On a good day it’s hard for me to feel at ease in my community. I’m a survivor of abuse living in a community that covers it up. I’m someone who was told to shut up when he had the choice to report. I’m someone whose own family called him a liar when he went to them for help. I’m someone who nearly killed himself because he was blamed for his abuse by someone who had witnessed it and promised to help. On a good day I’m aware of the countless survivors who live my past. On a bad day, I run across Yeshiva World.
“We Are Under Attack by the LGBTPed Community.” That was the headline of an op-ed written by a Rabbi Yair Hoffman, originally printed in the 5 Towns Jewish Times, and shared online by Yeshiva World. For those who may not know what the “LGBT” part of that initialism means, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. The “Ped” part, though, is an abbreviation of “pedophile.” Pedophile. Pedophile. That term was used continuously throughout the piece, and in the comments section, people were congratulating this Rabbi Hoffman for his wit in coming up with that bit of brilliant wordplay.
It hurt so much I cried. Seeing that caused me physical pain. Survivors of abuse and LGBT people will understand, but to those of you reading this who may not understand, it’s a play on the unfortunately common misconception that because pedophiles often target little boys, and gay people are sexually attracted to the same sex, gay people must have a higher chance of being pedophiles, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence proving otherwise.
Think about the context of that statement: A community that covers up abuse with a zeal that rivals the Catholic Church, is calling LGBT people pedophiles, and thus condemning them. I have LGBT friends, LGBT friends who are, themselves, survivors of sexual abuse, and this is nothing short of a slap in the face, a kick in the crotch and a loogie on top to every single one of them. I am not an LGBT person, but as a survivor of abuse I feel just as betrayed by this characterization. The community can’t be bothered to take care of the actual pedophiles it fosters, protects, and harbors, but sees fit to use the term “pedophile” as a pejorative for people who are in no way more likely to be pedophilic than non-LGBT people. Take your pick, Rabbi Hoffman, is a pedophile something so offensive that the very mention of the word should inspire disgust, or is it the candy man, or the rebbi, or the unlicensed therapist you give an Aliyah to every week?
Even the use of the word “pedophile” on a website like Yeshiva world is hypocritical. This is the same website that refused to post anything about the Weberman trial because of its “ethical standards.” This is an extension of the community that reads Hamodia, Yated, Etc. On December 17 of last year, Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of Hamodia, wrote an op-ed titled “Dear Reader” in which she detailed her struggle to “consistently bring [you] the highest standard of clean, “kosher” news, avoiding all sensationalism and gutter journalism.” After detailing exactly how she goes about censoring the news that reaches her paper, and how many articles she’s rejected over the years for being, by her standards, inappropriate, she had this to say: “To this end, a crucial part of our mission is protecting our readers’ right “not to know.” They didn’t mention anything about Weberman either at the time.
Two weeks ago, Mishpacha magazine got me hopeful. They published an article titled “King of Hearts” about a Rabbi Moshe Bak who founded an organization, Project Innocent Heart, geared toward educating teachers and parents about abuse, how to spot it, and how to handle it. One line in particular made me hopeful—I thought that maybe, just maybe, the Frum community was taking a backhoe to the pit of sand in which it usually finds its head: “I recently met with a clinician who deals with convicted pedophiles. She said that although only a small percentage of abuse occurs on school grounds, the safest place for a predator to operate is in a Jewish day school.” We’ve known this for years, those of us who deal with survivors, and have been shouting it from the rooftops, but no one listened—until, it seemed, that article was published.
A survivor friend of mine showed me that article, and asked me to write a letter to the editor in response. We both submitted our letters, and hers was published…with the most important bit missing. This was her unedited response to the article:
Kudos to Rabbi Bak and Mishpacha Magazine for taking a stand and raising awareness about abuse within the Frum community! However, there are several points I would like to make.
1) As a survivor of childhood abuse, and a friend to many other survivors, it has been my experience that many in a position to take a stand on abuse (i.e. rabbis, teachers, and principals), enforce proper reporting, and prevent further abuse, end up sweeping allegations under the rug, creating stigma and taboo surrounding the issue, and fostering an environment in which it would be unlikely that a child would ever feel comfortable coming forward about being abused, or reaching out for help. These secrets are harmful and cost lives. Ignorance in this case is not bliss, it’s dangerous.
2) Unfortunately, too often the problem exists at home. The abuse is often perpetrated by a parent, sibling, or close relative. Leaving the education of children on these matters to parents and families on an individual basis is putting children whose families are the abusers at risk. By having a third party, like a school, educate the children about abuse and how to prevent it through personal safety, good touch and bad touch, etc., you would be ensuring that every child, regardless of what may or may not be happening to them at home, is educated.
3) We need Gedolei Hador to issue public statements supporting the importance of reporting cases of abuse to the proper authorities. By doing so, we will be ensuring our children’s safety and the future of Klal Yisrael; Like Rabbi Bak said: “[Making] our communities into transparent safety zones where predators can’t survive.” The efforts of organizations like Project Innocent Heart, Magenu, etc., are very commendable, but until the general public sees their leaders publicly taking a stand, the issue will not be taken as seriously as it should.
They published it mostly unedited, aside from the last part, which was heavily edited:
Lastly, the efforts of organizations like Project Innocent Heart, Magenu, etc., are very commendable, but until the general public sees their community leaders publicly taking a stand, the issue will not be taken as seriously as it should.
Any mention of Gedolim or their accountability was removed. This same friend of mine emailed Project Innocent Heart asking about their reporting policy, and has yet to hear back.
And this community has the gall to call my friends pedophiles while letting the real ones walk. Instead of bringing to justice the scores of criminals who have been allowed to live among us freely, the community instead focuses on trying to fix people who were never broken to begin with.