BTs in Passaic Lead The Fight Against Sexual Predators

The Jewish Week had an article this week titled A Haredi Town Confronts Abuse From The Inside. That town is Passaic and resident Mitch Morrison points out:

Passaic “is unlike many Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey. It is neither Modern Orthodox nor Chassidish.” It has, Morrison wrote, a demographic distinction that may explain why its Orthodox community is responding to the sexual abuse issue more aggressively than others. “It is, per capita, home to one of the largest populations of baalei teshuva and is among the fastest growing religious Jewish communities in the country.”

After a recent program at Ahavas Yisroel in Passaic, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman moderated a panel discussion among five Orthodox Jews who said they had been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of other Orthodox Jews. The rabbi regularly uses his pulpit to preach against the evils of sexual molestation. It was noted that:

“The people who came out” to the Ahavas Israel program “were largely from the [baal teshuvah] community,” says Lesley Schofield, a member of the congregation who attended the panel discussion. Baalei teshuvah, people from non-religious backgrounds who turned as adults to lives of traditional Judaism, have “a lesser fear of dealing with controversial things” than many “frum from birth” (the so-called FFBs) Orthodox Jews do, Schofield says. Because their family members are outside the community, they are less fearful of harming relatives’ marriage prospects, a motivation that keeps many Orthodox people from drawing attention to themselves or speaking out on controversial matters.

So are children in Passaic’s Orthodox community safer because of the activists’ work?

“Yes, 100 percent,” Lipner says. In Passaic, he says, a child making an accusation of abuse will be believed, and the perpetrator will be confronted. Because of attention focused on the subject, parents there say they are more protective of their children.

“If you’re a child abuser,” says Marc Stern “you don’t want to live in Passaic. There’s no refuge here.”

As a therapist, Lipner says he frequently deals with Orthodox Jews who were sexually abused and state they do not feel understood or accepted in Orthodox communities. “Now I can say, ‘Move to Passaic.’”

9 comments on “BTs in Passaic Lead The Fight Against Sexual Predators

  1. The event was not an attack on yiddishkeit. It was an attack on molesters who are rashaim hiding behind the appearance of yiddishkeit. Listen to the tape of the event. It was a great kiddush hashem. I am sure that when enough other communities become as vigilant as shomrim of their kinder, it will be a great kiddush hashem for all Jews.

  2. Ron, the media triangulation makes you uncomfortable because it may be meant to put our other communities in a bad light relative to Passaic. The only way to correct this is for other communities themselves to develop (if necessary) and publicize their basic approaches to this issue.

  3. Hi, Bob. I don’t know why you think I would have any answer to that question. I tried to say I don’t know anything about it.

    AJ, I’m not sure what it is you think I believe that you no longer do. I agree with you that nothing but an honest effort is being made in Passaic. I am only saying that there is something about the media triangulation here that makes me uncomfortable.

  4. Ron,

    I believed as you did until about a year ago. It was then that I became more aware of the scope of the problem when a switch from “anecdotal awareness” became a “hitting close to home” situation where people I know and care about were affected (and in more than one separate instance.) I’m not sure how giving the Rav and the community, who are making an honest effort, a pat on the back is a bad thing. It is a mostly innocuous way of pushing the other communities a bit. And I am not unaware of the problems of the secular press demonizing the frum world, it is just that we cannot sacrifice our children for the sake of good PR.

  5. Ron, how would you characterize the ways in which “other, typically larger and far more established and complex frum communities” are confronting their challenges in this area?

  6. I’m pleased that Passaic has gotten nice notices here, and that people knowledgeable about this problem (of which I am not one) believe that Rabbi Eisenman’s program was helpful. But from the opening words of the article — “Passaic ‘is unlike many Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey. It is neither Modern Orthodox nor Chassidish'” — I knew that many, many complex issues would be severely oversimplified.

    I certainly hope children here are as safe as they can be. We have many people, institutions and cultural tendencies here that would trend in that direction.

    But, to put this in a way that will be most palatable to those most motivated by this issue, we should always be suspicious of how truly effective are what I will call “demonstrations” which at once (1) make us “feel good” about what a good job we are doing casting out our devils (especially compared to our benighted fellows elsewhere), and (2) happen to play very well with elements — notably the typically antagonistic secular press — that will also applaud us for doing so.

    My personal inclination to be particularly suspicious when being applauded by the latter types is, perhaps, unduly cynical, but for me it does raise at least a yellow flag. After all, what has made them so pleased and positive? Our “admission” that we are, as a community, particular stricken by the most wicked of moral failings — “the frum community’s 9/11” — and that, at the relatively small cost of elevating Passaic to the ranks of “honest about its failings,” they are able, by contradistinction, to condemn just about every other Jewish community that supposedly is “not doing enough.”

    So: Ok, good. Perhaps we are doing the right thing here in Passaic. I sure hope so. But that’s no excuse for communal self-aggrandizement, much less for demonization of other, typically larger and far more established and complex frum communities whose challenges may be very different from our own (a topic I discussed here earlier this year).

  7. This issue may be the frum community’s 9/11. We need to drop everying and address it. If it is true that if you “save one life it is as if you saved the word” (paraphrase) then many worlds are being destroyed right in front of us. What is going on in Passaic is excellent and has helped put in on the top of my future possible community list.

  8. Finally, an article in The Jewish Week that portrays a wonderful community and a superb rav,namely R Eisenman, in a positive light for shining light on a problem that needs more discussion, and less evasion, by our communities. Anyone who has spent a Shabbos in Passaic, and we have spent more than a few in that wonderful community, can testify that the community, and especially R Eisenman’s shul, is a community that embraces BTs and their concerns and is truly an outstanding Makom Torah in the US. Passaic has no shortage of great shuls, wonderful rabbonim and talmidie chachamim, but its total embrace of BTs and the ability of families who have learned in the full gamut of yeshivos and seminaries to not just coexist, but to really respect each other, is an example that many of our communities could learn a lot from.

  9. It’s sad that we have fallen so low that a community doing its proper job is viewed as an anomaly requiring explanation. Our people needs courageous leaders and followers more than ever.

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