220 participants from 102 organizations gathered last week in Newark, New Jersey for a groundbreaking conference addressing some of the most sensitive topics affecting the Orthodox Jewish community: risk, trauma and abuse. The event was hosted by Amudim and included 25 private practice clinicians as well as rabbis, educators, therapists, clinical directors, heads of major organizations, social workers, philanthropists and many others who spent two days analyzing these rarely discussed problems and formulating a five point strategy for tackling these complex issues head on.
“This was the first ever conference of this type within the Orthodox Jewish community,” said Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim. “This was a collaborative effort by many people and many organizations and is just the beginning of what will be an all out effort to effect crucial changes to benefit our precious children.”
The statistics for both abuse cases and drug overdoses in the Jewish community are staggering, with dozens of known cases reported since Rosh Hashana and over three dozen deaths of people under age 35 in the Jewish community in that same time period, underscoring the need for serious and immediate intervention. The workshop-based event divided participants into four separate groups, each of which identified both short term goals to help those who have been victimized, as well as possible impediments to those solutions, and devised a set of protocols that would allow them to effectively and practically achieve those objectives. While each of the four groups worked individually, in different rooms, all came up with a set of similar goals which were then boiled down into five distinct strategies: centralizing information and access to resources, creating grass roots efforts to change the status quo, developing evidenced based support services, engaging rabbanim, educators and parents to promote child safety and creating funding strategies. Numerous participants volunteered to begin taking leadership roles in implementing the strategies identified during the two day conference.
“It is incredible to realize that 220 people from different backgrounds in this industry all came up with the same common denominators, making it obvious that we are past the point where there are just one or two people saying there is a problem,” said Gluck. “Change is in the air and the momentum is clearly visible, with people already discussing which areas of this new initiative they plan to be involved in.”
A key component of dramatic change was also put into play at the Amudim conference with the announcement of a $1 million fund to treat abuse victims, created by philanthropists Mendy Klein, Nancy Friedberg and others. The new fund is an initiative of ASAP (www.ASAP.care) and provides therapy to Orthodox Jewish abuse victims who live in the tri-state area through qualifying non-profit organizations and is hopefully the first of many more programs dedicated to treating abuse in the Jewish community.
“I’m hoping that the people who are here and participated have left here with an increased positive feeling that together everyone can make a difference, that there is support out there for their efforts,” said Mrs. Friedberg. “They are doing the difficult groundwork, but if we work together we can change paradigms.”
Participants were inspired by divrei Torah from Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein and Rav Elya Brudny, rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, who spoke about the impact of saving even one individual. Rav Brudny observed that a single Auschwitz survivor could today have well over 200 descendants, highlighting the importance of helping each and every child in need.
“Each one is a bais hamikdash, a world,” said Rav Brudny.
Dr. David Pelcovitz noted that the simple act of gathering a large number of people who deal with the issues of trauma, risk and abuse for a conference of this nature was an empowering experience that has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change.
“You get the sense of togetherness, the sense of standing at each other’s side and that feeling of support gave us the ability to take what is really a seemingly insurmountable problem and break it down into small, doable pieces, which to me creates a workable reality,” said Dr. Pelcovitz. “It crystallized our thinking in terms of very specific goals.”
Including a variety people of different backgrounds was one of the keys to the conference’s success, according to Debbie Fox of Magen Yeladim Child Safety Institute and founder and creator of the Safety Kid program.
“I think the real strength is that this is multi-disciplinary so there seems to be lots of different types of organizations that are all working with the same theme of helping kids,” said Mrs. Fox. “It means that you all learn to work together and you learn what the gaps are, which is very important.”
Shedding light on sensitive topics that for years have been kept in the shadows is crucial, explained David Mandel, CEO of Ohel’s Children and Family Services.
“It means that additional victims will come out and seek support,” said Mandel. “It means that they feel that they will be empathized with. It means that it will give them strength about not feeling that they were ruined or tainted and they can’t get a shidduch and it will strengthen other people to do this work.”
“I see an amazing movement in moving forward and empowering parents, rabbonim and the community to protect our children,” added Ruchama Clapman, founder and executive director of MASK. “We waited so many years and we’ve seen so many cases over the years, not hundreds, but thousands and we can say are going to be able to, as a result of this conference, get so much help in so many different ways just by us getting together, networking and coming up with special policies which will give support to parents and empower victims to be able to get help, get the therapy they need and be able to then move on to lead healthy lives.”