The day I was called a Nazi
DR CLIVE EVIAN
The day I was called a Nazi protesting
sexual abuse in our community
Dr Clive Evian of Johannesburg writes:
Attending a protest is an emotional experience – it’s a sharing of solidarity, an opportunity to express your disapproval, outrage and sometimes disgust. During the apartheid years it was also somewhat frightening – baton charges, violence, possibly bullets and arrest.
I remember as a student going to a large anti-apartheid protest march in Braamfontein together with my anatomy books, in case I was arrested, then I could keep up with my studies in jail!
I also remember toy-toying down Empire Road with many Aids patients, nurses and others, protesting the threat to the closure of the HIV clinic at the Johannesburg hospital where I worked.
The protest against Rabbi Berland for his alleged sexual abuse and his evasion from Israel’s justice system and his expulsion from various countries for this, was an experience, for me, of a different type.
The protest on erev Pesach was much smaller than others in which I participated; it was led by some courageous women and there were very few men in the line, and in addition I was called a Nazi by a fellow Jew – a Nazi because I was showing my outrage against the epidemic of sexual abuse in my very own religious community, since hearing the story of Mannie Waks at the Limmud conference last year, where he told of having been repeatedly sexually abused by the school guard (a fellow religious man).
He came from a very observant family of 17 and on reporting it to the head rabbi and institutions, no action was taken. Eventually, after a long and painful story, he came out in the open and charged his perpetrator.
He then received numerous calls from former classmates who had also been similarly abused. The abuse took place in the mikvoth, at the school and in the shul grounds.
I remember the gymnastics teacher paedophiling generations of children at my primary school here in Johannesburg, a friend of mine molested by his barmitzvah teacher, various female friends who were violated by fathers and uncles and very recently, children molesting other children in schools and shuls etc., this all within my own small circle.
The damaging effect of this form of abuse on the psyche of the victim is usually devastating and its impact is often felt even by the abused’s children for generations.
Invariably the crime is often hidden away, swept under the carpet and the issue clothed in suspicion, mistrust, doubt and conspiracy, and sadly the victim becomes the perpetrator and the perpetrator the victim. Manny and his family were rejected with contempt by his shul community for exposing this crime.
So, when Manny appealed to the audience to have zero tolerance for this plague, this community malignancy, I pledged to myself to support his request. Anyone who really understands the seriousness of this epidemic would also have no tolerance for it.
And when this abuse is perpetrated by revered “holy” leaders, it calls for a very serious community response.
I salute our Chief Rabbi (Warren Goldstein) for taking a strong stand against it and urge the whole Jewish community for zero tolerance. The followers of such leaders, knowing the allegations, must also take some responsibility.
I do not know whether Rabbi Berland is guilty or not, however, his fleeing from country to country and his evasion of the Israeli justice system, is in itself telling; if you are a holy man, Rabbi Berland, then submit yourself to a court of justice and if you are guilty then you deserve punishment.
Zero tolerance requires our gevurah and any chesed (for the followers) should be conditional and very measured!
I hope to see more people at the next protest.
Dr Clive Evian