Thursday, March 12, 2009

Breaking the Chains of the Past

What is up with the Chasidim of Williamsburg? This new attempt at burying crimes of sex abuse is very troubling! Have they not learned anything? And what about the Sephardic community? Are there no incidences of sex abuse in their community?

Chasidim, the Sephardic community and the Catholic Church - strange bedfellows indeed - have joined together to oppose a bill in the New York State legislature that would extend the statue of limitations on crimes of sex abuse. It’s almost as if they don’t care about their own victims. They seem to care more about their own perpetrators.

It makes no sense to oppose extending the time whereby a sex abuser can be prosecuted. What difference does it make how long ago the crime was committed? Victims suffer the consequences of sex abuse for the rest of their lives. Why should an abuser get off just because he was caught too late? This bill makes eminent sense to me.

It isn’t as though the Chasidim of Williamsburg don’t have any abusers in their midst... and see this as a witch hunt. Yesterday one of them was convicted of sexually abusing his own daughter for a period of seven years! It took the jury only one day to reach their verdict.

It isn’t as if he was the only case either. Not long ago a Chasidic teacher was accused by his victims of sex abuse. He was fired -but shortly thereafter re-hired. Do they not believe the victim? Are parents in Williamsburg so eager to believe the denials of a sex abuser and allow him to teach their kids? Do they think their Chasidic beliefs lifestyle makes them immune to sex abuse? ...and that the accusing students are all lying?

One thing I am beginning to believe more and more these days is that sex abuse is an equal opportunity offence. It affects every community, no matter what their belief system is. Studies have shown that sex abuse exists in relatively equal proportion in all substrata of American life. Orthodoxy is no barrier to it - no matter how isolated various Orthodox communities are from the surrounding culture.

Many will dispute those statistics and object to the perceived implication of such statistics - that the Torah is in any way responsible for contributing to sex abuse. They will therefore deny the statistics that show no differences between Orthodox Jews and the general populace. They will say that the studies were off - or that a study was not conducted properly - or that it is impossible to get accurate statistics from Orthodox Jews because of their disinclination to talk about these matters.

Maybe so. But it is hard to look at our recent history on this subject and conclude that there is any real statistical differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’. It seems to be happening a lot - and everywhere. If one simply listens to the Orthodox Jewish experts in the field talk about how much bigger this is than people realize - or looks at the numbers of victims now coming forward - it tends to reinforce those statistics. But even if they are not accurate and the truth is that 'we' are better than 'them' - the kinds of numbers indicated by our own experts seem to be staggering!

I want to make one thing clear. Just because the proportions may be the same in Orthodoxy as they are in the general populace - it is incorrect to blame the Torah for abuse. It is not the Torah’s fault. It is the fault of the individual abuser. They are sick people who succumb to abnormal desires and act upon them in contradiction to the Torah. Sick people exist in all walks of life in equal proportion. This seems like mere common sense to me.

It therefore does not matter how many abusers there are in comparison to others. It matters only how we deal with it. The Chasidim of Williamsburg seem to be failing miserably in that regard. The question is why?

I think it is because of an unfortunate history with European anti-Semitism. That has produced a mistrust which carried over from Europe by grandparents who experienced it first hand. So terrible was their experience then - and so isolated is their community now from the rest of the world that these kinds of prejudices have been easily transmitted to children and grandchildren.

They simply distrust the ‘Goy’ - despite obvious evidence to the contrary about this country. The indoctrination of hatred is preached from early childhood and embellished by legitimate horror stories told over by parents and grandparents of how it was in Europe. Their isolated lives growing up gave them little opportunity to experience anything else.

So when it comes to prosecuting their own for unspeakable crimes - they simply do not trust the system. They believe innocent Jews will be persecuted - just as they were in the Europe of their grandparents. Hence - this push opposing the extension of the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex offenders.

Chasidic communities in Williamsburg like Satmar have many wonderful things about it. Their service and dedication to Mitzvah observance is unparalleled. They are very family oriented. They are a very close knit and warm people. Their caring for - and hospitality toward all fellow Jews is legendary. As is their Bikur Cholim society. But you could not pay me enough to be in a community that refuses to learn the lessons of recent history that will protect their children.