It was a few days ago, in the days between Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). I had heard a soft knock at the door, and opening it, found a small boy, hand raised for another knock. He looked to be about age six or seven, and I didn’t recognize his as a neighbor’s child. What in the world did he want?
Then he stretched out his second hand, fist clenched around a booklet of fundraising receipts. “I’m collecting for _________.”
As I contemplated the youngster in front of me, my mind flew backwards in time to the days when my own children wanted to collect tzedukka (charity). They had been considerably older, yet I remember how a promised percentage had sent them off on a wild run after the golden egg (money). More than once I have found myself yelling on the phone to some teenager who in an effort to earn a larger percentage himself, had sent my son collecting money. My query “How can you dare to send a grade school child out collecting without their parent’s permission?” never got a better answer than a mumbled “I’m sorry; He said his parents don’t mind....”. Yeah, really.....I frown on the practice, it being dangerous, and teaching youngsters that collecting charity is a way to earn money is NOT what I want.
My attention returned to the child on my doorstep. “What’s your name?”
“_______” (last name)
-“Where do you live?”
And he gave me his address as well. Then I told him that if he wanted a contribution, he should send his older brother. And he disappeared.
Five minutes later I looked up the phone number and dialed the family in question. After waiting a while, Mom got called to the phone.
“Look,” I said, “You don’t know me. I live on ____street. Do you know that your little son is collecting tzedukka?”
- “Well, he’s with an older brother, I think.” (You “THINK” I wanted to yell, but I didn’t.)
- “Look, he was here at my door, with no one else in sight. ANYONE could have taken him into their house for a few moments, and his older brother, and you, would never know it!”
This gave her pause. She gulped, thanked me, and wished me a good year. At least I didn’t have to spell the danger out to her. THAT much she understood. It’s just that she had never really given the matter much thought, probably. (Or she didn’t know not to trust older siblings...)
People like to think that there is little sexual abuse in the chareidi (ultra-orthodox) world. Unfortunately, we have our rotten apples, just like any other community. We are not immune. But since we don’t talk about such things, and it never would be discussed in the newspaper here, people are blissfully ignorant.
And all of this has answered a question I have had for many years:
On Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day of the Jewish year, observant Jews fast and confess their sins. There is a prayer phrase normally said quietly, which on this day is said out loud, because we are, our sages say, like angels (who say this phrase aloud). These angelic people stand in synagogue the whole morning, and as afternoon arrives, they start the afternoon prayer. In the middle, the holy ark is opened, the sefer Torah scroll is taken out, and placed on the podium to be read. And what is read? Inspiring psalms? How Moses fasted for forty days as he received the Torah from G-d? I would expect some sublime, lofty theme. But no. The reader intones the verses admonishing us against incest and other sexual sins. Things that no self-respecting Jew would do. I never understood why.
But I think I do now. G-d knows man, and on the holiest of days, he warns us: No one, no community is immune. Not even on the holiest day.
All of this prompted me to sit Ricki down and talk to her about “touch”. And am I glad I did, because from her reactions, I can see that it is as if I never discussed this with her. (And I have, more than once.) I repeated it, did a bit of roll play, and I plan to do a repeat often to see if (and when) the message sinks in.
A final note to those who are observing the Sukkot holiday, starting in two days. Be forewarned that the largest percentage of abusers (by far!) are not some stranger. Usually the abuser is someone the child knows. If you are sending a son to sleep in someone else’s sukkah booth (having no space in your own), or when you are visiting relatives or friends, be sure you know that things are safe. Don’t let a child go unaccompanied to a sukkah outside. Keep tabs on your child’s whereabouts. If two children playing in an other room get too quiet, go check it out. Speak to your child about abuse, and unwanted touch, TODAY.
For more of "31 for 21" (blogging in October for Down syndrome awareness)go HERE