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entries tagged with: Ohel


Teaneck girl wins essay contest

OHEL essay contest winners, from left, Jared Rosen, Baila Gunsburg, Yaffa Jacobson, Zehava Shayna Seidman, and Rivka Lubin.

Zehava Shayna Seidman of Teaneck took first place in the middle school division for her entry in OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services recent essay and picture contest aimed at raising awareness and sensitivity to those with disabilities in the Jewish community. Nearly 1,000 entries were received from third- to 12th-graders in more than 50 schools.

Teaneck’s Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls Principal Rookie Billet sat on the panel of judges along with writer and speaker Rabbi Paysach Krohn and “Binah Bunch” children’s magazine editor Rachel Hubner. Entries were received from students in Brooklyn, Cedarhurst, Teaneck, Monsey, Miami, Baltimore, Lakewood, Cleveland, Dallas, Toronto, and Englewood, as well as from Australia.

Zehava, a sixth-grader at The Moriah School of Englewood, received a flier about the competition from her teacher, Rachel Schwartz, and decided to enter.

“I felt maybe if we show people kids can really help with these kinds of things, they can do good for these kids,” said Zehava, the daughter of Renee and Daniel Seidman. She added that her participation in the contest has further sensitized her to those with special needs.

“My mom has a friend whose daughter gets seizures and it’s hard for her, but I think we can try and help her,” she said. “Next time I meet someone with disabilities, I would get to know that person more, and hang out with them even if others think they’re weird. It’s not what is on the outside of the person that matters, but what is on the inside.”

She plans to use her $500 prize money toward her August bat mitzvah chesed project, which she hasn’t yet chosen. The Seidman family belongs to Cong. Keter Torah.

OHEL Director of Communications Derek Saker explained that the contest was part of the Brooklyn-based organization’s 40th anniversary events. OHEL’s professional services are available throughout New York, New Jersey, and South Florida.

“We started as a foster agency because of a great need for placement for Jewish children. But today we are a vast social service organization providing foster care as well as outpatient and residential developmental disability services, mental health services, summer camps, and a training institute,” said Saker. “Part of the campaign we’ve been running to mark our 40th year is to communicate to a larger audience the services we provide.”

The contest was geared to confronting unease and prejudice within the Jewish community, he said. “There have been tremendous inroads, but there are still major stigmas remaining for those providing and in foster care, or suffering from mental illness or developmental disability.”

To illustrate the point, Saker told of a young Jewish mother who until recently did not feel comfortable taking her autistic child out of the house. “A few months ago, she contacted OHEL, and both she and husband are now in a support group. They suddenly found likeminded people and have grown in their confidence.”

Saker said that a few teachers expressed concern that the essay and drawing contest might cause embarrassment for children with disabilities in their classes. “We discussed it with principals and decided that it came down to an excellent teacher having the capacity to take a competition like this and integrate it into the classroom, being sensitive to someone with a disability without putting them in the spotlight,” said Saker, pointing out that even a condition such as diabetes, which is not obvious, is legally considered a disability.

Each winning essay, he continued, showed “depth in understanding and wanting to learn more about the subject.”

First- and second-place winners on the high school level were Jared Rosen, a Ramaz Upper School senior, and Rivka Lubin, a junior at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway; and on the elementary level, Faigy Greenspan, a Bais Yaakov of Toronto third-grader, and Yeshiva of Spring Valley fifth-grader Baila Gunsburg. Winning second place on the middle school level was Yaffa Jacobson, a seventh-grader at Adolph H. Schreiber Hebrew Academy of Rockland County.

To see the winning essay, go to Zehava Shayna Seidman's winning essay.


Confessions and warnings

A ‘toolbox’ for dealing with sexual abuse

A new book, “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Ktav), addresses the disturbing, complex, and mostly hidden issue of child abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities.

In the Jewish community, “there’s a sense of secrecy, a sense of shame, as it contradicts the values of the community,” said Dr. David Pelcovitz, the book’s co-editor with David Mandel.

In the Orthodox community, said Pelcovitz, “there’s a tremendous emphasis on respecting authority. Kids may not want to disclose. And there is difficulty in handing in one of your own.”

David Pelcovitz

After practicing psychology for more than two decades, in 2004 Pelcovitz became special assistant to Yeshiva University’s President Richard Joel, as well as professor of psychology and education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School. There he teaches psychology, psychosocial issues in the Jewish Community, and pastoral psychology courses that are required for rabbinic students. “In the yeshivish world, people are more likely to go to the rabbi,” said Pelcovitz. “Many rabbis tell me they spend about 50 percent of their time doing pastoral work. They need to know how to intervene in an informed way.”

An expert on trauma, child abuse, and parenting, Pelcovitz worked with Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services for many years, where he got to know Mandel, the chief executive officer of Ohel.

“We were looking for a resource that parents, educators, and therapists could go to in terms of prevention and if something already happened,” said Pelcovitz. “Before the book I had done a fair amount of speaking to parents on how to talk to their kids about abuse.”

“Dr. Pelcovitz has trained rabbis for Project S.A.R.A.H. over many years,” said Esther East, director of Jewish Family Services of the Jewish Federation of Greated Clifton/Passaic. “His professional credentials and his [understanding of the Jewish community] are wonderful resources for us.”

“In Israel there is some research,” said Pelcovitz. “[Sexual abuse] is not clearly overrepresented in one segment of the population vs. another.

“However, he added, “in a more insular community there is more difficulty talking about sexually related issues.” In addition, “the more to the right you get, the more difficult it is to deal with secular authority.”

This is true outside the Jewish community as well, he noted. “Private school teachers have a harder time reporting [abuse] than public school teachers,” Pelcovitz said. “If the abuser is a member of your own social class, then it’s harder to see and it’s harder to act on.”

The book is “designed to be a toolbox for various members of the community — how to deal with it in a culturally sensitive, yet informed way,” said Pelcovitz. “In a general context, the book should raise awareness of the problem, help people realize that this is something that can be dealt with, and that there are practical approaches to prevention. And hopefully, in the rare cases of abuse, provide mechanisms for intervention.”

The book is divided into four sections: “The Voice of Abuse” documents experiences of men and women who were abused as children. The chapters emphasize that children who were abused are survivors, rather than victims. A chapter by Gavriel Fagin, a social worker at Ohel, addresses questions such as “Is there anything anyone could have told you that would have prepared you to avoid being abused?”


The second section, “Prevention and Intervention Programs,” addresses what can be done at the parent, school, and community level to prevent abuse. Dr. Susan Schulman’s chapter, “Unwanted Touch: A Preventive Approach for Parents,” describes the issue as it relates to preschoolers, children ages 6 to 11, and adolescents. “The abuser is usually a familiar adult,” notes Schulman, a pediatrician. She presents graphic descriptions of cases involving child abuse. “I am uncomfortable writing about the actual abuse, and I am sure that you will be uncomfortable reading about it,” she writes, “but the children who went through these experiences deserve to have you know exactly what happened.”

The third section, “Halachic and Legal Perspectives — Insights and Misconceptions,” provides an overview of how Jewish law views and handles abuse. Ohel Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Rabbi Mark Dratch, founder of JSafe (Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment), and Adam Lancer, a lawyer who serves as general counsel for Ohel, grapple with the issue of the investigation of abuse and the reporting of abusers to secular authorities. “The book says unequivocally — very clearly —that if there’s a suspected abuse, the law is that one has to report it,” said Pelcovitz.

“There are chapters for therapists to help them understand how to address these issues and the unique needs of the Orthodox community,” said Pelcovitz of the last section, “Psychological Analysis and Treatment of Victims and Offenders.” In one chapter, he writes about how victims should be treated. The long-term impact of childhood sexual abuse can be viewed as a type of post-traumatic stress disorder, manifesting many of the same symptoms of classic PTSD, writes Pelcovitz. Topics in that chapter include incest, stigmatization, and feelings of betrayal. Other chapters in that section, by social workers Barry Horowitz and Hillel Sternstein, deal with treating adolescent and adult offenders.

The final chapter, by Isaac Schechter, addresses how various parties in Jewish communities across the spectrum can help prevent sexual abuse. “Developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive education to this issue is not a derision of the fundamental principle of tznius (modesty) but rather an affirmation of it,” writes Schechter, a psychologist who serves chasidic Jews in New York’s Rockland County.

“Anything that shines the light on what’s happening has to be a good thing,” said Pelcovitz. “There have been real improvements in the community. On the whole it’s painful, but it’s been necessary….

“I think that all parents should talk to their children about the issue, without frightening them. There is a doable, step-by-step approach that does not have to frighten them at all. It should be done as early as preschool,” he concluded. “Just as you talk about water safety, it’s important to talk about touch.”

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