Sunday, February 27, 2011

Call for OHEL Leadership Change - Ohel Jewish Children's Home and Family Services

The Awareness Center supports The Voice of Justice's CALL FOR ACTION regarding Ohel's Leadership

For more information contact: The Voice of Justice

The recent revelations about OHEL Jewish Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn written by Hella Winston of the Jewish Week on February 24, 2011 were, without question, profoundly disturbing, but sadly, not entirely unexpected.
For many years OHEL has been awash with rumors and allegations regarding their staff not reporting incidences of sexual abuse to proper authorities as required by law. In addition, many supervisors at OHEL have reportedly instructed staff not to report the allegations of sex abuse.  These allegations of OHEL’s non-compliance with Federal and state reporting guidelines put the entire organization in jeopardy of losing its government funding and non-profit status.  It also puts senior staff and Board of Directors in jeopardy of possible criminal prosecution.
 Further, serious concerns have surfaced in the community concerning the partnership and relationship between OHEL and KOL TZEDEK, which is a project of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, created to combat sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community.  KOL TZEDEK's mission statement calls for providing support and assistance to victims and their families. Unfortunately this relationship appears to be a political one, without any substance at all. OHEL, a major partner with KOL TZEDEK, has not provided any emergency support to victims or families of the victims, especially in the recent high profile sex cases in the community, all of which resulted in convictions.
David Mandel, CEO - Ohel
Neither David Mandel, the CEO of OHEL, nor any one of OHEL’s staff, have ever been present at any of the court trials relating to sexual abuse in our community, nor have they reached out to any of the families involved with any compassion or assistance. OHEL, which is one of the largest non-profit agencies in the New York City area, providing mental health and foster care services, should have reached out and offered its services to victims, alleged victims, and their families.
Rabbi Yosef Blau
As Rabbi Yosef Blau, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, pointed out, OHEL is an extremely important institution in our community and operates vital programs that are crucial and needed for the families in our community. However, these troubling issues cannot be swept under the rug. They must be dealt with in order to banish the dark clouds that impede OHEL’s overall effectiveness and compliance.
We respectfully ask OHEL’s Board of Directors to initiate an external investigation. A team of independent professionals, not associated with OHEL, must be invited in to carry out these duties. The external investigation and the implementation of their suggestions will hopefully bring about reinvigorated and honest leadership to the helm of OHEL. This investigation should be similar to the investigation of the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) wherein confidence was successfully restored, (specifically after the Baruch Lanner scandal), resulting in the hiring of a new executive leader.  We hope for similar results in this matter.
We firmly believe that bring new leadership to OHEL, specifically a CEO with clinical experience, to guide the agency through this pivotal and difficult period in the agency’s history, will help to restore OHEL’s original vision and vital mission of protecting Jewish children and strengthening Jewish families.

Chicago Orthodox High Schools - Looking for more information

The Awareness Center is currently looking for information regarding two different alleged sex offenders; both have been employed as teachers in two different Chicago area yeshiva high schools.
  • Allegations made against a male teacher in a Chabad affiliated girl's high school in Chicago.
  • Allegations made against a male teacher in a boy's yeshiva high school in Chicago.

If you or anyone you know has information or was abused in either of these cases, please contact Vicki Polin at The Awareness Center.

Chicago's Jewish Religious Court
I've been told that the Beth Din Zedek Ecclesiastical Judicature of the Chicago Rabbinical Council is aware of these cases, yet never forwarded the information to DCFS.

Chicago Rabbinical Council
2701 W. Howard St., Chicago, IL 60645

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ohel: What do you say to the children who were abused that you neglected to report to CPS?

David Pelcovitz and David Mandel
Please note that the article below was written back in 2003 as part of Ohel's propaganda to give the impression that they were doing the right thing when it came to sexually abused children.  

At that time The Awareness Center had already been questioning their non-compliance to follow the New York State law, that required them to make hot-line reports when they SUSPECTED a child was at risk of harm or neglect.  Their response was to incinuate that our organization was anti-orthodox and eluded that Vicki Polin, who is the founder and CEO of our organization was crazy.  The goal was to attempt to distract the orthodox community from being enlightened of reality.  Their motto always appeared to be "divide and conquer" any group of people who were shining a light on truth. 

Back in 2003, individuals connected to Ohel attempted to state that due to cultural diversity issues that they exempt from following the law of the land.  Their main point was that no one would come to them for help if it was known they would make hotline reports.  The truth is that years ago when the mandated reporter laws first took effect, this was the fear of secular organization.  As time past it was proven that this fear was not reality based.

It's important to note that Ohel Family Services receive both state and federal funding, which obligates them to report cases in which they SUSPECT child abuse or neglect to the New York State Child Protective Services.  By not making reports, The Awareness Center believes that a federal investigation should be made, and criminal charges should be brought up against them.

The Awareness Center is currently looking for cases in which David Mandel, David Pelcovitz or staff at Ohel Family Services has acted appropriately and put the safety and concern of children before that of the rabbonim or other powerful influential individuals?  If anyone is aware of any, please let us know.
Ohel:  What do we say to our children who are molested?
(2003) David Mandel Chief Executive Officer OHEL Children’s Home & Family Services and David Pelcovitz, Ph.D. Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology North Shore University Hospital 

What do we say to our children who are molested? 

In the last six months child molestation has been described in a series of articles.  The focus has been to inform and educate our community on a phenomenon that exists that most people do not discuss…there are Orthodox Jewish men who are pedophiles.  The second focus was to encourage parents of victims and our community leaders to prosecute these molesters. There are scores, yes scores, of molesters in our midst throughout Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, throughout the United States and in Israel, yet maybe a handful have been prosecuted and jailed.

This topic hits a nerve.  Children who are victims are traumatized.  Parents are angry and confused on how to respond to their child and how to prosecute the molester.  Adding to the confusion are neighbors and community leaders who have rallied in support of the alleged molester refusing to believe that this “good man” perpetrated this crime. The Jewish Press is thanked for its courageous stand in printing this series of articles.  They have taken some criticism from those who feel this is not a topic to be publicly discussed.

Much attention has focused recently on the issue of adolescents at risk and especially drug use.  Drug use is directly relevant to the issue of molestation.  When an adolescent who is a drug user has truly gained your trust and he or she has reached a point of helplessness many will tell you of their experiences of being molested as a child.  We will discuss this in greater detail at a future date.

What do we tell our children who were victims?  How do we take away the pain? the memory? the feeling of being dirty?

Let’s first understand just how complex this issue is. Sigmund Freud established a principle in human behavior that the path to healing an emotional wound is by talking about it. We could disagree with Freud yet this is the very concept that seems to most elude us in our frum circles.  Our response has been to ignore, deny or suppress such conversations both individually and as a community.  So the very first action to take is to speak with the child.

Child molestation is an invasion of the body and brain that is different from other situations we face with children.  We have, lo aleinu, children with cancer who require explanations of how their body is affected and what radiation and chemotherapy is.  We have children to whom we explain the loss of a grandparent or parent, rachmeinu litzlun, and that Hashem took them to a better place as His helper. Sickness and death are difficult concepts to explain to children yet there are physical aspects to them that can be described in a way that the child can understand.

Although some children who are molested may show no obvious changes in their behavior common reactions may include changes in the following areas:
Ability to trust others: Children abused by a trusted adult may have difficulty allowing themselves to get close to members of the extended family or adults they come in contact with in school or shul. Young children may become more clingy and older children may develop a hostile or mistrustful attitude in relating to others. 
Impaired self-concept: Abused children may develop a sense of permanent damage, which may include feelings of shame, self-blame, and a general sense that they are unworthy of love. Some react by gravitating to peer groups dominated by rejected or rebellious children, since they view themselves as not deserving to be in the mainstream. 
Difficulty controlling emotions: Increased irritability or difficulty calming down after becoming upset is frequently seen in these children.  Younger children may manifest regressed behaviors such as an increase in whining, tantrums or bed-wetting.  Older children may become less compliant or more withdrawn.  Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness may be accompanied by physical complaints such as frequent headaches or stomach aches. 
Academic difficulties: A number of studies have documented higher rates of academic difficulties in abused children.  Impaired concentration and motivation are among the contributors to school difficulties. 
Religious crisis: We have found that some children may experience a crisis in emunah after their victimization.  For adolescents, in particular, it may be very difficult to reconcile religious beliefs with actions by supposedly “religious” adults who act in such a hypocritical manner.



If we believe that our child is a victim of molestation and talking is the very first step, what is it that we should talk about?  We should emphasize the following to our son or daughter.

  • We, your mother and father, love you.

  • You did absolutely nothing wrong.

  • Your body is yours, let’s discuss how to protect it in the future, no one can touch your body in any way without your permission.

  • Your body is good, it’s not dirty.  Someone else who is not good did something that he wasn’t supposed to.

  • He was wrong for doing this.

  • You were not wrong for letting him do this

  • Since the majority of children are molested by people they know – relative, neighbor, coach, man in the neighborhood, Rebbe - you need to discuss trust in older people and role models.  This one person did something bad. Place an emphasis on all the other people that are good, loving and kind.

  • It is human nature to shy away from discussing sexual issues with our children when they’re young adults let alone when they may be ten or fifteen years old. Yet this is what we’ll need to discuss. How can we know what really happened unless we explore it in detail?  There were only two people there, the molester and your child and you certainly won’t hear the details from the molester. 

Molesters are repeat offenders.  Their modus operandi is to molest many children over a period of time or to have a continuous relationship with one child.  Your child was an unwilling victim.  Yet, these sexual experiences have taught your ten-year-old certain pleasures that are confusing and contradictory.  A recent story of a child molester in the Bronx best explains this complexity.  The NY Times on February 5, 2000 states “investigators believed that five children did not report this molester to the police because he treated them extremely well.  They knew that what they were doing was wrong but they were showered with gifts and kindness by the molester.”  If a molester is kind and if his physical acts create a sense of pleasure for the victim you can appreciate the magnitude of the problem we are dealing with.  These are specific issues that need to be explored with your child.

  • Whom should you tell?  Should you confide in your child’s Rebbe? We believe not at first, but you should listen very carefully to any nuance of change that the Rebbe and teacher may be describing about your child’s behavior in class.

  • Don’t start to overprotect and smother your child.  Don’t begin to behave in an erratic manner by not letting him or her go to friends anymore or to the store by himself.  You want to teach him to regain his confidence and his ability to make good choices so don’t begin to limit his choices.
  • Again, we, your mother and father, love you. You did nothing wrong.  Your body is good. Someone else did something wrong.
  •  These are issues that you can emphasize repeatedly and over a period of time with your child if you become aware that he or she was a victim.  All too often we don’t know who is a victim. So it is important to discuss with your young child the concept of his or her body and protecting it.  You can use any words to describe this concept of protecting themselves when they’re playing with friends, in a school bathroom, in camp, and so on.
  • Now let's go back a step.  Go slow.  Your child may need professional help.  He or she may find it embarrassing to talk to you.  He may feel dirty, that he can’t tell you how his body was violated.  Even if he talks to you he will still be very embarrassed.  In fact he may even feel worse about having shared this information with you.     After all, children believe that parents are the oldest people in the world. Your child  may open up to you in a way that you won't know how to respond.  You certainly don't want to make the situation worse. You have to recognize this and respect this. 
Don’t push the notion that you can tell mommy everything.  It’s often easier to speak to a total stranger.  Accept this and seek professional help.  This is not an indication that you have failed as a parent. On the contrary, it is a sign of your  strength, recognition that others can lend support.

Children are, by their very nature, resilient.  Once the secret is disclosed, the child is made to feel safe, and family members respond with love and reassurance, the overwhelming majority of children are able to recover quickly and live a normal life. At the same time there are a number of children who will require professional help.

·      There are other parents in your circumstances.  It will be good to compare notes with someone else.  You do this all the time about the most mundane things in life why not about your most important treasure, your child’s emotional health.  OHEL or other organizations can assist you with individual or family counseling.

These suggestions are very broad guidelines.  We continue our journey to educate our community to increase awareness of child molestation.  As we push the issue of prosecution of molesters to protect our children and our community we can use these guidelines to speak to our children who were victimized or discuss with our children how they can protect themselves.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spirituality and healing from incest

Spirituality and healing from incest 
 © (2011) by Avigail Goldstein
 The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - February 25, 2011

I don’t know how old I was when I started being abused.  It was right after my fifth birthday that I decide I had to find a better place to live.  I truly believed I would be safer living in my childhood playground, then I was in my parents home.   My gut told me I had to leave.
As I was packing my suitcase, I heard my father coming up the stairs.  Out of panic, I ran and hid in my bedroom closet.  I was at the age that I believed that I could make myself invisible.  I remember trying to stay perfectly still, closing my eyes and did my best to slow down my breathing so my father couldn’t hear me.  
A strange thing happened as I was hiding. All of a sudden a bright light came around me.  Somehow I felt as if this light was holding me and acting as shielding.  I remember thinking no one could harm me as long as the light was around me.  I remember wanting to stay in this light forever.
As soon as I felt safe enough, I started looking up and noticed I could see through the light that surrounded me.  It was at that point I noticed several other small lights dancing around  and then saw them merge into the light that surrounded me.  
Suddenly I started hearing a voice speaking to me.  This voice wasn’t a voice you could hear like when someone is talking to you, it was as if the light could enter my mind and was echoing thoughts deep within my soul.  
I felt a great deal of comfort as the voice let me know that I was a part of the light.  It told me that everyone has choices to join the light or spend their life within darkness.  The voice continued saying it was not my time to merge into the light, and went on to say that I needed to stay in this world for now.  The voice told me that I was placed in my family for a reason, and that some day I would understand that reason.  It also let me know that there would be a time that I would use my abuse experiences to help others. 

During the time I was inside the light and as it was communicating with me, marked the first time in my life I felt so safe, nurtured and so unconditionally loved.
As the light slowly disappeared, I felt this immense sense of calmness within me.  I totally believe that the light kept me hidden and protected me from my father that night.
Throughout my childhood when the abuse got very intense, the light returned.  It felt as if it was holding me, and then somehow took the pain away.   The light would remind me to remember that no matter what, the light was within me.  The voice would always remind me to take deep breaths and to slowly exhale.  By doing so I would be able to disconnect from the physical pain and control my fears.
As a child I could never connect to the formal concept of G-d as I was being taught at my childhood synagogue.  I remember trying to ask my families rabbi about my experiences with the light, yet felt as if he discounted what I was trying to ask and say.  I also felt as if he thought I was asking childish questions.  As I got older I stopped sharing my experiences with the light with anyone, even though the light has always returned to me at times I felt helpless or hopeless.  It has always guided me though some very difficult situations.
I have never been able to connect to any form of organized religion, yet I always believed that the light was coming from a higher power, that was safe and really showed me unconditional love. 
Though I doubt my beliefs are based in the way Judaism is presented by our spiritual leaders, I do believe that each of us are born for a reason.  

From my heart I believe each of us can use our own personal power for the light or for darkness.  I also believe that if we are not able to accomplish our life purpose in this lifetime, we come back again and again, until we are successful -- and then are allowed to merge into the light for eternity.  
I personally believe that my high power is not a person, is not human, does not have a gender and does not believe in segregation of the sexes or that one religious belief system is better then another.
I realize my beliefs go against what most rabbis teach, yet I personally believe that what ever this high power is, really does not care if we daven (pray) correctly, keep all the mitzvah’s (which is totally humanly impossible), or does everything our rabbis tell us to do.   I think we all need to find a way to experience a connection to the light, which I personally found to be the most comforting way to heal.
Avigail Goldstein is a Jewish survivors of incest who has been working in the domestic violence field for many years. Avigail grew up in what she describes as a traditional Jewish family.  She is using a pseudonym to protect her identity. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conflict of interest? Asher White representing offenders of Henna's DV clients

by Annie Kay and Vicki Polin
Examiner - Feb. 23, 2011

What happens in Brooklyn can easily occur in Chicago, Lakewood, NJ, Los Angeles and other insulated religious communities.

Henna White and her boys

After learning of a several cases in Brooklyn,  The Awareness Center and the Coalition Against Legal Abuse have joined forces to insure that the Brooklyn Family Court system is safe for survivors of domestic violence, sex crimes and other types of abuses.
Yesterday, attorney Asher B. White, attempted to represent a man who's wife and children are alleged victims of domestic violence.  During the hearing, the alleged offender's ex-wife asked the judge if there might be a conflict of interest having Asher White represent her husband -- considering his wife (Henna White), is employed by the Brooklyn District attorney’s office -- as the liaison to victims in the Jewish orthodox community, and had past involvement in this case.
Both the Coalition Against Legal Abuse (CALA NY) and The Awareness Center also raised some concern regarding Asher White's affiliation with Ohel Family Services, since the survivor is also former resident of OHEL’s domestic violence shelter.
Back on Feb. 15th, CALA held a rally in front of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin Hall, where Henna White was being honored.  
During the CALA rally, members openly shared their belief that Ms. White was gathering information from those turning to her offices for help -- leading the alleged victims to believe that she was a victims advocate, and providing them with information and referrals.  
Several women at the CALA rally voiced their concerned that instead of using the confidential information to help those who made allegations of domestic violence and sex crimes, Ms. White shared confidential information with her husband, Asher B. White.  
CALA members went on to say that they believe that the information obtained was then provided to Asher White and was used to help the alleged offenders, while harming the cases of the alleged survivors of both domestic violence and sex crimes.  
The Awareness Center and CALA NY believe there is a conflict of interest to have attorney, Asher White represent the husband of any person who is a survivor of crimes who has utilized the services of his wife, Henna White at the District Attorney’s office.  
CALA NY urges those who suspect their cases have been compromised by Henna White or by Asher White, call:  347-292-8364 for support.
Key points:
  • Henna White is an employee of Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney.   
  • Henna White's position is to work as the liaison between victims of crimes and the Jewish orthodox community.
  • Henna White's job is to act as an advocate for the rights of victims of crimes and not to assist in building a defense for the alleged offenders.