The Jewish world was shocked at the arrest of Evan Zauder in New York (“NJ Yeshiva Teacher Charged With Having Child Pornography,” online and “From Rising Jewish Ed Star to Kiddie Porn Perp” on “The Yad” blog). But what is more shocking is the response of the Jewish educational institutions he worked for.
Yeshivat Noam made a statement an hour after the story came out saying that there is no reason to believe their kids were involved. How do they know? Did they ask their students? Did they alert parents to the situation and counsel them on how to talk to their kids?
Camp Stone sent out a letter that did a great job of making it clear Zauder seemed like a great guy and expressing their shock and surprise, but they did a disservice to their campers by not aggressively seeking and supporting people to come forward in case he did molest a child at camp. It isn’t until the second page of the letter that they suggested that parents “may” want to talk to their kids about this. Why would a child or parent feel comfortable coming forward after the entire camp community received a letter saying what a wonderful guy and staff member Zauder was? The camp needs to do everything possible to create a safe environment for campers to come forward in.
Yes, we must adhere to a standard of innocent until proven guilty, but we also must err on the side of caution when it comes to safety and protecting our children.
Rather than trying to protect Evan Zauder, officials of Camp Stone and Yeshivat Noam should have tried to protect their children. Rather than trying to demonstrate that a pedophile wasn’t working in their camp or school, they should have used this as an opportunity to educate parents, direct parents to resources for talking to their children, and made it clear that they are committed to protecting their school children and campers, even if it reveals further crimes which may have occurred at their institutions.