At the urging of several friends I attended the event last week on child sexual abuse that was organized by the Vaad of Baltimore (Jewish Religious Court), The Sidran Foundation and the Shofar Coalition — which has strong ties to Jewish Family Services of Baltimore.
I have to admit that I struggled a great deal with the fact that I did not want to attend. I was sure that Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer and David Mandel would go on and on about not reporting sex crimes to law enforcement, that the rabbis of Baltimore could deal with the cases on their own. I did not want to sit in a room filled with community members listening to their rationalization as to why the Vaad has notoriously ignored those who have been sexually victimized. I also could not bear listing to Rabbi Hopfer’s speech considering his take on many cases in the community, especially the case of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau, Rabbi Moshe Eisemann and Rabbi Yaakov Menken.
What shocks me the most about the program though, was the fact that it was sponsored by the Sidran Foundation, the Shofar Coalition (Jewish Family Services) and promoted by Phil Jacobs of the Baltimore Jewish Times on his blog.
One would think that a program like this would be informative and helpful. It would teach attendees how to make a hotline report and also encourage people in the community to work with the police when a crime has been committed. Especially a crime committed against our children.
The program was structured such that no direct questions were allowed. Instead attendees were given index cards in which they could write down their questions and Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb chose which ones were asked. I am aware that several people wrote questions regarding the cases of Rabbi Eisgrau, Eisemann and Menken, yet these questions were never posed to the speakers.
Toward the end of the presentation after Dr. Pelcovitz left, David Mandel got up to the podium and stated that sex crimes against children should be reported to the rabbonim. There were over 100 people in the room and no one was saying a thing. I kept hearing people gasping their breath. I finally raised my hand knowing I would not be called on. I could not sit back and be quiet. I had to ask the question "what about reporting allegations and suspicions to child protection services or calling the police". Mr. Mandel looked at me, turned his head and went on talking about using the rabbonim.
I have to ask the question, how can there be a room filled with people and not one person, other than me have the courage to ask that vitally important question? What was it that they were fearing? I know I wasn’t the only one wanting Mr. Mandel or Rabbi Hopfer to respond.
It is a noble gesture on the part of Sidran and Project Shield that they are attempting to "educate" a group of people who have a vested interest in protecting their images and assets. The Vaad has no need to make changes in the way they operate until survivors of sex crimes have the courage to start taking these criminals to court both criminally and civilly. Unfortunately, we have learned from the Catholic church that without filing civil suits against those who cover up sex crimes (against both children and adults) nothing will ever change. How many years have to go by before the Baltimore community will face these facts? How many more children will have to be sexually victimized. Each day that goes by we are at risk of having another child live their lives as a rape victim.
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