Monday, June 09, 2014

The ‘Black Sheep’ Hero

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Last year Nechemya Weberman was convicted of sex abuse and sentenced to a 103 year prison term.

The Satmar community of which Weberman was a part never believed his accuser and to this day probably believes that Weberman is innocent – despite the verdict. There was one Charedi individual, however, that attended the trial and stood by the accuser - a survivor of Weberman’s abuse. His name is Yakov Horowitz. For his troubles he has been labeled a trouble maker by some on the right. In fact a Charedi magazine did a feature on Weberman’s attorney where he was quoted calling him ‘that Horowitz fellow’ and, if I recall correctly - accused him of somehow unduly influencing the trial. And that magazine did nothing to counter that notion.

On the other side of the coin, Rabbi Horowitz has been accused by some victim’s advocates as a grandstander who will not go the distance for survivors of abuse. They point to his opposition to the Markey Bill in the New York State legislature that would have granted a onetime extension to the statute of limitations whereby a victim could sue his abuser - and anyone or any institution that enabled him no matter how long ago it happened.

The truth is that Rabbi Horowitz is guilty of neither. He is in fact a hero. Uniquely so. He is very likely the only Charedi individual who has gone out on a limb for the survivors of abuse without antagonizing the rabbinic leaders of his community. He has their support. And he has used that support to make inroads into the insular world of Chasidim that might otherwise shun him and his message.

And yet he is considered a black sheep among Charedim. Or so reads the headline on a Jerusalem Post profile published yesterday. If one reads of all of his accomplishments in this article one cannot fail to be greatly impressed. All with the approval of his rabbinic leaders.

I have said it in the past. Rabbi Horowitz is a hero not only for what he has done – bit for what he is doing. He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He is also in the forefront of abuse prevention.  From the Jerusalem Post
Five years ago, the rabbi initiated the creation of a children’s book in English called Let’s Stay Safe! Published by the Karasick Child Safety Initiative, it was written by Bracha Getz and beautifully illustrated by Tova Leff. Unlike most haredi publications in Israel and the US, the colorful, the colorful, 32-page volume includes illustrations of women and girls to ensure they resemble normal family life (rather than showing only men and boys). Obviously, it is meant to be read not only by children but also by their parents and grandparents. 
Rabbi Horowitz has informed me that he has made inroads into some of the most chasidic communities in the Orthodox world. In the past few months he sold over 1000 Yiddish safety books to one very Chasidic community. And with their full encouragement - he also conducted a workshop with fathers of pre-schoolers in New Square  and every parent that attended received a copy of that book.

The Yiddish book was revised in consultation on an ongoing basis with leaders of major Chasidic groups to better fit with their culture. He is also in the process of creating a child safety book in Hebrew also in consultation with rabbininc leaders in Israel.

Perhaps the pendulum is beginning to swing back. What a far cry from how Satmar and like minded communities treated sex abuse in the past. The mere mention of anything along those lines was quickly hushed up. That’s because it was widely believed to be nonexistent in the religious world and there was no need to bring such disgusting subjects up to their children. Now they are buying children’s books that talk about it very frankly.

We now know that sex abuse occurs in every society - secular and religious; Charedi and Modern Orthodox. Much as we’d like to believe that believing in the Torah and observing the Mitzvos protects us from such things, we now know that that pedophiles exist in equal proportion in all societies. It doesn’t matter how religious or irreligious they are. I guess Chasidic communities now are beginning to know that too.

While it has taken the right wing a long time to catch up… perhaps there is light at the end of the very long tunnel of abuse. If Satmar Chasidim are buying books on how to prevent sex abuse… maybe we can hope to never again witness another Nechemya Weberman.

And who do we have to thank for this? Although they have helped spread awareness of sex abuse in the Orthodox world, it is not really the blogs or the media. Nor is it victims’ advocates who – while also having done much to bring awareness of this issue - have in some cases disparaged anyone who does not toe their line. It was also not Agudah; not Lakewood; not Satmar; and not YU. Our gratitude for this should be expressed to one lonely ‘black sheep’ servant of God by the name of Yakov Horowitz.

I’m happy to see the progress being made. Perhaps finally Rabbi Horowitz is no longer seen as a black sheep and instead is seen as a role model. God Bless him.