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Op-Ed: Breaking the Silence

I have been getting many texts and emails asking me to weigh in on the latest New York Times article entitled, ‘Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own,’ regarding the reports of horrific abuse cases that have gone ignored or have been swept under the rug by religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community.

After much deliberation, I have decided that this particular crisis deserves a critical response.

And because silence is a form of inaction, I have decided to act through the written word.

This topic is a difficult one to approach without a little silence before proceeding. A momentary silence that allows one to take a deep breath before trying to process such a tragedy. A moment to gather one’s thoughts before responding from a place of pure raw emotion.

My momentary silence is out of deep respect for the silent pain that has been inflicted on the innocent victims of abuse – many of whom have been forced into a coerced silence for years or even lifetimes. It is to these victims that I dedicate this essay.

My immediate and visceral emotional reaction to the New York Times article was one of rage, frustration, and sadness for the victims. This was followed by a deep disappointment and disgust for those who still attempt to conceal these heinous crimes that can and do occur in the Orthodox Jewish community, a community that has yet to fill the Citi-Field Baseball Stadium with the masses to discuss this issue openly and to apologize to every abused child forced into their own silence.

I have personally experienced this pain and have had firsthand experience in dealing with the long term psychological trauma caused when a community attempts concealment as opposed to open dialogue. However, I wish not to speak of my own personal experience but rather on my own complex reaction to these heinous crimes and some thoughts on how we should build from it. Thus, I am making my own Cyber-Asifa on the matter. Because I can.

There are many reasons for deep rooted pain over this issue. Innocence lost. Victims being treated as villains. Abusers posing as protectors for their own manipulative domination. After taking the time to reflect on the root of its darkness, I was reminded of an axiom my father often shared, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Secrets, dishonesty, and lies are the hallmark trade of the abusers and when those charged with leadership of the community choose to engage in the secrets, lies and dishonesty they inadvertently create very fertile ground for these malignant abusers to fester and grow. The exact behavior men and women who tote a higher calling are sworn to defend against.

It is this duplicitous behavior that torments the victims of abuse long after the abuse has taken place, for closure and healing cannot be fostered while community leaders are preoccupied with misguided efforts of concealment. When I say victim, I include the child, as well as, the parents and the siblings of the child. Of course I can expand that scope to the community and the world at large that suffers when dark secrets are kept behind curtains of lies as well.

Secrets are at the root of chronic and long-term psychological pain. When we are secretive about our secrets, we become ill and allow our souls to be filled with a poison that it fights to purge.

At the core of every human being is the determination to be loved, to be acknowledged, to seek purpose, to fight for justice and truth, and to belong to a personal and collective consciousness of goodness, innocence and G-dliness.

Chassidic thought teaches us that a person’s soul is inherently created to be on a quest for honesty and truth. When this quest is interrupted by being forced to accept lies and corrupt behavior in the form of a “higher calling” or as norm it can wreak havoc on a person’s self esteem, spiritual relationship and emotional well-being. It is a toxic contaminate that battles against the natural order of how our holy souls flourish. Since we are part of a collective consciousness, this does not just interrupt one person’s quest but every person the innocent tormented soul then goes on to encounter. Thus when one soul is wounded, an entire world is indeed affected.

The soul is the most precious gift we have for it is the most intimate connection that links us to our creator. The soul is the slice of a Higher Power inside all of us. Molestation is the kind of abuse that torments the body for the purpose of stealing the soul. No one ever has a right to steal another’s soul for their own personal gain. Judaism vehemently abhors this offense. Embezzling truth and larceny of the soul is a malignant cancer that threatens to destroy the very Jewish values that we are entrusted to uphold. The world is watching as stories and claims of abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community unfold on the media stage and the world is eager to see the Jewish response. The world is watching as we re-examine how we are passing our core values on to our children and to the rest of humanity. Even G-d himself is watching to see how His children are reacting in the face of such dark and deplorable corruption.

To be part of a community is a privilege and a right. To exist with others who share a moral code is a given we are all entitled to. It is time for new communities to arise with like-minded individuals who will not stand for secrets to lurk in the shadows of our neighborhoods.

As G-d stands watching our reaction, we are forced to create an initiative that I dare say, can bring on a new day if we are willing and open.

As a first step in destroying the silence I invite you all, Jew and non-Jew alike to belong to a new community and a new higher consciousness. This community is one that rejoices with authentic Chassidic fervor over the human right to own one’s soul without it ever being exploited. This community has no place for elitism, for ego, superiority, or dominance. We all equally have the right to be loved with sincerity and without control or manipulation.

This community has no room for secrets, nor does it have room for others to force their own agendas. This community raises our souls to solicit truth and abhors deception. This is a new age. We will no longer be silenced. We will no longer cower in the corners waiting to be hurt, judged, or demonized. We are taking back precious faith into our own protection.

We are all the victims of abuse and we are taking back our souls. In broad daylight.

Let us offer a moment of silence for those who have suffered. Now let us make some noise, because this new community needs a cheering squad.

Indefinite silence in the face of corruption is a form of inaction. Who’s ready to let their voice be heard?


  • 1. Rabbi Shtarkman wrote:

    Completely incoherent.

    You want to end abuse? Let Shomrim meet a couple of known abusers in an alleyway and give them a choice – voluntary chemical castration or a shteller in the bottom of the East River.

    The courts let them all out anyway.

  • 2. hmmmm wrote:

    When did chava get so “holy”? I agree with her points but they do not sound like they are coming from this author.

  • 3. Mendy Hecht wrote:

    Rabbi Shtarkman:

    Use your head, and your name while you’re at it.

    Most abusers are themselves abuse victims.

    Sure, I’d love to beat the stuffing out of an abuser–and if my kid were his (or her) victim, I just might (wouldn’t we all?), but the real issue is two-fold:

    1. To protect our kids from abusers–and abusers from themselves

    2. To make the price for abuse so high (life in prison?) that abusers will be forced to face their demons and get help

    Chava, good start.

  • 5. ME wrote:

    Talking about abuse, yes, that one is the worst of all but what about all the dead beat dads who live in this community and roam freely and get aliyas, etc, what about the ones who don’t pay tuitions for the kids they brought into the world, why is the community so silent and afraid of these cowards? There shd be an end to all abuse and these people should be put in their place once and for all.’ Justice for the family is justice for the community’

  • 6. DeClasse- Intellectual wrote:

    Look what hiding of the facts and denial of same did to the Catholic organization–They are feeling the ramifications still. Are we heading down the same path? The automspher must be changed and the community must heal itself–with or without outside help. the NEW YORK TIMES article is just an early warning shot; unless the culture is changed, the internal explosion and fallout will occur. Once it starts, it will become a huge disgrace to the whole Orthodox world.

  • 7. dont you realise the danger? wrote:

    do you know that people are afraid to be teachers, as any kid, who may be upset for being punished for not bringing his homework in – will be belived over his teacher.

    do you want this system to manipulate oue society?

    thern say goodbye to all our qulity teachers.

  • 8. suko wrote:

    Good energy, you’d make a great cheer leader. As for your call to abolish all secrets – not everyone needs to be a know it all.

  • 9. action wrote:

    I agree with your article but you make no “bottom line”, no “call to action”, no meeting place for supporters to gather and unite. I wish our schools would take more initiative and educate our children through puppets and plays about what is appropriate and what isn’t when it comes to adult behavior. Sadly I dont think our “hanhalas” are ready to embrace this vital issue like they should. If you are a person of power and can try to do something actively, I am sure you will have alot of support. Abuse has to stop and children need to know what to do if g-d forbid it happens.

  • 10. Dennis Brown MA,CSAT, NCACII Counselor- wrote:

    Chava, I am proud of you for taking a stand. This has been going on for a long time, and our community keeps wanting to deny thta it is happening. “The osterich” We put our head in the sand, so if I do not see it its not there “WRONG” its there.

    I have been attempting to address this for years, as well as you know. I back you %100. May we have the strength and ability to face this and attempt to stop it from continuing

  • 11. Jonathan wrote:

    Very well said. It is time for our leaders to deal with these issues head on and ‘in broad daylight’!

  • 12. Sarah wrote:

    Thank for tackling such an important topic with in such an appropriate and dignified manner. I hope it offers streangth for more victims to come forward and break the silence.

  • 13. Shlomie wrote:

    Hey number 2, don’t be such a hater. If you disagree with the content then address the content but if you got some self-esteem issues then go see therapist.

  • 14. David S. wrote:

    My family was convinced by the Rabbis of our community to stay quiet for years after being the victem of an abuser. I am so glad that is posting article like this so others who are being abused don’t have to bear the pain of the silence we had to endure.

  • 15. Aperson wrote:

    First off take action to form a plan of how to fight this destructive mindset, then come back with all your fancy talk, don’t preach to ppl to be a role model if u can’t do it yourself

  • 16. Miriam Schultz wrote:

    I’ve been abused by a member of the Crown Heights Community been bullied and taken advantage,unfortunately is not only sexual abuse to children but other types of abuse in the Jewish communities and this situation have put me on a very uncomfortable situation. I was taken advantage and scammed and i had absolutely no one to go to complain,this person is a monster and the more I know about him I believe that he should be put on CHEREM…what does it make a person so evil to take advantage of the underpriviledge and from the vulnerable ones….there has to be limits to the abuse and we have to take a stand against it and out them out. That is NOT KOSHER….!

  • 17. To A Person- wrote:

    Dear ‘A Person'(#11), The article is written by a columnist for the Algemainer Journal, it is her job to write about the news in an informative and thought provoking fashion. She is actually utilizing her platform to share an important message, it isn’t preaching, it’s called journalism. Welcome to the conversation…

  • 18. mom of ch wrote:

    I spoke to my mom who is a lcsw- and deals with this subject- both as a therapist to abusers and victims-
    1/ use our laws of yichud!
    – if you don’t want to be accused of abuse keep a high profile- don’t ever let yourself be completely alone with the person you are counseling
    – if someone who you are not married to wants you to be alone with them – don’t be!!!
    that would cut down on alot of problems
    I agree we have a problem and it sickens and saddens me how many kids have their childhood taken away!
    but from studying many cases if we follow the laws of yichud many problems would be solved

  • 19. Rabbi Shimshon Shtarkman wrote:

    Many violent criminals had bad childhoods. Nevertheless, they need to be removed from society – we don’t need to protect them from themselves because they are no concern of ours.

    The courts do a lousy job of removing abusers from society. We need to do it ourselves.

    We do not have mercy on the cruel. Most of the molesters who are caught get slapped on the wrist. If that is what the court does, we need to protect the INNOCENT by making sure the GUILTY have no more wrists or ankles or even necks to snap.

    Willy has no crime problem because the lowlifes fear the patrols and the chaptzems. The same fear needs to be knocked into anyone who thinks to molest a child – then they will quietly seek therapy or just get out of town.

  • 20. Gd Is Not Playing This Time! wrote:

    Gd has no intention of letting this sin go unchecked. Don’t deal with it properly and Gd will deal directly with Israel. If you want water in your land, learn to do right according to the law. Gd often does things in multiples. I doubt He will have any problem sending the jewish community back to Babylon!

  • 21. Astounded wrote:

    The grammar and poor English expression of most of the comments on this article are absolutely appalling. Where were they educated?

  • 22. Bas Yisroel, wife, mother and teacher. wrote:

    Hilchos yichud and Tznius are essential for everyone. They need to be taught and upheld in every school so that kids and adults can protect themselves.I saved myself from abuse by applying these laws and not allowing myself to be drawn into sticky situations.

  • 23. Just be yourself wrote:

    Chava, put away the thesaurus, and just write from the heart/pen. You make a good point but hard to find with all your profuse language and hyperbole…

  • 24. hate wrote:

    There is obviously a huge problem that was swept under the rug, but unfortunately some people are using this to get back at others, by turning them in as molestors, when they were not. Be aware of this problem too.


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