Category Archives: orthodox judaism

New Sexual Abuse Prevention Guide from YU

The Yeshiva University-School Partnership has sent out an excellent guide to the prevention of sexual abuse.  It is a PowerPoint presentation that can be accessed by clicking here.  I will also list the presentation in the Resources section of the website.

May we remain vigilant and committed to the eradication of this devastating phenomenon.

Tagged , , ,

Q&A with Raffi Bilek from Project S.A.R.A.H.: Fighting the Good Fight Against Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community

Raffi Bilek is the Outreach Coordinator for Project S.A.R.A.H., an organization based in New Jersey, and dedicated to ending domestic abuse, specifically within the Jewish community, where, although we would all like to believe it doesn’t exists, it does.  Raffi has therefore taken on a critical role, one that requires broad shoulders.  A graduate of Brown and Yeshiva Universities, as well as Machon Shlomo and Yeshiva Atlanta, Raffi has been a practicing therapist in Israel and the United States, and currently resides in Passaic, New Jersey.  Raffi has been generous with his time in answering my questions about the “slings and arrows” as well as the successes he has experienced in his work:

Please describe Project S.A.R.A.H. in terms of its mission and purpose, constituent base and area of operation, variety of services offered.

Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) was created 15 years ago specifically to serve the needs of victims of domestic violence in the Orthodox community. We are a statewide program and field calls from all parts of New Jersey, although most of our clients come from North Jersey, which is where we are located. While we serve the entire Jewish community, and, really, anyone who walks through our doors, our target population is the Orthodox community, which has a specific set of needs and cultural/religious barriers to accessing other general services. In the past few years we have expanded into the area of sexual abuse as well and have begun serving clients who have been victimized in this way, as well as offering educational prevention programs to parents and schools.

Among the services we offer are the following: direct counseling, including free individual counseling for victims, art therapy and play therapy for children, a women’s group and a men’s group; a hotline, in conjunction with New York’s Shalom Task Force; Kosher Kits for local shelters (which contain enough kosher food for a woman and three children for 24 hours); and education to a wide range of groups, including law enforcement, physicians, rabbis, mikveh attendants, school administration, parents, and students.

Our mission is that no Jewish victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse should remain a victim because s/he is unaware of the resources available to him/her.

What is your role at Project S.A.R.A.H.?

I am the outreach coordinator. I was brought on by a federal grant to expand the services of Project S.A.R.A.H. Thus, I coordinate and deliver many of the trainings and other initiatives that we do, maintain contacts with rabbis across the state, seek further relationship-building opportunities, and dabble in social media.

How well-integrated is the organization within the community?

Project S.A.R.A.H., as part of the local Jewish Family Service, is an accepted and supported cause in the Clifton-Passaic community and much of North Jersey. The Clifton-Passaic community runs a yearly community appeal that brings in a lot of support from local residents; we also have an annual breakfast in Bergen County that was particularly well-attended this year. The Frisch High School in Paramus adopts us from time to time as a designated charity for the students’ charity competition – the students have in the past raised upwards of $10,000 on our behalf!

Many people have heard of us and know what we’re about, though it’s not everyone – it still is a sensitive topic and not something people are accustomed to go talking about in casual conversation.

Has there been success raising awareness of–and combatting–domestic and sexual abuse within the community?

There certainly has been a lot of success. We’ve come to a point where it is no longer common to suggest that these problems don’t exist in the Jewish community. There is still a lot of education that needs to be done, but the cause has come a long way. There are still people who would rather not discuss these issues, apparently on an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach. Similarly, parents often ask us why they should agree to send their children to our safety workshops and “ruin their innocence.” The truth, in fact, is that children do not lose their innocence as a result of these workshops (which are in fact quite fun and light-hearted), and research shows that education is the best way to keep kids safe. Much in the same way that we teach kids to call 911 in case of emergency, we need to teach them what to do in case they find themselves in a sexually dangerous situation.

Still, things are better than they were. Thank G-d, there are places for Jewish victims to turn for help. There is an awareness among rabbis out there that this is a problem and that resources exist to help them deal with it. And there is a slow move away from the stigmatized view of victims towards acceptance and help.

What have been significant challenges facing the organization? How has this been handled?

There is still some resistance out there that we struggle with from time to time, such as a rabbi who “doesn’t get it” and who inadvertently makes life harder for a victim. And there are communities out there that one might call more “right-wing” that still take a hush-hush approach to dealing with these issues, which harms victims and abets perpetrators. These kinds of situations pain us, but at the same time strengthen us to keep fighting the good fight.

Tagged , ,

Let’s Get Honest About the “At Risk” Thing

We in the Orthodox Jewish world have become accustomed to using the term “at risk” to describe teenagers who, because of unmet needs and resulting negative feelings, go about trying to satisfy their needs in ways we find tragic, one of which is to cease their observance of Torah and mitzvos. This “off the derech” type has become a familiar personality in the cast of frum characters, like the water carrier or dairyman of the shtetl. The question is, when does this person become “at risk”? Is it only when he or she stops davening? When he or she begins to experiment with drugs? When he or she stops keeping Shabbos?

Logically speaking, anyone who is exposed to conditions that endanger him or her is to be considered “at risk”. And, if you noticed, I loaded this question earlier when I placed “at risk” within the framework of Non-Violent Communication (NVC).  People have needs and feelings. When their needs are met, they have good feelings. When their needs are unmet, they have bad feelings. But they continue to attempt to satisfy their needs.  The problem is, trying to satisfy one’s needs amidst bad feelings tends to lead a person down some very dysfunctional detours.

This basic needs/feelings formula may be an oversimplification in some regards, but I believe that (in combination with other factors) lies at the heart of the aggressive and self-destructive behaviors that are the hallmarks of the “at risk” kid. Recently, a client of mine told me that I should know, at the outset of the therapy, that he “self-medicates” by using marijuana. Listen to the language; “self-medicating” with drugs implies that the drug is being used as a way to deal with a problem–as opposed to simply being a risky form of escapism or hedonism. What is he medicating away? This, of course, becomes the first order of business in the therapy, since it is clear that there remains a meaning for the client that has not been tapped, that is being obscured by the pot–but because it is ensconced in the client’s pain, he does not want to deal with it.

Any therapist will tell you that much of a client’s pain is linked to early life experiences. You don’t have to be a Freudian analyst to say that. Taking the Logotherapeutic perspective as man as an open system, we see that people, from their first few moments in the world, reach out beyond themselves, first and foremost to explore the world.  And there is a basic need that exists in every human being to receive a response from that world that is affirming, one that tells us that, not only is the world a meaningful place, but also that our presence within it adds value, that we matter, that our arrival in this world is something to be celebrated.  Somewhere within the first few years of a person’s life, he or she will receive this message or something that contradicts this message.  If the latter, then here begins a painful saga: the frustration of the person’s most basic concern–meaning.  To have one’s path towards meaning obstructed is representative of the ultimate unmet need, and has far more impact than not receiving a tricycle for one’s birthday.

It is easy to blame the internet or “Western culture” as the wolf that ran off with our sheep, but if you work in the helping professions, you know that people generally turn towards destructive, hedonistic vices in an attempt to numb their existential pain–to “self-medicate”, to fill the void (or in Logotherapeutic terms, their existential vacuum).  But needing to fill a void implies that the void was created in their lives much earlier, before they encountered the internet and “Western culture”.

I believe if those of us in the Jewish community would like to understand and help our young people make healthy choices and lead happy, fulfilled, meaningful lives, we will have to ask very honest questions about the way we have set up our world.  We will have to strengthen those aspects of Jewish life that affirm, that promote a sense of meaning, fulfillment and belonging–and we will also have to take a stand against those elements of our own “system” that promote the opposite of these, elements that destroy meaning and ostracize those who seek it.

Tagged

Rabbinic Scandals and You

The current scandal involving Rabbi Leib Tropper is the latest in a series of “spiritual abuse” cases that have occurred in the Orthodox community in recent years, to the horror of all of us.

This case, however, is particularly intriguing for several reasons: first, it is the first instance that I know about where a major personality in the religious world was brought down via a headlining expose that ultimately originated in an internet blog. Second, it is a very dilated and distorted window on the relationship between Jewish organizations, their directors and their donors. Third, it clearly exemplifies the words of our Sages. “Rabbi Yochanan ben Broka said, ‘Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret, they will exact punishment from him in public'” (Avos 4:5). And were it not for the instantaneous speed with which information can be posted and sent to a virtually unlimited number of people via the internet, this problem may have gone on undetected and unnoticed for years. It appears that uncovering deception happens very quickly these days.

I don’t personally know Harry Maryles, or the authors of “the unorthodox Jew” or failedmessiah.com, but I do have a message for them and everyone who reads their blogs: instead of simply using our soapboxes to judge and castigate others with the rationalization that we are simply trying to restore honesty and transparency to the religious world, we should realize that these events happen in front of our eyes because they have a message for us; we have to take mussar from these events. We have to realize that “there but for the grace of G-d go I”. Quite literally.

Anyone who reads the accounts of the snake, Esav or Lavan, would be letting themselves off easy if they simply snarled, called these personalities, “bad guys”, and flipped to the next page. Hashem gives us detailed accounts of these people because He wants us to take it to the second level, and ask ourselves, “how am I like the snake, Esav, or Lavan?” From there, we can work to eradicate these personality traits.

Parenthetically, I am very dismayed at the proliferation of frum internet tabloids, blogs that symbiotically live off of systemic problems in the religious world and supply their readers with a type of Orthodox (or, really anti-Orthodox) pornography that serves to confirm their suspicions that every religious Jew or rabbi is actually an evil pervert, while eroding the emunas chachamim of others. Solutions or invitations to substantive discussion are rarely offered on these sites. Lots of people have an axe to grind; I suggest that maybe it’s not such a responsible thing to do in front of six billion people?

I say this because I am a therapist, and because I am essentially “one degree of separation” from many of the people who make it onto these unsavory lists. I am a YU musmach, I have been an assistant rabbi in Monsey myself, and I work with this underbelly of the frum world professionally. I consulted to NCSY leaders immediately after the Baruch Lanner affair several years ago, and I listen to the thought distortions of offenders on a weekly basis; it’s harrowing. But a person should thank G-d that he or she has not been given the impairments of conscience coupled with the overactive yetzer hara that have led other people down the path of destruction.

One addictions treatment expert has put it this way, “every single person who has come into my office has said initially that they never imagined this could happen to them.”

If you think about it, these high profile cases of corruption may simply be a very monstrous, pathological version of the “disconnect” that affects everyone according to their level, the incongruity that comes from knowing what is right and not doing it–or doing the opposite. How can people smoke, when the label on the box clearly tells them that doing so will kill them? They light up anyway. How can people talk in shul, insult people, cheat on tests, run cash businesses, overestimate accident damages, double park, ignore newcomers, drive over 25 miles per hour in a school zone, not call their mother, get to work late, submit restaurant receipts as tax write-offs, etc., etc., etc.?

On a clinical note: in these very awful cases that have surfaced in recent years, I propose that, if you examine each one, they probably all adhere to a set of diagnostic criteria for pathology that predisposes them in this direction. It does not excuse the actions of these people, of course, but it would be very beneficial to the Jewish community if some type of screening test could be developed and administered to people who would become the heads of our institutions.

Tagged , , , , ,

Chanukah: Restoring Our Temple, Returning to One

CandlesRebbe Nachman, as recorded in Likutei Eitzos, Chanukah, makes a somewhat enigmatic statement: the selach na (“please forgive”s) that we utter on Yom Kippur enable us to partake of the holiness of Chanukah.

What is the connection?

In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 7:11, the Rebbe relates to the interaction between G-d and Moshe Rabbenu during the aftermath of the sin of the spies.  Moshe Rabbenu says to G-d, “please forgive this people for their sin in Your great kindness”.   In this case, Moshe Rabbenu was not only relating to the sin of speaking lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael, thereby causing an epidemic of bad faith amongst the Children of Israel; instead, he took the long view, and considered the sin in terms of its ultimate consequence: the future destruction of the Holy Temple.  The gemara (Taanis 29) states, “Hashem, may He be blessed, said to them, ‘you cried a crying for no reason.  I will establish a crying for all generations’.”  As we know, the lamenting over the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael occurred on Tisha b’Av, as did the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Sin destroyed the Holy Temple.  The absence of the Temple is problematic in and of itself, because it was the primary mechanism in the expiation of sin for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.  The verse (Yeshaya 1) states, “righteousness dwells in it”, and Rashi explains this to mean that this was possible because the morning tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from the previous night, while the afternoon tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from that day.  As long as the Beis HaMikdash was extant, it was possible for the Jewish people to be clean of sin.  Rebbe Nachman emphasizes here that this is all-important, because the Jewish people, due to their delicateness and high level of spirituality, cannot really bear the weight of sin, even for one day.  Without the Beis HaMikdash, there is no way to relieve ourselves of that crushing burden–and Moshe Rabbenu knew this.  Therefore, he said:

סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה

Now, if you look at part of this phrase, namely:

הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה

You will notice that the roshei teivos (first letters), when arranged properly, spell out the word חנוכה, “Chanukah”.  Moshe Rabbenu asked specifically that the forgiveness of the Jewish people should involve an antidote to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash–a chanukas habayis (re-dedication of the house).  When the Maccabi’im entered the Beis HaMikdash and purified the altar, as we commemorate on Chanukah, this was an example of Moshe Rabbenu’s request for restoration made manifest for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The main aspect of the holiness of Chanukah that we aim for is the very purpose of that Holy Temple: to know that Hashem Hu HaElokim, that the L-rd is G-d–specifically, that His attributes of kindness and judgement, which appear as separate, contradictory forces in the world, are aspects of His Oneness. We end Yom Kippur with this statement, this idea. And we re-invoke it on Chanukah. This knowledge can enable us to purify ourselves from sin.

In addition, as we gaze at the menorah’s warm radiance, and the candles burn on into the night, let us tap into that desire that lies deep within us, to carry this knowledge of holiness and purity forth to our children, for all generations.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zt”l, the Bostoner Rebbe

The Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, of blessed memory, passed away this past Shabbos at 1:20 PM, at the age of 88.

Although the Rebbe zt”l was born in Boston, he moved with his family to Jerusalem while a young child. There, he merited to thrive as a young boy in its holy atmosphere, as a student at the Chayei Olam yeshiva.  His father, the Rebbe Reb Pinchas Duvid Horowitz, zt”l felt strongly about his connection to the land of Israel, and purchased a large amount of property in the area north of Jerusalem. This parcel was reclaimed by the Israel Lands Authority and not returned to the Bostoner Rebbe. However, the Rebbe was offered in exchange a portion of the Har Nof neighborhood which was then in the planning stages. The Rebbe created a thriving community of chassidim there, which exists until today, with a younger satellite community in Betar Illit.

Of course, this is only part of the story of a life dedicated to bringing Jews close to Torah and chassidus, advocating for the ill and unfortunate, and proclaiming truth in a world of falsehood. The community in Har Nof is comprised in large part of people who came into contact with the Rebbe and his family while attending or staffing the prestigious Boston-area colleges and universities. The Rebbe’s New England Chassidic Center in Brookline, Massachusetts was and continues to be a beacon of authentic Jewish light to Jews of all backgrounds. This was long before the concept of kiruv became a commonly accepted notion in the Orthodox Jewish world. In addition to all of his outreach efforts, the Rebbe served as the head of Agudas Yisroel in America, and as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel in Israel.

The Rebbe accompanied many other prominent rabbinic leaders to Washington DC in 1943 to plead with then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt to intervene on behalf of the Jews of Europe imperiled by Nazi Germany’s systematic efforts to bring about their annihilation.   More recently, the Rebbe led a very tenacious protest against the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif, shedding tears on a daily basis at the prospect of the removal of Jewish families from their homes and the destruction of their synagogues and institutions by the enemy.

Amongst the Rebbe’s biggest accomplishments was the founding of Rofeh International, an organization that provides the infirm and their families with medical referrals to expert doctors and kosher meals and hospitality to Jewish patients in Boston-area hospitals.

I remember the first time I saw the Rebbe. I came to spend Shevi’i Shel Pesach in Har Nof, and went to the Bostoner Beis Midrash. When I entered, I was transported to a magical place where the awesome mystery of chassidic life unfolded before me. Amidst tall bleachers bearing his chassidim, the Rebbe, clad in a beautiful tisch bekeshe and shtreimel, led everyone there in niggunim. Some of these were his family’s own traditional songs originating in the Zidichover tradition from whence Bostoner chassidus comes. Others were old Sephardic melodies that the Rebbe had heard as a child in Jerusalem. The Rebbe was flanked by his sons, who lead the movement today. I remember the thrill of being given shirayim from the Rebbe’s table, a slice of orange. In successive years I was fortunate enough to join hands with the chassidim and dance with the Rebbe as he led those present in shiras hayam, recreating the moment of the splitting of the Red Sea. Living in the Rebbe’s neighborhood enabled me to provide my children with the experience of a real chassidiche hoif, a court, where they could witness these things in real time.

The funeral procession was large, the streets of Har Nof filled to capacity with people escorting the Rebbe on his journey to his resting place on Har HaZeisim. This was truly befitting the tzaddik who graced all of our lives and imbued the lives of those who knew him with grace. May his memory be for a blessing, and may he be a gutte beyter for all of Klal Yisrael, as he was in his holy lifetime.

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: