The Pedophile Crisis: What Helped and What Hurt

The Pedophile Crisis: What Helped and What Hurt

A year ago I discovered that my peaceful, historic neighborhood had, for several years, been the epicenter of the largest pedophile case in Israel’s history.

From one day to the next, I found out that neighbors that I had not only trusted but also deeply admired were pedophiles who had been involved in the most repulsive forms of sexual and physical abuse of Nachlaot children.

As a psychologist who came to address a group of us traumatized neighborhood mothers put it a year ago, “Your blinders have been torn off, flesh and all.” And, the truth is, while the pain grows less and recedes into the background rather than the forefront of my life, a year later I am still not fully recovered from the wounds inflicted by the tearing off of those blinders.

Even a year later, part of me still mourns for this neighborhood I once loved with all my heart, and can’t anymore.

For those of you JewishMOMs who have been reading this blog over the past year, none of this is news to you.

But today I wanted to talk about something I haven’t discussed in the past: others’ reactions to my own personal mourning process. What helped and what hurt.

This past Shabbat I read an article written by widow Shani Stefansky for Binah Magazine. And it really struck a chord with me.

Following the loss of her husband which left her a young widow and the single mother of a house-full of orphans, Stefansky says that her mourning was often met with a “fix-it” attitude by those around her.

Seeing her pain, concerned relatives and friends tried to comfort her or cheer her up or give her peptalks about belief and trust in Hashem. But that, Stefansky insists, wasn’t what she needed.

Stefansky writes: “Many times, I have sat at the shivah for a young husband and father, and wished very hard that I could make the coming years easier for the new widow and ease the agony that I know is to come. But this is the course that Hashem has mapped out. The closest of family still cannot ease the hurt that is going to take place. The most you can do is to be understanding. Allow your widowed friend to express her feelings, without offering reassurance. Hold her hand, stand at her side, and allow her to cry. While for you this is the harder way, for her it will be a relief to have someone who accepts her grief, rather than trying to whitewash it away.”

Stefansky continues: “[A new widow] told me last week, ‘When I cry to you and voice my pain, you tell me I am normal. It feels so much better than being told I should be strong, or that he’s in a better place, or that I should concentrate on my children.'”

Similarly, while I wouldn’t begin to compare my own experience with a widow’s harrowing grief, I could definitely relate to Shani Stefansky’s feelings about the comments from concerned people around her.

On the one hand, I have a friend who really, really tried to help me all of last year so I would feel better. She advised me to stop talking about the pedophile crisis. To stop writing about the pedophile crisis. To stop raising money to help the molested children. To leave the neighborhood for a few months. To move back in with my parents in America for a few months.

And I know that she had the best possible intentions. She saw that her friend was suffering, and she didn’t want me to suffer anymore. She wanted me to feel better. She wanted everything to be good again.

By contrast, another friend who is a life coach told me, “You know, I think you should assume that this will probably take at least a year to recover from. You’ve been through a big trauma. Give yourself time.”

What’s interesting is that the friend who tried to help me feel better actually made me feel worse. She made me feel pressured. She made me feel like there was something wrong with me for feeling so bad.

And the friend who just gave me space to feel bad actually made me feel much better. No pressure, no judgment. Just acceptance and understanding that difficult experiences take time to recover from, and that that’s OK.

As Shani Stefansky explained in the conclusion to her article, “Just as the [mourner] must accept her loss, so must everyone else. Only then can we all move forward.”


  1. Sharon Saunders

    Cheering a mourner up, although the
    friend may have good intentions, is pretty
    much an insult. It means your grief is unwarranted.
    It means for the comfort of everyone else
    your feelings should invalidated. This widow is
    teaching a big lesson.

  2. in my work as a psychologist, especially in the field of loss and bereavement, i have found that the most comforting thing i can say to someone in pain is: “what you feel is perfectly normal’.
    it does not remove the source of pain, but it gives the one in pain room to grieve.
    as humans, we all want to know that we are normal, that others experience the same feelings. somehow sharing our pain relieves it.
    as we learn from the laws of Bikur Cholim, every person who visits a sick person removes 1/60th of his illness. i suppose the same idea applies here. every person who shares our pain with us, removes some part of the pain. i find that those who hold everything inside suffer worse than those who share. and the worst part of suffering happens when we start to beat ourselves up about how we are not “good enough” to overcome it faster/better.
    when we are suffering, we should just acknowledge the pain and know that eventually it will pass. getting angry or depressed over the fact of the suffering prolongs the agony and prevents healing.
    experiencing challenges in life is like riding the waves of the ocean. as long as we lie still and allow the waves to come and go, no matter how big the wave, we will eventually come to shore. if we fight the waves, we go under…
    at all times, remember that Hashem is kind; He carries us thru life with unseen hands.
    May Hashem bless you, Chana Jenny, to keep riding the waves with shalom.

    • thanks tamar, this was so helpful and comforting to me. I love the image of riding the waves of life…Funny– you have left so many comments over the years, and I had no idea you are a psychologist!

  3. I coped with my grief and anger by learning all I could about pedophilia in the Israeli context. I helped women who were in the same position as me and named and shamed the pedophiles. I warn people about them. Rosh Hashana is here and as a widow and convert I will cry out to Hashem for the month of Elul and Tishrei to wipe these evil people and their helpers off the face of the earth. Their bitter end is at hand

  4. People often do not know how to respond effectively to other people who are going through something very difficult. I think the “get over it” or advice-giving reaction is really a way for them to comfort themselves, and when someone gives me that kind of reaction I see it as them expressing their own discomfort with my difficulty and nothing more. I used to get a lot of “See Rabbi X, he performs miracles!” with Hallel. It was like, “Thanks, but the fact that he can see at all is miracle enough for me.” But I would smile and nod and thank them because I knew that the reaction was a way for them to cope with their encounter with someone else’s “tragedy” and their fear that something like that would happen to them.

    There are no wrong feelings, there are only wrong actions. And all the actions you took were strengthening, building, and sanctifying Hashem’s name. When I volunteered with OneFamily Fund (an organization that assists terror victims), my boss used to say that tragedy intensifies what is. If a family is already shaky and full of tension, tragedy explodes it apart. If a family is already basically healthy and close, tragedy brings them together and raises them to heights of strength, faith, love and spiritual greatness that they would never have otherwise achieved. I think it is very clear what happened with you. <3

  5. Just an amazing article. I really needed to read this now. Now I understand why people can be so critical and pushy during a time of trauma and subsequent recovery.

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