In life, we all have our heroes. And I, like everyone else, have a few people whom I consider heroes. One of those heroes is a survivor. No, not of the Holocaust–but her own personal Holocaust. Rivka Joseph is a survivor of molestation, abuse and other horrors that she had to face. Fortunately for many others, she is not only a survivor but also an advocate in the arena of child sexual abuse. With regularity, I follow her posts and the various threads in which she comments.
This afternoon, I began to follow a post of her’s and also even commented on it. That thread (for which I have her permission to share and can be seen on her Facebook page link above) discusses a very important topic. Convicted sex offenders, child molesters: Do they have a right to pray in a synagogue. Should a shul open its doors to a child sex abuser? Should we worry that the abuser is there to PREY and not to PRAY? Should we try to be welcoming and perhaps enable this soul to repent in our midst?
The answer to that question is a resounding NO! Under no circumstances should a convicted child sex offender be permitted in the walls of a shul. No exceptions! You chose to molest, rape, fondle, abuse a child: YOU HAVE FORFEITED YOUR PRIVILEGE TO PRAY WHERE KIDS ARE PRESENT! Why in the world would you even think it would be ok? On what planet would it be ok to put a child molester into a place (shul) that is supposed to be a safe environment?
If you want to have a minyan, ask nine other men to come over to your house and daven with them. But, never ever feel you are entitled to go to a place where children are davening. Rather than listen to MY words, listen to the words of an expert–Rivka Joseph:
“There are a number of reasons why we cannot allow these abusers in our shuls. The first being that it is impossible to keep an eye on our children every single second in shul. That is not a reflection on our parenting. It is the reality of life- and good parents allow their children age appropriate autonomy. Shul should be a safe place for our children, somewhere were they feel comfortable coming to daven and hear the Torah. It should be associated with pleasant memories, not ones of abuse.
The second reason is that when you allow someone into the shul, the children view that person as someone who is “OK.” That is where the grooming process starts, even if no abuse happens within the shul walls. If the abuser approaches a child later and says “come on, you remember me. You see me all the time in Shul on Shabbat,” then, the child associates this person with someone who is good and ok to be with. This is a very dangerous road to go down.”
I echo every word Rivka says in her post. And it is for this reason I urge every single shul to have a WRITTEN policy in their by-laws that strictly prohibits convicted child sex abusers from EVER entering into their building. Shuls have rules about which caterer can work in their kitchen out of concern to maintain a high level of Kashrut. Yet, in most cases, these same shuls are bereft of a policy regarding molesters.
We, as a community, have a responsibility to our children! We can not foster a situation in which our children are not safe. Please, in the strongest terms possible, I urge you to take action at your next Board Meeting or through whatever mechanism you use in your shul to pass a motion to add rules that will protect your children–our children. And never say “it won’t happen here.” That kind of statement, sadly, has led to many children becoming victims of child sexual abuse.Rav Zev Shandalov