In Honest Conversations episode 6, we sat down with three passionate advocates to discuss protecting Orthodox Jewish kids from abuse.
Watch the full conversation below.
The issues facing the Jewish community aren’t unique—just watch our previous conversations about the stigmas and challenges in Hispanic and Black communities. It’s clear that community leadership is key when protecting kids in the Orthodox Jewish community. This conversation features great perspectives on institutional leadership from Rabbi Avremi Zippel, Debbie Fox, LCSW, and Rochel Leah Bernstein. Each of these advocates are passionate about developing a community of prevention from the Temple, to schools, to the corporate sector.
Most importantly, each advocate emphasizes we must believe survivors. Fox offers that prevention has to start in the family, because abuse has ripple effects starting in the family and spreading into the larger community. “We have to empower parents to have conversations and be the go-to person,” says Fox. She clarifies that it’s the parent’s responsibility to have clear conversations about sex and boundaries. We have to equip parents with the tools they need to do this.
Rabbi Zippel, a survivor, dean of school, and parent himself, talks about the power of disclosure and the many ways it can affect survivors. He advises parents and Rabbis to teach kids that they should not feel guilty for being abused or disclosing. One of the greatest concerns for children in the Jewish Community, he suggests, is that disclosing could tear their family apart. We have to teach children that if they disclose, “[The children] are not doing anything to their abuser; they [the abuser] are experiencing the consequences of their actions.”
He calls on Rabbis to make their stance on abuse very clear to their whole community. “If you don’t believe that children who have been sexually abused are tarnished, get up on your pulpit and say as much. Don’t leave it to vague unspecifics… call it for what it is. Children who have gone through these experiences should bear no guilt, should bear no shame, they are not tarnished, they are not sinful, they are absolutely beautiful and wholesome in the eyes of God. And if that’s what you really believe, call a spade a spade and get out there and say as much. Short of that, you leave kids to their anxieties and their worst fears.”
Bernstein agrees that the community needs to be taught to rally around survivors. “We need to create support and safe havens for families so that they know they won’t be cut off from their communities.” Ultimately, protecting Orthodox Jewish kids comes down to raising awareness, removing the shame for children, and providing whatever resources necessary for community institutions to support survivors. At the end of the day, Fox says, “it’s your responsibility to stand for children, and not predators.”
This series contains descriptions of adult subject matter, including child sexual abuse. It may not be suitable for everyone; viewer discretion is advised. If you need support after watching, please reach out to 866-FOR-LIGHT for confidential support and resources.
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Honest Conversations is a Live series from Darkness to Light where experts have a variety of authentic discussions about the realities of stigma and child sexual abuse. Click here to watch previous episodes.
Rochel Leah Bernstein is the founder and executive director of Child Safety Pledge, an organization committed to prevent and combat child sexual abuse in the United States. A parent, mother of four, and a survivor herself, she has worked with youth-serving organizations, funders, and parents for the past eight years to ensure strong policies and best practices to prevent, detect, and respond to child sexual abuse.
Together with her team she is focused on collaborating with purpose-driven companies, foundations and empowering a national grassroots movement dedicated on keeping all children safe from sexual abuse in YSOs and physical environments. She has a passion for philanthropy, travel and street art.
Debbie Fox, LCSW, is a recognized expert in the field of child safety. She authored and developed the Safety Kid program under the guidance of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and in collaboration with the Los Angeles Halachic Advisory Board. Fox has presented workshops across the United States, Canada, England and Israel and provides cultural sensitivity trainings for state agencies working with child abuse. Her work and expert opinion has been published in Healing History’s Wounds; Klal Perspectives Journal; Mishpacha Magazine; HaModia Weekly; The Jewish Journal; The Jewish Week and other national and regional periodicals. She is a contributor to the 2011 publication Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community. She is also the founder of Project SafeCamp, founded in 2012, which has trained thousands of camp counselors on maintaining a safe camp environment for campers. Most recently, she authored the book Seminary Savvy: Every Girl’s Guide to a Successful, Safe, and Satisfying Experience—in Seminary & Beyond
Rabbi Avremi Zippel was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to Salt Lake City with his parents, in July of 1992. The oldest of 6, Avremi was homeschooled through his Bar Mitzvah (13th Birthday), then left home for 8th grade and on, to pursue a more full time Jewish education. He attended a Jewish High School in Chicago, and attended Rabbinical College in London, England. Avremi participated in Jewish outreach and humanitarian missions, in Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Wales, and numerous cities throughout the U.S. He was ordained at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi I.M. Lau, in December of 2013. He married Sheina in January of 2014, and together they moved to Utah in December of 2014, to work at Chabad in the capacity of Directors of Young Jewish Professionals Utah. They are the proud parents of two adorable little boys, Menny (5) and Menachem (3).
In February of 2019, Avremi publicly came forward about the decade of sexual abuse he had endured at the hands of a childhood caretaker. He is believed to be the first Orthodox Rabbi in the world to do so. Since then, Avremi has taken a leadership role in combating sexual abuse in religious communities around the world, and advocating for survivors.
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