Sunday, 31 July 2011

Before Summer Camp: How to Talk to Your Kids About Safety

by Bracha Goetz 
republished on Tzedek-Tzedek by kind permission of Bracha and the Jewish Press;
I posted this last summer, and the time has come to repost it!

Here are signs to protect our children from danger:
In 95% of cases, the molester's not a stranger.
He's someone you know and respect.  He's disarming.
He is drawn to children.  And he's awfully charming.

This is a handy little jingle for parents to keep in mind, but even though it's short, my rhyme is not for little children.  In order to adequately prepare our children, however, first we need to be aware of the red flags ourselves.  Then we simply need to schedule an "annual check-up" time to clearly and calmly bring up the subject of personal safety with our children. 

What would be a good day each year on the Jewish calendar for us to easily remember to discuss this safety topic with our children?  It's useful to pick a particular day that comes once a year, so we'll be more apt not to forget to do it. (We don't want to discuss it too often, as we do not want to instill excessive fear in them, but we do want them to remain cautious.)  Holidays that require substantial preparation are not appropriate times for such a discussion, but how about  Lag B'Omer? The warm weather has arrived, so it could be a good time to remember to have a yearly frank, yet upbeat conversation about this important safety issue - maybe even right along with reminders about fire safety rules.

But if Lag B'Omer has long since gone by, and we have failed to have a prevention education with our children, it is essential for parents to cover this topic with their children before they have gone off to camp. 

Parents can have a safety talk about the prevention of molestation with children as young as three, with age-appropriate adjustments being made gradually as maturity and understanding grows, year by year.  We do this just as we would discuss any other safety hazard, with some increased detail for our older children.

We can start off by telling our three year olds that nobody should ever touch them in the areas that are covered by a bathing suit.  The only exceptions would be a parent or a doctor, who may need to check those areas for health reasons and put cream on a rash in those private areas.   If anybody wants to touch them there at any other time, for any other reason, they should say "no" to that person, even if that person is a family member, babysitter or counselor.  And if somebody has already touched them in their private areas, they should tell you about it.  We can tell them that if anybody ever touches them in a way that doesn't feel right, they can ask the person to stop, try to get away as fast as they can, and tell you about it afterwards. 

 Another conversation, at age four, could remind the child of the basics that were discussed the previous year and add that family members may include older brothers, uncles, a step-father, grandfathers, and cousins.  Neighbors and family friends may not touch the areas that need to be covered by a bathing suit either.  And not only should nobody touch their private parts  - nobody should touch any part of their body in any way that doesn't feel right. If a touch feels strange to them, and they are not sure if it is wrong or right, they should come and ask us about it.  We really want to know.  Even if they feel silly asking us about it, we very much want them to ask us.  We can explain that there are good touches and bad touches.  And we can encourage them to ask us about any touching that they are not sure about as well.

At age five, we can tell them that they will probably have some questions for us after we talk with them about personal safety, and we hope they will feel comfortable to ask us their questions at any time.  Too much information is overwhelming to a child, so we want to try to keep each annual conversation about this topic, short and simple.   We can remind them annually that if anybody ever tries to touch them in a way that feels scary or wrong, even if it's just a soft, stroking of their arms, some tickling, or picking them up, they can tell the person doing it to stop, and then they can let us know about it. 

We can also add on, at whatever age we feel it's appropriate, that nobody should ask them to touch or look at their private parts either.  And every year there can be a reminder of this safety rule as well.  We can ask them, "What if someone wanted to touch you and said to keep it a secret?"  And wait for their responses.  We can remind them that secrets like that are bad and dangerous, and those are secrets that they need to tell us.

Another important point that could be added one year would be that somebody who has been treating them nicely for awhile by giving them extra attention, treats, money, or gifts, may gradually or quite suddenly start acting in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. We can explain that this could be very confusing, as a child might feel that if the person has been so nice to them, that they should go along with whatever confusing touches the person may have started giving them.  It's very helpful to explain the typical "grooming" process in this way, so the growing child will at least be familiar with this possibility.  With this awareness, a child or teen is much more apt to respond to inappropriate touching as an unacceptable real danger if, G-d forbid, his safety is ever jeopardized in this way.

As the children grow older, even through their teens, we can annually add to their basic training that if anybody ever asks them to watch or do things that feel scary or wrong, we hope that they will not feel embarrassed to tell us.  We can let them know that it's best to tell us right away, but even if they didn't tell us right away, whenever they do tell us, we still very much want to hear about it because if something disturbing or frightening may have happened to them,it was not their fault.  This needs to be emphasized, calmly and clearly, once a year.

It would also be helpful to explain to an older child that confusing touches can lead to holding on for a long time to confusing feelings.  Some children may have even enjoyed certain aspects of improper interactions, like the extra attention it brings, and they do not need to feel ashamed of having this mixture of feelings.  The best thing for their neshamas, however, is to not keep any kind of confusing feelings locked up within them.  Great relief can come from talking about any disturbing secrets they may have with someone they feel they can trust.  We need to reassure them that such burdens don't have to be carried by them alone.  We can also let them know that if they ever feel that they have something to share that they do not feel they can tell us, we can help them find an appropriate professional with whom they can speak.

In age-appropriate ways, as our children grow, we need to reaffirm to them on a yearly basis that victims of abuse are not responsible for the abuse.  They need to tell an adult they trust about what happened, and continue telling until someone takes action to stop it.

By teaching our children how to guard the precious bodies that Hashem has given to them, we will not be abdicating our responsibility to them.  It is still our responsibility to protect them, but this annual training will make it that much more possible for us to fulfill our parental obligations.   In helping to protect our children from molestation, we are guarding not only their vulnerable bodies, we are also shielding their innocent souls.

Bracha Goetz is the author of twelve children's books, including  What Do You See in Your Neighborhood?   Aliza in MitzvahLand, and The Invisible Book.  She also serves on the Executive Board of the national organization,Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, and coordinates a Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister program in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Quick Fix for Housing Shortage

North Tel Aviv tent protest

Whereas the tent-city protesters around Israel are demanding a quick-fix to these chronic problems, which have developed over decades, there is very little in the way of practical plans for achieving such a quick improvement.

There are undoubtedly hardships finding affordable housing in Israel. This combines with high food and other living expenses, and relatively low salaries.

In a 2011 survey ( of the cost of living in international cities, for example, Tel Aviv, is ranked #24, which makes it the most expensive city to live in in the Middle East.

Ben Ari, June 2009Meantime, right wing politicians MK Michael Ben-Ari (photo) Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, are apparently now proposing a three part plan, which promises to speedily generate tens of thousands of apartments and houses to the market, so reducing prices for Israeli house buyers and renters.

1. There is currently an effective freeze on building starts in Yehuda & Shomron. Plans are stalled, for political reasons (mainly at the Ministry of Defense), on over 10,000 houses/apartment units. So item #1 is to issue permits for all new building programs in Yehuda & Shomron.

2. There is also a slow-down, due to political pressure, on new building programs in Jerusalem. Removing that bottle neck will apparently immediately create a further 15,000 units.

3. Illegal immigrants from Sudan and other African countries, have recently taken up mass-residence in Israel, mainly in South Tel Aviv. Ben-Ari (who has set up a liaison office in South Tel Aviv to focus on this issue) estimates they occupy 15,000 housing units. Expelling these illegal immigrant workers would therefore free-up those units for Israeli citizens.

There is currently debate in the Ben-Ari camp, whether to therefore link hands with the social justice demonstrators, to find common cause.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Rabbinical Council of America Re-Affirms Position on Reporting Child Abuse

This important statement has been published on the Rabbinical Council of America website on 25th July, 2011.

The Rabbinical Council of America has today reaffirmed its position that those with reasonable suspicion or first hand knowledge of abuse or endangerment have a religious obligation to report that abuse to the secular legal authorities without delay. One of the unique features of Jewish law is that it imposes upon every member of the community an obligation to help others avoid danger. The biblical verse “do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed" is understood by Jewish Law to mandate that one must do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others - even if monetary harm, but certainly physical harm.

Consistent with that Torah obligation, if one becomes aware of an instance of child abuse or endangerment, one is obligated to refer the matter to the secular authorities immediately, as the prohibition of mesirah (i.e., referring an allegation against a fellow Jew to government authority) does not apply in such a case. 

As always where the facts are uncertain one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities. False accusations are harmful to those falsely accused – but unreported abuse or endangerment can be life-threatening, as we have recently been tragically reminded.

In addition and as a separate matter, those within the Jewish community whom secular law deem to be “mandated reporters,” must certainly obey the particular reporting requirements, which vary from state to state in the US. A person covered by mandatory reporter laws must comply with those laws, even in a case in which Jewish law might otherwise not require a person to report such child abuse or endangerment.

IMVHO, this statement reflects a sane, balanced, lawful, and responsible approach by the RCA to the curse of child abuse in the Jewish community. 

Kol Hakavod RCA!

Important Technicality: Here in Israel, EVERYONE is a "mandated reporter" - which actually seems totally consistent with the halachik perspective, as described by the RCA. 
That is therefore two good reasons in Israel (it's halacha + law) to report any suspicions or knowledge of child abuse immediately to the authorities.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Narrow View from Israel: US Debt Ceiling

I have to admit – until a friend brought it to my notice, I totally missed the dramas of the US Debt Ceiling furor. And the possible effect it could have on US citizens living in Israel, many of whom rely on their US Social Security checks...

From over here in Israel, local housing availability & prices, and the increasing costs of staples (the infamous cottage cheese scandal), seem to have blocked any view to the US financial woes potentially on the short term horizon.

As I now understand it (tell me if I'm wrong) the US is now facing the eventuality of defaulting on its debt payments, by hitting the "debt ceiling" laid down by Congress.

The Government has revealed the specter of being unable to meet its Social Security payment obligations, in the coming days. It would seem that Obama may be required to simply stop the checks going out on 3rd August, leaving some 70 million US householders without disability, unemployment and pension payments (to name a few).

Meantime, the dollar is falling, and the markets are rumoured to be nervous at the prospect of the US being downgraded from it's AAA credentials.

From my humble corner in Israel, the US doesn't look like a Greece, Iceland or Ireland scenario. From AAA to merely AA, does not a basket case make.

The US remains the world's richest and most advanced economy, by far.

Furthermore, the prospect that the administration will pull the plug on the Social Security payments, looks like a wild-card threat, in the nail-biting poker game between the Democratic administration and the Republicans.

If cash flow is indeed the problem, it could be reasonable to delay the payments of these obligations, but it would be outrageous to cancel them. The prospect of provoking Cairo-type social upheaval by 70 million US householders, doesn't bare consideration.  

Even for the most pessimistic, those dire predictors of doom, if the US does indeed default on 3rd August, along the lines feared in Greece, with the whole ship going bottom-up, then your pension payment check will be the least of ALL of our problems.

So, before US citizens in Israel enter panic mode about their US benefits (which they still receive as ex-pats) they should take a cold shower, and enjoy the summer.

My bet is, your check will be in the mail.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

"Breaking The Silence"

Guest Writer: Dr Gerald Weinberger, MD, 
Hadassah Hospital, Jerusalem

Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community

      It is rare that a victim of sexual abuse is given a hero’s welcome when seeking help concerning  an abuser.  All too often , rather than being comforted and  recognized  as courageous, the victim is turned a cold shoulder and treated  as if he/she is  the  troublemaker, while the perpetrator, teacher, Rabbi, care-giver or family member, etc…. is protected by the small or larger community.

The community response is usually  “ how can a man’s livelihood, reputation and family be defamed and undermined because of an aberrant sexual act” without a clue as to the life damage abuse causes.

        Drs. Mandel and Pelcovitz,  and the courageous and  expert group of principled authors, who have contributed to “Breaking the Silence”, shine the light of Jewish Law (Halacha),and   fearless integrity into the dark denial and confusion that cloud this area of life.

         Drs. Mandel and Pelcovitz  remind us what the Halachic priorities area concerning the issue of  dealing with the issue of sexual abuse.

1.      Victims are not the guilty party.
2.      Victims deserve loving support and care and above all else protection from
from the abuser.

3. Predators/ abusers are the guilty parties, First and foremost they must be  removed from their position  of the  power to abuse, should be  stringently monitored, supervised and/or  prosecuted.
            Dr. Mandel and Pelcovitz have rendered an invaluable service to   the Jewish community.  The “halacha” is clear. Letting people know of abuse/abusers does not constitute “Lashon
Hara.”.  Parents, teachers, children, adolescents and adults must be educated  to
identify  abusers, and to avoid the pitfalls of  false mercy and sympathy that too often  serve to  perpetuate the heinous crime of  sex abuse and its results.

 The authors make it abundantly clear that Rabbis, community leaders…. and every one of us  have an obligation to remain faithful to Halacha even if a “shul” member or someone in a position of power  is the culprit.  First and foremost the “Tzelem Elokim”of an individual must be protected. Our commitment to do what is just should not be confounded.

“ Breaking the Silence” is truly a vital publication and  a “halachic” and social community resource. It should be read.; its appearance is a true “Kiddush Hashem”

“Breaking the Silence” is a breakthrough in the area of dealing with abuse in the Jewish community.

                                                      Dr. Gerald Weinberger

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Joke of the Day - 3 Clerics and a Bear

A Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher, and a Rabbi
all served as chaplains to the students of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. They would get together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk shop.

One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn't really all that hard - a real challenge would be to preach to a bear.

One thing led to another, and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it and attempt to convert it.

Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experience.

Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and had various bandages on his body and limbs went first. 'Well,' he said, 'I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around.. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb. The Bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.'

Reverend Billy Bob spoke next.. He was in a wheelchair, had one arm and both legs in casts, and had an IV drip. In his best fire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, 'WELL, brothers, you KNOW that we don't sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God's HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So I quickly DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb... We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus. Hallelujah!

The priest and the reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IV and monitors running in and out of him.. He was in really bad shape.

The Rabbi looked up and said: "Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start."

Monday, 18 July 2011

Yadeinu Shafchu Es Hadam Hazeh - Our Hands Have Spilled This Blood

After the horror, the disbelief, the shock, the emptiness, I next thought what many others must have.
He had to have been a pedophile. I messaged a colleague, a respected rov, and asked what he thought. I will post it anonymously; I haven’t gotten to him yet to ask to use his name:

"I am sure he was, and I am sure he molested many others, and i am sure that there were people that knew and hushed it."

It is time to forever bury the myth that reports of pedophilia can be managed and dealt with by committees of rabbonim, even for a short time. It is time to bury the myth that there is a serious halachic barrier to going to authorities to deal with credible reports of such behavior. Enough baalei halacha have told us that there is no barrier.
Choshen Mishpat 388:12 tells us that those who vex the public can be handed over. Any pedophile does at least that, and poses a danger of doing much more. Moreover, mesirah of a molester exposes him to a safek of danger; pedophiles pose a much greater danger level to many more victims.
It is natural and good that many people were not eager to rush to modes of address that themselves could be too sweeping and harsh, with terrible consequences to people and their families. They thought that various types of modus vivendi were possible. By now they should realize that this is not true. Rabbonim cannot handle the issue. We have enough evidence of this. Failure to take notice of this could have been said, figuratively, to be shefichas damim/ bloodshed.
Today, it is no longer figurative.
It is not a stain on our record that it took time to learn the facts about molestation. Reacting far too slowly is a terrible stain, though.
Leiby’s horrific petirah can save the lives of many others – those who could meet a similar fate, r”l, and those victims whose lives are a living death.
I may still be proven wrong, but the analysis will not change. Parents will be speaking about safety to their children. Whatever really happened to Leiby, the fact is that our kids are often in far greater danger in school, shul and camp than from encounters with detested “others” while walking home.
A great aliyah for Leiby and future nechamah for his family will come from all of us getting serious about molestation.
If your rov doesn’t get it, think of getting a new rov.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Violence Against Children

Leiby Kletzky

“It is only a matter of time before a child gets killed”, a member of the Bet Shemesh police force told me recently.

He was specifically referring to the spate of reports of systemic violence by rebbeim (teachers) against their pupils.

It is still accepted practice, even encouraged, in some religious circles, to “potch” (spank) a child for disciplining purposes.

Unfortunately, this can result in behaviour by teachers which breaks all boundaries of ‘reasonable’ corporal disciplining (if you’ll excuse the expression), and becomes downright thuggery.

The horrific story today of Leiby Kletzky, aged 9, murdered in Borough Park, NY., allegedly by Levi Aron, re-affirms the Bet Shemesh policeman’s worries.

Of course, know-one yet knows what drove the murderer of Leiby to kill.

But, here in Bet Shemesh, we have been served with a sobering warning.

No more excuses. No more cover-ups. No more harassment of victims. No more protection of perpetrators.

Children must be better protected from abuse, before a child is killed here too. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Poetic Justice and The News of The World


Although foreigners associate the British media with the BBC drama classics, The Times of London, and the intellectual Radio 4, this does not represent the mass media in the UK.

It is impossible for Israelis (for example) to grasp the sullied lowness of the popular media culture in Britain.

The “tabloids” in Britain are half-sized newspapers splashed with naked girls, sordid scandals about the currently famous, and the football results. The IQ of their intended readership is aimed at around 6 years old (adults). This media sector is referred to as the “gutter press”.

Whereas The Times, for example, has a circulation of around 500,000 – the Sun (popular press rag) sells over 3 million copies a day.

And so the scandal about the News Of The World (aka “News of the Screws”) , by far the most popular and scurrilous Sunday newspaper in Britain, that they have been tapping phones and voice mails for decades, even of murder victims, and of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and new revelations about journalists bribing police – has a certain satisfying poetic justice.

Those who made millions, by digging up and publishing scandals, even where this involves destroying lives and reputations on a daily basis, for 160 years, are now also caught in a mega-scandal. And closed down.

Yet, I would just temper the British popular outcry, by noting that it takes two to tango.

Yes – the media barons generated trash by rote, and resorted to filthy tactics to obtain it.

But the British public willingly bought it, read it, and picked up the next copy tomorrow – literally for centuries.

So I guess the ultimate poetic justice was Rupert Murdoch’s decision to close The News of the Screws.

“If you, the public, have the chutzpa to get pompous and moralistic with me, I’ll take away your trash you so love.” 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Renewing Israeli Defence Sales to Turkey?

Israel Aerospace Industries "Heron" UAV, supplied to Turkey in happier days

There is  reportedly a stand-off between Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister, Avigdor Leiberman.

The topic is whether Israel should renew defence sales to Turkey. Ehud Barak is reportedly arguing in favour, as it is part of his mandate to promote Israel’s defence industries; whereas Avigdor Leiberman is objecting, due to the continuing “strained” relations between Turkey and Israel.

Israel’s defence industries are a commercial powerhouse, accounting for over $5 Billion in annual export sales. Israel ranks fourth in the world in the defence sector export business. The defence sector directly employs over 20,000 Israelis.

Turkey was a booming market for Israel’s defence sector – with key contracts going to Israeli companies to supply Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), Tank Upgrades and Airframe Upgrades of Turkey’s aging F4 Phantom Jets. This business was estimated at $1.8 Billion.

All this came crashing down, as Islamist Prime Minister Recep Erdogan became vociferously anti-Israel in 2009. And went from bad to worse with the 2010 Flotilla mess.

Today, although Israeli commercial exports to Turkey have actually increased, even during the rocky patch in relations, Israel’s defence sales to Turkey are now effectively zero.

The thawing in Turkey/Israel ties in the past two months, as a consequence of the Syrian regime’s atrocities, exposing Turkey to the embarrassment of having betted on the wrong horse (Syria, rather than Israel), have practically resulted in behind-the-scene cooperation in stopping, or at least stalling, the 2011 Flotilla.  

I can understand why Ehud Barak is salivating over the prospect of renewal of Israel-Turkey defence cooperation and defence industry sales.

On the other hand, Lieberman is attempting to torpedo Barak’s ambitions.

I do not know of any Israeli politician who is AGAINST improving ties, if possible, with Turkey. We have very few friends in our neighborhood, and losing such a powerful regional allie as Turkey was a major blow to Israel strategically.

Lieberman’s justifications have not been publicized, but it reasonable to assume that the Foreign Office, being more cautious and conservative, by nature, than the Defence Ministry, will be lobbying for a “softly softly” approach to working on warming relations with Turkey.

I do not believe that there is a real and current threat that Israeli technology would migrate from Turkey to Iran or Syria. And if that is a problem, then it is a much bigger one for the USA, supplying F-35 Lightening aircraft and technology to Turkey, or to Europe, selling advanced attack helicopters.

However, a note of realism is to observe that the Turks no longer hanker after Israeli technology, the way they did ten years ago. Turkey have invested heavily in their own indigenous capabilities and technology, and the Israeli “edge” is no longer so sharp and enticing.

Therefore the Barak vs Lieberman squabble may not be substantive, as the Turks are not eager to buy, regardless of whether Israel’s Government chooses to sell.        

Friday, 1 July 2011

Which Rabbi?

I was particularly troubled by an event two nights ago.

It was late at night, and I was putting flyers around the scene of an alleged vicious attack upon a child, asking for residents to come forward with information (in conjunction with the police).

A man came up to me, waving the flyer….

He challenged me: “Which rabbi told you to put these up?!”.

I find this most peculiar....

I would expect someone to say, perhaps “Oh my goodness, a child was attacked right here on my street?! How is the child doing? What is known about the perpetrator? How can we better protect our children? How can I help?”  

It is rather like a man who is drowning at sea, along comes a rescue boat, throws him a rope, and the man won’t grab the rope, saying  "which rabbi said you could throw me the rope?”

Of course rabbinical politics is interesting and often an important issue in a frum community.

But that his first and apparently only interest, on learning that a violent child abuser has been attacking children on his street, was the issue of “which rabbi?” – shows an odd sense of priorities.

Or am I missing something here?

(By the way, it seems someone – maybe the same guy? - later took all the flyers down).