Empowering children

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.

Click photo to download. Caption: Dr. Erica Brown.

When your father says this to you at your bar mitzvah, it’s a pretty heavy message. It’s one thing to say you’re a man to a kid who hasn’t started shaving and whose voice cracks when he speaks. It’s another to lay the entire Jewish future in his hands. But this was no ordinary bar mitzvah, either.

This was said by the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel Rabbi Isaac Herzog (who held the position from 1936 to 1959) to his son. The Herzog child took this message to heart and Chaim Herzog, the son he spoke to, became the sixth president of the State of Israel, thus taking the future of the Jewish people to heart. It's remarkable what one good bar mitzvah sermon can accomplish!

Rabbi Herzog’s message might have been more weighty than most, but its essence is something we tell our children all of the time in different ways. They are a continuation of an amazing legacy. Our people use the expression “l’dor va-dor”—from generation to generation—like tagline candy. It’s ubiquitous. And we mean it when we say it. We believe strongly that children are our future. Herzog articulated it beautifully: “My son, strive to know yourself, to know and understand your Judaism, your wonderful and unique history, the inseparable connection of your people with the patriarchs and the prophets...”

So if we truly believe that our children are our future and Judaism’s future, how can we understand the day school teacher who was just arrested for possession of child pornography? How can we read front-page stories in national newspapers about the cover-up of child abuse in religious communities? Are we doing enough to protect our future?

It is all indefensible. We do have to do more to protect our children. The world of technology has empowered kids with adult information and access but also disempowered them as victims of stalkers and abusers who—in another universe—may have restrained their perverse inclinations. But when pictures of compromised children are only a click away, too many people give in to their basest desires.

Child abuse hurts everyone. It hurts our community, too. Published national child abuse statistics include:

  • A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds
  • More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse
  • Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 14
  • More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way
  • 14% of all men in prison in the USA were abused as children
  • 36% of all women in prison were abused as children

Organizations likeness Darkness to Light, JCADA and local domestic abuse awareness organizations offer prevention programs to help us recognize the danger signs. They need our support, but they also need us to take advantage of their programming and counseling opportunities in our schools, synagogues and area institutions.

Rabbi Herzog ended his speech to his son with these words of hope: “May you become a source of blessing to yourself, to those dear to you, and to the entire house of Israel, Amen.” May all of our children be loved, blessed and protected so that they, too, can continue our legacy and create one of their own. Amen.

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places(OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Editor’s note: This article is distributed with permission of Dr. Erica Brown. Subscribe to her “Weekly Jewish Wisdom” list at http://leadingwithmeaning.com.

Posted on May 20, 2012 and filed under Jewish Life, Torah Commentary.