October 2018, Parshat Vayeira

This Monday, 22 October 2018, I, along with thousands of Australians, watched Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologise to Australian victims and survivors of child sex abuse. This apology, made from Parliament House in Canberra, apologised on behalf of the nation for failing and abandoning the thousands of survivors of institutional child sex abuse.

The chamber of Parliament itself was silent as Prime Minister Morrison outlined the terrible toll that the abuse of children and minors has had on our society to this day. He noted:
Today, Australia confronts a trauma – an abomination – hiding in plain sight for far too long.
Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer.
Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?
Why was their trust betrayed?
Why did those who know cover it up?
Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?
Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?
Why has it taken so long to act?

Following with a heartfelt sorry, in which blame was not shifted and responsibility accepted, meant that there were not many dry eyes left in the chamber.
The Prime Minister stated:
Mr Speaker, today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe and to provide justice.
And again today, we say sorry.
To the children we failed, sorry.
To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry.
To the whistleblowers who we did not listen to, sorry.
To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands and children who have dealt with the consequences of the abuse, cover-ups and obstruction, sorry.
To generations past and present, sorry.

I felt extremely overwhelmed when I watched this apology.

Not just because our Jewish community has been blighted by the insidious scourge of child sex abuse, but because of the sheer number of children who were abused by men and women of faith, in houses of worship of G-d across this country.

I felt that there was little wonder that the rates of religious adherence and worship have drastically reduced year on year in this country. If this was my personal experience with G-d and people of faith, I too would not be able to continue forward in my role.

But at the same time, the fact that there has been an admission and reckoning of sorts amongst some faith leaders, (definitely not all, and there is still a long way to go), hopefully brings a level of comfort for some survivors.

Tzedek, the Jewish child sex abuse advocacy group noted that it invited a group of community leaders, including Jewish faith leaders, to watch the apology and internalise its message.

I felt almost hopeful, that while there is still much more that can be done by leaders of faith to try and heal this terrible reality, there have, at the very least, been steps in the right direction.

This week I read Parshat Veyeira, which details the promise of the impending birth of Isaac, the event of the birth of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac, amongst other events. Such a Parsha demonstrates the full cycle of life from the highest highs to the lowest lows.

The Torah records that when Sara is told that after many years of being barren she will have a child, she laughs. It is so beyond belief that she would become a mother in her old age, that when she is finally promised a child, she can’t believe it to be true.

As this promise comes to fruition and she bears a child, G-d asks Avraham to sacrifice Isaac in a test of faith! That this could be requested of Avraham and Sara after waiting such a long time for their child feels cruel and once again beyond belief.

Avraham dutifully takes Isaac and binds him to a rock to sacrifice only to be granted a reprieve from G-d at the last minute. G-d lauds Avraham’s faith and notes that “because you have done this thing, and not withheld your only son, I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your offspring like the stars in heaven and like the sand of the seashore…’

After such a terrible situation, the commentators note that this seemingly cruel situation was intended to send a relevant and pertinent message to human kind: human sacrifices, particularly child sacrifices, are not acceptable and should not be performed under any circumstance.

In fact, the ultimate takeaway message from this situation, was that children should be loved, protected and cherished. Any attempt to harm a child should not be tolerated nor accepted by anyone. We have an obligation to protect children from harm.

As I finish this week and reflect on the terrible atrocities that were perpetrated against innocent children across Australia, I can promise that I, in my position as a faith leader at the Ark, will be better.

This week, I was elected to the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) to represent the ARK.

I promise to do my best to work towards bettering the Jewish community, particularly in areas where we as Rabbis have power.

In this way, I can be a part of the solution that brings healing to those who have been hurt and make amends and ensure that as a Rabbi and faith leader I work towards bettering the world around me.

Wishing you a reflective and meaningful Shabbat.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Gabi