Monday, April 27, 2009

Agudas Israel – It’s Finest Moment

I have never been a fan of Agudas Israel or for that matter any of the organizations representing one particular brand of Judaism or another. They all have the same common denominator, the one that they share with political parties whether in the United States, Israel or any other place on planet earth. They are out for themselves.

In most instances it didn’t start out that way. When their political parties or organizations were just starting out undoubtedly they were committed to the proposition that they existed in order to further, protect or promote the needs of their constituency. Once the organization grows it takes on a life of its own committed no longer to the constituents but to the organization. With this growth the organization needs revenue in order to pay their overhead which always is heavily padded with exorbitant salaries and benefits for their executive management. And they have to grow. Organizations by definition must grow – it is an organism and all organisms grow, morph or die. So they build institutions to promote their cause taking on more liability and exposure always on the vanguard for means and methods of furthering the organizations interests and growth. As the organization matures the realization sets in that somewhere along the line they forgot why it was that they formed themselves into an organization in the first place. Their constituents no longer matter – they take a second place, a back seat to the greater good of the party – or in this case the organization. Usually this doesn’t happen until something traumatic shakes them out of their euphoric sense of self importance.

In this particular instance Agudas Israel has been traumatized by the exposure of sexual abuse and pedophilia which they knowingly enabled by turning a blind eye until they were no longer allowed to avoid the issue. Agudas Israel’s concerned with public image and damage control has said and done all the right things and did so with great dignity aplomb and humility as long as it didn’t cost them anything. As soon as the possibility emerged that their may be some potential liability to their organization or institutions they support or are in some way connected to, they changed their strategy and sense of duty to their public. Now all of a sudden they are deeply concerned about the negative financial liability this new legislation may have on their institutions.

Agudas Israel’s concerns lay with the “institutions” and the “communities”, but not with those who people those institutions and communities. Had Agudas Israel been genuinely concerned and committed to those they serve and represent they would have rooted out the problem decades ago, saving the lives of young people from a living hell that has no respite. They were aware of the problem of pedophilia decades ago. It was their business to be aware of the problem. Any institution, private or public that employ people, or provide services have the legal and moral responsibility to watch out for the mental and physical safety of those in their charge. There is no excuse for pedophilia or any other form of sexual abuse in the work place, school, yeshiva, period.

It is therefore disingenuous for Agudas Israel to now show concern for the exposure this new proposed legislation may have on their institutions. Who cares? If those institutions are forced to close down as a result of judgments against them, it was probably deserved. Their concern that if some of their institutions aren’t able to handle the financial stress and are forced to close down and those people in need of those services will be deficient is hollow. Also, the concern isn’t real. Those who relied on those institutions will find alternatives and probably better ones.

This proposed legislation will actually be good for Agudas Israel. It will force them as it will all other organizations to run a “tight ship”. It means that they will be held accountable, and accountability isn’t cheap. It means that saying “sorry and it will never happen again” just doesn’t cut it. Too many precious lives were unnecessarily wasted. Accountability means that you have to pay – pay until it hurts.

Unfortunately money is the only language that people understand. It is the only language that Agudas Israel understands. This new legislation will remind the leadership of Agudas Israel that their organization doesn’t come first, their constituents do. Their constituents will be reminded of the fact that they no longer take a back seat to the klei kodesh – on the contrary, their precious children are what their institutions are all about.