2018-09-12 / Voice at the Shore

Oy, me too!

FEDERATION AT THE SHORE
KIRK WISEMAYER
Executive Director Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties

We have heard and seen much of late with respect to the fall from grace of figures prominent in every aspect of our national life who, for reasons most of us could never understand, allowed themselves to believe the physical or sexual assault of another, and in some cases many others, is somehow acceptable. It is not, and never is.

Some of these figures, like Steven Cohen, Harvey Weinstein, and Elie Wiesel, are prominent Jews, alleged to have sexually assaulted one or several women over the years. To be sure, however, not all sexual assaults are male-on-female, nor are their perpetrators only the rich and famous.

Although less frequent, sexual assaults are also female-on-male, male-on-male, and female-on-female. They are committed by both sexes, by every ethnicity and race, by clergy, family members, neighbors, bosses and coworkers, religious and secular, liberal and conservative. The only thing these acts have in common is that their perpetrators think nothing of abusing their power, or of preying on the vulnerable.

As Jews, and especially as a Jewish community, we must never discount or denigrate the claim of any victim, excuse any abuser, or deny sexual assault takes place in our midst, among those we know. We live among and know both perpetrators and victims.

Jewish Federation has a human rights policy that deals with, among other things, sexual assault and harassment. Jewish Family Service provides excellent and confidential counseling to anyone in need of such services. As a Jewish community, we must create a safe space for victims, and ensure the services and infrastructure to allow the appropriate response to both allegations and verified incidents of sexual abuse. What we must never do is deny or shame the victim, nor must we vilify the accused.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. We cannot pretend sexual assault is not a problem we should and must confront as a Jewish community. We share a collective obligation to protect the innocent and vulnerable by publicly recognizing sexual and physical abuse and assault as a problem that affects and concerns us all. We must be careful to address and verify claims of assault without making either party, especially the victim, a pariah. We must, above all, encourage victims not to harbor their experiences, not to suffer in silence, but to speak out and report assault. We must help victims understand that speaking out and confronting their abuser is something we will always support, and reporting assault is something they should do immediately and without fear of reprisal. We must let abusers know that, as a Jewish community, we will not be silent, we never will tolerate sexual predators, and that we encourage them to seek help. We must let them know that physical and sexual abuse and assault is never acceptable, not in the Jewish community, not anywhere.

We have a special opportunity as individual Jews and as a Jewish community, particularly between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, to understand and proclaim that admission does not mean admonition, and that in speaking out, or in seeking forgiveness, one will never be ostracized. May we all have hearts open and honest enough to embrace the victim, to help the abuser, and to dispel any notion that we bear no collective responsibility to confront and address abuse when it occurs, no matter how much time has passed in its reporting. May we merit this each and every day in the year ahead, and always, and may we all have an easy fast. Shanah tovah and gmar chatimah tovah!

To view Jewish Federation’s Human Rights policy, please visit www.jewishbytheshore.org or, to request a copy of it, please call (609) 822-4404. To seek counseling as the victim of assault, or as an abuser, please call Jewish Family Service at (609) 822-1108. 

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