By Fruma Landa, News Editor
On Tuesday, November 26th, Yeshiva University’s Jewish Activism Club hosted a panel event titled, “Combating Sexual Abuse in Our Community Through Student Activism” to spread awareness about sexual abuse within the Jewish community. The panel featured Hannah Dreyfus, a journalist at the New York Jewish Week who covers abuse issues, and Danielle Pitkoff, Program Manager at Sacred Spaces, an organization dedicated to the prevention of institutional abuse in Jewish communities.
Phillip Nagler, co-president of the Jewish Activism Club, explained the reasononing behind why the club chose to hold this event: “Sexual abuse is a topic that is scantly discussed in college, and quite frankly, in the greater Jewish community. As student activists, we need to be prepared to empower survivors and publicize the resources available on campus and in New York City. Danielle and Hannah proved to be the perfect speakers to bring in, as they were not only highly knowledgeable, but also very sensitive when discussing the matter.”
The panelists shared insights from their experiences in combating sexual abuse within Jewish communities. Dreyfus, famous for her investigative journalism exposing incidents of improper sexual behavior within Jewish communities — like in her articles, “Students Unearth Possible Aliases of Rabbi Arrested for Child Porn”and “UJA-Federation Named In New Suit Filed Under Child Victims Act” — spoke about the work she does and the importance of speaking up against sexual abuse. Pitkoff spoke about Sacred Spaces, which, according to its website, “provides Jewish institutions with the professional services necessary to develop robust policies and training to prevent opportunities for abuse and guide them responsibly should abuse occur.”
Both panelists spoke about the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to report them. They also stressed the importance of recognizing that sexual misconduct comes in many forms. It’s important for one to know what lines they feel uncomfortable crossing and speaking up if those lines are crossed. According to the speakers, a rabbi constantly requesting details about your relationships, or a partner putting pressure on you to break boundaries you have established, are examples of situations that should be reported.
Stern College undergraduate Sara Verschleisser commented to the YU Observer on the importance of event’s topics. “I think it’s really important for discussions addressing sexual assault and abuse to be happening on campus,” she said.
The event also informed audience members that sexual abuse is not race or gender specific. While often believed otherwise, it is possible for men to be victims and for women to be perpetrators in cases of sexual abuse. While conducting trainings, Sacred Spaces is careful to depict the victims and perpetrators in many different ways to enforce the idea that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator.
Shayna Herszage, co-president of the Jewish Activism Club remarked, “One thing that really stood out to me was the fact that both Hannah and Danielle kept telling us that it is important that we speak out and take action for what we care about. I think it is common for us all to feel a little bit helpless in the face of all the problems of the world, and it is easy for us to tell ourselves we can’t make a difference, so we might as well leave it to someone else. Hearing two Jewish people who have accomplished so much tell us we have the ability to make change was so empowering.”