Sharing The Secret That’s Haunted My Soul

An abuse victim goes public, and suggests some communal reforms.

03/28/13
Special To The Jewish Week
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My name is David Cheifetz and I am a victim of childhood sex abuse in a Jewish institution.

There. I have said it. After more than 30 years I have shared the dark secret that has haunted my soul.

I was 13 years old, attending sleep-away camp at Camp Dora Golding, an all-boys Orthodox camp that some of you still send your sons to. I was befriended by a 28-year-old member of the rabbinic staff. Over the course of a week he sexually abused me repeatedly. When the activity was exposed, I was summoned to the camp director’s office and forced to confront the assailant. Then I was summarily sent home, as if it were I who had committed the crime. The camp never even told my parents why I was being sent home. They were just advised to pick me up at the Greyhound terminal at New York’s Port Authority.

I do not know if the perpetrator was ever fired; to the best of my knowledge he was never reported to legal authorities. I understand that he went on to a long career in Jewish education, and based on whispers on the Internet, probably continued targeting young Jewish boys within the walls of Jewish educational institutions. [Camp Dora Golding officials did not respond to repeated attempts for comment on the author’s allegations.]

When I arrived home, I was not given a hero’s welcome. I was also not given a victim’s welcome. I was never sent to a psychiatrist or a psychologist or even a pediatrician. The bitter secret was locked away, barely thought of or spoken of over the next 30-plus years. I did once share the incident with my yeshiva high school principal who insisted, “No, Duvid, he could not have been a rabbi. Rabbis never do such things.”

The Orthodox community is going through its Catholic Church moment: All elements of the community, from the chasidic to the Modern Orthodox, are being inundated by reported cases of sexual abuse of minors. Each of these incidents is characterized not just by accusations of sexual abuse, but by accompanying allegations of systematic cover-ups — incidents hidden or swept under the rug, in some cases (such as the Weberman case) with allegations of extreme financial and social pressures brought to bear on the victims and their families.

But, as my experience reflects, such behaviors of the abusers and of those that protect them are not new. It is not that Orthodox groups and institutions advocate pedophilia. It is that the Orthodox community is unwilling to address this “inconvenient truth.” Instead of confronting this scourge, many members the community have taken on a “circle the wagons” mentality, perhaps to protect their friends, perhaps to protect their institutions. But in all of this, what is forgotten is the victim.

I know. I was a forgotten victim. But I will no longer remain silent or silenced.

And what happens with these child sex abusers when they are ignored, or allowed to continue working within the community? Research shows that they are serial offenders, they tend to hunt out their prey and commit their despicable crimes again and again. Such is the nature of pedophiles. In the Catholic Church. In the Boy Scouts. And in the Orthodox community.

I look with sadness at my own story. I look at all the unanswered questions surrounding the Baruch Lanner case and the full investigative report conducted by the Orthodox Union that was never released, a study led by Richard Joel, now the president of Yeshiva University. Will there be a full release of the current investigation at YU’s boys’ high school involving its former principal, George Finkelstein. I listen to the voices in the ultra-Orthodox community citing mesirah — the notion that one Jew cannot hand over another Jew to the non-Jewish authorities — a remnant of medieval fear of hostile gentile governments. Thankfully that is an anachronism in our current society. These lingering questions and troubling observations take away any belief, any faith that the Orthodox community as a whole is able to reform itself.

I ask you: how many times in recent months has your congregational rabbi delivered a sermon on the travesty that is sexual abuse of minors in our community? It is headline news, but how many rabbis have raised their voices to increase awareness or called for fundamental change? I worry when rabbis are more prepared to discuss nuclear fusion and complex geopolitical machinations than they are to discuss the despicable sex crimes that are happening in our own Jewish educational institutions.

If change will not come from the inside, then it must come from the outside. And so I am speaking up and encouraging the thousands of other victims of childhood sexual abuse in our community to do the same.

I am also encouraging everyone to withhold financial support from every institution suspected of ignoring or covering up sexual abuse activities in their midst. There are plenty of other important causes and institutions that can benefit from your generosity.

But that is only a start. In order for the Jewish community to seriously address this scourge it must embrace real reforms. I believe necessary reforms include:

♦The establishment of an independent ombudsman sensitive to the needs of the Jewish community, with programs in every major educational institution. Too many rabbis have been hesitant to advise victims and their families to report abuses to the police, to social service agencies, or to the local district attorney. Or they have been outright complicit in cover-ups. So a central, independently funded ombudsman program (preferably funded by a foundation, and not reliant on the financial pressures of communal mood swings) must exist for victims and their families. The ombudsman will work with legal authorities and social service agencies and the schools to investigate all credible allegations and use its voice and power to pursue and bring pedophiles and their supporters to justice.

♦The institution of mandatory training programs for schools and summer camps — leaders, administrators, teachers and counselors — of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. (Isolated programs already exist, but are only in place in limited instances.)

♦The institution of criminal background checks for all school leaders, teachers, administrators and camp staff.

♦The establishments of a “one strike you are out” policy, and the immediate suspension of anyone facing a credible accusation, pending a detailed investigation.

♦The establishment of protocols that penalize not only sex offenders, but those who knowingly ignore, protect and enable their behaviors. These people should be held liable on both criminal and civil levels. And they should certainly not be allowed to work in schools, camps, or other Jewish educational institutions. They too should be held accountable.

Speaking as a survivor, I bear scars that will be with me for life. I wish I did not have that unique set of perspectives. But sadly, the Orthodox community has progressed very little since 1979.

We face a demon in our midst, a cancer that will not go away without harsh measures. The Orthodox community can keep Shabbat and pray three times a day; its members can keep kosher and learn Torah day and night. But that means nothing if the community remains deaf to the cries of the past and future victims, and is ultimately complicit in the atrocities committed against our children and grandchildren.

David Cheifetz is a resident of Teaneck, N.J.

 

Last Update:

03/05/2014 - 05:11

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I went with a friend, a victim of Lanner's abuse, to his sentencing in a NJ courtroom many years ago. The place was packed with his victims. Only one orthodox rabbi had the courage to attend. Aside from Lanner, he and I were wearing the only kippot in the room. The court room was not large enough to seat all the victims who showed up and many remained outside. This crowd represented just a fraction of Lanner's victims. These monsters will continue to hurt our children until we stop them. We must make every effort to stop this NOW.

I was a staff member in Camp Dora Golding many years ago.
Shlomo Mostofsky who still serves on the Board of Directors instituted a rule that no staff member may be allowed in another bunk with another camper alone.

Wow.. that did a lot of good and was clearly well enforced. #not

You have great courage and your coming forward will help many others.

I recently attended a program brought into my kids Yeshiva in Brooklyn. The BeSafe! Program by Magenu ( Magenu.org ) was extremely educational and seems to be going into many Yeshivas and schools in the Tri-State area. Magenu recently written up by the ultra religious magazine Mishpacha seems to really be changing the landscape with its programming for the safety of our children.

http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/letters/preventing-abuse

I want to commend David Cheifetz for “coming out” as a victim of childhood sex abuse in a Jewish institution and on his significant and practical imperatives for minimizing the likelihood of our children becoming victims in the future (“Sharing The Secret That’s Haunted My Soul,” March 29).
Regarding the institution of mandatory training programs for Jewish day schools and camps, Cheifetz correctly states that, “isolated programs already exist, but are only in place in limited instances.” Magenu, a nonprofit group that seeks to protect children by promoting personal safety education, is doing great work educating faculty and parents of children in Orthodox Jewish day schools in Brooklyn about this important and timely topic. Similar programs exist in Queens and Long Island, and Magenu plans to offer the program in several other communities this upcoming school year.
As the head of school of a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school that brought in a similar, professionally created and implemented program, I can personally attest to the necessity and positive results of such programs. Only because the administration, faculty and parents were trained in the language of child personal safety, warning signs and what actions to take in various situations — before the program was presented to the students — at least two children were spared from being subjected to continued abuse by a family member.
Kudos to Magenu for inspiring me and my wife to serve as volunteer coordinators to try to bring the Magenu (and affiliated Safety Kid) program to the dozens of Jewish day schools in our community this upcoming school year, and to David Cheifetz for re-inspiring me to make bringing this program to all Jewish day schools my #1 professional priority.

You are not alone David...such courage

David Cheifetz shows great courage in coming forward with his story. But for those of you who believe he needs to publicly name his abuser, know that given our legal system, this would not be a safe thing for him to do. Without a founded case against his abuser, he could be sued. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations under which he could have brought an action against his abuser has long passed. As someone who works with victims of emotional and sexual abuse, our first advice to victims is for them, above all, to keep themselves safe. David Cheifetz has already taken a major step in exposing injustice, not just by the pedophile who abused him but by the institution that colluded. If there is anyone who should name this abuser, it is the leaders of this institution—and they have, thus far, remained silent.
J.W. Wohlberg, www.therapyabuse.org

This is not true. The statute of limitations doesn't apply in childhood sexual abuse cases, and why not name the putrid sack of manure who likely still abuses children? Well, at least file charges so that his name can be publicised.

Closure is the only way to go on a case as terrible as this. How frightening it must have been for you to be rejected by adults &your feelings not validated by the very ones that you trusted.....family &camp directors.....a child should always be able to know that there is someone protecting and looking out for his/her wellbeing..its not too late to come full circle. Yasher koach to you..may you have the continued strength to help others in your positio

The SHANDAH can only be healed by rooting out all instances and preventing more instances. Clean it up.

Show that you CARE about your children, and protect them.

If you don't, their souls are maimed for life. The pain, the terror, the humiliation...it's soul murder.

Recovery doesn't happen, despite the Twelve Step Program and many kinds of therapy, including Primal, conventional, and many others. From age 40 to age 70.

It still takes all of my considerable courage to leave the house in the morning.

You do want your boys and girls to be fully alive, don't you?

Or do you really want them to spend their lives among the walking dead?

What seems to be glaringly flagrantly missing here, is a comment from Manis Friedman, telling all of us who are survivors, that it is no worse than diarrhea, but never ever tell a potential shidduch, and furthermore, not saying a bracha is a far worse aveyrah.. oh, wait, so being abused is an aveyrah? that seems to be his implication. Unless Chabad has put him in Cherem. (yeah, when Moshiach comes that will happen) it would be comforting to hear a few words from him, re the scars of a lifetime, "the collateral damage". And most yeshiva students who pass through his programs have been abused, he says, and most have significant emotional problems. If we could just believe that it is only collateral, then all would be right with the world. Manis Friedman by denigrating trivializing the suffering of abuse victims , in my opinion, inflicted at least as much pain on the victims as the perpetrator. for, he, the "psychologist" demeans the experience, a second round of emotional abuse. I hope that you never ever are allowed to counsel anyone. Thank you MF, we would love to hear you check in here on the comment site.

Camp is still in operation. Alex Gold, Executive Director.

Camp Dora Golding
418 Craigs Meadow Road
East Stroudsburg, PA 18301

Phone: (570) 223-0417
Fax: (570) 223-0701

info@campdoragolding.com

David, Thank you for your enormous courage. I am stunned by your pain and anger, and I pray that you are leading the way toward legislation in the Jewish community. I wish you occasional peace, because given this story, total peace probably cannot be achieved. But thank you thank you. You make a difference. You count. Your bravery will never be forgotten.

I commend your profund courage for bringing to light this shameful problem in our midst. I can certainly relate to your tortured past, as I too, was victimized. My story is not quit the same, or as damaging, as yours was. However, I was sexually abused by two older boys at, Chavat Anoar Aziuni, in Jerusalem, at age eight! But still, the experience has left me indelibly scared. I concur with all your recomendations to our community in correcting this matter. For if we do not honestly address this problem from within, then it shall be done from, without. May you find peace and happiness, and thank you for coming forward.

Thank you both for sharing. My heart goes out to you. What you experienced is a crime of the worst kind, against a child. Those involved in covering up such criminal acts are just as guilty.

I was touched inappropriately in third grade in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. The "rebbi" stayed on until he retired and even after many accusations. I find this kind of behavior reprehensible and there is simply no amount of apologies that can make it okay. I was eight years old for heaven's sake and nobody cared. Instead, my brother and I were tossed out of school. Nothing will change. These so-called rabbis will keep being put in these positions because nobody wants to believe that someone who reads from a holy book all day can possibly do such disgusting things. Well, just ask the hundreds of kids who were, and continue to be molested. Given all the people who have come forward and all the people who remain silent, such as myself, I think the problem is widespread and continues to happen. We need to stop protecting these monsters and the community needs to vilify them so it becomes the hated practice that it should be.

You Should Expose Him NOW maybe you will save another Victim.
Give all details so it will be known

My brother, congratulations on taking the enormously powerful step of breaking the silence. I did so over twenty years ago, testifying about being raped in a Catholic orphanage by a priest. And yes, I am a Jew, converted 25 years ago.
I see so many paralells between the Church and the Orthodox community. Only by speaking up and refusing to tolerate the cover up can this horror be exposed. Fortunately, the more liberal branches of Judaism have taken action to protect children. I've watched my own temple evolve: recently, a teacher groomed a student and was fired immediately when his actions were exposed, full cooperation with law enforcement, transparency within the community. Your courage will help in the ongoing fight to bring abuse out of the shadows. Yasher koach.

I realize that the writer was an innocent victim and that coming out as one, especially in the Orthodox community, takes lots of courage. I applaud his intrepidity and determination in bringing his personal story to light, as well as his thoughtful suggestions regarding how reporting and stopping child abuse can be made more effective. Nonetheless, his decision to keep the name of his molester secret serves absolutely no purpose, other than ensuring that this man continues to abuse others. Mr. Cheifetz, as difficult as it may be, I urge you to take that one further step and report this man. Stature of limitation laws should be changed, and if and when they do, you may never get the justice you deserve. But there is some, albeit small, measure of justice in naming this abuser and ensuring that he knows that he almost, but not quite, got away with it.

You Are a Courageous Man! We commend You and Bless you with Koach and Refua! This is a problem we are learning about more and more, We recently had a Shabbos guest , whom later we found out was a registered sex offender- No one told us! Thank G- nothing happened! but it was too scary too close to home. Why has this been allowed to be so rampant? Why is the holiness outwardly covering up such ugliness. How is that making Bala Tsuvah families want anything to do with the orthodox community?

I applaud your courage in speaking up, David, and your resolution in face of entrenched denial. This is an issue that has plagued many, and must be stopped. Your reforms sound like a good start. It is the abusers who must be silenced, shamed, and shunned, never the victims. Thank you for sharing your experience so that others may never need to repeat it.

Thank you David Cheifetz for your courage in writing this poignant article. It must have been very painful to write, and I imagine that you struggled greatly prior to the decision to publish your experience. Your suggestions for the community as to prevention, and as to dealing with cases of molestation after they have been reported should be instituted on every level, and are so intelligently thought out.
What you neglect to address (and this is by no means a criticism of your ometz in writing this piece), is that the vast majority of victims, children, never tell a soul. They are traumatized, confused, bewildered, feel intense SHAME and GUILT, as if, they themselves are in some way complicit or an accomplice to the abuse. And once they do not immediately report the event, the very first time, that SHAME and GUILT gets compounded, and makes it more and more difficult for them to ever report the abuse. Some do not even have the language to describe what happened. So, prevention is vital, and prosecution is vital, but somehow empowering a young child, often prepubescent, to speak up and tell someone, anyone, in my mind, remains an issue seeking resolution. And without the victim coming forward, the legal system will remain idle And this phenomenon exists whether the abuse occurred in an Orthodox institutional environment, or in the home.

Several posters have brought up the question of whether or not abuse is more prevalent in the Orthodox community, and certainly I am interested in hearing David's and others opinions. However, it is my firm belief that any organization, situation, where men have unsupervised access to young children, is going to attract pedophiles, at least in that sphere where such isolated access exists. Case in point might be the Boy Scouts, which to my knowledge (unfortunately a former co-worker, confided in me many many years ago, and perhaps they have instituted precautions since then) was a powerful pull for pedophiles (of either sexual persuasion). What distinguishes the Orthodox world is the single sex Yeshiva system, and, more importantly, the refusal on the part of most authorities to either believe children, or to act upon reports (the sweeping it under the rug syndrome). The concept of Mesirah, which while rejected finally by some, continues to maintain the status quo of victimization never being reported.

It is about time we started protecting all our children from sexual predators. Unfortunately we need to name names so that these people fear who and what they are will be exposed! Good for you David for starting the dialogue.

The willingness to sacrifice young victims is what irks me no end. Sacrificing the future of your community to protect its present felons is not the action of any jewish community. It is the action of faux Jews who copy and ape Xtian behavior.

I congratulate you on reaching a stage in your recovery where you can publicly tell your story. And I agree with all the reforms you suggested. At the beginning of your story, however, you refer to the fact that you, the victim, were ignored. Perhaps another reform (again with independent funding) should be the creation of an organization specifically focused on counseling the victims. I realize that parents ultimately have control over any treatment their children receive, nor am I a member of the Orthodox community so only understand the internal pressures from what I read. Nevertheless, every time there is a credible accusation the victim should meet privately at least once with a counselor, free from the pressures of parents and community.

DH

Good for you coming out after so much time and sharing your story. I too came out after 40 years. I walked into a police station in Toronto last summer and charged Heshi Nussbaum, since then many more victims came forward. I cannot tell my story yet because the case is in the court process, hopefully there will be a trial in the summer. After that I will come out and tell my story. I believe as a victim who carried my trauma for 40 years that the police must be notified not the community leaders or any other type of community body. The community will eventually try and cover the crimes up, once it's in the public realm, they lose control and that's what we want. If you want to contact me you can email me at survivorofhn@gmail.com

Survivor of HN

David, yasher koah to you for coming forward with your story. May it be a further step in confronting sexual abuse and predatory behavior in the Jewish community, and a further step in healing for individuals and communities as well.

I am so grateful for this story. I appreciate your courage in coming forward which is so painful to do. I overheard similar stories as told and shared in the gym in New Milford and always wondered what was going to be done about them. All of those broken people....

I am so sorry for you about this traumatic experience. Why aren't you allowed to say the name of the criminal? Is it ever too late to do something about it?

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