Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Sunday, June 15, the Magenu organization conducted a spectacular “Safety Day” event at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Thousands of families participated. New York City’s Fire Department was on hand with its fire simulator vehicle to train children how to react in case of a fire. The dangers of driving without a seatbelt were demonstrated by representatives of the New York State police with a driving simulator. NYC police demonstrated their equestrian skills with beautiful horses. Children were able to board the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) vehicles while learning about safety in events of disaster. Hatzalah and Shomrim volunteers exhibited ambulances and sophisticated command communication centers. However, the undeclared, overriding theme of the event and of Magenu’s efforts is the fight against child abuse.
Magenu designed the grand, fun celebration to teach children all phases of personal safety. The event began at noon and lasted until 6:00 p.m. “We are so thrilled and humbled by Magenu’s growth in terms of school participation, parents, and volunteers who have come forward,” said Dr. Shani Verschleiser, co-founder of Magenu. “The purpose of this year’s event is to raise the profile of our organization and increase awareness to thousands of students across the country for personal safety. The celebration focuses on the future, as we continue to move forward on our programs of educating teachers, parents, and community leaders around the country in personal safety for our children.”
Honored with awards at the event for their contributions to the effort were NYS Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, NYC Councilman Mathieu Eugene, and Yoni Rhodes. Ari Verschleiser serves as Magenu’s chairman.
Child abuse is abhorrent and condemned by all of decent society. The incidence of child abuse within the Orthodox community is no higher than in any other part of society. Nevertheless, even one instance of child abuse is intolerable and unacceptable. Among the current efforts to fight child abuse in our community, those of the Magenu organization stand heads and shoulders above all others. Magenu works to protect our children by promoting education in personal safety and fortifying each child personally with self-esteem and self-confidence to understand, recognize, and repel attempts of molestation. Magenu’s goal is to teach our children how to respond to and repel potentially dangerous situations. Magenu believes in coordinated effort between schools, teachers, parents, and children to achieve children’s safety. To date, Magenu has introduced its educational program to thousands of schools, teachers, parents, and children.
Magenu educators come to yeshivas and day schools to implement the Safety Model programing. Training modules consist of three separate workshops for adults (school administration, school staff, and parents) and educational lessons for each class. Depending on the number of people to be trained, overall training time is one-and-a-half to two days, repeated annually. Magenu is certified by New York State as a provider of educational coursework to school administrators/supervisors, school service personnel, and teachers. Magenu complies with Chapter 544 of the New York State Laws of 1988, which requires that training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and maltreatment be taken by chiropractors, dental hygienists, dentists, optometrists, physicians, podiatrists, psychologists, registered nurses, licensed clinical social workers, licensed master social workers, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, creative arts therapists, psychoanalysts, school administrators and supervisors, school service personnel, and schoolteachers. In 2015, Magenu expects to train and implement curriculums in more than 250 additional yeshivas and day schools.
In addition to its Magenu comic series, as part of its Project Awareness Magenu has published and distributed outlines and pamphlets on bus safety, shul safety, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, chol ha’moed, and summer safety. These pamphlets are downloadable from the Magenu website. Its summer safety pamphlet is most timely and includes the following:
Summer is about to arrive and with it comes many fun and exciting times and events. Summer also brings some anxiety and fear to many parents who are concerned about the safety of their children in more unstructured or unsupervised environments. Each year children head off to sleep-away camps, attend day-camps, and move to summer homes or bungalow colonies. Most children have positive and wonderful experiences. However, it is incumbent upon parents to constantly be vigilant to ensure their children’s safety.
Sexual abuse is a sensitive, painful topic and can be very frightening, but it doesn’t have to be. Take the time to discuss this crucial topic with your child. As parents, we have a responsibility to overcome resistance to talk about abuse. Children will thus be given the tools needed to stay safe.
Children should be taught that the parts of the body covered by a bathing suit are private and no one, not even other family members, should be touching them, looking at them, or playing a game involving those parts. Of course, exceptions are made for a pediatrician, nurse, etc. If a parent is uncomfortable and unsure how to begin this discussion, a pediatrician is an excellent resource. Have the pediatrician instruct your child that any unwanted approach, touch, or threat should be a signal to run away and yell for help. Parents can utilize the pediatrician’s introductory talk to help open up the conversation on this topic.
No camp is immune to sexual abuse. Parents must ascertain that the camp their child attends has policies and procedures in place to minimize the risk of sexual abuse. Parents have the right and obligation to ask questions and must not be intimidated or ignored. These questions should be directed to the administrating staff such as the camp director and/or head counselor. Some questions are whether the camp has had any previous incidents, how they were handled, and what preventive measures are in place.
Parents should teach their children what to do if they get lost in a public area. Role-playing different scenarios with children will prepare them so that in the event of an actual emergency the child does not panic and is able to follow the set plan. It is important to note that the child should be taught to seek help from a woman with children, even non-Jewish, before asking for help from a male. Statistics have proven this to be the safer option.
Children should be instructed in what to do if they arrive home or at the bungalow and no one is there. No child should be home unattended. The plan could include going to a neighbor who is aware of this plan and is usually available around that time frame, or locking the door from the inside and calling you or a designated family member. Think about what works best for your family and is the safest option. Parents must not get complacent and pretend that it’s okay since the child has been home alone before. It only takes one time for a predator to exploit the opportunity and take advantage of such a situation, destroying a precious child.
An ounce of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure, the old adage teaches. Magenu is that ounce of prevention and its implementation will prevent much abuse. However, much more has to be done. Fingerprinting and background checks became mandatory for New York public school employees since 2000, following the 1999 Columbine massacre. While several states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania require private schools to follow those same security measures, it is optional for New York State private schools. Only some yeshivas and day schools require fingerprint checks for their employees. Of almost 2,000 private schools in New York, less than two dozen employ these stricter security measures in screening their employees.
NYS Assemblyman Dov Hikind opened the door to public discussion of abuse in yeshivas and day schools. He introduced a bill to require fingerprinting and background checks of employees of private schools. Presently, private schools in New York may require fingerprinting and background checks, but such measures are not mandatory. Assemblyman Hikind’s bill has yet to be passed.
With the election of a new district attorney for Brooklyn, hopes were high that new initiatives would be introduced. The disposition of several abuse cases, though conforming to judicial practice, has been disappointing. Every effort of education and prevention is not only welcome, but must now become our priority. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.