Response From Rabbi Dratch
So you want to know who I am and why I do what I do. Fair enough.
Who am I? I am a graduate of Yeshiva University and have served in a number of pulpits for the past 23 years.
I am not a survivor of any kind of abuse or . I am not a woman. But I believe that dealing with domestic , child abuse, ual assault, etc. are not survivors' issues or women's issues, I believe that they are the community's issues. Very simply, the Torah's prohibition, "Do not stand idly by the of your neighbor" (Lev. 19) applies to all equally, regardless of background, experience or gender.
I know that such idealism is subject to skepticism, it's not found very often. For me it stems from my commitment to Torah--to what Torah is meant to be and what it demands of each of us--and a deep resepect for the Tzelem Elokim, the divine image in which each and every one of us is created.
I got involved with these issues more than 15 years ago when a pediatrician I met related horror stories of incidents of child abuse in her practice and the guidance she was receiving from local prominent rabbis. I was appalled and shocked at what I heard. Having a bus driver reassigned after molesting a student is unacceptable. And when subsequent investigation reveals that he had been reassigned a number of times during the past year or two, from one yeshiva to the next, it was criminal. After hearing a number of such stories and convinced that this is simply not the Jewish way, I wrote my paper for the RCA Roundtable in which I articulated my understanding of issues like mesirah (reporting to civil authorities), lashon ha-ra and chillul Hashem (scandal, shanda). This paper has been reprinted in a number of resource guides and is quoted often (even recently on some blogs).
Once I started to recognize the problem and felt obligated to be public about it, I started meeting survivors and professionals. At the time I was serving a congregation in Toronto and got involved with the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse there. I also got involved with the Center for the Prevention of ual and Domestic (now FaithTrust Institute), an amazing and groundbreaking organization founded by Rev. Marie Fortune. It is an interfaith initiative and had a Jewish Advisory Board. I was involved in helping to develop their Jewish programming, appear on their video, "Broken Vows", and am on the Editorial Board of their Journal for Religion and Abuse. I learned much from those involvements.
Because of my writing and speaking on this topic, I had more opportunitites to meet survivors who were searching for someone who understood their situations and who was available--and interested-- to help. So my experience grew. I became an activist in areas of child abuse, DV, agunot, etc. I read whatever I could get my hands on-- articles, newspapers, magazines, books. I searched the halachic literatur for guidance and understanding. I spoke with survivors, consulted with therapists and other professionals, met advocates. I am not a therapist and have no degree in this area, and I tell that to people straight away. I refer survivors to the professionals that they need to get the help that they need. I have spoken to many rabbinic and community groups over the years --- urging them to recognize the problems and taks responsibility for them
So that is who I am and where I come from and why I do what I do.
I believe in this so strongly that when a number of factors presented themselves last year, I decided to make a major change in my professional activities in order to devote full time to these concerns. This is a significant risk to me professionally. But I believe that the Jewish community is far behind where it needs to be in this area. I believe that we are negligent in our responsibilities to protect the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of many of our people. And I beleive that I can't just sit by and watch.
Now, as for the relationship between the Awareness Center and the work it does and JSafe and the work it will do... they are not the same. Let's put aside my differences with its policies. The Awareness Center deals with issues of ual assault only. This is different from (although overlaps) DV and child abuse. The Awareness Center is an advocacy group. As such, it has a role to play. My vision of JSafe is very different. It is not an advocacy group. Its goal is to effect systemic change in the Jewish community so that Jewish organizations and institutions and programs respond appropriately and helpfully when survivors come to them for help. Its goal is to create relationships between these groups and Jewish Family Services, Domestic Services and other social service agencies so that women and children can be served effectvely and properly. This is not the mission of The Awareness Center.
I plan to make public my Board of Directors and my Advisory Board in the near future. They are still in formation as JSafe is still in embrionic form. I am confident that the wide scope and breadth of people who are respected in this area from all over the country will allay concerns that some have.
As for your questions regarding the RCA and the current situation: I cannot comment on them at this time. I know that may be frustrating for you and I empathize.
However, I do call your attention to the guidelines that the RCA has established to deal with allegations against a member rabbi that are available at www.rabbis,org. I was privileged to be the chair of the Task Force on Rabbinic Improprities that drafted these guidelines. I also call your attention to the strong language of the resolution passed almost two years ago through which the RCA put itself on record condemning improper behavior. The guidelines were recently amended to insist that all information, including the names of those who make the allegations or who are the survivors, remain absolutely confidential and may not be released to anyone without specific written consent by the individuals involved to the head of the Vaad haTzedek (the new body that will be responsibility to adjudicate the allegations).
I understand the concerns of survivors and the issues of trust with which you struggle. I can only assure you that in me you have a sympathetic ear and a burning desire to help.
I hope that this answers many of your questions. I know that it doesn't respond to all of them.
Please feel free to share it with those you feel might be interested.