An Open Letter to Camp Shalvah Parents Whose Children May Have Been Molested (from the archives)

Three years ago the Bobov Camp Shalva covered up an intrusion into their bunks by a registered sex offender, Yoel Oberlander, ordering children not to share their experiences with police investigators. In the aftermath, I wrote this letter to parents of those campers. It was also read by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg as one of his weekly recorded voice broadcasts posted on his “hotline.” I still am proud of it as model of messaging to parents of kids who may have been abused. It was my attempt to get around the administration’s bubbe maise that nothing happened which might better be called in this case a Bobov Maise. —    Yerachmiel Lopin

As you know, Yoel Oberlander went through a bunk. This is a man on the sex offender registry because he seized an eleven year old girl and did something to her.

The hanhalah says nothing happened to the children. Their lawyer Scharf says he did not have enough time to do anything. I don’t believe them.

The police arrested Oberlander because the camp accused him of trespassing and signed a formal complaint. Otherwise Oberlander, who had permission to do a food delivery would have been let go. So parents, ask yourself, would the Bobov dayan allow mesirah just because he walked in the wrong area? After all his last criminal charge was ten years ago and he claims to have done tshuvah.

The camp’s lawyer, Scharf, thinks that molesting requires a whole hinei muchan umizuman and a long brachah achronah. But the 13 minutes he was in the bunk was plenty of time to fondle some boys.

Others will say his tayvah is for girls. But, like other pedophiles his tayvah may not be for men or women, just for children, whether they are boys or girls.

I agree that he probably did not have enough time to touch all the children or even most of them. But what if he touched your child?

The menahel R. Bakon feels it is nisht geferlich. So he instructed the kids to be quiet and didn’t inform the parents. I say it is terrible. Look around you at all the failed marriages, mental health problems, suicides, drug overdoses, lost children and dysfunctional families. Often it is because of sex abuse. The abuse itself is not the worst thing. If grown ups listen to kids and uproot the evil, kids can cope. They even get strengthened by learning they can survive nisyonos (testing circumstances). But if mechanchim and parents ignore their pain they feel abandoned. Once your bond develops a crack, over time that crack gets wider and it eventually splits open. You have put so much work into developing the kesher (bond) with your son. Don’t let it start fraying. If the bond is torn it is very hard to patch up.

When your child comes back from camp tomorrow you have to listen to them. Notice, I did not say talk to them. They have already been talked to, now they need to know that you will listen to them instead of telling them what to say and think. Be sure to give them your undivided attention and not to rush this discussion. Let them know you were upset that someone bad got into their bunk. Let them know that it was the grownup who went into the bunk who was bad, not the children. Let them know that if he touched you or any other boys, you are angry at that grownup, not at the boys. Be sure to let your son know that if he was touched you are not angry at the boy, but could understand why he would be upset. Most importantly, to protect your children in the future, you must tell them that if anyone touches you improperly you should always tell me as quickly as possible so I can make sure it won’t happen again. Make sure they know that no one has the right to say they should keep such a thing a secret.

If nothing happened to your son you are lucky and you have taught them something that will protect them in the future.

If anything happened your son will probably begin talking. They may be hesitating and you will have to be patient, encouraging them and drawing them out. Even a talkative boy may turn into a sheanoy yodeah lishoel (one who does not know how to ask). As it says in the haggadah, at pisach loy (you have to help them open up). They may be afraid and will try to use lashon naki (euphemisms). This is normally good but make it clear than when it is necessary to deal with such a thing they are allowed to elaborate.  They may be upset and crying. That is OK. It shows they have the sechel to know when something is not normal. They may be angry and they may talk with chutzpah. Normally you don’t allow it, but now is a time for midas chesed (gentleness) not midas din (harshness). This would be the wrong moment to reprimand them. Keep listening and keep promising them you will do something about it.

If your son was molested it would be a good idea to make an appointment with a mental health professional, a therapist who specializes in these things. Some kids will do fine and recover easily. Others will need more help. But either way at least get a check up to be sure the problem is not worse than it seems. (If you cannot afford therapy there is money available for crime victims through the police and the prosecutor).

If your child was molested you will have to keep your promise to them and make sure the hanhalah deals with the problem instead of making believe it was just a burglar who was chased away.

If your child was molested, he can recover. But if you betray his trust by not listening and acting he may never recover.

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