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Op-eds

We can’t help but care

  • RozanneSack
The recent support from the community for the boys who were sexually assaulted at Parktown Boys High School was a game changer, moving activism into the wider South African context.
by ROZANNE SACK | Nov 29, 2018

It calls into question whether Jews should be reaching beyond the needs of our community and getting involved in these cases. For victim support groups Koleinu SA and Shalom Bayit the answer is a clear “Yes, we can, and should”.

Recently, the house mother and some parents from Parktown Boys High attended a seminar for the Jewish community on child abuse hosted by Koleinu SA and Shalom Bayit.

The parents approached the organisers, expressing their admiration for the work being done in the Jewish community to combat child sexual abuse.

They appealed to our community to support their boys at the sentencing hearing of Collan Rex. He’s the former Parktown Boys water polo coach found guilty of sexually assaulting numerous boys at the school, 23 of whom had come forward.

The Jewish community sprang into action, and headed en masse to the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court on 31 October. Their presence made a huge impact on the boys, who reported back that “they had never felt so loved”.

It began a whole new chapter in supporting victims of sexual abuse in the wider South African context. At the same time, it raised the question whether we should be getting involved in these extra-communal cases. Do we not have enough of our own issues to deal with, our own internal crises, debates and threats to our very existence?

There is nothing easy or comfortable about this. Learning the details of the sexual abuse these boys suffered is emotionally agonising. Should this hold us back?

Believe it or not, Judaism is a religion of protest. We see this in the history of our forefathers. Avraham and Moshe were chosen by Hashem because they did not easily accept evil or suffering, they challenged Hashem and protested its presence.

As Jews, we should never accept evil and wrongdoing. When we see evil, we are commanded to protest and take action to right the wrongs. This is our calling. To ignore it is to deny our very Jewish identity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to abuse, we often do not live up to these ideals. We tend to behave as bystanders, watching passively, hoping and expecting someone else to stand up for the victims, and take real action.

Very often we go straight into denial. We very quickly point fingers at other communities and faiths, asking how they could allow this abuse to happen under their noses. But how different are we?

In my experience, not very different at all. Unfortunately, we cannot hold ourselves up as great role models in dealing with abuse and exposing it in our community.

Judaism insists that we have a religious duty and a moral obligation to protect all members of our society. These include children and adults who are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and violence.

This is why it makes perfect sense to support not only Jewish victims, but also these innocent Parktown boys whose lives have been so damaged. I would like to undertake to be there for all those who could benefit from our care.

Our community is starting to change and acknowledge this problem. Clearly, the first step is to protest against the injustice of sexual abuse wherever it may happen. Every single act that we do to right one wrong brings the world closer to its ideal.

We want to see a world where predators are unsafe, and where each and every one of us steps up and plays our part in creating a safe society. This means acknowledging that this crime exists in all facets and sectors of society, including our own.

I was so proud to see the response of our community members, who took out days of their lives, and continue to do so, to support total strangers.

I feel privileged to witness the cycle of goodness and reciprocity this has brought about, with the Parktown parents coming to support our community at a recent rally against child abuse. What a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name)!

When Jews step out of their bubble, whichever shul or shtibl (little house) they may be part of, and shoulder the burden of suffering with their fellow man, they bring light into our world.

I appeal to you all to get educated, become an advocate for the prevention of abuse, and build on this incredible start. We are the chosen people. Let’s make Hashem proud.

  • Rozanne Sack is the Co-Director of Koleinu SA, a helpline, education, and advocacy organisation offering support for victims of abuse in the Jewish community.

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