Meyer Seewald, founder of Jewish Community Watch which seeks to combat sexual abuse through a three pronged effort of prevention, education and healing, never intended to spend his life crusading against child abuse. Then again, being molested by a counselor in summer camp wasn’t exactly on his bucket list either.
“I was planning on having a nice family, making a lot of money and giving a lot to charity,” Seewald told The Jewish Press. “What I am doing now wasn’t in the plan. But obviously it was all in G-d’s plan.”
The seeds for Jewish Community Watch were sown in 2011when Seewald learned that the father of a close friend who died unexpectedly several years earlier had been accused of molesting children through an organization he had founded to mentor troubled youth in memory of his deceased son. Shocked and horrified, Seewald began investigating the father on his own, speaking to friends and friends of friends who, like him, had been in and out of the friend’s house for years. To his dismay, Seewald discovered that many of the people he spoke to had either been molested by the father or knew someone who had. Furthermore, the few cases of sexual abuse that were actually reported to community leaders were typically swept under the rug, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
Determined to ensure that abusers be brought to justice, Seewald and his brother Shneur founded Jewish Community Watch, with his friend’s father’s picture featured prominently on a special section of its website, dubbed the “Wall of Shame.”
Being exposed publicly as a child molester is a powerful deterrent, according to Seewald, who is passionate about what he feels is a moral and ethical responsibility to share the names of known sexual offenders in an effort to prevent them from preying on other unsuspecting victims.
“The fear of being exposed publicly is the only thing that will stop people,” observed Seewald.
The JCW’s Wall of Shame features names, pictures and other identifying information of just over 100 offenders, including two women. According to the JCW website, strict criteria for being posted to the Wall of Shame are in place, with an investigative committee and a board of advisors comprised of psychologists, rabbis and a legal team reviewing all information before pictures are posted publicly.
More than just a place to expose abusers, the Wall of Shame is one of many methods used by JCW to empower victims and protect children.
“We are here day in and day out to support victims and we will do everything in our power to bring victims justice and healing, while letting parents know who to keep their kids away from, ” said Seewald.
JCW hopes to break the silence that has shrouded sexual abuse for years and recent events on abuse awareness have been held in Jewish communities worldwide including Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Efrat, Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami, Monsey and Monticello. The JCW website provides numerous resources to abuse victims, offering therapist referrals, contact information for counseling centers nationwide and listings for support services for both abuse victims and offenders.
David Shapiro, executive director for JCW, acknowledges that it has taken time for the Jewish community to warm to the organization’s message.
“In the beginning there was a lot of resistance but now there is a lot of acceptance and a lot of understanding,” said Shapiro. “We have been building awareness and have also built a support base in the Jewish community.”
A one day July fundraiser for JCW on the Charidy website surpassed its goal, raising $512,003 from 988 donors in just 24 hours. Shapiro said that the money raised will allow the organization to further expand its offerings.