Thursday, August 14, 2014

Seminaries in Israel - Let the Buyer Beware

Rabbi Meir Kahane, Dean of Chedvas Beis Yaakov (Frum Follies)
What a mess. The Meisels /seminary scandal continues. Accusations of impropriety are flying back and forth between partisan advocates of one Beis Din and another. And somewhere in between all of these these accusation the truth gets lost. 

Just to review and bring this matter up to date, Elimelech Meisels who owned 4 seminaries in Israel was found by a respected Beis Din in Chicago (CBD) to have sexually abused or molested some of his students. This was determined after an exhaustive 3 month investigation of the facts that included physical evidence, interviews with victims, and with Meisels himself. The CBD issued a letter to potential parents made available to the public that these seminaries were not considered safe and that parents should not send their daughters to them.

At that point they referred the matter to a respected Israeli Beis Din (IBD) since these seminaries are located in Israel. R’ Aharon  Feldman, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel and member of the Agudah Moetzes was asked by the CBD to forward the matter to the IBD -which he did. 

After a brief examination of the facts, The IBD removed Meisels from the premises of those 4 seminaries and told him to sell them. After he agreed, they immediately put out a statement saying that not only were those schools safe, but they were fine institutions. And that other schools were forbidden by Halacha accept any student that was previously enrolled in any of those 4 seminaries.

The CBD stood by its view that the seminaries were not safe and that parents should not send their daughters there. Furthermore parents that had sent in the rather hefty deposits were entitled to get their money back. The seminaries refused. And with the support of the CBD, the matter was taken to court in a class action lawsuit by some of those parents.

After hearing about how quickly and unequivocally the IBD affirmed the safety and high value of those schools, R’ Aharon Feldman  was appalled and wrote a letter to the IBD in protest. The substance of that letter can be summed up in one phrase that he used:   
The Chilul Hashem r.l. is spreading; people have lost their emunas chachomim; I just heard of two girls who went off the derech because of this affair. 
The issue was that there were teachers in the school who were informed about Miesels activities and looked the other way. They remain in those schools.

Based on the IBD Psak and the rave review of these institutions, Rabbi Meir Kahane, the Menahel (Dean) of one of those 4 seminaries (Chedvas Beis Yaakov) sent out a letter touting that praise- declaring that Meisels was gone, their school is now safe, and open for business as usual.

For their part the CBD stood by its original statement that those schools are not yet safe and that the parents who made deposits had every right to get their money back. And to do so via the American court system if necessary. 

This is where things stand now. I don’t know if the following comment is true. But as the e-mail sent to me by Yerchmiel Lopin (who excerpted it from his blog) said, it has a ring of truth to it. I agree. If so seminaries in Israel present a far greater danger to our daughters than one would ever suspect. And yet most parents now send their daughters there with little more information about them than their reputations. 

In the interest of the safety of our daughters, I am publishing it here. I make no claim about its authenticity. It is up to the individual to decide for themselves whether or not to factor in a letter that has not necessarily been authenticated. It follows: 
I am a therapist, frum, no not just frum but FFB. I am American born and bred, practicing in Israel. I am not a newcomer comer to Yeshivos and Seminaries, like I have said I grew up in the mainstream frum American world (rare among therapists, and even more rare among mechanchim in Israel. But I write this as a regular yid, who happens to have inside exposure to the mess. 
I pride myself in having gone to Yeshivos and my family in every direction too. There may some due criticism for all mosdos, and lots for specific ones, but by and large they do devoted and hard work for our children, as was done for us 
Firstly, let us acknowledge this; the vast majority of people working in chinuch are devoted and honest people, who are moser nefesh for a praiseworthy goal. Those who don’t live up to this standard, who are not honest and fair and even worse abusive are the exception. Thank you to all the special true mechanchincm. 
Now, yes with heartbreak, we must admit not all, and yes it is becoming more and more common, are people we should trust our children, teens or adults too. 
As a therapist, I often deal with such cases, of neglect and outright abuse of all types. Whether the issue stems from parents, friends, strangers or the teachers themselves, too often mechanchim and even rabbonim are implicit. It is simply rare to find people who will stand up for the truth, who are not afraid of it. Who will get up and put down their foot to protect and prevent abuse.
At the end of the day, adults are responsible for themselves, people need to fight for their rights, fairly and honestly. Parents are responsible for their children, and as such all I can say, is that it is FRIGHTNING how foolish and willfully blinded people can be when making decisions on where and why it is safe to go places.
(It causes great harm when so many innocent are accused, often by rumors or clearly non-reliable people and their lives ruined without fair and honest investigation. Please, lets be wary of unconfirmed rumors, and be very careful who we really can trust to say one was guilty. Ironically the guilty usually get away and the innocently framed get nailed and shattered. 
For many of us in the field this specific expose came as no surprise, nor is it the first time such ‘problems’ were discovered in seminaries. The writing has been on the wall for years! People in the know make no secret of the questionable situations which come up constantly for young impressionable girls away from home.
The options include but are not limited to; hashkafic crumkeit (the majority of seminaries proudly entertain all types of ‘Jewish thought’ -little do parents knew what their child will be exposed to), sexual education -undesired, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, manipulating for egotistic reasons, peer abuse, dangers of all sorts from within and without seminaries, and more.
Every year a number of girls learn the hard way. Not a small number, I myself have a connection with a few dozen a year! And I obviously do not come across all. (I am not only referring to abuse, but also other situations, such as girls getting a lot deeper than they planned or their parents can imagine with other people, etc..).
This is but one of this therapist’s comments. There other comments made by him that were far more condemning. They can be seen in the comments section of Yerachmiel’s blog.

I can’t speak for all the parents whose daughters will most likely eventually be going to a seminary in Israel. But If I were in their shoes, I would be thinking long and hard about whether I should send them to a seminary at all. The current almost universal practice among Orthodox parents with daughter is to send them to Israel for a year or two so that they can ‘grow’ in their Judaism.  That may be a noble goal for a daughter. But not at the risk of being abused in any way… and so far away from home. That is too big a price to pay.

Not to mention the actual price of doing. Tuitions have gotten to be exorbitant! You could make a small wedding for your daughter with what it costs to send her to Israel for a year. Multiply that by all of your daughters – each of which will end up doing the same thing. I think there are better ways to spend your money… and better  ways for your daughters to grow… right in your own backyard and under the continued guidance of their parents.

One more tangentially related thing. Even though I respect him greatly, I posted a comment on Rabbi Eidensohn’s blog in protest to the way he characterized the CBD. He turned that comment into a post in which he refuted my suspicion that he was biased against the CBD because of his close friendship to a member of the IBD. His response was that I was blinded by my respect for the CBD. I have a two word response: Goose / Gander.