Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Age of Experience

With age comes experience, they say.

I don't know whether the reason my views change is to do with experience gained or simply because we change as we age. What is certain is that much of the anger that boiled within me when I first started blogging has largely subsided or muted. I have come to accept that the lifestyle I promote is no more necessarily correct for everyone than the one I like to bash.

Indeed the Torah im Derech Ertetz model that worked so well in Germany before the war, and that I see as a model for chassidic neo-orthodoxy, actually relies on the societal norms to curb the worst of the most base of our urges. That does not necessarily work in today's world. We have mostly therefore chosen to shelter our children from most of the excesses of the permissive society. Exposure to the internet however is still supplying our youth with the same information that the precocious local youth is getting.

To illustrate: A young newly-wed I met, was briefly briefed on the facts of life a few weeks before he was wed. He had known before of course, and he had seen some porn once or twice on the web, but it was still quite an experience for him to be suddenly thrown into bed with a quivering virgin. He rose to the cause though, and they set off on life's journey together.

There was just one little thing bothering our man of the hour. She compared slightly unfavourably, in provocative prowess, with the Liliths in those movies. As time progressed and he assiduously studied 'her problem' on the net, the way boys today do, he naturally came to the conclusion she was frigid and needed help. Of course, when they heard, both families came up in arms and it was only with some very professional help and lots of diplomacy that friction was removed from two shattered families and restored to a truly messy conjugal bed.

You cannot just nibble at the apple of knowledge. All the little 'bits' interlink in a million possible ways and there is no way you can control the flow of information once it begins its path. I used to counter-argue that the Internet does have the function of providing the only loudspeaker inside the community. Like this blog gets away with saying what no one dares sign their name to.

I lied.

There is one man who dares to say what no one else dares to say. He lives in New York and his name is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. He is a man with a mission. An international mikve expert, he has a telephone hotline in Yiddish in which he regularly rails against sexual abuse of boys in the community. And he does not just rant. He spits into the blind eye of the community authorities. When he gets wind of anything untoward he warns the Rabbis in charge and if it is not dealt with immediately he informs the relevant authorities.

To be fair, I must add that I have spoken to many of these men of dark cloth myself and despite their dangerous and damaging silence, it seems to me that most are truly well-meaning. Most Charedi rabbis display almost pathetically naïve ignorance both of the gravity of the damage sexual abuse causes and the frequency at which it occurs. There is also a strong sense of defending the community by denying they do any wrong much like parents would if you accused their son of stealing.

I again stress that I disagree with those who state it is more widespread than most other places, or even that it is particularly widespread or generally condoned. But it does happen and the fact that touching does not involve a biblical prohibition should not diminish the gravity of the deed.

Rabbi Nuchem says all this and more. He publicly shamed the Jerusalem Rabbinical authorities, who had allowed a Mikve in their own back yard to turn into a den of iniquity right in their blind spot, into placing guards there who would protect the children from preying lechers. He has named many Schools and Yeshivas in the States who harbour molesters on their staff. He is listened to by thousands of Chassidim all over the world and he has suffered much abuse for it.

He has been assaulted and had his life threatened, he has had to call on the local police for protection. He has been called all the names in the book by sect after sect - each as one of theirs was targeted. (Before that each had smugly revelled in the other's discomfort.) But he persevered. He has been labelled a publicity seeker, but I have learned he declined to be interviewed by the British Guardian newspaper because their anti-Israeli image suggested that it would provoke negative publicity rather than momentum for change.

Reb Nuchem has made a very personal sacrifice for the sake of the pure little victims who would have their innocent lives shattered to relieve the fleeting urges of the sick and egotistical parasites who roam the education system like greedy diabetics in a candy store. He humbles me, who would not sacrifice my personal well being and that of my family for the cause. But I am still a good sight younger than him.

I sincerely hope that by the time I reach the age of his wisdom the problem will no longer exist.