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Saturday, August 30, 2014

When Passion Gets In The Way ("Close The Yeshivah")



Having almost been a victim of a child predator in a Jewish day school, I have a bias when it comes to religion.

I can't set food inside a synagogue without cringing. I feel like my skin is on fire. I look for the exit sign. For a clock. For my husband to signal when it's time to leave.

Being an almost-victim is not a non-victimization. I reported to my mother that this rabbi was "pulling my pigtails." I recall that he used to "hug" me. I can't remember any of it well. It doesn't hurt any less for the non-remembering.

My mother ran into the principal's office, screaming. I remember being with her in the car, and the sound the wheels made when they skidded onto the sidewalk. How her short and wide body lumbered up the stairs. For her, that was running.

It's hard to talk about. It's hard to think about. 

The love my mother has for me is simple, clear and passionate. She knew that "something" had happened to me, even if to others it would seem like "nothing."

I heard her yelling at the principal. My dad had a quiet meeting that I only found out about thirty years later.

Nothing happened. He hadn't "done" anything to me, had he? (No he hadn't) and so their hands were tied. 

In those days nobody understood how child predators work. That they "groom" children, slowly break boundaries. It's not an immediate thing.

Unfortunately, people now know. The Jewish community is hearing about widespread pedophilia enabled by the yeshiva system. Some rabbis have dedicated their careers to fighting it, such as Yerachmiel Lopin and Nuchem Rosenberg. There is also "Failed Messiah," a blog dedicated to exposing Jewish religious corruption and efforts to fight it.

And there are many reports of abused Jews who either dropped religion, killed themselves, or self-destructed while remaining alive.

David Gordon tried to fight back. He wrote "Secrets Don't Get Any Better With Age," the title of which is self-explanatory. He joined the Israeli Defense Forces though, and as Rabbi Jason Miller noted in a blog post, died under circumstances alleged to be a suicide. (Suicide by joining the army.)

In his post, Gordon wrote:
"Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, said 'Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.' Trust me, they do."
In my story, the rabbi in question ended up getting fired, because abusers never stop. He slapped a kid very hard, right across the face, in front of the entire class. That was it for him.

There's a big debate going on in the Jewish community about what we say to victims of child sexual abuse. There are those who don't believe it is real. Those who say "suck it up, life goes on." And those who blame the community for sheltering and enabling it. 

I am one of those people. But it is good to see that change is happening. The community is starting to say "enough." See this blog post and the comments.

A disturbing parallel that comes to my mind. The U.N. set up schools in Gaza in theory to provide a safe place for children to learn. But in reality the schools were used by Hamas to hide rockets used to launch attacks on Israel. 

Similarly, the Jewish community set up yeshivas to provide a "safe haven" from secularism for their kids. But the perpetrators hide among beautiful innocent souls and launch an attack on the Jewish community through them, literally by using their bodies. So that they can't be part of things as adults.

This was not the vision for our religious schools, obviously. The great rabbis centuries ago recognized the potential for yeshivas' corruption. They said, when corruption hits, you have to shut it down.

The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), a Jewish sage, once explained to an educator why his request to open a yeshivah was at first ignored, then approved:
"One who makes a Yeshivah may not harbor any personal vested interests. His sole purpose in opening the Yeshivah is to disseminate Torah-nothing else."
Passion is often good. But it also interferes with good judgment. One has to recognize when bias is getting in the way of things and take positive action to set things right again.

That is the discipline of management. It is distinct from leadership completely, although the two are often conflated.

Here is a related story. In the UK, police hesitated to arrest Muslim rape gangs who turned 1,400 children into sex slaves because they didn't want to be accused of racism
"Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
Here is a report on the subject from the Law and Freedom Foundation. It notes that the authorities ignored blatant facts about the systematic abuse of non-Muslim girls by Muslim men:
"The perpetrators have been overwhelmingly men from Muslim communities, and the victims have been overwhelmingly girls from non-Muslim communities (Sikhs, Christians, Atheists). Yet the professionals never deemed it important to declare this, or even denied the pattern existed."
Silence was enforced brutally. The report quotes the UK Daily Mail:
"A girl had her tongue nailed to the table when she threatened to tell." 
The number of victims is estimated at 1,400 - and as much as the perpetrators are at fault, as the Washington Post notes, it is "the system that failed them."

And despite the sensationalist headlines, moderate Islam is far more prevalent than the extremist version. (Check out "Muslims Condemning Things" on Tumblr.) Within Islam itself, it is clear from even the most cursory review that terrorists have hijacked the religion's "brand."

In Becoming Enlightened, the Dalai Lama wrote that there are "troublemakers" in every faith. They are enabled by an over-focus on passion and insufficient focus on simple objectivity in the application of values to practice.

From a management perspective, perhaps we should be most passionate about objectivity. It is not an issue specific to one religion, one school, one police department, or even one country. It's about recognizing that although passion has its place, the quality more desperately needed in most organizations is mature, adult, dispassionate judgment.

* All opinions my own.