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Awakening from our interminable nightmare

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*Author’s note: The author wishes to thank Rabbi Harry Maryles for his permission to quote several lines from his blog

We will one day be able to discern the good that emerged from the seemingly interminable nightmare afflicting the broader orthodox Jewish community here and abroad.

However, it will, in all probability, be of little or no comfort to the surviving family members on both sides of the courtroom. In high profile cases such as that of Nechemya Weberman, charged with and found guilty of repeated instances of child sexual molestation of a minor female, purportedly placed in his counseling care, we become so consumed by our own feelings regarding the defendant that we forget or may have never even thought to remember that long after the guilty party has taken up residency in the state's penal system, who remembers Mrs. Weberman and her children and, one might add, the family members of her husband’s victims?

In an open letter exchange with Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, blogger Benny Polatseck, in an admirably chivalric but grammatically needy defense of Mrs. Weberman and her children, accuses Rabbi Horowitz of taking “the broken glass (of the Weberman family) and trows (sic) it again and again and again to make sure not one tiny pieced is left.”*(Benny Polatseck’s open letter -

Mr. Polatseck continues: “ ... there is no possible justification in your actions to keep talking about him (Weberman), and in the same time making sure that the wounds that this family has incurred never has a chance to heal."*

Rabbi Horowitz, in his response, wonders what is being done within the Satmar community (of which Mr. Polatseck is a member) “ ... to help his other victims and other abuse survivors in your kehila (community) to repair their broken lives?”*

The correspondence carries on like this, revealing the deep fissure and resultant damage that the crimes of certain “Orthodox” Jewish men and those who, in any way, enable them, protect them, turn a blind eye to them and/or do not call the police when they should in order to launder the problem internally puts Klal Yisroel at risk and on notice it has a fifth-column operating within its peaceable, civic-minded and otherwise law-abiding communities.

There was a time in the early to mid-eighties when my family and I lived on the 2700 block of west Greenleaf in West Rogers Park in Chicago where I met some outstanding orthodox rabbis who were not only good neighbors but interested in me as a Jew in need (as indeed I was) of Jewish education.

One of my neighbors, whose name I will not mention, impressed me as such a fine and caring person that I began seeing other ultra-orthodox Jewish men in the same reverent light as my neighbor. Dressed splendidly in their Shabbos finery as if they had stepped out of historic time onto the streets of Chicago’s West Rogers Park, I had no idea of what their Judaism consisted, but they fascinated me, especially their fur-covered streimels and knee-length silky black kapotes. It was, as you may have already concluded, a child's understanding of an adult world with which I had little or no familiarity.

Whether Purim or Halloween, we know how much little kids love to dress up in a mask and costume and how much certain adults like hiding behind them as well. Is there anyone who is unaware there are some gifted impersonators among us?

It may very well be that what I call the "internal laundering mentality” is a relic of a time in our history when Jews did, in fact, live on the edge of survival, when secretiveness was an understandable necessity lest the slumbering and often drunken hooligans, peasants, Cossacks-essentially anyone who would practice violence with impunity against the local Jews, gladly agreed to do so.

If and when followers become blind followers of leaders who knowingly abuse their naive trust, it hurts every single one of us, but if we gain more in wisdom than we lost in innocence, if we can say 'I think for myself now' rather than surrendering our autonomy to existential suicide, such as what, I think, happens to Jews who, like the folks at Footsteps, choose to leave the insularity of certain Jewish groups they feel are more stifling than liberating.

That said, I can't but feel dumbstruck by the carelessness, the negligence, the stupidity, the lack of self-restraint, the unconscionable disregard for the value of human life, especially that of their victim(s) from the ranks of Torah education as well as its leadership, from people whom, I think it a reasonable expectation, should know better.

Turns out they don't.

Which leaves me wondering ... 'My G-d, what went on and/or is going on in these men's lives, of such a disarming blinding nature, that it destroys their moral visual acuity?

Our veneration of tzaddikim (righteous men)

In our zeal to honor these few righteous heroes among us, we fall prey to our own snare. It is nothing less than an absurdity when we celebrate the simple G-dliness of these few souls by erecting a parthenon wherein to house and honor their lives and memory. While true that we need heroes in our lives and culture, we forget, however, that their greatness is truly remarkable precisely because they are, as we, human beings. How often do the rabbis remind us of the tenacity and perseverance of the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) that dwells within us, that makes each "being" a human being?

If we can walk away from all of this, each with a more discerning eye, with a renewed commitment to prepare and protect our children by teaching them that G-d alone is other than flesh and blood, that respect and obedience be partnered with caution, perhaps then we will have taken the first of many steps toward writing this current and regrettable chapter of our story into the history books for the elucidation of our grandchildren l'dor v'dor (from generation to generation).



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