Friday, May 26, 2017

Protecting the Vulnerable; Strengthening the Defenseless

Rabbi Zvi Gluck - founder of Amudim
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis met with a Charedi Rabbi by the name of Edgar Gluck and his son Rabbi Zvi Gluck. That meeting raised a few eyebrows for a number of reasons. While some of the criticism may have been justified, I was one of those who saw it as an entirely positive meeting. Pope Francis is an exceptional man and we ought to be thankful that the Bishop of Rome - a man so widely admired by so many people of all faiths all over the world - has so much respect for Judaism.

But the Pope is not the subject of this post. Rabbi Zvi Gluck is.  The Jewish Week named him one of this year’s 36 under 36. These are a group of millennials whom they describe as ‘a group uniquely dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and strengthening the defenseless’.

When I came across this article, I wondered if any of the people they chose are Orthodox. I noticed one that is: Rabbi Zvi Gluck.

This is a Charedi rabbi that turns on its head the notion that Orthodox rabbis simply don’t care about sexual abuse. That is not true and never has been. What is true however is how misguided all too many rabbis in leadership positions were and how badly they handled it.  

It was so bad that survivors of abuse felt abandoned by their own religious community. In many cases opting out of observance or worse living lives of clinical depression, substance abuse and even suicide - which all too often was a serious option for them.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone that hasn’t experienced abuse – including myself - to understand the mindset of a survivor. Only the survivor himself knows how it feels. And perhaps his immediate family (parents and siblings). The pain and emotional suffering, the stigma, the sense of abandonment can stay with a survivor for the rest of their lives. Even in those instances where a survivor somehow manages to lead a normal life, it never fully goes away, I’m told.

The religious leadership in Orthodoxy (whether Charedi, Chasidic,  or modern Orthodox)  had in the past never risen to the occasion. Ironically their attitude came (and in some cases still comes) from a sincere sense  of compassion. Not for the survivor. But for the accused. They tended to believe the denials of prominent people with good reputations over the accusations of their young victims. Treating the victims as Off the Derech (OTD), lairs, and outcasts. They believed that the accusers were deliberately lying, thus casting aspersions on the reputations of fine people; causing them and their families to suffer their own unearned and lifelong stigma.

The tide has changed somewhat as some rabbinic leaders have been educated to better understand the realities of sexual abuse. Unfortunately not all segments have made the same degree of progress and in some instance have made little to no progress.

I am not going to go into which segments seem to be doing better than others. But in at least the case of one Charedi organization  there seems to have been a huge step forward: an organization founded by Rabbi Zvi Gluck  called Amudim. In the 8 minute video below he spells it all out in plain language. I believe it is well worth watching – and listening to what he has to say. He was not reticent about pointing out the past shortcomings of the rabbinic leadership on this issue.

For a Charedi rabbi to go out on a limb like this says a lot about this young man’s character. But it perhaps it also says something  about a Charedi world that respects what he is doing. I don’t know of any criticism he has received. I know only about the praise he has gotten. If I remember correctly,  Rabbi Gluck had a very positive cover story in one of the Charedi magazines a while back. Well deserved in my view.

Perhaps the Charedi world is finally rising to the occasion. He is fully funded to the tune of a $2.5 million annual budget. Not an easy sum to raise. He must be doing something right. Probably a lot of ‘somethings’. It is no small wonder that he ended up in the Vatican speaking to Pope Francis on this issue.

I wonder though if the Charedi leadership generally supports him. How does this affect their position that one must first report credible suspicions of abuse to rabbis? Is that still their position? What is Amudim’s position on that?

Perhaps more importantly how do survivors and survivor advocates feel about what he is doing? Do they fully support him. Are there any reservations? If so what are they?

If there are any at all, I have to believe that he is doing a lot more good than bad. There is probably a lot more to praise than to criticize. I don’t think there is another organization like it in the Charedi world.

Rabbi Gluck is indeed an individual that is ‘uniquely dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and strengthening the defenseless.’ God bless him for that. And thank you, Jewish Week for finding him and including him in your 36 under 36.