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Jewish community's leading sex abuse charity could close after funding cuts, founder warns

Migdal Emunah could close by the end of the year, its founder warns

    Yehudis Goldsobel
    Yehudis Goldsobel

    The leading charity which supports victims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community could close after having its funding cut.

    Yehudis Goldsobel, who set up Migdal Emunah, after going public about her own experience of abuse five years ago, said the Mayor of London cut its funding on the grounds the charity was “too specialist”.

    The charity, which counsels those who have suffered abuse and supports them through the police and court process, had its funding cut in 2017.

    “We were only helping Jewish victims but there was no way I could have opened it up to support others because I was supporting 65 people on my own already,” she said.

    “I am giving it to the end of this year and if we don't get the support we need we will have to close.”

    Ms Goldsobel said it has been a “battle” to encourage support from the community.

    “We don't like to talk about sex as a society let alone sex abuse in the community. It is the thing that shall not be spoken about but there is a desperate need. To the victims we are a lifeline. To know that we even exist is extremely symbolic for people.”

    She said Jewish victims of sexual abuse would not use “mainstream providers because they are not fit for purpose”.

    Ms Goldsobel cited a new support group for victims of abuse in Manchester, which she has just launched, is evidence of the community’s need.

    She is also launching a helpline for victims in October due to a small grant, which will pay for training for two volunteers, but beyond the end of the year the charity does not have the funds to survive.

    According to the campaigner communal bodies and religious leaders are silencing victims by not “supporting somewhere for them to turn.

    “Most of the time, all victims and survivors want is to be listened to. To be heard is a basic human need and we are shutting people down because we feel uncomfortable about the topic.”

    After years of suffering abuse at the hands of a long-time family friend, Ms Goldsobel finally reached out for help.

    But after reporting the crimes to the police, rabbis refused to acknowledge her suffering, her family were driven from their synagogue, and kosher shops refused to serve them.

    She explained: “When I started the phone just didn't stop ringing. Since then, I have supported over 400 inquiries.

    “It is not just victims, it is teachers, parents, and friends who are concerned and want to know how they can help or what to do when they see the signs.

    “They have experienced everything and anything from sexual abuse, rapes within the family, outside the family, in school, in shul, and in youth groups. They have nowhere else to go because the community doesn’t want to know about it.”

    She said it is not just those in the Orthodox community who seek help. The charity is supporting people from across the religious spectrum.

    It was after her own case that Ms Goldsobel “realised no one was even acknowledging that the problem existed, let alone dealing with it”. Community leaders were guilty of “finger pointing . . . people say it happens more on that side of the community or it happens more there.

    “But it doesn’t, it happens across the spectrum. It is just the way in which sections of the community responds that might differ.”

    She criticised the constant support of perpetrators within the Orthodox community sighting her own case as an example. Her abuser has continued to be honoured by Chabad Lubavitch UK after he was sentenced to three years in jail.

    Chabad accepted a Sefer Torah donated him and in 2015, the organisations agreed to remove a plaque from the giant Menorah which honoured the man, who was its contributor.

    Despite this, the Menorah continues to be used at the candle lighting events at Trafalgar Square, which thousands of UK Jews, including many children, attend.

    “It silences victims and continues to show them that the perpetrator, or the community as a collective, is more important than those who have been sexually assaulted or raped,” Ms Goldsobel said.

    And she admits that it has been a “fight” to get major donors and communal bodies to support her work.

    “I have sent so many emails in seven years. I’ve literally been begging for support,” she said.

    “Naively, I thought this was such an important cause, so of course everyone would want to help, but they don't. People don’t want to say we have a problem in our community.

    Ms Goldsobel, who founded the national Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence week, which takes place in February, said it was harder to get support for victims within the Jewish community than it was outside it.

    “Every year, the campaign gets bigger and better, even the Met have supported it, but then I come back to the community and I feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall.”

    She said the thing that keeps her going is knowing what it is like for victims who have nowhere to turn.

    “It is horrible. I will never ever forget that feeling; you feel utterly isolated and as if someone has got their hand over your mouth. It reiterated how much I don't matter.”

    She said her own experience had forced her to “question where I fitted in in Judaism because a lot of the rabbis manipulated the Torah and halachah to justify what happened to me.

    “I was told my age is arbitrary in Jewish law and when other victims hear things like that they think that no one will believe them. We need to change the way we talk about sex abuse.”

    Ms Goldsobel, who has a 19-month-old son said she does not worry for him growing up because “he is going to grow up in a completely different environment to me. We already use correct names for body parts. But something as simple as that can be the start of not giving your child a voice.

    “There is nothing worse than having someone try to tell you about the abuse they have experienced, but not know the words to say.

    “Imagine, if you have a child and you're cooking dinner and they mention that ‘someone has touched my thingy' are you going to remember in that moment the significance of what they have said?

    “Children will only try to tell you about abuse a few times and if they get shut down or ignored they won't try again.”

    Calling on the community to support the charity, she added: “I hope, come January 2019, we can say that we are financially stable and secure and can respond to the need that is out there.

    “There are too many people desperately looking for support and information about what they can do and that is not good enough.”

     

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