Hebrew Theological School Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Survivor Put on Notice- Guest Post by Chaim Levin

Hebrew Theological School Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Survivor Put on Notice” appears here with the permission of Chaim Levin who first posted it on his blog, Gotta Give ‘Em Hope. 

Last Thursday, Kaylie* (a pseudonym) was placed on notice for misconduct at Hebrew Theological College for disclosing on Facebook that she is a survivor of sexual abuse. She had felt that she must stand against the attitude that survivors are defective. Ironically, her dean declared very coldly as result that Kaylie* thus appeared “less than human”, “besmirching” her peers and school, and ordered Kaylie’s* silence under the threat of expulsion. After an outcry against her insensitive, outrageous remarks to and action against Kaylie*, Dean Esther Shkop of Hebrew Theological College’s Torani L’Banot school offered an apology yesterday, as well as hope that things will be different in the future:

Dear Kaylie*,

Over the last number of difficult days, regret and a stirring sadness have overtaken me because of the insensitive and harsh email I recently sent you.  I ask for your mechila [forgiveness] and extend you my deepest apology.

Inasmuch as [Torani L’Banot] has always endeavored to provide all of our students with full academic, emotional, and spiritual support – taking into account the variety of life experiences – it has become clear to me that we must do a better job in creating both the appropriate environment and the systems necessary to support our students in their greatest hour of need.  I do maintain our position that it is not in keeping with the standards of Tznius [modesty] and fundamentally unsafe to post intimate information about oneself and others on social media.  [Torani L’Banot], therefore, provides a private and safe forum for support and guidance.

We know that the Almighty places tests before us not only to draw closer to the Creator of the World, but to bolster our capabilities in improving the lives of His children, particularly those that are in great pain and in need of our help and support.  We will be assembling the expertise needed to make recommendations to the Board and to me on the resources and support systems we must improve to serve our cherished students to the fullest extent of our capability.

We as Jewish educators of young adults are on the front-line of life’s many challenges.  Tragically, the scourge of sexual abuse and misconduct has not spared the Orthodox community and its precious children.  We, therefore, must continue to be an institution that sets the standard in helping and supporting our students as they demonstrate the bravery and fortitude required for the healing process.  This is the test the Ribbono Shel O’lam [Lord of the Universe] has clearly put before me in the wake of my private email to you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Esther M. Shkop

Dr Shkop’s largely impersonal, boilerplate email may be lacking clarification of policy, unequivocal rescission of disciplinary action and, more importantly, complete disavowal of the suggestion that being sexually abused or talking about it reflects negatively on the survivor and is somehow indecency. However, it does offer a personal apology and the promise of better resources and support for students in general. Dr Shkop has recognized the damaging power of her earlier words, attitudes and actions and undertaken that she and the school will respond appropriately in the future. It takes courage to recognize wrongdoing and great conviction to avoid it in the future.

Dr Shkop’s courage and conviction here is a fitting and inspiring response to Kaylie’s* own. Despite negative comments and insults hurled her way, first by her dean, then by commentators who had read nothing more than that she dared admit that she had been sexually abused, Kaylie* has remained strong and steadfast, delivering a very important message: we cannot and will not be silent about sexual abuse or our communities’ reactions to the topic and survivors.

Kaylie* will continue to take a stand against sexual abuse and mistreatment of survivors, both on facebook and her new blog, Kaylie, doing her whistling. She is relieved that her academic career is no longer threatened. On this experience, Kaylie* reflects:

I’ve been told to keep quiet for as long as I can remember. My rapist told me not to tell. I could not, but I needed to. That night, I stood in front of my father and tried to tell him what had happened — tried to find some way to explain what went on while he and my mother weren’t home. I had no way to explain what my rapist had done. I could not put terms to the body parts, and no one ever warned me that what had happened was wrong. I only knew that my rapist had tried to manipulate me into stripping for him by telling me he would give me eight dollars and that, after he raped me, he did not pay up. I told my father that I was owed eight dollars… but I could not explain why. I was 7, and these were things that were not talked about.

That silence, that tugging feeling of anguish in my throat with no words to set it free, has stayed with me for years. I was told to not tell my parents. When I finally started speaking about any of the pain within me, I was told to not talk about it to others.

Over the years, I have made a tremendous amount of progress with my therapist. There are many organizations that can help survivors, but they can only help the ones they know about. What about the ones they do not know about? Who will help them? They can only be helped once they reached out… and they can only reach out when they know it is possible to. I came out because I had been one of the girls which were under the radar. They had no way of knowing about me. They have no way about knowing about so many. That’s why I came out.

Silence is overrated. There’s nothing golden about it when it’s hiding the worst pain.

I was shocked because of the underlying message of the first email — that we, as survivors, are somehow the bad ones. That was the very same attitude I had taken a stand against in coming out as a survivor; it breeds silence and allows the attitude to fester from the silent anguish inside victims. This pain and the fear of being expelled from college was what drove me to contact Chaim Levin.

By bringing public attention to what was happening at school, I hoped that this attitude might be reexamined and that I would be able to remain in a school which I had come to truly love. HTC is a wonderful place — the faculty is professional while retaining a level of friendliness towards the students, and every single professor is genuinely interested in the welfare and the progress of the students, as is Dr. Shkop.

The choice Dr. Shkop made when she emailed me her beautiful apology was a wise one — she put her institution at the forefront of schools taking steps to protect and support survivors of sexual abuse. I greatly admire her strength in admitting to her mistakes, and I am very happy we were able to reach a détente. The compromises we both made were not necessarily enormous, but the ripple effect of her actions will, God willing, make an effect which is more than enormous. Pain and darkness can only be fought with a passion for the light, and that passion is something Dr. Shkop exudes in abundance. The darkness every survivor has lived in can only last so long, and, with every step forward, another bit of pain is alchemized into something truly precious — hope.

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14 thoughts on “Hebrew Theological School Apologizes to Sexual Abuse Survivor Put on Notice- Guest Post by Chaim Levin

  1. [Originally posted on “Gotta Give ‘Em Hope”]

    Mr. Levin,

    I must respectfully disagree with your characterization of Dr. Shkop’s message as a “largely impersonal, boilerplate email”. I did not read it that way, and based on her reaction, neither did “Kaylie”.

    Dorron Katzin
    Chicago

  2. I agree with much of this post but with a few qualifiers. I think the “apology was not so much grudging as limited and somewhat miscast. Dr. Shkop recognized the right of a survivor to publicly disclose the fact of abuse but still has trouble with the use of internet as a medium for that sort of disclosure. At the same time I give her credit for genuinely and deeply conceding she did wrong in her email.

    I also think Dr. Shkop places too much emphasis on the support of victims/survivors. She recognizes responding to survivors as one of the great challenges facing the orthodox community. But she still treats it as an individual assistance issue. It is that but it is much more. It is a question of opening up a discourse about how we respond to survivors, whether we stop stigmatizing them, whether we are open to hearing about the whole sordid mess including cover-ups and rebuffs.

    Still, all-in-all, this outcome is encouraging as a small step forward, and a major improvement in the circumstances of one survivor.

  3. apology was to be sure she did not get sued. oh come in . same message dresed up different. where can i get hold of kaylie, i dont find her on facebook. please let me know.

  4. Dear Ruth,

    “Kaylie” is a pseudonym.

    For anyone who would like to be in contact with her, please send Yerachmiel (whose blog this is) your contact information. I suspect that “Kaylie” will be reading this posting, and the comments, at some point. If she chooses to reply, she can get the contact information from him. Alternatively, if she does not want to reveal her identity, she could relay a message through one of the people who know her identity.

    Dorron Katzin
    Chicago

    • thank you for your prompt reply. i am very involved here in jerusalem in fighting the huge cover up of the 150 children damaged for life. mostly haradi children, my neighbours. one man at long last is going to jail but its not much comfort as he is one of the useful half wits while his boss is walking around free laughing in all our faces. i cant leave this. its an obsession with me. i so appreciate people who talk out, we need this. i hope that kaylie is reading this. we need more children to talk out and we need to unite over the world to force the corrupt rabbinim to stop protecting their friends.
      anyone who wants to be in touch with me ruthcohencharif@gmail.com or ruth cohen harif on facebook. i am well known here in jerusalem . this is not going to stop until these wicked men are gone forever

      from the yeshiva,bet knesset, mikva and our lives. i walk into bet knessets on my own as no one else will do so, and while they are busy praying ask them why the perverts are sitting there. and the perverts come to beat me up. but i keep on going back in. they should have no peace. they should shake with fear

      and the society that points fingers at the victims is just disgusting. i was not impressed by the letter. it was like the letters written here by some rabbinim saying that us few mothers who have been on tv, media, etc should ask them permission first and we are doing disgraceful things by talking out. and that the children are lying and not innocent.

      just know that there are a handful of people worldwide who are not fearing men and will stand up against all these evil men. and kiddie porn which drives this. this has to stop. immediately.;

  5. We all have the power and choice to read into anything what we choose to read into it or see into it. I don’t necessarily see in this what you do. Sex in and of itself is a private and personal matter in OUR religion. It is NOT something we openly discuss because it is intimate and private between individuals and meant to be special and personal. It is no one’s business other than the couple involved and that is why the relationships in a Jewish marriage is supposed to be honorable, respectable and special. “supposed to be”. So the inyan of “tznius” in regard to this topic is appropriate and proper. The fact that the school has an opinion on the subject of “sex” in any way, shape or form in that concept is not unheard of nor is it inappropriate as far as they are concerned. I get that. The fact that Kaylee felt the need and was courageous enough to come forward with her story is an important accomplishment for her, Kol Hakovod. I get that too. But it goes against the grain of the school. Their attitude and belief is NOT going to change overnight because we wish it to, and they are NOT wrong because WE don’t agree with them.

    As Dr. Skopf said “We will be assembling the expertise needed to make recommendations to the Board and to me on the resources and support systems we must improve to serve our cherished students to the fullest extent of our capability.” These experts might advise them on the needs of such students who were so horrifically abused to have “control” and come out publicly with their stories. It will be a learning process for her and the entire school. She had admitted that she has a “need” to learn about this issue and how to deal with it. Until that happens she stands by the previous opinion. That does not mean that things won’t changes when she is better educated.

    WE need to learn from this as well. Don’t dig your heels in and look to accuse and blame others because they are NOT of the same opinion as we are or they don’t see things the same way. We don’t have to criticize everyone and fight with everyone. Because some very well educated and smart people chose to address Dr. Skopf appropriately, it caused her to learn something from them and gain a new perspective to the point that she apologized and recognized that not only was she wrong but she needs to educate both herself and the board on the needs of students such as Kaylee. That is a huge admission on her part and a major step forward for survivors of abuse and their advocates.

    At this point we have to appreciate and accept her apology and wait for Kaylee to advise us further. Don’t be so quick to judge and don’t stir up more trouble where it is NOT warranted. Give them the opportunity to work on this together and turn things around. If Kaylee needs our help we are always here for her, but if we don’t allow them the opportunity to give each other a chance to heal and work things through, we are just getting in the way of progress.

    • clap clap clap. how noble hearted you are. yawn. that is exactly why abuse continues. as i am the spokesman for 150 children some babies here in my area, as you see i am not haradi, but they are. and tell me again how i should speak out for the babies. like you do. clap clap. how nice.

      i am israeli. not a american its not my opinion its the opinion of the heaven. stir up trouble there you go judging a victim. kaylee is the good victim you give her permission to say something. clap clap. i am the horrible victim. upsetting you. tut tut. dont stir up trouble. and what are you going to do with the millions like me world wide. tell us all to shut up. why?. dont talk to me about healing when you just told me to shut the hell up. there is not going to be a way to work things out as this is going to continue and only a victim knows that. nothing changes. i have kept quiet for far too long.

      twisting the truth does not make it right. and changing subject is not going to help
      babies are being filmed, gang raped, tortured in ways i will not describe here. and you are telling me to play nice. there is no nice here. its terrible. its wicked.

      judge yes i will judge like my gggreat saba the rav aisel harif, who was not only a rabbi who told the truth what a change, and a judge.

      my judgement is that all who are involved in shutting up this story carry blame for this.
      hashem teaches us in torah that we are not even allowed to be cruel to animals. and we are supposed to treasure our children, not close our eyes

      we have to save the children. they are the only concern. nothing else matters. that is why divine punishment is going to come down on all those allowing this

      • Ruth,

        Every situation is different. As far as I can tell, no one making comments here is applying anything from the case in Chicago to what is and has been happening in Nachlaot.

        Every situation is different and requires its own unique approach. I am hardly going to sit in Chicago and try to tell people in Jerusalem how to deal with situations.

        Dorron Katzin
        Chicago, IL USA

  6. The full text of a statement posted this morning on the website of the Hebrew Theological College:
    http://www.htc.edu/component/k2/item/281-call-to-action.html

    Call to Action

    Tragically and painfully, sexual abuse and misconduct is a plague in our world and our Orthodox community has not been spared. Throughout its history, Hebrew Theological College has always provided caring support and guidance for its students. We are proud of this tradition and are committed to continue to actively demonstrate the highest ideals of Torah and Chesed. Regrettably, in a recent communication with a student who enrolled in our school with a past history of being a victim of sexual abuse, we failed to exercise appropriate sensitivity. As a consequence, we regard this as a catalyst for immediate action, growth and institutional improvement.

    Our Board and Executive Leadership are now in the process of identifying a cross section of experts to present recommendations to us that will enable us to develop the resources and support systems needed so that we are positioned to the fullest extent possible to help our students through the healing process.

  7. I have a seven year old granddaughter, the age Kaylie was when she was first assaulted. Had anyone with whom I was acquainted done anything of the kind to my little one I would be out for blood though being a civilized sort I’d have involved the authorities. It’s mind-boggling to think that the grip of these Haredi communities on the minds and souls of their adherents is such that a father would not only effectively do nothing to bring such a rapist under control (thereby endangering other children in the community) but would participate in what amounts to a coverup. Such pathological insularity cannot be justified on any moral basis that I can conceive of and is to be condemned thoroughly. These are cultists, not simply religious Jews and people of good will.

    • exactly. also the yeshiva turns men into wimps. hours they spend there not feeding their families,not spending time wiht wife and children. so why have children when you can get lucky at yeshiva?? plenty of little boys there. its an insane idea that a man is holy by acting like a monk. he is not studying for me an ddefinitely not for his own children. they are wimps. i meet them. they are wimps. perfect to silence them.no men left. the women are working the children are ripe victims. and the women go to the taxi drivers for sex. so there you go. a system made in hell.
      in biblical times men worked the land,dealt wth the family and prayed and fought for his land. to day we have wimps.
      its so bad when i go into bet knesset and confront them why there are perverts there, no one answers. or does anything. wimps. a perfect generation of wimps.
      poor kids.

      • Ruth,
        with no intention of sounding flippant, i do ponder the fact that all of these victims (and their siblings??) lose marriage prospects. So far, that’s mostly the boys, due to the fact that, that is what’s available, even if the perverts are heterosexual with their wives? efshar.. And then the females, ((and so far the number seems less, evidently due to the lack of availability, except for the “psychologists” among them, the Webermans et al.)), those females seem to not only besmirch their own names when revealing victimhood, but also “by association the names of their peers.” yes quote from ES of Skokie this week. It’s like the bubonic plague, it is communicable, thus spoke ES.
        So now, it draws closer to a logical and interesting conclusion, speculation, , no one is marriagable anymore. So it would seem through natural selection and affixing the stigma of victimhood, that the Charidim’s birthrate and that of the other ultras, and perhaps even some plain vanilla Ortho’s will plummet.
        And then we will be rid of at least one scourge. (remark limited to pedophiles, who are in great abundance, and whose Rebbe’s (Satmar) protect them straight to prison). Of course there are righteous yidden amongst them. But we don’t hear their voices screaming in outrage, do we???
        . Let the internecine brothers pay some long long visits to their close friend Nechemiah, if he survives there. and then perhaps they will repent. The “normal” violent prison population despises pedophiles. I needn’t follow that line of logic any further here. So it seems to me, that there are two logistical pathways that may very well end this scourge. Only, it won’t happen overnight, and it won’t help those suffering today from recent or not recent abuse by our Tsadikim, like Weberman, Kolko, Lanner, i may have used up my word limit. My heart bleeds, despite the perhaps flippant tone of this post.

  8. I want to challenge Dean Shkop on where she thinks in our Torah it says it is untzniusdike to admit to having been a victim. Yaakov did not silence Dinah. Before that, the Torah talks of the attempted violation of the Eemahos (Sara and Rivka) with no limits of “tzniyus” blocking the view of Torah that the abuser was at fault. Dovid did not silence his step daughter. Where, in which book, which Halacha, which convoluted interpretation of Judaism does this method of silencing victims come from in our Mesorah? Nowhere! It is actually against our Mesorah. Victims were heard out. Perpetrators were brought to justice (think Pilegesh B’Givah). The stance of Dean Shkop shows a way of life of “perceived Yiddishkeit and Tzniyus” that has nothing to do with Toras Hashem.

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