Jewish community faces omni-religious issue

Sexual misconduct by SLP Rabbi is important reminder


Ruby Stillman

When I found out Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, a prominent leader in the St. Louis Park Jewish community, was arrested in February, I was shocked.

I was even more astonished to discover a sting operation had caught him inappropriately corresponding with and sending explicit materials to an official posed as a minor through an online dating site.

Because I am Jewish, it is substantial to me every time I hear of another Jew in the news, and unfortunately, this story was no exception.

Rabbi Cohen’s crimes helped me realize despite concerns of child sexual abuse being a systemic issue within the Catholic church, not by any means is abuse by religious leaders exclusively a Catholic problem. Although sexual abuse by leaders is not nearly as prominent in Judaism as it is in Catholicism, it is important to remember that no religion is immune.

According to the Star Tribune and the Echo, Cohen was charged with two felonies in response to his  electronic communication involving sex with a minor. He is awaiting his hearing Sept. 19, and is facing up to six years in jail if convicted of both accounts.

When disturbing information about other cases of sexual abuse like Cohen’s is unveiled, I feel devastated. Nonetheless, the other cases don’t hit quite as close to home, because I am not a part of the community from which most of the cases derive. Much of the recent media coverage regarding horrendous stories of child abuse come from within the Catholic church.

For example, the 2015 Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight” focused on exposing the culture of child sexual abuse by Boston Roman Catholic priests. Additionally, the ongoing Pennsylvania case highlights the abuse of more than 1,000 children by Pennsylvania Catholic priests since the 1940s.

Even though it isn’t something I like to think about, it is vital to realize this horrible abuse is closer than I realize; Cohen worked at the Kollel just down the street from my house. One of my best friends has had a shabbat dinner at his house a few times. A family friend studied closely under him for years at the University of Minnesota.

Since childhood, all Jews are taught they represent the entire Jewish community. Therefore, the burden falls on all Jewish people to maintain a good reputation, and whenever one of us commit an unethical act, it is the responsibility of all Jews to denounce the behavior and actively work against it.

While the natural reaction of any community to Cohen’s offenses might be to stay silent and ashamed, the Jewish community must do the opposite.

I believe it is the responsibility of the St. Louis Park Jewish community to be vocal and open about how this event has affected our community and what we can do to prevent it from happening again.

Most of all, it is critical to acknowledge that although the prevalence of child abuse by religious leaders varies, it is not only a Catholic issue, but one that sadly affects all religions.