|Brooklyn, NY - Dov Hikind: Frum Community Ignorant about Child Molestation, I Am Going to Be an Activist to Help
Voz Iz Neias
July 30, 2008
Brooklyn, NY—High-profile Assemblyman Dov Hikind, no stranger to controversial issues, has thrust himself to the forefront of a burning Jewish-community issue once again.
But this time, perhaps, the stakes have never been higher—because Hikind's target is an issue the long-time activist himself confesses ignorance of until recently: molestation and abuse of children in the Orthodox community.
The saga reignited itself only recently and coincidentally after controversial firebrand Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who at the minimum deserves some begrudging, backhanded respect for dragging the issue out of the shadows, might have inspired four professional Orthodox therapists to re-launch an abuse hotline and treatment service operated under the auspices of the venerable Beth Israel Hospital after it was closed a few years ago due to lack of funding. The four professionals [ a separate story about this new help line will be posted on VIN in next few days] are Chaya Mermerstein, LCSW and Cheryl Friedman, LCSW, both of Beth Israel's staff, psychotherapist Yoni Hikind, LMSW, and psychotherapist Dr. Asher Lipner, Ph.D., who specializes in frum survivors of sexual abuse.
[Clarification - While there were indeed four panelists on Dov Hikind's radio show motzie shabbos, July 26, 2008, discussing sexual abuse in our community, it is important to clarify the roles of the different panelists.
Cheryl Friedman, LCSW , Chaya Mermerstein, LCSW, and Carole Sher, LCSW, under the auspices of Beth Israel Medical Center's Victim Services Program are initiating a help line called SOVRI related to sexual abuse.
Dr. Usher Lipner, a strong advocate in the field of sexual abuse is not connected to SOVRI, nor is Yoni Hikind, CSW.]
[Editor's Note: After VIN's posting of the Hikind/molestation article this morning, which mentioned four frum therapists who have been involved in this issue for a number of years, VIN received the following e-mail from one of the foursome stating that "Nachum Rosenberg had NOTHING to do with creating this help line, Nor credit should be given to him" and VIN was told so on a phone interview as well]. In response, VIN will simply and neutrally reiterate the facts that Rabbi Rosenberg has created a firestorm of discussion on this issue in recent months and that the abuse hotline, which was in the works for several years, was relaunched in recent months]
That foursome earned a group interview last weekend on Hikind's radio show as a result—and Hikind claims to have been overwhelmed with calls from all over in the ensuing days: calls from Orthodox Jews with horrific stories of molestation and victimization as children.
The startling reaction has prompted Hikind to take action.
"I have to admit I have not done enough on this issue; I am throwing myself into it and I am now fully dedicated to addressing this issue very forcefully," Hikind told VIN in a phone interview.
"According to my info since I did the radio show last week, I have been shocked [by the response] and I would say after speaking to highly professional people who deal with this, it's an epidemic in this community."
When asked specifically about Rabbi Rosenberg's hotline, Hikind says that while he would meet with Rabbi Rosenberg in the context of meeting anyone in the community motivated to do something about the issues, and that he "agrees strongly" with the issues Rosenberg has raised, "I have never listened to his phone line but based on what I was told, I will say I do not acknowledge his way of attacking individuals on his [phone-show] line. Having said that, the community needs to wake up and form a very strong internal organization—and a real one, not a politically correct one—to resolve this with a team of real professionals."
Additionally, Hikind plans on demonstrating his serious concern about this issue by meeting with leaders of all major Chasidic groups to Litvishe Roshei Yeshivos and rabbonim.
Regarding rabbinical bans of Rabbi Rosenberg, Hikind believes said reaction resulted from rabbonim who are "really not aware how shrecklich this issue is. I am not going to argue if the way Rosenberg addresses this issue is right or wrong because I never listened to him, but the fact remains he is touching upon a very serious issue."
The State Assemblyman still insisted that he maintains the highest respect for rabbonim, mentioning his close work with them. "As a matter of fact, my kids learned in Eretz Yisroel and I was really looking forward for them to become rabbonim and school teachers. I always consult sensitive issue with rabonim."
Hikind said anyone who needs help on this matter should feel free to contact his office and feel confident that their anonymity will be protected.
While we support and laud Mr. Hikind's statements and commitment to action, we will let the results be his ultimate judge. In the meantime, we say to Dov Hikind, "Hatzlachah rabbah! We'll be watching you."
Under the auspices of Beth Israel Medical Center, an anonymous, confidential helpline, known as SOVRI, Support for Orthodox Victims of Rape and Incest has been developed for those who are, or have been victims of sexual abuse and molestation.
The helpline calls will be answered by trained orthodox volunteers who are able to offer compassionate support, information and referrals.
Sovri will be open for calls beginning Monday, August 4, 2008. The hours are Monday - Thursday 9:30 am - 5:30 pm, and on Friday 10 am - 12 pm. The helpline telephone number is (212)844-1495.
Carole Sher, LCSW, Coordinator, BIMC's Crime Victim Services Program
Cherly Friedman, LCSW, Clincial SW, BIMC's Rape Crisis Unit
Chaya Mermerstein, LCSW, Clinical SW in the Psychiatric Outpatient Child & Adolescent Clinic
Bassya Littman, Founder, SOVRI
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