After working with teens at risk for 15 years, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz had a life-altering insight. “I’ve been working with teens at risk for almost 30 years. It hit me like a sledgehammer 15 years ago that the kids who are abandoning religion were really divided into two groups. The kids who only abandoned religion may have beautiful, secular lives that are moving forward. They just don’t include religion now.
“The kids who were abandoning not just religion, but were abandoning life, the ones who were doing cocaine and heroin, who were cutting themselves and attempting suicide – 90% of them were molested as kids.”
This insight led Horowitz to publish the book Let’s Stay Safe!
Written by noted children’s author Bracha Goetz, Let’s Stay Safe!
teaches children about bicycle safety, ﬁre safety, crossing the street safely and more.
But the real message of the book is the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Horowitz explained, “The book is divided into three main sections. We included the other safety stuff to make it more comfortable for some communities."
There are basically four overall safety messages that we wanted to convey. The research shows these are the most effective messages for educating children to protect themselves against predators.”
The four messages are that children should not keep secrets from parents, that their bodies belong to them, that there is a distinction between good touching and bad touching and that no one has the right to make them feel uncomfortable.
“How do you teach a 40-pound kid to protect themselves from a 250-pound adult who wants to hurt them?” asked Horowitz. “If you teach these simple lessons to children, the predators get scared [and leave these children alone] because they don’t want to go to jail.”
It was crucially important that the book did not include any images or messages that would scare children or parents. Horowitz elaborated, “The research shows that when parents convey fear to the children, the fear blocks the mind from processing information.
Education doesn’t take well in an environment of fear.”
Thus, the book includes playful rhymes and colorful illustrations by Tova Leff. “There are no scary people there. It’s just enjoyable pictures. There is nothing in the book that exudes fear. We set it up like that. The book starts out with a nice message about crossing the street and such before we get to the heavy message. It was intentional,” said Horowitz.
Originally published by the heavyweight Orthodox publishing house ArtScroll in 2011, Let’s Stay Safe!
has been, according to Horowitz, “extraordinarily well-received across the board. There was no pushback. I was careful to get the approval and endorsement of the leading rabbinic authorities of every community we worked with. In America, [the book] is in over 50,000 homes already. That’s two-thirds of English-speaking, Orthodox American homes.”
By Jewish publishing standards, where a book that sells 3,000 copies is considered successful, 50,000 is an amazing number. But it isn’t good enough for Horowitz, whose bold ambition is simply expressed: “We’re trying to get this book into every Jewish home.”
To that end, there is a Yiddish version that has already sold over 7,000 copies, and now, two Hebrew versions have been completed – one intended for Israel’s National Religious population and one for its haredi community. The Hebrew versions have been available in Israel since Passover and sell for NIS 15. As Horowitz explains, “Every copy is subsidized by donations. We don’t want money to be a barrier for any family.”
He recently got a donation speciﬁcally to help distribute the book free to income-eligible families. His team is now working with a few non-proﬁt organizations in Israel that distribute food packages to needy families. A copy of the book will be included in future food distributions, along with the chicken and the rice.
SO SERIOUS is he about getting the book’s prevention message into every home that he’s willing to pay for the full development of versions appropriate for Israel’s secular and Arab populations as well. He’s prepared to give the Israeli government a license to reprint the book for free on the condition that they agree to distribute it widely. “This is a standing offer. I’d be delighted to do it,” he emphasized.
In the two new Hebrew versions, the text is identical.
Getting the images right is what took so much time.
Horowitz explained, “The images should be culturally congruent for the children. They should represent things they see in their daily lives. We are very committed to doing it right. The images were very important to us.”
The process of vetting the images was multifaceted.
Horowitz sent around every picture after it was drawn to see if everything was an accurate reﬂection of the speciﬁc community’s culture. Parents, educators, focus groups and professionals, including Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski and Dr. David Pelkovitz, reviewed every image, every page and every word of the text.
“Some of the pictures went through 10 revisions,” Horowitz said. “The project took two years. We could have knocked the Hebrew translation out in a month, but so much time and effort went into it, to make it right.”
In the English version, for example, there is a ball rolling to the street. But, according to Horowitz, “Hassidic kids were not likely to play ball,” so that image had to be adapted. In America, children are shown ﬂying a kite. In Israel, they go to the zoo. The Hebrew versions also mention things that would be unfamiliar to American children, such as ﬁre safety during Lag Ba’omer, unattended bags in public places suspected of containing bombs, and young children traveling alone on public buses.
Horowitz emphasized that he is perpetually interested in partnering with anyone who can help him get books into Jewish homes. He told of a pediatric medical practice in Brooklyn that bought over 1,000 copies of the English and Yiddish versions of the book to give out to each family in the practice. As a result, two children told their parents they were being molested.
These, and similar results, make him willing to partner with anyone, anywhere, to distribute books. “I’m not stopping until the book is in every home,” he asserted. “I work hard to raise money to subsidize every copy that gets sold.”
“At least $500,000 has been invested in the book since the project’s inception. And each version took a year to produce,” Horowitz estimated.
In addition to the book, Horowitz also offers abuse prevention education
. “I’ve given well over 200 classes to 50,000 people in the last 10 years,” he said. All classes offered in Israel are free.
He told about the ﬁrst public class he gave just as the original English version of the book was published. The class was taught to parents in a religious girls school in Brooklyn, New York. He recalled that there was a woman in the audience who was not religiously observant, but who had attended the class as a member of the community.
That woman had gone into a local Jewish bookstore, bought the book and read it to her children. That’s how she found out her own daughter was a victim of sexual abuse. “Rabbi,” she said tearfully, “How can I ever thank you? You saved my daughter’s life!” Stories like this compel Horowitz to declare, “I never dreamed I’d be doing this. It’s holy work. And I’m not stopping.”
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