Being wrong is lousy; being publicly wrong is lousier. I have had some real bloopers in my 1,200+ posts over almost seven years. In every one of those five instances, I swallowed hard and issued unambiguous public apologies. I did not bury my corrections in my comments and I did not equivocate. It is good for the soul and one’s character to do such things. After every such apology I thought long and hard about how I made the mistake and I developed a visceral alert system that spared me from repeating it. While some of my enemies tried very hard to rag on me about my mistakes, most of my readers respected me for it. It made them more trusting of other things I write.
I am painfully aware that I am a solo blogger, my own editor, fact checker, and ethical cop. I do my best and I consult with others when in doubt. I also pay attention to comments on my posts and make smaller corrections as warranted. Yet ultimately, my public is dependent on my integrity without full supervision, transparency or accountability.
This isn’t just my problem. It shows up in many areas of anti-abuse activism in the orthodox Jewish world for a simple reason. Most activism is undertaken without pay or support and therefore without controls. I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future, especially for those of us who are determined not to lavish praise on the existing system or to play by its rules that regularly yield cover-ups.
The orthodox world’s activism against abuse is a loose network of survivors, friends and relatives who support them,bloggers, other sorts of organizations, and a larger hidden world of secret supporters. My success depends on working well with others. I try hard to avoid needless fights. I despise some fights that are really just turf wars disguised as principled battles.
Nevertheless some disagreements are necessary as a matter of establishing the truth about a case or clarifying the problems with a particular policy or even an individual or an organization. In 2010 I forcefully attacked one activist, Kal Holczler, who was exploiting survivors. It was painful because some of my supporters had been helped by Kal and were angry at me. But just as we try to collaborate well, we also have to accept the price of telling the truth, even when the anger comes from survivors and other supporters of our efforts.
A controversy has now erupted about Yehuda Pogrow. He deserves credit for how he responded when his brother, Meir Pogrow, was publicly denounced as an abuser of females. Yehuda, who is in no way implicated in his brother’s conduct, went public to join in the condemnation and to reveal the ways in which his brother also abused him. Yehuda has also shared ways in which he was sexually abused by his mother and physically abused at school. That is courage which few show, let alone on short notice.
Yehuda also wants to be a leader in the effort to overcome the abuse cover-ups of the frum world. I have advised him not to undertake that role, and I am now urging survivors not to seek him out. Unlike Kal, I am not accusing Yehuda of assaults or anything like that. But based on my impressions of his writing and actions, I find him too inexperienced, impulsive, and short on knowledge and sensitivity to others. His intentions are for the good, but his judgment and temperament do not match his intentions. I believe that he is likely to hurt the best interests of some survivors who depend on him.
When victims/survivors approach activists they are entitled to a response sensitive to their needs and situation. While I will always support someone bringing a criminal or civil case against an abuser, I do not use survivors as pawns in my effort. That is not the preferred path for some. Others may want to go that way and I feel obliged to help inform them of what lies down that path so they can make an informed choice. Handling this competently requires an understanding of the issues, sensitive attention to the individual and discipline so you do not confuse your own agenda with the needs and choices of the survivor. I have always tried to manage that balance and I hope I have succeeded.
At this point I have grave doubts about Yehuda’s ability to manage that balance. I cannot see Yehuda instantly changing his hard-charging character to fit this requirement, not right now, and not soon.
I wish Yehuda well in his private life and efforts and I hope he does change for the better. But these are my thoughts about the here and now.