On March 23, Sima Yarmush, the daughter of Chabad Shlichim, emissaries, in Santa Monica, California, shared her story of childhood abuse. Ten years after she reported her experiences to four prominent rabbis, who falsely promised to help her navigate this trauma, she stood up to share her dark story with the public. She withheld most of the details about the abuse, but shared some of the grooming techniques her predator employed. For years she had been scared to tell anyone about her abuser, even her parents.
I can’t imagine the pain inflicted on Sima and her family. What I found both compelling and devastating was the community’s reaction once the abuser had finally been exposed. How callously her neighbors and other Chabad rabbis reacted, and the attacks that her parents endured for doing what they believed was in the interest of protecting children.
The responsibility of exposing abusers and keeping children safe is ours – all of ours. We can realize this responsibility by creating an environment that would have allowed Sima to speak up when the abuse first occurred, and for swift and effective action to be taken. We need to have clear and blunt conversations with children of all ages about the dangers in the world and who to contact if your space or body is violated. When Sima did have the courage to share her story with those rabbis empowered with protecting her, they did next to nothing.
It is our responsibility to share her story, educate our children, and not to tolerate abuse in the community. It exists in every community, regardless of religion or denomination, and it is our job to protect children and expose the abusers. Listen to Sima’s story and share it – send a message loud and clear that this will not be tolerated.