Over the years, I have lived in many different Jewish communities.
And I’ve also worked as investigative journalist for 25+ years, and that’s brought me into contact with many different people, and their stories.
What I can tell you is that sexual abuse of children is a massive problem today, everywhere.
But I guess I’ve been focussing more on the frum world in this blog, because so many of us want to believe that things like this don’t happen in ‘religious’ communities.
And so we trust perhaps way more than we should, and don’t recognise the warning signs in quite the same way, because we don’t want to believe that ‘religious’ people, frum Jews, would be capable of acting in these awful, despicable ways.
And of course, so many of the rabbis and leaders in these communities want to keep all the shmutz and yuck covered up, because they are protecting their ‘brand’. And that seems to take precedence over protecting the victim, for people who don’t really fear Hashem, and who are more interested in receiving honor and kavod, than doing the right thing.
BUT – as one commentator pointed out, this problem goes way, way beyond the religious community.
In the secular world there are also enormous problems – as you’ll remember from THIS post a few weeks ago, that mentioned the gang rape of a young teenage girl by a pack of feral teenage boys in a Netanya school. That story was totally blanked by the media here, to ‘protect the guilty’.
In the meantime, the poor girl and her father apparently ended up in a mental institution, from the trauma of what had happened – which was compounded by the cover-up.
Today, the world is a very sick place.
There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ place, spiritually, today.
(Although I have to say, ironically, that Rav Berland’s community seems to have way, way less issues than any other community I’m aware of. After the last 10 years of slander and scrutiny, Shuvu Banim is pretty much the last place a pedophile would try to hang out in.)
Let me tell you a story that emphasizes this point, and then we’ll move on to tachlis, what we as parents can really do to try to protect our children, to the best of our abilities.
A few years back, I lived in a very large, mixed yishuv, that had chardal communities all the way up to dati ‘light’, and was mixed between olim from many different backgrounds, and Israelis.
It all seemed so ‘wonderful’ there, externally, the first two years. Then, I started figuring out that appearances can be very deceptive, that literally half the yishuv was on Prozac (or something similar) – and that sexual abuse and wife-swapping was also occurring there.
I knew a lady whose 9 year old daughter was repeatedly raped by a ‘frum’ cousin – a stellar, solid dati leumi-type older teen.
When that news came out, her world fell apart – and the dati leumi rabbis counselled her not to go to the police about what had happened, because it would ruin the cousin’s life.
In the meantime…. that guy got married, and continued on in the dati leumi community as apparently a paragon of virtue.
While this lady’s kid went totally ‘off’, started smoking, and experienced tremendous tzaar in her soul.
Does this sound right, to you?
So now, let’s move into talking tachlis, what can we do, as parents, to try to protect our children?
There is a separate discussion to be had about changing the culture, both in the (Freemason-Frankist….) secular world and in the (Freemason-Frankist….) religious world about not playing down abuse like this any more, and not trying to just keep covering it up.
We’ll leave that for now, although you can be sure that is something that I will come back to in future posts, BH.
Today, I want to focus on what we can do as parents, with God’s help.
When I was looking into this more, I tripped over the ‘BrightBeginnings’ website, of R’ Yakov Horowitz.
You can find that website HERE.
He’s written a book about how to keep children safe, and he’s also put out this 10 minute video, that covers some very useful information on how to deal with this issue, tachlis:
Here’s a screenshot of the 4 main messages R’ Horowitz says parents have to give over to their kids – in as calm a way as possible, because when the parent is agitated, the kid won’t remember what they are saying:
Watch the video above, to really understand how to put these messages across to your children.
He packs a lot of good information into 10 minutes, and he’s also got books in both Hebrew and English called ‘Let’s stay Safe!’, that you can get HERE.
Here’s a precis:
- Teach your child that NO-ONE should ever tell them to keep a secret from you, their parents. This is a massive red flag for predatory behavior.
- Give your child a sense of having firm boundaries – that their body, their personal ‘space’, belongs to them, and they get to decide who can enter it, and when.
- Explain to them the ‘bathing suit’ rule, that no-one else should touch them in places covered by their bathing suit – except for very specific people, in very specific instances (i.e. the parents or main caregivers, when they need to clean them up or care for them in some way – but keep these parameters as tightly-defined as possible.)
- Teach your children to trust their own instincts – and to get away from people who make them feel uncomfortable, AS SOON AS they start to feel uncomfortable, even if nothing ‘bad’ has happened.
This is great advice.
But if we’re honest, as parents, we already know that WE have to do a lot of work on our own bad middot and issues, to really put this advice into practise.
What do I mean?
Well, from my own experience of being a sincere baal teshuva, I know I put so much pressure on my kids to ‘conform’ to a certain very high religious standard, that for a couple of years meant that they simply stopped telling me what they were really up to, because they knew I wouldn’t approve.
And when a kid feels that they can’t tell their parent everything, that’s when the kid enters the ‘danger zone’.
I had to do a lot of work on my own bad middot, including my own anger, disappointment and unrealistic expectations, before I could really create a ‘space’ where my kids felt it was safe to tell me about their struggles again, without me going ballistic at them for not being ‘perfect.’
Another problem is peer pressure.
It’s hard to encourage our kids to call out predatory, bullying behavior when it might cost us, the parents, socially.
For example, a few years ago I had a really good friend, who outside her home was amazing and wonderful – but whose house was full of dysfunction and problems, from the perspective of the children.
Long story short, her kids were routinely bullying and beating up my kids, and it took me two years to really stop making excuses and to tackle the problem, because I knew tackling the problem was going to cost me my own friendship.
And it did.
But in these myriad small ways, we can send our kids messages that they shouldn’t ‘rock our boat’ – and predators, especially predators who are ‘close to home’, can take advantage of this very human tendency, God forbid.
And perhaps R’ Horowitz’s last ‘message’ can be the most difficult one of all, for a parent to really convey to their children.
Because if I’m a forceful parent, I’m a super-frum, or super-idealistic parent, who has all sorts of ideas of how my kid should be acting, and dressing, and what sort of super-healthy food they should be eating, and who they should be hanging around with….
….And I don’t really give my kid the ability to develop their own instincts about what is right for them, let alone to trust them….
That gives predators a huge ‘in’.
And we parents can do that, without even realising what a disadvantage we are actually giving our children, because we WANT THEM to listen to us, and to obey us, and to not challenge us all the time with their own opinions and ideas.
Can you see the problem?
The solution again comes down to us parents working on our own bad middot.
It again comes down to challenging our own assumptions about what is really ‘right and wrong’; and being prepared to take a cold, hard look at where we ourselves trample on our children’s ability to honestly feel what they feel, and to honestly express what they feel – without being harshly judged and punished for it.
It’s so easy to write these words, but it can be so, so hard to live up to them.
Especially when we ourselves often came from homes where kids were meant to be ‘seen but not heard’, and where the parents were meant to be held high up on a pedestal by the child, and never questioned or crossed.
It’s sadly true, that when a kid is bullied, and / or ignored, and / or harshly judged at home, by their parents, that will make them way more ‘at risk’ of attracting predators.
Spiritually-warped people have a kind of ‘sixth sense’, where they can sense which kids don’t have a ‘back’ – don’t have a parent on their side, really supporting and listening to them.
One more thought, then we’ll talk more about bringing God into the equation.
Like most mothers, I have always loved my kids a lot. But until my oldest was 5, I was trying to hold down a very demanding career, that meant I had pretty much zero time or headspace to really ‘be’ with my kids, after work.
I was usually so exhausted from the day job, all I wanted was for them to disappear to bed, as soon as possible, when I got home.
It was only after we moved to Israel, that Hashem really started giving me the present of understanding just how toxic my career was, for my family (and also, for myself!)
When my oldest was six, that’s when I made the excrutiatingly difficult decision to quit my high-paying job – and to become a stay-at-home mum.
On some level, I just knew that I couldn’t do both.
And with the benefit of 15 years’ hindsight, I can now honestly say it was the best decision I ever made, for my family and for myself – even though I can’t overestimate how hard it was to do, personally.
I feel now that so many of my kids’ issues with being bullied etc, mostly stem from that time that I was neglecting them emotionally, when they were younger. And that it took me a good 4-5 years of constant work on my own bad middot, via talking to God regularly for an hour every day, to start redressing the balance, and to start resolving the problems.
Thank God, my kids are great.
But we still live in a sick world, and we’ve all still got so many challenges to deal with, on so many levels.
I dread to think, how bad things would be if I hadn’t made the decision to put my kids’ need to have a ‘present’ mother ahead of my own need to do a job I really enjoyed, and that made me a ton of cash.
So now, let’s put God firmly in this equation.
As mentioned, the key to so much of this is to know that we need God’s help to really protect our kids – both from ‘stranger dangers’, and also from our own bad middot that can render them vulnerable to predators, God forbid.
I cannot overemphasise the importance of getting into the habit of talking to God regularly, every day, to make a strong spiritual ‘connection’, and overcome our own programming to ignore what we really think and feel about bad people and situations.
If we can’t be ‘real’ with ourselves, if we also have unhealthy boundary issues, if also push down things that make us uncomfortable to avoid ‘rocking the boat’ – then so will our kids, however much we try to educate them differently.
So, the first thing is to get into the habit of asking God to help us, ourselves, uproot all these negative habits and bad middot.
Then of course, we ask God – all the frigging time! – to protect our kids from the ‘bad’ out there.
If you have trouble formulating these prayers by yourself – and many people do – then Rav Berland has a whole bunch of booklets, that are filled with very powerful prayers that really make a difference.
If you go HERE, you’ll find a bunch to pick from.
Here’s one I recommend, Prayers for Holy Children:
If you don’t speak Hebrew, just try to do one a day – it’s the effort that counts, not the quantity.
Alternatively, you can get that book in English translation – and get the hard copy FOR FREE, from the RavBerland.com site, you just pay for the postage, HERE.
With God’s help, our children will be protected from all the ‘bad’ in the world.
And we will uproot all the ‘bad’ within ourselves, as their parents, that can make them more vulnerable to predators, God forbid.
And BH, Moshiach will come soon, and finally all this tremendous evil will be banished from the Jewish communities, and the wider world, for good.
I had a couple of comments telling me that R Horowitz is anti Rav Berland, and pro ‘vaccinating’.
All I can say, is that this is all part of the birur process, and I guess part of that process of moving away from the unrealistic black and white world where we are pushed to an ‘extreme’ of having to agree with everything a person says, 100%, before being willing to quote them in other areas, and moving towards a more nuanced approach.
I feel R Horowitz advice in this area is useful, so I’m quoting it.
Clearly, I feel he’s totally wrong about Rav Berland, and Covid 19 shots.
Hope that clears up the confusion.
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