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It Can Happen in Our Community: Fighting Child Abuse

There is growing awareness in religious circles of the need to educate children about abuse. Kav L'Noar meets the challenges.
By Rochel Sylvetsky
First Publish: 1/29/2012, 2:27 AM

Observant Jews know what behavior is forbidden by the Torah, that it eschews violence, lays down clear guidelines that forbid physical contact or intimacy outside permitted marital relationships and that its laws of modesty are meant to prevent situations where such contact can occur.

These laws would not be necessary, of course, if there were none who transgressed them, but the phenomenon is considered rare in the religious sector where the family is the nucleus for teaching values and ethics. In this environment, shame can prevent perpetrators and victims from admitting, confronting and dealing with abuse. Modesty can make it difficult for parents to bring up the subject or understand signs of abuse, and children, taught to respect elders and avoid slander (called lashon hara in Jewish law) may find it just as hard to talk to their parents. 

However, the religiious community is not immune to abberant behavior, and is becoming more cognizant of the need to raise awareness levels. Just recently, Israeli media reported that police had apprehended a pedophile ring which had been preying for years on over 100 children in the closed Jerusalem religious community of Nahalaot. Shocked and saddened parents had not recognized the signs of the children's victimization and did not know how to talk to their children about it once it became public.

This is where Kav L'Noar, the Center for Families and Young Adults on Keren Hayesod Street in Jerusalem, stepped in. Originally founded in 2004 to help English speaking religious families and their teenaged children (hence the organization's name, Hotline for Youth), it now helps all types of Israeli families develop healthy relationships.

Its book Let's Play Safe, published by Artscroll, does not talk about the expected rules for safe toys, traffic hazards and household cleaning products, but about teaching children how to avoid child predators and unwanted physical contact.

And what happened in Nahalaot led to Kav L'Noar's eighth one-day conference on January 22 at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel in Jerusalem being centered on "Confronting Abuse in Our Community: Awareness, Education and Prevention." 

"A child can be told that any parts of his body that are covered by a bathing suit should not be touched by anyone", said Dr. David Pelcovitz, scion of a known rabbinic family and Professor of Education and Psychology at Yeshiva University, who spoke at the conference. The audience also heard Rabbi Zev Leff, rabbi of Moshav Matityahu and Dean of the yeshiva there, as well as Dr. Ronald Wachtel, founding director of the organization, who stressed having open lines of communication in a family and learning to listen between the lines.

The more than 800 parents, educators and mental health professionals who attended are evidence that the religious community is looking for professional direction that is in line with halakhah. One question asked was whether a rabbi should be consulted before turning to the police, another what signs to look for in a shidduch (arranged date) for one's children.  

As a service to our readers, Arutz Sheva brings you the question and answer period at the Kav L'Noar conference, whose aims included how to educate children about appropriate behavior between adults and children, how to learn to listen when children speak and to notice changes in their behavior, when and how to take action when someone has broken normal boundaries, and how to implement community resources to prevent children from being victimized.