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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.

Queen Esther/Hadassah & How To Live As A Jew In A Christian Nation

Queen Esther - A Proud Jewish Woman.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe visits North Carolina, Dec. 31, 1989

Jewish people believe that your Hebrew name is important. It is deeply linked to who you are. 

My Hebrew name is Hadassah. It was one of the names of Queen Esther, who overcame her fear to beg the Persian King Achashverosh to save the lives of the Jewish people. This is why Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim each year, to commemorate our salvation.

With the support of the Jewish community, which had been praying and fasting for her, Esther revealed that one of the king's advisers, Haman, was the architect of a plot to kill all the Jews in the kingdom.

Esther knew this from her uncle, Mordechai, who had raised her and who had been targeted by Haman for refusing to bow down to him. (Jews only bow to G-d.)

The question comes up, why did Esther have two names. Briefly, "Esther" refers to her bringing spirituality into the physical world, where it is normally concealed. In fact the essence of her activity in the Purim story is how she managed to conceal in order to reveal the truth.

  • She was a Jew among non-Jews, the queen, and had to maintain her identity and be part of the kingdom. 
  • She had secured a place of relative safety, and was terrified of being killed. 
  • She was aware of the grave danger that her uncle was in, but she couldn't walk around showing it. 
  • And she knew that Haman was both crazy and evil, yet she couldn't simply walk into the king's office and tell him, or he could have her killed. 

That's why "Esther" is also "Hadassah." Technically a "hadas" is a myrtle, which is sweet. In Judaism this refers to her righteous character. Her dedication to doing the right thing.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe briefly explained what the name Hadassah means in particular.

"Hadassah was the name of Queen Esther, who was not afraid to live among non-Jews and to show an example of how a Jew must be proud of his or her inheritance, and to live everyday life in the same direction, with happiness and much success." - The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1989

As a child I joined the Lubavitch/Chabad "Tzivos Hashem" movement, which was about doing mitzvot (good deeds) as a way of "fighting" for G-d in a world full of evil, pain and anger. Fighting with deeds not weapons.

As a grownup I was for a very long time afraid to own my Jewish identity publicly, for a lot of reasons. One of them was the common idea (among religious Jews) that we don't want to stir up "trouble," meaning anti-Semitism, because America is a predominantly Christian nation.

I've gotten over that. It's important to me to be Jewish, and Jewish publicly, and to own my beliefs and opinions the same way everywhere.

Hadassah was afraid too.

* All opinions my own. 

At JFK, A Lesson In Diversity

I'll be honest. I miss New York.

Spending time up here today wasn't just a throwback to the sights, the smells, the culture.

I miss the sheer variety of people. Literally every nation on earth, hanging out at the Welcome Center at JFK. Or so it seemed.

There was the usual array of "interesting" behavior. 

One guy kept yelling, "Where's Air Train 3?"

There was PDA.

And the usual "I'm staring at me staring at you," suspiciously. (Are you hovering over my backpack for a reason?)

But the nicest thing about today's visit nice the people were. Not rude at all, like I remember.

I accidentally ran luggage over someone's toes and he didn't yell at me.

A lady gave my daughter plastic cutlery across a crowded line. She couldn't reach it but hadn't asked.

A waitress let us sit in the diner longer than we should've, and gave us two scoops of vanilla ice cream, the second complimentary.

Amid all these different people stood the El Al ticket counter and the Emirates one. Religious beyond religious people on both sides. Not only weren't they fighting, they barely noticed each other.

Peace can happen. Today showed it.

* All opinions my own.