As an activist against child abuse I am used to hearing well-meaning people tell me, “You are right, but nothing can be done. So and so is too powerful to be dissuaded or dislodged.” That attitude is defeatist and ignores the reality that social change is happening all the time.
For the longest time Brooklynites insisted District Attorney Charles Hynes could not be removed from office because he had the support of the Hasidic voting block. Well, he had that block’s endorsement on Tuesday and he lost by 11% in a two-way contest against Kenneth Thompson.
Others insist that Rabbi Yisroel Belsky can get away with vile slander and witness intimidation in his defense of convicted, Lakewood, child-molester Yosef Kolko. They say, he cannot be dislodged as the Senior Posek (rabbinical authority) for the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Kosher Division. I disagree. It is true that he has the support of Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher who cares more about some of his market than he cares about protecting Jewish children. However, I am convinced that the pressure will continue to mount and Belsky will be forced out of his job. I don’t know if it will take months or a year, or perhaps even longer, but I am confident it will happen. I say this because I am hearing from enough disgruntled constituents of the Orthodox Union who are determined to press the issue and escalate their tactics if the OU does not do the right thing on its own. Most of them are trying very hard to get the OU to listen to their private expressions of disgust. They do not want to publicly embarrass the OU. But if the OU persists in ignoring them, a number of them have told me they will move to public tactics such as demonstrations and selective boycotts. In the end, I believe Rabbi Genack will sacrifice Belsky to protect his brand. It is just a shame that he insists upon testing how long he can avoid this inevitable reality.
As we move from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur it is worth reflecting on the messages in our haftorah readings for the Days of Awe.
On Rosh Hashanah we start with Hannah, a women misjudged by the High Priest Eli as a drunk. Yet her prayers lead to a child, Samuel, who prophesized the end of Eli’s priestly lineage because of corruption. Samuel goes on to annoint Saul and then predict his demise because Saul was kind to the cruel.
On Yom Kippur we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah/yeshayahu (58:6-7), “This is the fast that I desire… to unlock the fetters of wickedness… and not to ignore your own kin.”
One of the great issues of our time is the untrammeled cruelty of sex abuse inflicted on 10% – 20% of our children. Nobody knows how long it has been going on, but we do know that 10% – 20% of the adults in the community live with its awful consequences, suffering for years and in many cases, for their entire life. Now that it is being exposed, this cannot stand. The protection of molesters must stop. Those that protect molesters, however powerful, however worthwhile their other accomplishments, must either change or be removed from power.
I am a discerning cynic, but also an optimist. This week’s electoral defeat of Charles Hynes reaffirms my faith that change can happen if we persist in our efforts to reform the community. I refuse to believe that those who now have power will hold it indefinitely. I am confident that more of the mighty will fall.