Were the Nachalaot Parents Negligent?

Chana Jenny Weisberg of JewishMom.Com wrote this guest post in response to comments on this site and elsewhere criticizing the parents affected by the Nachalaot pedophilia tragedy as negligent. 

When parents hear that someone else’s child has been hurt, often their first response is to blame that injured child’s parents. In fact, that is probably the most natural response when tragedy strikes, since finding someone to blame is the most effective way for us to ease our own fears.

Blaming other parents allows us to tell ourselves: “This could never happen to MY child, because I’m a good parent, not like those NEGLIGENT parents whose child was hurt.”

While this is a very natural response, I would like to point out the reasons why it is a completely false accusation regarding the Nachalaot parents whose children were molested.

  • Have you ever left your child in the care of a teenage babysitter or an older sibling? So did these responsible Nachalaot parents. But they didn’t know that the pedophiles had threatened the lives of their children’s teenage babysitters/older siblings if they didn’t bring them the young children they were caring for to be raped and severely abused.
  • Does your child come home on his/her own from school or from a nearby school bus stop? So did the children of these responsible Nachlaot parents. But they didn’t know that the pedophiles were threatening their children returning home from their school or bus stop with death if they didn’t come to be molested before they went home. Upon arriving home late, the children would tell concerned parents that there was heavy traffic or that a teacher delayed them after school or other similar excuses.
  • Have you ever rushed with a sick child to the doctor only to be told that it’s “nothing serious”? So did these responsible Nachalaot parents. In fact, for 6 years parents of the molested children were frantically taking their children to psychologists and pediatricians in an effort to figure out what was wrong with their terrorized and horrifically abused children. The psychologists and doctors repeatedly dismissed the parents’ concerns and assured them it was “nothing serious” just like your doctor told you.

I know many, many of the parents involved in this story. I know them well. I know them to be among the most devoted, most loving, most self-sacrificing, most responsible parents in the world.

I beg you, dear reader, to stop adding to the suffering of these struggling families by blaming them for something that could happen to any parent, even the most vigilant and responsible mother or father in the world.

I would like to add a few words to Chana Jenny’s post:

As parents, we can’t keep our children in a bubble. There is no age at which they will be able completely protect themselves against pedophiles, rapists, reckless drivers, and other dangers. By accompanying them everywhere until they are “old enough” (within reason, of course), we deny them opportunities to learn gradually how to manage difficult situations on their own. If we restrict them because of our (understandable) fear, our children would never take music lessons, join a sports team, ride a bicycle, or visit a friend—”just in case” something happens. Worst of all, we would frighten them into thinking that no one can ever be trusted. 

More on Nachalaot and child safety:

Nachalaot Pedophile Case: More than 100 Victims

Nachalaot Pedohpilia: Yisrael Hayom Report

Raising Kids Where Neglect Is Normal

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you, Jenny. Your post makes me want to write about this, too. And Hannah, I agree completely. I am grappling with what it means to be a free-range parent when the threat is in my neighborhood. Grappling philosophically, that is. At 4.5, my kids are a little young to go solo even by my standards.

  2. Blaming the parents is blaming the victem and very ugly. I agree with your post. In the book “All the right stuff” Tom Wolfe describes a similar phenomena iwht test pilots. 10% of them crashed and died. The ones who survived were convinced that the pilots who crashed did so because they didn’t have “the right stuff”. The survivors attributed their survival to magically having the right stuff.

  3. On one hand I don’t want to blame the parents but on the other hand I keep wondering what were these parents thinking. If my children suddenly developed problems such as bedwetting, obsessively chewing their clothes, biting their nails to the quick, extreme fear, recurrent urinary tract infections I would know that something was terribly wrong and would not stop until I found out why. If my child’s therapist could not tell me what was causing this behavior and was not able to help to stop this behavior I would find a new therapist. If my child had recurrent health problem and my doctor had no idea why I would find another doctor who could figure it out.

    Obviously ANY child can be molested but I think that these parents were sheltered and naive and that the pedophiles picked these children because of this.

    • I agree that the pedophiles targeted this community because of their innocence. The affected Charedi community is populated largely by very holy people who devote their whole lives to Torah and mitzvot and acts of kindness. They are good-hearted, down-to-earth people who try to judge others favorably.

      I’m sure that when the pediatricians and the psychologists repeatedly told the mothers that there was nothing really wrong, despite what in retrospect we can see were clear signs of prolonged abuse, these mothers felt unable to stand up against them. Again, it was their innocence and gentle-ness that made them such easy targets for the pedophiles.

      • Right – but what about the pediatricians? OK so there are a few kupot, and a few doctors within them. But there must have been at least 4 pediatricians who had at least 4 patients in the same week with these extreme “it’s nothing” conditions from this same neighborhood. They should be better trained to read these indications.

        Of course, who would imagine something so widespread, so even the doctors didn’t connect the dots. But when numerous patients seem to have recurring stomach flu, you start testing for shigella. And betwetting and other issues in that region are classic symptoms.

        It’s all so sad. And to think the families were being hospitable – one of the last places that people really do let needy people into their homes like I’ve only heard of in biographies from 80 years ago.

        • to their credit, it was the pediatricians of a certain clinic who really finally figured out what was going on. And people go to all sorts of kupot, so it’s not like one pediatrician or one psychologist was treating all these kids over the years.

    • Also, you write that you would do such and such but it is very different when you are in the situation. In retrospect it becomes clear, but when things are going on it’s possible to assume other reasons for how the children have been acting.

    • This is EXACTLY what I am thinking.
      I also live in a neighborhood that is about the size of nahlaot, and fairly isolated. We all know our neighbors. Our kids play together and go to the same schools and gans.
      When my son got bronchitis, it took about three hours before I knew that my upstairs neighbor’s daughter came down with it and the twins across the street have been home all week too…
      We are talking about 100 kids from probably 30-40 families who live within a square kilometer of one another. Over the span of just one year, all these kids started exhibiting major psychological issues like having bowel/bladder control problems, anxiety, strange compulsive behaviors and fear of strangers and NO ONE suspected this???
      This doesn’t add up.

  4. This is such a sad story. I didn’t realize it was going on for so long.

  5. I am one of the commenters who had expressed concerns after reading the initial reports. I will admit that I did not realize from those initial reports how long it was until most parents became aware of the situation – all I knew was that the situation did continue for over a year after it was already well known. And of course, like any reasonable person, I completely agree with you that even the most responsible parents can have children who become victims of something awful like this. However, it does not logically follow that all parents whose children are victims are responsible parents.
    And of course I completely agree with you that no parent can completely protect their child from all dangers. However, it does not logically follow that parents have no responsibility to try to protect their children from danger.
    In this particular case, of course some parents really cannot be blamed for the awful things that happened to their children – this especially applies to the parents of the first few victims. But if, for some strange reason, you want to claim that every single parent in Nachlaot is wonderful and perfect and did nothing wrong (though remember, the Haredi insistence that everyone in your society is perfect is part of what got you into this mess in the first place!), you may want to do a better job at PR, since every article in the mainstream media – including the one Hannah just translated – contains quotations and stories from parents that sound really irresponsible.

    • On the whole, they didn’t seem irresponsible to me, when put into CONTEXT. These families for generations have been in a very sheltered environment, and we must take that into consideration when we read their accounts of how they handled the situation. Letting a 12 year old babysit several young children etc. seems crazy to some people, but it’s the way they’ve always done things and little, if any, harm has come of it – until now.

      • I totally agree with this and think this is really the problem – it’s not that individual parents just slacked off, it’s that there is a Haredi communal norm of acting in ways that in any other community would be considered irresponsible. Anyone who’s ever walked through a Haredi neighborhood and seen three year olds walking the streets alone at dusk (I saw this recently in the old city) or toddlers being watched by their seven year old siblings knows that their communal norms are different. And many of us think that in the world we live in, the norms followed by most of us (and the ones codified in Israeli law, e.g. children under nine not crossing streets alone, children under 11 not being home alone) are better. I am sure Haredim claim that little harm has ever come from letting their seven year olds care for their three year olds until now; I’d be more inclined to think that until now they were able to ignore the dangerousness of their neglectful behavior and now, in the wake of this horrible incident, it has become intolerable to do so.

        • I’m going to reply to this in a tangential way. One of my best friends runs a very successful security firm in the US, as well as being a MA/H2H instructor who teaches and develops H2H to US Spec Ops units. All of that to say that he has his finger on the pulse of issues like this. On his own blog he recently said,
          But, my question is – have we allowed fear to develop into a monster eating our culture alive. When I was a child, we played til after dark, walked to school, we swung from trees, camped out in the woods, and as a group we’d give stranger’s directions. We stuck together as kids, we learned together, and our parents trusted us to do the right thing. Was there a fear – yes, but my parents didn’t allow it to control us, they relied on us to be smart.

          Unfortunately, everywhere we look it is not a real threat of violence, but a perceived threat of violence by the media selling violence for ratings, marketing firms, and experts that has forced us into our homes, our kids off the street, and pushed us into communities that are afraid of the night. By not being aware and being in our streets, we have lost our intelligence of what is going on and who is doing it.

          So no I don’t think that the parents are irresponsible, or that Chareidi society is irresponsible. They have simply chosen to the reject the paranoia that is being shilled from so many directions.

          • There is a big difference between a sophisticated and worldly mother rejecting the paranoia (like I think that I do by giving my children their freedom on the early side of normal) and having no clue as to what dangers lay out there. I think that these parents were clueless about what actually goes on in the world. The truth is if I new of a parent in my community on the Upper West Side that allow their children to do what some of these children are allowed to do unsupervised by any adults I would seriously wonder if I should call social services.

          • I think that some of the parents in Nachlaot failed to take reality into account, and that it happens in other communities – not just hareidi – too. I have a friend in Nachlaot. She said that the only reason why her son wasn’t abused was that she was extremely careful. Should she have had to be so careful? Absolutely not, but she was and her son was saved from a horrible experience. “Rejecting paranoia” without having the proper safeguards resulted in approximately 100 children, some of them barely toddlers, being serious sexually and physically abused. I’d take paranoia and safe children rather than that, but as Beth wrote, there is a middle ground.

          • The only reality was that these children were attacked in what was essentially their own back yard. The courtyards that make up Batei Broide and Batei Ran, the Haredi enclaves in Nahalaot, are gated and essentially the back yards of these kids, where the teen aged girls hang out to gossip, and the young children skip rope, kick balls, play with toy trucks ect. At least where I come from, parents expect to be able to allow their children to play safely and mostly unsupervised in their own backyards.
            It’s not like these children were wondering the city unsupervised, they were simply sitting in their courtyard. Surrounded by other children and teens, there should be few safer places in the world.
            I’m not saying that there aren’t cultural elements that played into this. The fact that the pedophiles were able to inspire such fear into the children baffles the mind. It speaks of a culture where the children have not been taught that their parents will defend them violently if necessary, against all who try to harm them. It speaks of a culture where the children see their parents as either unable or unwilling to defend them(possibly both). That certainly is a problem.
            However that doesn’t amount to negligence, that amounts to a culture that has forsaken violence for pacifism, and we can argue the ups and downs of that forever. In the end though what you have is children who were playing where most people, even social services in the US would consider safe an adequately supervised, and yet were still terrorized and abused. It is a tragedy, and not one that should be laid at their parents feet.

  6. There are cultural norms. On the other hand, like I wrote in the previous post, leaving small children alone is negligent. This is not the same as “free-range” parenting. It’s free-range to teach a 2-year-old to pour into a cup, but not to leave him alone at home even for a few minutes.
    Many people in Israel leave sleeping babies at home. Children have been locked in when a fire started. Another baby was killed crawling under a stroller while supervised by a 6yo when the babysitter went to gan. I remember that it was raining that day and I’m sure the babysitter did not want to take the baby outside. I see this kind of negligence in all communities, but it is easier to justify when you have little money and many small children.
    Channa, when I read your comment it sounded like you were saying that such a thing could never happen if parents were careful enough. Thanks for clarifying.

    • It would be crazy to say that if all parents were careful enough, no child would ever be harmed by predators! No one could ever make that argument! But I thought 100 victims in one tiny area sounded like something that would never happen in a mainstream community.

      My feeling about this situation is like the way Americans felt after hurricane Katrina – no one was angry that a hurricane hit! And everyone understood that hurricanes almost always claim some lives and wreak some destruction. But everyone also understood that the extent of the damage could have been seriously curtailed if the government had been less incompetent/indifferent.

      But I think I was wrong to point fingers at individual parents. I think really the reason that this crisis turned from a small horrible tragedy into a large-scale Katrina is the Haredi lifestyle, which promotes famlies larger than most parents can handle, especially when many mothers are primary breadwinners and primary caregivers; which does not educate children to protect them from predators, since discussing sex in any way is taboo; which promotes a culture of secrecy; which discourages access to internet and other sources of information that would allow parents to empower themselves and help their children; which encourages absolute adherence to rabbis who have been useless or worse in this situation; which discourages its members calling the police; which discourages police from intervening since they are afraid that, like every other time Haredi abusers have been arrested in order to protect innocent children, those arrests will provoke mass rioting and violence on the Haredi street.

      I would hope that thinking Haredim who have been victims here will think about how their society has let them down, and do something about that.

  7. This is the first time I read about this, and I am speachless. 🙁 I feel irresponsible every single time I let my kids go to school alone, although I know I shouldn’t. When I was a kid, we could do all this without getting hurt, but the world has changed so much now, there is so much violence, so many sick people. I have no ide where it’s gonna end up.

  8. My heart is aching as I follow this story on your blog and other internet sites. I didn’t understand the decisions of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky’s parents until I went to Boro Park for the first time and saw the lifestyle for myself. Then I realized how they could allow him to walk home from camp alone. They memorized the route with him. They made a practice run. (That’s exactly what I did the first time my teen-age daughter ran an errand in the family car by herself.) We must not blame the victim.

  9. The reality to which I referred was the sad reality that even though children should always be able to play alone safely in their backyards, they aren’t always. I state this as a mother who, for quite different security concerns, was not always able to let her children out of her sight and sometimes not out of the house while living in a fenced-in orthodox community. Some people have to worry about a dozen perverts wandering freely, other parents have to worry about mortars, terrorist infiltrations and snipers. In the tiny neighborhood of Nachalaot there were over ten known “non-normative” men, i.e weirdos in colloquial language, freely walking about. The cultural norms that allowed parents to allow a 12 year old to babysit in that situation do not take reality into consideration.

  10. There are many factors that went into these children being harmed. Unfortunately children can be harmed by strangers AND people they know very well and should be safe with. I think there needs to be a two pronged approach to keeping your children safe. One is not to leave your children under supervised. Leaving your 7 year old to watch your toddler is not a good idea nor is letting your 8 year old walk 6 blocks alone the first time you let him walk anywhere alone. Two, you need to teach your children that no matter what no one is allowed to touch them where they should not touch them and that there are bad people out there that are liars and that they will say things to scare them that are not true. This includes people who they think that they should be able to trust (such as a relative, teacher, friend or rabbi).

    In 1979 when Eitan Patz disappeared things changed drastically in NYC. When I was 6 in 1972 I remember going home from school on the public bus with my friend’s older sister who was 9. Today no one would allow this. With everything that has befallen the Haredi communities over the past few years they need to change the way they supervise and teach their children about safety. At some point it will be very difficult not to blame the parents of the victims.

    This is a very complex problem to fix and I’m not sure that everyone will be able to stomach the changes that need to be made. These include addressing the problem of poverty and addressing the issues of having large families and not having the means to properly supervise and care for all these children. It is very nice to lead a your life in an alternate universe of only mitzvot and Torah. However, one needs to live in the real world even if it includes ugliness so that you can protect your children from that ugliness.

  11. I understand feeling the need to blame the parents. Psychologically I get it, its called transference. You project your own guilt onto an easy target, and blame them for whatever happens to them. Really I get it. If you want to think those things, that’s fine. Do you have to write them where they can hurt the parents?
    First Nahalaot is a majorly diverse neighborhood with many more than 10 people who can easily be labeled as weirdos. I even know one Rosh Yeshiva that has earned that title, because he actually goes out of his way to put Tzedaka into every pushka in sight. There are hippies, there are neo-Chassidim, there are Karlinerrs, there are seculars, there are Sephardi mekubalim(a whole Yeshiva of them as a matter of fact), Carlebachians, NaNachs, and just about everything you can name in Judaism. So the weirdo thing really doesn’t work as a distinguishing factor of possible danger.

    Second to that not all of the predators were “weirdos”, yes some were, some were also well respected and long standing members of the community. One so much so that he committed suicide rather than put himself and his family through the shame of a trial(I don’t know whether to respect that or call it cowardice).

    Some children were attacked while walking the half block from the school bus drop off. Some were attacked while under the supervision of their 16yr old sister(since when is a 16yr old not capable of watching children). Some were attacked by adults who were trusted enough and normal enough to be babysitters in the neighborhood. The pervasiveness of the abuse, is actually astounding. Other children were attacked while attending their gan(but since the ministry of education requires no fewer than 25 students to one teacher, which in most countries doesn’t count as adequate supervision).

    It’s really easy to sit in your armchair and point fingers at parents who are already suffering, while being ignorant of the details and circumstances. I guess the chiyuv of dan l’kaf zecut is dead.

    • There’s a difference between blaming and pointing out that the cultural norms are problematic and should change. Nothing would have prevented all of the abuse, but the number of young and in some cases very young children left with insufficient supervision boggles the mind. Currently parents in Nachalaot are being super-protective because of the horrific trauma their children experienced. Is this going to be a wake-up call that will save other children, in general, from future abuse? Or is everyone except for the personally affected going to forget about it?

  12. “Really I get it. If you want to think those things, that’s fine. Do you have to write them where they can hurt the parents?”

    This is attitude is part of the problem. No one want’s to upset the apple cart. If communities can’t learn from past mistakes they are destined to repeat them in the future. I am sure that if you ask these parents would you have done things differently if you had the chance to do it all again they would answer yes. Why would you deny this opportunity for people to learn from other peoples experiences in the name of not “hurting” the parents. I am sure that any comments on this blog will not come even close to causing the kind of pain that the predators caused.

    I will continue to keep my children away from people that make me or my children uncomfortable (and yes I know that this will not guarantee that my children will always be safe). If my children or I sense that something is not right I will make the decision to err on the side of caution. The experiences of the families Nachlaot has taught me that this is the right decision to make.

  13. Sharon Saunders says:

    To everyone who reads Jenny’s blog: Please be ultra-sensitive about this issue. No one was negligent or ‘just asking for this to happen’ as somebody callously commented to me. These parents, along with their children, are in a waking nightmare. The community is in lock-down and we are all on edge. The only ones to blame are the perpetrators. Please keep that in mind.

  14. ruth cohen says:

    shalom
    all this blaming parents is muding the water of the plain ugly truth. and that is that perverts in israel have protection from way up high in the powerful men who run this country into the ground. one of the well known tricks is to let the simple public destroy each ther,crime,drugs,sex,perversions while the big boys plan and manipulate the real affairs.
    so wake up out of your false dreams with false promises of peace and we are a land of hok. yah where. really who thinks that ???
    you have all been made fools of especially those who split hairs pointing fingers in the name of fairness and free speech.did the babies have freedom of anything besides being raped. stop blaming the parents. it does not make you more innocent arm chair critic. it is cruel and vicious. i saved my girls from these things, i did not want them to live my life,abuse,beatings. so what????does that make me super angel or just maybe lucky???????
    i am fighting this war with no regard for any thing except how to save the children.. i am never going to be haradi and yet who cares their children are my children. i am never going to accept many things they do but so bloody what ? their babies cry like mine did, why should my heart be a stone to their screams of fear and terror? what will i gain be being so vicious and cruel???????

    stop sticking knifes in the parents who are totally destroyed by all this. your words can cause people to give up all hope and commit suicide -do you want to be on the same level as mondrowitz, now his photo is up on my wall, 3 shirizly, he also caused boys to kill themselves. do you want to kill the parents by your cruel words.

    today orlev came past my house with a big group of journalists. i was inside and saw his expression of worry while he was looking at my posters and newspaper clippings in the garden. i went out and arutz 10 did a long interview with me. i expressed my outrage at the lack of police protection and justice for the babies. at the end the young journalist shook my hand. he also does not his children raped.supposedly it will be tonight on tv.

    please help the parents, if you dont know how to, come to me – i am in touch with the haradim or otherwise please dont make it worse. i will never forgive those who kick the downtrodden when they are totally broken into a million pieces.

  15. No, the parents of Nachalaot were not negligent in any way. They trusted the haredi,the supposedly “G-d fearing people” that they lived amongst; they believed that their children were safe. But as you now see, the times have now changed. Your children are not safe anywhere without you. Now you have to protect your children 24 hours a day. If you want to have children, you are responsible for them and that means you have to give up on your activities to care for your children’s lives and well being. If you don’t want to do that then don’t have children.

  16. OK, so we know that some of the perpetrators are still at large and living in that neighborhood.
    We know that the parents in the neighborhood are aware of what has happened and that these people are still at large.
    At this point – when the danger is known, parents absolutely bear the responsibility for keeping children safe from that danger.
    I don’t blame parents whose children were victimized.
    But I cannot understand the mother who allows her child out the door knowing there is a lion living next door.

  17. I am closing comments on this post.

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