Earle Fisher will note in a guest column this Saturday, “One of the most prevalent and plausible critiques of the faith community is that when it comes to matters of sexual abuse and domestic violence, the church practices ‘sacred silence.’ ”
Do you agree? What can we do to provide a safe place for dialogue regarding these matters? Please share any initiatives/programs your faith community is involved in to address these matters.
“You shall tell your child on that day,” Exodus 13:8 reads, “this is because of what the Lord did for me when I went forth from Egypt.” Did you know that this is where the word Haggadah comes from for Judaism’s most widely observed holiday? The primary purpose of Passover is to teach the younger generations about freedom and goodness, not hatred and killing. It took ten plagues for Pharoah to let the Israelites go free. Even the killing of Egyptian children didn’t change Pharaoh’s mind until his own family was affected.
What are the plagues of our time? Violence is certainly one, particularly bloodshed, brutality, and violent behavior against children not our own. The murder of three high school students last month in Ohio betrays the fundamental principle of a people whose toast is “L’chayim” – To Life!” Following this horrific tragedy, the superintendent of schools in Chardon, said “If you haven’t hugged or kissed your kid in the last couple of days, take that time.” I couldn’t agree more.
But beyond these random shootings and our own children lies a silent killer that relates to Passover’s theme of children and freedom. The silent killer is child sexual and physical abuse.
One out of every four girls is sexually abused by the age of 18 and one out of every six boys is sexually abused by the age of 18. An estimated 9 out of 10 cases of child sexual abuse are never reported while over 90% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known by the child.
These facts cry out for a religious response, especially at Passover time. How do we help victims of this plague become children again? How do we help the many adults who are still suffering silently become whole again? By not keeping this subject a secret anymore and by educating every adult about the signs that can stop this plague rather than hide it. Temple Israel has partnered with a sacred Memphis cause, the Child Advocacy Center, to guide us in our adult responsibility to keep children safe. Our adoption of the “Stewards of Children” program has already helped adults who have been victims of sexual abuse get the help they deserve and need. In March, Temple Trustees and the staff of the Barbara K. Lipman Early Learning Center will undergo training. In the fall, our entire religious school staff will be taught, and next month, we invite ANY member of Temple Israel concerned about the welfare of children to sign up on a first come first-served basis.
When I led our national shabbat service in Washington, D.C., I offered the following anonymous prayer:
I pray for peace for the mother who hits her child, I pray for peace for the man who calls 911, I pray for peace when the rain pours down on the woman without shelter, I pray for peace for the teen who cannot share his secret, I pray for peace for the daughter who cannot call her parents; I pray for peace for the little girl that looks in the mirror and scowls, I pray. Hashkivenu. I pray that we dwell under canopies of solace, safety, and calm.”
Our Israelite ancestor slaves in Egypt cried out to God in their distress. And God replied, “V’gam Ani Shamati et Na’a’akat B’nei Yisrael Ahser Mitzrayim Ma’avadim otam va’ezkor et briti. “And I have heard the groaning and the cries of the children of Israel. I have remembered my covenant with them and I will free them and redeem them.”
Let’s redeem and free as many precious children and adults as we can this Passover from domestic and sexual abuse.