Monday, March 04, 2013

A Heartfelt Apology

I am taking the liberty of re-posting a public and heartfelt apology from Dr. Esther Shkop, Dean of The Hebrew Theological College’s Blitstein Institite for Women (Machon Torani L'Banot) and the gracious acceptance of that apology by Kaylie* - a survivor of abuse. It was first published on the Gotta Give ‘Em Hope Blog and brought to my attention by a valued friend and regular reader of my blog. I am republishing it in an effort to spread as widely and as quickly as possible the apology and its acceptance in the hope that it is as widely read as was the original e-mail.

As I have indicated from the start - Dr. Shkop is one of the good guys and gets a lot of respect from the broad spectrum of Jewry here in Chicago for the many great contributions she has made to Yiddishkeit here. Which explains her popularity - and long tenure as Dean of the school. Her apology follows (in blue) which is then followed by the student’s acceptance of it (in green).

Dr. Shkop's letter:

Dear Kaylie*,

Over the last number of difficult days, regret and a stirring sadness have overtaken me because of the insensitive and harsh email I recently sent you.  I ask for your mechila [forgiveness] and extend you my deepest apology.

Inasmuch as [Torani L'Banot] has always endeavored to provide all of our students with full academic, emotional, and spiritual support - taking into account the variety of life experiences - it has become clear to me that we must do a better job in creating both the appropriate environment and the systems necessary to support our students in their greatest hour of need.  I do maintain our position that it is not in keeping with the standards of Tznius [modesty] and fundamentally unsafe to post intimate information about oneself and others on social media.  [Torani L'Banot], therefore, provides a private and safe forum for support and guidance.

We know that the Almighty places tests before us not only to draw closer to the Creator of the World, but to bolster our capabilities in improving the lives of His children, particularly those that are in great pain and in need of our help and support.  We will be assembling the expertise needed to make recommendations to the Board and to me on the resources and support systems we must improve to serve our cherished students to the fullest extent of our capability.

We as Jewish educators of young adults are on the front-line of life’s many challenges.  Tragically, the scourge of sexual abuse and misconduct has not spared the Orthodox community and its precious children.  We, therefore, must continue to be an institution that sets the standard in helping and supporting our students as they demonstrate the bravery and fortitude required for the healing process.  This is the test the Ribbono Shel O’lam [Lord of the Universe] has clearly put before me in the wake of my private email to you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Esther M. Shkop

*pseudonym

Kaylie’s Response:

I’ve been told to keep quiet for as long as I can remember. My rapist told me not to tell. I could not, but I needed to. That night, I stood in front of my father and tried to tell him what had happened — tried to find some way to explain what went on while he and my mother weren’t home. I had no way to explain what my rapist had done. I could not put terms to the body parts, and no one ever warned me that what had happened was wrong. I only knew that my rapist had tried to manipulate me into stripping for him by telling me he would give me eight dollars and that, after he raped me, he did not pay up. I told my father that I was owed eight dollars… but I could not explain why. I was 7, and these were things that were not talked about.

That silence, that tugging feeling of anguish in my throat with no words to set it free, has stayed with me for years. I was told to not tell my parents. When I finally started speaking about any of the pain within me, I was told to not talk about it to others.

Over the years, I have made a tremendous amount of progress with my therapist. There are many organizations that can help survivors, but they can only help the ones they know about. What about the ones they do not know about? Who will help them? They can only be helped once they reached out... and they can only reach out when they know it is possible to. I came out because I had been one of the girls which were under the radar. They had no way of knowing about me. They have no way about knowing about so many. That's why I came out.

Silence is overrated. There's nothing golden about it when it's hiding the worst pain.

I was shocked because of the underlying message of the first email — that we, as survivors, are somehow the bad ones. That was the very same attitude I had taken a stand against in coming out as a survivor; it breeds silence and allows the attitude to fester from the silent anguish inside victims. This pain and the fear of being expelled from college was what drove me to contact Chaim Levin.

By bringing public attention to what was happening at school, I hoped that this attitude might be reexamined and that I would be able to remain in a school which I had come to truly love. HTC is a wonderful place — the faculty is professional while retaining a level of friendliness towards the students, and every single professor is genuinely interested in the welfare and the progress of the students, as is Dr. Shkop.

The choice Dr. Shkop made when she emailed me her beautiful apology was a wise one — she put her institution at the forefront of schools taking steps to protect and support survivors of sexual abuse. I greatly admire her strength in admitting to her mistakes, and I am very happy we were able to reach a d├ętente. The compromises we both made were not necessarily enormous, but the ripple effect of her actions will, God willing, make an effect which is more than enormous. Pain and darkness can only be fought with a passion for the light, and that passion is something Dr. Shkop exudes in abundance. The darkness every survivor has lived in can only last so long, and, with every step forward, another bit of pain is alchemized into something truly precious — hope.

Update
The following statement has just been released by the Hebrew Theological College.
Tragically and painfully, sexual abuse and misconduct is a plague in our world and our Orthodox community has not been spared. Throughout its history, Hebrew Theological College has always provided caring support and guidance for its students. We are proud of this tradition and are committed to continue to actively demonstrate the highest ideals of Torah and Chesed. Regrettably, in a recent communication with a student who enrolled in our school with a past history of being a victim of sexual abuse, we failed to exercise appropriate sensitivity. As a consequence, we regard this as a catalyst for immediate action, growth and institutional improvement.
Our Board and Executive Leadership are now in the process of identifying a cross section of experts to present recommendations to us that will enable us to develop the resources and support systems needed so that we are positioned to the fullest extent possible to help our students through the healing process.