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Thursday, March 8, 2012


Purim and unmasking child molestation

Many of the websites that promote protection for children and healing for survivors of sexual abuse (www.adkanenough.com, www.jewishcommunitywatch.com, www.voicesofjustice.com, and www.jewishparentsforsafeyeshivas.com) are pointing out that with all of the drinking and the relaxation of rules and social structures on the holiday, now is an especially important time to talk to children about personal safety.  Unfortunately, many pedophiles celebrate by taking advantage of the festivities to harm children.  Children of all ages need to be reminded now and regularly that nobody has the right to touch them in their private parts or to force them to touch others’ private parts.  They need to know that whoever it is who attempts to do this or in any way makes them feel uncomfortable, whether a family friend, a relative, a sibling, a teacher a rebbe or even a parent, they should immediately run away and tell a (safe) parent or trusted adult.  They need to be reassured that they will be heard, believed and protected.
Purim also contains a lesson for all of us about the communal problem of child sexual abuse in the custom for people to dress up in costumes and wear masks.  One of the reasons for the make believe is to remind us that so much of our lives are lived behind the masks we wear so that others, and even we ourselves, cannot recognize who we really are.  A great part of who we are and who the world is remains hidden.
Hashem’s name does not appear in the entire Megilla, and the hint of the Purim story in the Torah comes from the Passuk that speaks of Hester Panim, Hashem’s hiding His face from us, alluding to Ester.  Hashem wears a mask to hide from us at times, making life’s events seem as arbitrary and capricious as Haman’s lottery of when to annihilate the Jews.
Our job, with the inspiration of the Purim celebration is to see beyond the mask and to recognize that everything that happens in our lives has a higher meaning and a hidden truth.  Finding Hashem and exposing his love for us is the purpose of the Jewish people. 
In the horrible epidemic of child sexual abuse that has been allowed to plague our community for too long, we can clearly see that all of us also wear masks that conceal our true feelings about this spiritual holocaust.  We need to be inspired by the message of Purim to let our guard down and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to knowing ourselves better so that we can come together to stop the terrible damage.
Victims of abuse often wear masks of being happy and successful in life, peaceful and strong.  Many grow up to be talented, creative people with a deep concern and understanding of others and have great accomplishments.  But underneath their masks, they often suffer terribly in silence from feelings of shame and terror and a deep unending loneliness.
Molesters, as well, are notoriously ingenious at creating masks to hide their true intentions, playing the role of charming and dynamic youth leaders and teachers, or trustworthy, religious family men.   The façade of the sexual abusers masks their inherently deceitful, manipulative and selfish nature, and their deviant and dangerous desires and behaviors.
Teens who are “at risk” and who go “off the derech” can appear to us as rebellious, oppositional and unreachable.  In reality, they often feel betrayed and abandoned by the adults who are supposed to protect them, leading to an overwhelming sense of disillusionment and alienation.
Too many parents fool themselves by hiding behind a veneer of security and safety, confident that our community is a perfectly safe place in which to raise children.  If they would allow themselves to open their eyes and ears to what is happening in their shuls, schools, camps and neighborhoods, they would be shocked and frightened at their helplessness to completely protect their families from abuse in the community. 
Many rabbanim and askanim, community organizations and newspapers express compassion and seriousness about tackling the problem of molestation.  Their many private meetings and few public pronouncements belie their true state of mind – a confused passivity, born of anxious concern for the community’s image - a paralysis that protects only the molesters, never the children.
Advocates for children and for victims of abuse often appear as angry people, filled with righteous indignation, cynical about the “powers that be” and hysterically bent on exposing the evil that lurks in our midst.  What is not as readily seen by the casual observer is the deep-down devastation they experience, and the never-ending hope and yearning, in spite of it all, for the Jewish people to wake up and confront the issue of child abuse once and for all.
The identity confusion that can be caused by wearing masks is also alluded to in the Purim custom of drinking until we are too intoxicated to know the difference between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai. Even drunks can know the difference between a blessing and a curse, but because we hide our true natures, it is often easy to confuse people’s identities, including our very own.   
When is it that we are we denying who we truly are, like the Jews who celebrated at King Achashverosh’s party and pretended they belonged there and all was well?  And when are we being courageous and brave like Queen Ester, who revealed her true identity and Haman’s true colors, risking it all to save her people?  Will the real Mordechai and the real Haman please stand up?
Hiding our true selves behind masks is our attempt to protect ourselves from challenge and conflict.  But it actually creates division, turning the “Am Echad” into a people who are “Mefuzar and Meforad”.   The revelation of truth by Mordechai and Esther, in which “Vnahapoch Hu”, everything was turned upside down and inside out, brought salvation and healing for every single Jewish, man, woman and child.  And it inspired a newfound communal unity and connection to Hashem, to Torah and to each other.
Layehudim Haysa Orah V’Simcha V’Sason V’Ykar.
 The Jewish people rejoiced in the revelation of the truth about who they really are. 
Keyn Tihye Lanu.                                                                     
Dr. Asher Lipner, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Flatbush who works with survivors of traumatic abuse and child moles and co-chair coalition of jewish advocates

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