Journalist, Ira Rifkin discloses that he was sexually abused by a rabbinical student who led the youth group at an Orthodox synagogue in Queens, N.Y., swhen I was about 11. The offense occurred in the synagogue basement. He also stated that this was one of the major reasons why he stayed away from synagogues and Jewish life for many years
- Glass Houses (08/12/2002)
Jews Week - August 12, 2002
By Ira Rifkin
Clergymen -- both Catholic and Jewish -- need to fess up about sexual abuse. I, myself, was sexually molested by a rabbinical studnet in our synagogue when I was 11.
This kind of behavior has to stop.
Here's an all-too-common example of Jewish paranoia that may resonate. You hear of some particularly despicable crime and immediately wonder if Jews were responsible. Then, depending upon the answer, you cringe or breathe a sigh of relief. Well here's some good news for a people who haven't had much to smile about lately: none of the predators in the pedophilia scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church appear to be Jewish -- although I must caution that these days you can't always go by last names. But this is no joking matter. Nor is it a time to point fingers, or engage in self-righteous judgments. Granted, the temptation is there, given the church's horrendous treatment of Jews over the ages (recent attempts to make amends notwithstanding), and its one-sided support for Palestinians at Israel's expense. The number of pedophile priests and the church hierarchy's attempt to cover up the situation is horrendous, and the damage done to individuals and the institution cannot be minimized. However let's not forget that no people or faith has a corner on immorality and stupidity. We are all capable of evil deeds, and Jews have had their share of embarrassments in this regard as well. Two egregious cases involving the sexual abuse of children recently rocked our own American Jewish community. "... misplaced and twisted sexuality shows up everywhere, the horror of abuse is not lessened by there being fewer victims, and the problem likely occurs within the Jewish community more often than we care to imagine ..."
One involved Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who formerly headed the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. Rabbi Lanner was forced to resign after nine men and women, now in their forties, accused him of sexually, physically and emotionally abusing them when they were members of the Orthodox Union's youth organization in the 1970s. In addition, OU leaders were faulted for "errors of judgment" for not acting against Rabbi Lanner despite their awareness of the allegations for many years.
The second case involved Cantor Howard Nevison of Temple Emanu-El, the Reform movement's showcase Manhattan synagogue. Cantor Nevison was charged with sexually abusing his young nephew over the course of several years, and Temple Emanu-El was roundly criticized for taking no action after its board was made aware of the allegations against Cantor Nevison. In both cases, leaders who were entrusted by the community to act responsibly instead acted foolishly and self-servingly, bringing great shame upon themselves and their institutions -- which is just what the Catholic bishops did.
A fair question to ask is why compare presumably isolated cases in the Jewish community with the widespread abuse that has surfaced in Catholic circles? That's not my intent, which is only to remind that misplaced and twisted sexuality shows up everywhere, that the horror of abuse is not lessened by there being fewer victims, and that the problem likely occurs within the Jewish community more often than we care to imagine.
|Discloses he was sexually abused as a child|
My sense of guilt kept me from telling anyone about the experience until I became an adult and understood that I was not at fault. Did my assailant also assault others? Given the methodical way he went about it, I have to conclude that he did. How many others, I wonder, also stayed quiet out of fear and shame?
Our tradition tells us that evil is no less a part of the divine plan than is righteousness. One need not be a universalist to conclude that Catholic priests are, inherently, no better or worse as individuals than are Jews or the members of any other group of people. An air of self-righteous superiority never helps when dealing with the complexity of human behavior. Humility is the better response, as is compassion for the victims of priestly predators. So let's hope that the bishops will react, finally, out of a commitment to justice and their faith. And let's hope Jewish leaders will have learned their lesson when they next confront the problem, as will surely happen sooner or later.
Ira Rifkin, a contributing writer to Jewsweek.com, is the editor of " Spiritual Innovators: Seventy-Five Extraordinary People Who Changed the World in the Last Century," newly published by SkylightPaths. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland.
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