Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hamodia and Child Sexual Abuse

Yesterday an article was published in Hamodia magazine that could probably be fairly described as “unprecedented.”  The author writes about the importance of being watchful for the signals and red flags of child sexual abuse, based on a conversation with R’ Elya Brudny.  The article appropriately contains not only exhortations to awareness but also a Torah perspective on the problem.

I am not a regular reader of Hamodia, but I am guessing that this is the first time they have published something so strongly worded about the important of dealing with child sexual abuse in our community, let alone by a highly respected Rav.  (If I am wrong about this, please forgive me; it will not, however, affect the point of this post.) In this regard, it is a great step forward and an encouraging sign of future gains. 

However, there is something that really bothers me about the article.  It turns out that not once in the article is the subject matter actually identified.  The words “sexual” and “molestation” are entirely absent from the article, and the word “abuse” appears only once in the context of drugs.  I believe that this is a grave error: what the article is effectively saying is that we need to be aware of the problem – but we still don’t talk about it.  We want it to go away, but we won’t say exactly what it is, ostensibly out of a misplaced insistence on tznius.

Even if clarity is not compromised, even if we all know what we’re talking about – it still won’t do to avoid using candid and unambiguous language in this matter.  Because you and I might know what we’re talking about – but when we try to educate our children in the same mode, can we really be sure they’ll understand what we mean by people who “act in inappropriate, dangerous ways to children?” More damaging yet, what is the message to the poor souls who have already been victimized?  It is that we don’t want sexual abuse to happen, but if it did, we don’t really want to hear too much about it.  It’s not something we talk about.  This message yields the same silencing effect that the article purports to reject.

How can we prevent a problem whose name can’t even be mentioned?  It brings to mind a morbid version of the game Taboo (clearly appropriately named).  Try teaching kids about smoking without using the words “smoke,” “cigarette,” “tobacco,” “nicotine,” or “addiction.”  It’s a losing proposition.  We will not be able to effectively combat the problem if we are unwilling to say the words.  Is it a loss? Certainly.  I wish we lived in a time and place where children didn’t need to be educated in this way.  But we don’t, and they do.  We can’t prioritize purity of speech over the well-being of countless children.  And that is exactly what Hamodia is doing by refusing to use words that name the problem for what it is.

I am not suggesting we need to be graphic or frightening. But we need to be straight about it.  There are sexual abusers out there.  They want to molest children.  And they thrive in an environment where their crimes have no name.  It’s good to be holy.  It’s good to be modest.  But at what cost?

Hamodia is scaling mountains by publishing an article on the issue of child sexual abuse.  But they’ve got their foot on the brakes all the way up.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Safety Video for Kids

This is a great video put out by Jewish Community Watch.  Definitely worth sharing with your kids.

Monday, May 23, 2016

To Protect Our Children - Get Rid of Sex Offender Registries

You might think that as an advocate of child safety and an educator on the topic of child sexual abuse, I might be gung-ho about doing everything possible to keep sex offenders away from children.  The reality is that it's not so simple.  Check out this new article I wrote for Kveller that gives a different perspective on this question.  This is only the tip of the iceberg, but you can get an idea from these points that registries may in fact not be the best approach to keeping our
kids safe.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Safety Kid & Connect with Respect

Last night Debbie Fox delivered a presentation here in Baltimore for parents on the topic of child
sexual abuse.  Mrs. Fox has been leading the charge on this important issue for many years, and her Safety Kid program is currently being used in communities all over the US and Canada.  I myself ran this program in various schools in New Jersey while I was the outreach coordinator for Project S.A.R.A.H., so I am intimately familiar with it, and I am very glad that my kids will now be exposed to it as well.

Many times when I had finished presenting the program in a school, they would come back to me with a boatload of positive feedback, and then they would ask, "so what do you have for middle school?"  The answer at the time was, "nothing," and it remained so for a good while, until one rather assertive guidance counselor said, "Well, we're going to be doing something for our middle school.  I hope you're it."  And with that motivation, I set to work creating something we could offer to Jewish middle schools.

Some years and many revisions later, Connect with Respect is ready to roll!  You can see a brief overview of the program here.  (Note that originally Safety Kid was running only up until 4th grade, so mine picked up with 5th grade; now I understand they are doing Safety Kid in 5th grade as well, so I will likely be running Connect with Respect in 6th, 7th and 8th grades instead of 5th, 6th, and 7th.) Currently I am in contact with several communities (including, of course, Baltimore) who have expressed interest in the program.  If you'd like to know more about it or would like to bring it to your town, please contact me!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Apparently there's a new Jewish organization on the child sexual abuse prevention scene, Amudim.  I don't know much about them, but I just saw this video they produced, which is extremely disturbing and emotionally jarring.  It warns that the video is graphic, which is not entirely accurate - but it is definitely triggering for anyone who might have trauma in their past, so please consider whether you want to watch this or not.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The 36 Shailas That Lead to Love

shidduchim helpI just came across the following article in the NY Times from last year about “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” and I thought it had a lot of applicability to shidduchim.  In it the author cites another article called “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” which is also very relevant in that it affirms that love is not something we have to resign ourselves to “falling in” but rather it’s something we can purposefully create.  This is an important antidote to the media’s incessant portrayal of “love at first sight” and romance as the highest ideal.
So the 36 Questions That Lead to Love comprise a list of questions that become increasingly intimate (by which I do not mean graphic or inappropriate).  They were created as a part of an experiment to see if love can be invented instead of discovered, the idea being that the more you let someone into your self, the more connected you will feel.  For those of who you are unsure what to do on an actual shidduch date or what to talk about, this list is a handy reference. 
Obviously, you should start at the top of the list and work your way down – slowly.  One does not on the first date open up question #29 (“Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life”).  But it might very well be something appropriate a few weeks into things. It does take some judgment.
Fortunately, the start questions are really great for learning about each other in a very non-threatening way.  “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” is a great conversation starter!  (If this exercise yields one-word answers and no more – “Rambam.” “Oh.” – then one or both of you are doing something wrong.)
I found the list very intriguing and can imagine many hours of discussion arising from these. Maybe you will as well.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Best Gift for Your Children

I've recently been thinking about the adage familiar to many marriage counselors that "The best gift you can give your children is shalom bayis."  There are many reasons this is true - it is neither some crazy therapist thing nor a mystical idea.  Check out a quick run-down I wrote for here, or a longer series of posts at my Baltimore Therapy Center blog, starting here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Roshei Yeshiva on Successful Marriage

Last night I was fortunate to be able to attend a Q&A session with noted Rosh Yeshivas R’ Aharon Feldman and R’ Reuven Feinstein.  It was an illuminating session, in addition to being unexpectedly quite funny.  One of the questions posed was a very broad question on what the keys are to a successful and long-lasting marriage. R’ Feldman offered an answer without skipping a beat, followed by an addendum from R’ Feinstein. I thought I would share their comments here.
R’ Feldman suggested three points that he feels form the basis for a solid marriage.  First, mutual respect – spouses who are not respectful towards one another cannot expect to have a fulfilling marriage.  Second, control what you say.  Words can be very damaging and a person has to be careful not to throw things out there that can’t be taken back  Third, gratitude.  A person should think about the very many things their spouse does for them and recognize that they far outnumber the perceived offenses.  Even just being married is something we should be grateful for.  It would be terribly sad if a person were 45 years old and still single; we should be grateful to our spouses for saving us from that.  (I wish I could elaborate more on the these, but his response was fairly concise.)
R’ Feinstein then added on that a person should avoid using the words “always” and “never,” as in, “you never change” and “you always do the same thing.”  His point seemed to be less about the unfair generality of such a statement and more about the necessity of letting bygones be bygones.  He compared it hypothetically to a person coming before HaKadosh Baruch Hu on Yom Kippur and doing teshuvah on some particular transgression. The next year he comes back and has to apologize for the same thing, and G-d gets annoyed. On the third year, G-d rejects him entirely, saying, “Didn’t you come for this the past two years?”  Obviously, this doesn’t happen.  So too, indicated R’ Feinstein, we should not be going back to our spouse’s past mistakes. Once s/he does teshuvah, that’s it- we accept it and move on.  He explained that by the Yom Kippur service of the Kohen Gadol, his wife is referred to as beiso, not ishto.  Why with beis and not alef?  The beis, explained R’ Feinstein, is closed on 3 sides – you can’t look back, only forward.  So too, with one’s wife, one should not look back to old grievances.  Once there’s teshuvah, it’s over.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sexual Abuser Exposed

Earlier this week I found out that a therapist I used to work with at a community mental health agency was busted for being sexually involved with (and filming) a 16-year-old boy he was treating.  As if that’s not bad enough on its own, this therapist used to do classroom presentations as part of the sexual abuse prevention program I ran in Jewish schools in New Jersey.  It boggles the mind to think about someone walking into a classroom to teach kids how to avoid being abused, then walking into his office that night and abused a kid.  Wow.

Initially I was thinking that this could be a big blow to the agency’s credibility in offering sexual abuse prevention services – if they can’t even prevent it in their own daled amos… (note: I don’t know whether any abuse actually took place in the agency or with the agency’s clients as opposed to possibly his private clients elsewhere).  But then I realized, it can actually be used to their advantage, to wit: there really is no way to spot an abuser a priori – they come in all shapes and sizes, genders, family situations, classes, etc.  (Yes, many abusers are well-educated and are married with kids – as this man is.)  And sexual abuse education does not suggest otherwise.  Rather, it focuses on teaching adults how to spot the behaviors that are suspect (primarily the grooming process, in which an abuser gradually earns trust, provides extra attention to the victim, and introduces sexual content to their interactions), and teaching kids about body ownership (the classic “my body belongs to me”), inappropriate behaviors on the part of adults, and the importance of telling someone should they r”l find themselves in that situation.

Indeed, if I may plug myself, this is why I created a sexual abuse prevention program for Jewish middle schools – after several years of running one for Jewish elementary schools, it was clear that there is need for further education through the early teen years (and even beyond – but one step at a time). So, if you are interested in bringing my program – called Connect with Respect – to a middle school near you, please be in touch. I would love to get this out there and in use so that, B”H, we should see fewer and fewer kids falling prey to abusers.

Check out the video prospectus for Connect with Respect here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Domestic Violence: Physical and Emotional

A common perception about domestic violence is that emotional and verbal abuse* are very bad, but a situation of physical abuse is urgent. It is true that sometimes physical abuse can be severe to the point of medical emergency.  However, it is important to understand that in fact, most victims of abuse will tell you that the emotional and verbal abuse are worse.  Much worse.

This can be hard to understand for someone who has (thankfully) not experienced abuse in a relationship.  Let us consider the following points.  Which would you rather endure, physical pain or emotional pain?  I think most of us would choose the former.  Indeed, many of us have made that very choice when, for example, picking up a needy child even when we are exhausted/sick/etc. We would rather experience physical duress than watch our child cry (or, possibly, endure the incessant whining).

Furthermore, in general physical injuries will heal with little effort from us.  Bruises disappear whether or not you do anything about them.  Emotional wounds, however, are not so effortless. A victim who is made to feel stupid does not automatically grow out of that; low self-esteem does not heal itself. A wife who is told by her husband that he never found her attractive anyway is not likely to slowly regain feelings of attractiveness in the same way that wound slowly fades.

Another important distinction between the physical and emotional abuse is that physical abuse usually leaves marks you can see.  Even if a victim cannot – or does not wish to – show them to others, at least s/he can point to something and know that they’re real. By contrast, an abuser who is not physically violent tries to undermine the victim’s own confidence; victims are often left wondering what happened, if they’re crazy, if it’s all their fault – it’s much harder to recognize for what it is, and that itself makes the situation that much more unbearable.

The pain of emotional abuse runs much deeper.  Feeling bad about who you are is much more painful than a broken arm.  As one victim put it, “The physical abuse makes me hate him; the emotional abuse makes me hate myself.”  Victims time and again testify that they would rather suffer the beatings than the verbal attacks.

I was reminded of this question and decided to write a post about during my morning seder.  In Erchin 15a the Mishnah discusses a motz shem ra, one who falsely accuses his wife of not being a virgin on their wedding night.  Should it be discovered that he is lying, the fine is 100 selas.  However, notes Rashi, if a man rapes a woman, he owes only 50 selas.  We see, explains the Mishnah, that ha’omer b’piv chamur min ha’oseh maaseh – one who injures with his words does more damage than one who does an actual act*.  Indeed, Chazal are in agreement that verbal abuse is worse than physical abuse.

*I have used verbal and emotional abuse fairly interchangeably here, although strictly speaking there are differences despite the overlap.  For example, abusers can emotionally abuse their spouse by cheating on them, giving condescending looks, etc., without saying a thing.
**Obviously, the damage caused by rape is primarily emotional, not physical.  For reasons beyond the scope of this post, Chazal’s approach to rape is different from our modern one (and not because Chazal didn’t care about women). Nonetheless, the point still stands that Chazal are asserting that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

American Orthodox Rabbis Say: Report!

I am so glad to read this report about a list of American Haredi rabbis who have publicly signed on to a statement that halacha requires reporting to the secular authorities in cases where there is a reasonable suspicion of child abuse. It seems that authoritative opinions are shifting - or at least becoming more vocal - such that the idea of "handling it internally" is increasingly being recognized as a futile and improper approach.

If you are aware of a potential situation of child sexual abuse, please, don't keep it quiet.  Consult with your rabbi, consult with professionals (including myself), by all means - but report it to the officials as well.  For our children's sake.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why I Let My Daughter Listen to Rap Music

Check out the latest article on Kveller:
It's actually not so much about rap and a lot more about the perspectives we bring to parenting. B
ut you probably knew that already.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Living Wells: Wisdom in Music

Okay, so this isn't actually a therapy-related post.  But hey, the word "rap" is in "therapy."  Some friends of mine put together a phenomenal Jewish rap CD. It's bursting with Torah, wisdom, and good vibes. I recommend it to everyone. And I don't even like rap.

Check them out at!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Growing as a Couple

My friend and colleague Ariel Schochet wrote a nice post about couples counseling on his blog, entitled Peer Pressure in the Therapeutic Environment. I am a big fan of the approach he is advocating, which is to avoid the "keeping score" trap and to just give your marriage your all.  Some people have expressed this as eschewing a 50%-50% balance and conceiving of it as a 100%-100% balance - i.e., I don't count how many times you do for me, and you don't count how many times I do for you - we both just do for each other what we can (i.e., don't overextend yourself), all the time.  Check out his post here.

Ariel Schochet, LPC, NCC, is the managing partner of The River Wellness Group, located in Passaic, NJ and Teaneck, NJ.  They are a full-service counseling practice, whose range of services include child, adult, couples, families and addiction psychotherapy services.  To learn more about The River Wellness Group, visit

Monday, May 4, 2015

Marriage Counseling in Baltimore

Just posting a reminder that I do couples counseling, marriage therapy, etc. in person these days in Baltimore.  If you're looking to improve your relationship, fix a problem, or save your marriage, click over to where you'll find more information.

I also specialize in dealing with ahhairs (i.e., relationships where these has been infidelity).  More info at

Thursday, April 30, 2015

How to Get Porn Out of Our Yeshivas

An article I wrote posted on the Daas Torah blog: How to Get Porn Out of Our Yeshivas

The problem hardly needs elaboration anymore. Fewer and fewer people continue to deny that pornography viewing and addiction are extant if not commonplace in even the most traditional and the most insular communities. The reach of the internet knows almost no boundaries . . .

The Circumcision of Desire

Rabbi Sacks recently wrote a piece centering on circumcision that I think also has value for the discussion of domestic violence and the power and control issues that are at the heart of it. Check it out here.

. . . Brit milah helps transform the male from Baal to Ish, from dominant partner to loving husband, just as God tells Hosea that this is what He seeks in His relationship with the people of the covenant. Circumcision turns biology into spirituality. The instinctive male urge to reproduce becomes instead a covenantal act of partnership and mutual affirmation. It was thus as decisive a turn in human civilisation as Abrahamic monotheism itself. Both are about abandoning power as the basis of relationship . . .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015