New York - Hundreds Attend First-Ever Abuse-Victim Chizuk Event For Chardei Jews; Speakers Laud Hikind As Hero; Call on All Yeshivas To Recognize The Problem
New York - A community rally designed to express support to victims of sexual abuse in the frum community was held today in Borough Park.
The event, which was spearheaded by State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, was held at the Borough Park YMHA at the corner of 14th Ave. and 50th St. at 11:00 a.m.
Assemblyman Hikind, serving as emcee, opened the event by thanking the attendees for “being here.” man and women sat on either side of the partitioned room. Hikind then thanked his son Yoni and Rabbi Dr. Asher Lipner for assisting in staging the event.
“It’s something so simple, something that no one could have a problem with,” said Hikind in explaining the event’s purpose. “It’s to say to the victims, to say to those going through so much pain, to give them chizuk, to say, ‘We support you.’ ”
Hikind then introduced Rabbinical Alliance of America leader Rabbi Gershon Tanenbaum.
News12 covered the event click below
Rabbi Tanenbaum praised Hikind for his “bravery under fire,” describing how the Assemblyman, on an Israel solidarity mission, had even purchased a large amount of pizza from a shuttered pizza shop for beleaguered rescue workers literally underground in Israel’s north during the Lebanese hostilities in the summer of 2006.
The rabbi then cited the historic 1994 search for a Chasidic girl lost in the woods of a Massachusetts state park—a rescue effort that, the rabbi recalled, drew several thousand volunteers from as far as Montreal and Maryland. “When the message went out that one girl got lost, thousands of people responded. We didn’t know who she was, we didn’t know her family… we knew that this child was one of ours.”
Comparing that dramatic turnout to the current rally, Rabbi Tanenbaum said that the event’s purpose was “to let every child know that we care, to let every victim and every family member know that we care; we care today, we care tomorrow and we care forever.”
Hikind then introduced activist Rabbi Shmelke Klein, stating, “This is the most important issue I have ever had to deal with in my 27 years in the Assembly. Saving lives! What’s more important? I’m thankful for G-d for giving me this opportunity. If you have listened for one day what I have listened to for weeks and weeks, you’d be upset and you’d do something.”
Speaking in Yiddish, Rabbi Klein said that the event gives voice to those not heard, and emphasized a solution based on Jewish unity. “We must all work together. Hashem should help that just as Klal Yisroel jumped into the sea together [at the Crossing of the Red Sea—Ed.], we should come together to make every kid feel they belong.”
Before introducing Rabbi Dr. Asher Lipner, Hikind commented that “We are finally talking about the problem and have started the education process… Thank G-d we are beginning to address it and we are going to make a difference.” He also recognized clinical director Shlomo Lieberman, long-time friend and activist Joe Lazar, and noted sexual-abuse expert Dr. Hindy Klein.
Commenting on the standing-room-only crowd that had materialized, Hikind said, “The chizuk you have already given me to see you standing there—this is my dream! I can tell you how proud Hashem is of us.”
In his remarks, Rabbi Dr. Lipner first thanked Hikind “for all the work you’ve done; thank you for making this day happen.” He then connected the lives of Moshe Rabbeinu and Esther HaMalka [the biblical Moses and Queen Esther—Ed.], pointing out that while they lived in palaces separated from the suffering of their people, “they became heroes by putting themselves on the line.”
He then highlighted the famous story of Moshe Rabbeinu stopping one Jew from striking another, comparing it to taking a bold stand against today’s abusers. “Did he say, ‘I’d better not make a chillul hashem or make a scene?’ No. Moshe did not ask questions.”
“I suppose today he’d threaten to throw Moshe’s children out of yeshivah or make sure they don’t get shiduchim,” he wryly commented on the Torah’s account of the accused’s reaction. Eliciting the strongest applause of the event, Lipner compared Hikind’s outspoken stance to Moshe Rabbeinu’s iconic statement “Rasha! Lama sakeh rayecha?” [“Evildoer! Why do you hit your friend?”—Ed.]
Concluding with an apology to all victims, Lipner said, “We are all Yidden and we must all come together to heal the entire community.”
Hikind then briefly acknowledged the presence of dynamic activist Ronnie Greenwald, whose presence he described as “unbelievable,” as well as the leaders of at-risk teen program O.U.R. Place, Agudath Israel’s Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel and Jewish Board of Advocates for Children (JBAC) founder Elliot Pasik. (VIN later learned that Agudah’s Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz was also present.)
The Assemblyman then introduced Rabbi Dr. Bentzion Twerski, son of Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, explaining that while he was committed to treating the problem, he was not as qualified the professionals, also stating that ““I don’t give a darn about my political career, I care about the children. This is—or was—such a taboo subject.”
In his comments, Rabbi Dr. Twerski expounded on the critical need for communal unity as a prerequisite for success in addressing sexual abuse. “Anything without achdus won’t work,” he said. He also compared abuse victims to folded paper, whose fold marks do not disappear no matter how pressed or treated is the page.
“I do not believe we will ever eradicate this problem to the zero level,” Twerski said. “However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accept anything but zero tolerance.”
Rabbi Dr. Twerski finished his remarks by calling on rabbinical and educational leaders who are consulted on abuse and mental-health issues to familiarize themselves with basic mental health by consulting with frum professionals. “They have to have inkling of what’s going on, not because their Torah knowledge is lacking, but because they need input to understand what the facts are,” he pointed out. “We are turning to you and saying, ‘Please work with us. We are more than happy to help you understand the various forms of mental illness’ … Please utilize us in the mental health field, we want to be helpful.”
Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein of Project Chazon then appeared on a projection screen, having recorded a message for the event due to a last-minute inability to be personally present.
“It’s simply an abomination,” said Rabbi Milstein in his video recording. “We can’t stand idly by. For way too long we’ve been in collective denial; we as a community chose not to get involved, and Dov Hikind deserves kudos,” he said to applause.
Rabbi Milstein’s message consisted of several concrete points, including the fact that despite each individual abuse case being horrific, the percentage of abuse in the community remains small. Rabbi Milstein said that “the greatest chizuk for victims is to know that the community is waking up, not just offering sympathy but taking concrete action to make difference in the lives of kids who may be abused in the future.”
Additionally, Rabbi Milstein said it’s “critically important” for parents to walk through their children’s schools to scan for signs of concern—specifically calling for a ban on blocked classroom windows or any other room that allows student and faculty complete privacy, as well as new training and policies in that regard for yeshivos and camps alike.
Rabbi Milstein also called for parents to discuss privacy with their children “at the appropriate time,” as well as to take their kids seriously when they share claims of abuse. “I’m not advocating blanket believability for the child, but a child not believed by his or her parents has no avenue to share what happened.”
Finally, the rabbi asked the community to pray for abuse victims, and to take action. “It breaks my heart to see the damage done, how it’s wrecked their lives… How can any cry go unheard? How can you not have rachmanus? This is not Yiddishkeit! If you’re not going to get involved, then at least support organizations that do.”
Hikind then called upon Rabbi Tanenbaum to lead the crowd in the reciting of tehilim, after which he recognized his office staff Eli Schreiber.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” Hikind concluded, “But we are going to make a difference.”
As attendees milled about after the event, a middle-aged woman and her daughter approached one of the speakers. “I finally feel there is hope,” the mother said, “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
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