One thousand Orthodox Jews crowded into a Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY hall Monday evening for a noble purpose: to raise awareness of, and educate themselves about, child sexual abuse – an issue all too often avoided as taboo within some circles.
The highly charged event served as an opportunity to show support to victims of abuse, to educate the public about the dangers of abuse and to present the relaunch of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), a watchdog group monitoring abuse in the global Jewish community.
Survivors (JCW makes a point of rejecting the term “victim”), Rabbis, politicians, mental health professionals and others repeated a dual message: that the Orthodox Jewish community will no longer sweep abuse under the rug, and that survivors who step forward will be embraced. Campaigners lament that all too often victims of abuse are urged not to turn to the police but to allow rabbis to deal with the crimes “within the community” – but a growing number of leading rabbis and communal figures are publicly rejecting such an approach and calling on victims to report such crimes immediately to the relevant authorities. JCW’s work has certainly contributed towards that change in attitudes.
Zvi Gluck, CEO of Amudim Community Resources, chaired the event, and urged the community to stand up and take action to prevent abuse against children.
“Any precious soul that is lost is on the hands of those who did nothing to stop it,” Gluck stated.
Noted Rabbi and lecturer Y.Y. Jacobson spoke about the Jewish tradition of asking forgiveness before Rosh Hashanah, taking the opportunity to apologize to survivors on behalf of all educators who have not done enough to prevent abuse and support the victims.
Jacobson also urged past and present victims to come forward and promised them that “we will not judge you, we will not denigrate you, we will never blame you, we will embrace you.”
In an impassioned speech, Meyer Seewald, founder and director of JCW, expressed his excitement and gratitude at seeing the community turn out by the hundreds to support survivors and commit to protecting children from sexual abuse in the future.
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Every time we hear of a new community taking a stand and speaking out for child sexual abuse prevention, it makes us realize the extent of positive change that is happening. We applaud the JCW for taking initiative and challenging the taboos surrounding child sexual abuse, and helping provide protection for children and support for survivors.