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Congregation Rinat Yisrael to Present Sept. 14 Panel Discussion on Sex Abuse Prevention

Congregation Rinat Yisrael’s Adult Education Program will host a panel discussion entitled “Protecting Our Children from Sexual Abuse” on Sunday, September 14 at 8 p.m., focused on preventing and dealing with sexual abuse of minors in the Jewish community. “This is a critical issue for our community to deal with in a head-on fashion,” said Rabbi Adler. “The community must meet this challenge with a willingness to act to protect potential victims. There is both a Halachic obligation and a social call to action.”

According to the U.S. State Department’s official National Sex Offender Public Website (www.nsopw.gov), one in three girls and one in seven boys in the U.S. are sexually abused during their childhood, and in more than 90% of cases, the victim knows her or his abuser. These statistics highlight a major issue profoundly affecting the Jewish community as well.

In light of cases exposed in Teaneck, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Monsey, Israel, and elsewhere, Rinat’s leadership determined it was time to highlight the issue, to raise awareness of the scope of the problem, and to empower parents to better protect their children while encouraging communal organizations to adopt more effective preventive policies. Rinat’s president, Dov Wiener, said “I am very proud to be part of an institution that is distinguished for being at the forefront in dealing with complex issues within the context of Torah values and community best practices.” Teaneck’s Congregation Keter Torah, Congregation Netivot Shalom, and Lubavitch of Bergen County are co-sponsoring the event, which is open to the entire community.

The program will feature several recognized experts, including Rabbi Yosef Blau and Dr. Shira Berkovits, as well as sexual abuse victims’ advocate, David Cheifetz. The program will be opened by Rabbi Yosef Adler, Rinat’s rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) and will be moderated by Dr. Seymour Adler of Rinat’s Adult Education committee. Rabbi Blau will provide an “Overview of the Scope and Scale of Abuse in the Jewish Community,” followed by “Perspectives of a Survivor” by David Cheifetz, and finishing with “Parenting and Protocols: Protecting Children from Abusers” by Dr. Shira Berkovits. Audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists.

Rabbi Yosef Blau, an internationally recognized advocate for victims of sexual abuse, has been the Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual advisor) at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University since 1977. Rabbi Blau is also the spiritual guidance counselor for students at the university’s undergraduate schools and colleges for men. In the past, he served as the assistant principal at the Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts; principal at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois; and principal at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Dr. Shira Berkovits is a youth consultant for the Orthodox Union’s WINGS (We Inspire New Growth Synagogues) program and is currently a Global Justice Fellow with the American Jewish World Service working to combat trafficking and sexual violence against women and children. She has worked with the Center for Court Innovation to draft policies and judicial training to improve sex-trauma sensitivity in NYC’s court system. A psychologist and attorney, Dr. Berkovitz trained at the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center, where she developed a guide for preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. Dr. Berkovitz was a co-organizer of the anti-abuse training seminar for Yeshiva University rabbis.

David Cheifetz, a Rinat member, is an outspoken survivor of sexual abuse in an Orthodox summer camp. A senior manager at the management consultancy McKinsey & Co., Cheifetz came out publicly last year about his experiences as a survivor. He subsequently published several articles and briefed the leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America about his experiences. He has since founded Mi Li, an organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and helping survivors deal with ongoing trauma as well as advocating for the community to take stronger measures to protect children. “This is a much bigger problem in the Orthodox community than people realize,” said Cheifetz. “Since I went public with my story, I have been approached by many people who have suffered in silence, including members of my own synagogue whom I have known for years. We hope our event will serve as a model for other communities to expose this important issue to the light of day.”

Reminder: ADL director Abraham Foxman will speak at Rinat on 9/8 at 8 p.m.

By Lisa Matkowsky

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