There are situations in life that are more complicated than others. Some of us only become aware of them many years after the fact, and often decisions have been made to sweep things under the carpet or hide them in the recesses of our minds.
Few of us are unaware of the cases of harassment, assault and abuse that have taken over the news media. Truthfully, as astounding and vulgar as these accusations may be in the “Hollywood” community, we are able to regard them as not being a relevant part of our lives.
However, when these accusations enter “our” world, the Jewish world, they seem to catapult into our consciousness and sometimes lead us to deny that this could ever happen to us, one of our children or someone we know. Both in terms of perpetrator and victim.
In the very back of Nina’s mind, rarely thought of, is the tutor her parents hired to help her with algebra. This well-recommended math teacher came each week for several months to help ensure that Nina would pass her New York State algebra Regents. Each week he sat with her at her desk and went over various problems, and each time as the session progressed he would rub her back. There was not a chance in the world that Nina would ever tell her parents. She was so sure that she must be imagining this horrible act that made her so uncomfortable. Her thought at the time was primarily that if she told her parents they would probably excuse his actions as those of a kind and caring individual. He definitely was not that.
We worried for many years about the vulnerability of our daughter Naama. People would pass her and some would say, “Oh, she’s so cute.” Believe us that after she passed the first maybe eight years of her life, Naama was no longer “cute.” Silently we worried and were concerned. Her ability to defend herself was obviously “not at all.”
Often people talk about the “good old days” as if they were the absolute best. In some ways, perhaps the attention being given to the situations in which people have been abused is a benefit to all of us. It helps us be more aware of the dangers that really do exist out there in both the secular and Jewish world. It may give us the opportunity to be more open within our community and our workplace, with our children and our families. Abuse takes many forms.
As a family, we experienced the terror of one of our grandsons being subpoenaed as a witness in a case of possible abuse, in which a rebbe who slept in the same bunk as the boys was accused of molesting a child in the bunk. Although there was a trial, the “rebbe” was acquitted by the judge in the Monticello, New York, courthouse. The district attorney of that area told us that he had never been under as much pressure by every facet of the Jewish community to not press charges against the accused. A well-known New York City lawyer was brought to Monticello to defend the accused, who went on to be arrested again at a later time and was seen being taken in handcuffs from a well-known yeshiva that did not find his charges from the past relevant. Into the police car he went. Shame on the menahel and board of that school to have allowed him to be hired in the first place. For years there was a cover-up due to his well-known family.
Another form of abuse that we significantly cringe at is verbal in nature: the lack of respect that is often shown between men and women, husbands and wives, in front of others and, most sadly, in front of their children. There is no excuse for a father to speak to one of his children derogatorily about their mother and vice versa. Couples spending time with other couples seem not to hesitate to criticize their spouses. This form of abuse, yelling, criticizing, making fun of in public causes a form of poison in a relationship and must not continue.
It is obvious that despite the number of times we, on egg shells, speak with our children about these topics, it is almost impossible to protect them from totally unexpected incidents. Most notable is the fact that most instances of abuse are by someone who is known to the person and in whom they place their faith and trust. We all must be brave enough to come forward at any time if we feel someone has acted inappropriately to anyone in our family. There are also appropriate ways to report such incidents. Going directly to the person in question is absolutely the last way to deal with a concern. Have enough confidence in knowing that what you are doing is protecting yourself and many others, and do not hesitate.
Recent reports of inappropriate behavior among respected youth leaders in our communities has encouraged us to come forth and share with everyone the necessity of not keeping quiet. It is extraordinarily important to report these cases discreetly, without ever taking the chance of decimating the character of someone before all evidence has been proven. No, the world is not the same; however, as we have seen, many of these horrors took place way before anyone considered that such things could occur. With proper education and responsibility we need to continue to relish the beauty of the world we live in and the good fortune we have to be a part of it, ensuring that any improprieties are immediately dealt with.
Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick are living in Bergenfield after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Rabbi Glick was the rav of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel as well as a practicing clinical psychologist in private practice. He also taught at Champlain Regional College. The Glicks were frequent speakers at the OU marriage retreats. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for young adults with special needs. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.