Children aren’t sure what do with this question. And in many communities, neither are adults. If you choose to tell, you breach the status quo of privacy and discretion in a close-knit community. If you don’t tell, you might perpetuate lifelong trauma for victims—which can be severe—and be accused of sweeping things under the carpet. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Maaneh, a revolutionary therapeutic center in Beit Shemesh for the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse, is bridging the gap between the unique, cultural and logistical needs of ultra-Orthodox communities, and the ethical obligation of accountability in cases of child and adolescent molestation. Maaneh is the first and only center of its kind, and offers appropriate treatment with wide rabbinical approval, which existing government programs alone cannot provide.
Working the System
In order to interrogate, arrest or charge abusers, existing Israeli law enforcement and welfare infrastructure require disclosure and cooperation. If no complaint is filed, or if investigation of victims and their surroundings is denied, the cycle of abuse continues. While an intrusive threat to the delicate fabric of ultra-Orthodox society is thwarted in the short term, choosing the lesser evil can lead to a lifetime of trauma. Most importantly, refusal to cooperate with the authorities prevents victims from receiving crucial and timely therapeutic care and rehabilitation services.
“Many cases are hushed because of a lack of awareness and difficulty finding the words to communicate the abuse, coupled with the absence of appropriate and professional therapy,” confides Maaneh CEO, Aryeh Levi. “If a child is brave enough to broach the subject with their parents or another authority figure, and is met with an inappropriate response due to lack of knowledge, they might just give up trying to seek help.”
Maaneh, a non-profit organization, has a welcome solution. With a focus on establishing trust among the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox communities and educational institutions in Beit Shemesh, Maaneh is working with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services and the Israel Police to become the preferred center for treating abuse victims. “The natural address for any situation in the ultra-Orthodox sector is the community Rav. So, through a discreet, professional platform, we’re bringing these Rabbanim to work hand-in-hand with the experts in the field—highly-trained therapists and welfare and law authorities,” adds Rav Eidensohn, Chairman of Maaneh.
No Secrets, Full Privacy
Located in Beit Shemesh, Maaneh’s center is an intimate place, where personal attention is a top priority, and confidentiality is a core value. “There’s even a unique system for scheduling appointments to prevent clients from uncomfortable encounters with other clients,” shares Dr. Efraim Rosenbaum, Director of Community Relations. The two-story building houses four therapy rooms and is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, offering a wide variety of expressive therapies including play, art, psychodrama and music. A designated family therapy room enables private sessions for children and their parents.
The Center operates a 24-hour hotline, offers a free intake session, and runs lectures and workshops on prevention and treatment of abuse in conjunction with the Haruv Institute of the Hebrew University. In addition to senior management, Maaneh is staffed by eight multidisciplinary therapeutic professionals, including social workers and family counselors, many of whom are native English speakers. Lecturers and therapists come from ultra-Orthodox circles and understand the delicate intricacies of handling abuse cases in the sector.
Knowledge is Power
“Education is prevention,” says Levi emphatically. “Awareness, cooperation and treatment are essential if we want to eradicate the phenomenon of victim silencing.”. Maaneh’s programs include courses for educational staff, lectures for rabbanim and community leaders in Israel and abroad, and programs catered towards English-speaking communities. Prevention is encouraged by teaching parents about health y communication with their children, including age-appropriate discussions on intimate subjects.
Maaneh is looking towards expanding its activities to other cities. A pilot program run by Maaneh involved over 1,000 individual cases and highlighted the many challenges involved in shifting perceptions in the ultra-Orthodox sector. The pilot was so successful that many international organizations approached the Center for implementation in their communities.
“We’d like to make our model work elsewhere by securing the support of the local rabbanim and community leaders in each city, as well as getting local law enforcement authorities and welfare departments on board,” says Levi. Of course, budget plays a very crucial role. “Government-funded services and therapy programs exist, but they’re not appropriate for this sector. Our operations are enabled by the generosity of donors and a small subsidy from the government, and we’re constantly working on getting the Israeli Welfare and Social Services departments to recognize the need for a blanket solution for this sector of the population who constitute a very large percentage of the youth in Israel and are not immune to the phenomenon of abuse.”
For more information or to get involved in the organization, please contact Aviva at
[email protected] or 077-228-5817, ext 5.