his Rebbe.

There are many boys and girls not succeeding in our yeshivas today.

They and their parents are suffering greatly.

We as a community need to do much more to reach this group scholastically, emotionally, and spiritually.

That schools may be succeeding with the significant majority is an alarm to those most challenged, those most vulnerable.

Who can afford to be the one left behind?

At the same time, general condemnation of all schools as a whole is neither naming the monster, nor constructive in driving the necessary change we need.

It is denigrating the fundamental systems through which our world has repopulated in the last 70 years and continues to build.  We as a community have surmounted greater challenges and crisis.

Unity in addressing a current crisis of escalating accidental deaths from drug overdose, of young men and women, including their parents feeling alienated from their own community –  is the monster we must overcome.

Their cries for help is a knock on every door.

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.