Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Address by Rachel Zimmerman, coordinator of Project Shield at the Jewish Child and Family Services and recipient of the 2010 Samuel A. Goldsmith Award, at the 110th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Sept. 15, 2010.
Thank you- It is a great honor to be receiving this award- but really, I can’t accept it on my own for what is truly being honored today is the work of many.
Let me just take a moment to say congratulations to David, Lisa, Jason and Rabbi Kurtz- I am honored to be sharing the morning with you.
I also want to thank G-d first and foremost for giving me the strength to reach this point.
Last October- I did something really brave and somewhat crazy- I ran my first marathon.
Three years ago, when I started running, I couldn’t run a mile.
But I started jogging for a couple of minutes at a time before collapsing breatheless.
Then I celebrated being able to run for 30 minutes straight.
Suddenly I could run 5 miles and onward I went from there.
Crossing the finish line of first marathon was a life altering moment. Not just because of the cool bragging rights (though that’s nice) but because I never in my life thought I could do it. And as I spent five hours running that fateful Sunday morning I consistently received messages from every part of my body saying “stop”, I’m, tired, :you can’t do this”, “you’re not ready yet”, “This hurts”, “you’ll never make it”. And as I heard the barrage of complaints I closed my eyes and told myself over and over again “I can and I will, I can and I will, I can and I will”.
Three years ago I took on the job as the coordinator of Project Shield.
The task seemed daunting, the distance that needed to be covered seemed too great. You want me to do what? Sexual abuse of children is a hard topic to talk about. I expected doors to be slammed in my face, inquiries about training to be denied, and people to not want to believe that this is an issue happening in our very own community.
But in reality, the CDC cites that 1 in 4 women will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and 1 in 6 men. I have yet to do a training or a presentation where someone hasn’t come up to me afterwards or contacted me a couple of days later to tell me that they were abused, or a loved one was abused. The survivors of this silent epidemic are to be found in every country, in every culture, in every religion, and in every community.
With all of this information I took a deep breath- I closed my eyes and said “I can and I will” There was a lot of education to be done and so I took my first step forward.
And so it began. But just like with running- the gains that were being made in a short period of time were incredible. My fears started to fall by the wayside- camps said yes to having their staff trained. Parents showed up to prevention talks, and Rabbis requested meetings with me to hear more about what they could do.
But there is one main and very significant difference between running and Project Shield- Running is a one-man sport. If you fall or get hurt your race is over.
Project Shield is a team effort. Every month, every week, and every day, more and more people are joining our team. It is through the efforts of one of the most amazing teams ever put together that Shield had grown and succeeded in the astounding way that it has.
First- The Jewish Federation. Without your guidance, your funding, your unwavering support, your advice and expertise- we would not be the program that we are today.
Secondly- JCFS. What an incredible organization JCFS is. The breadth and depth of all the work we do takes my breathe away when I stop to think about it. Everyone from our wonderful executive director Howard Sitron, to our amazing Director of Community Programs, Planning, and Development- Suzanne Franklin, every clinician, every program staff, and every support staff- they have all put their hand in to help and to ask “what can we do to help you make Project Shield stronger.”
Third- the Project Shield Advisory Council. A little over two years ago we invited a group of professionals from inside and outside the Jewish community to come together to help advise our program. Together that council formed a strong voice and each member of the council has used their own strengths and programs to open doors for Shield programming. I am awed by each one of them on a constant basis.
Fourth- The leaders of the Jewish community. Every Rabbi, Every School Principal, and Every Camp Director, and Every Lay Leader that I have contacted have each been instrumental in taking the messages of Project Shield and making them a reality within each organization that they serve. I am honored to live and work in a community that has the leaders that it has.
Fifth- My incredible supervisors. The one’s that got me into this embaressing speech in the first place by nominating me. Amy Rubin and Lynn Shyman. I come to work knowing that no problem is too big to be overcome- because I have the incredible daily advice and guidance from these incredible women. They support me and the program in every way imaginable and I truly believe that I am the luckiest employee of JCFS for having such an amazing supervisory team. I learn from you both on everything from how to be a professional, how to write a proper English sentence, how to build community collaborations, to how to handle a crisis situations. The love and admiration I have for you both is never ending. Thank you!
And lastly, but most importantly on the Project Shield team is my family. Without which I could never do what I do. So thank you to my amazing parents. Thank you to my amazing in-laws. Thank you to my four beautiful children who are so tolerant with my schedules and with all my crazy ways. A big I love you to my beautiful and sweet daughter Devorah who is here representing all of her siblings- And thank you the most to my husband. My husband is my role model, my Rabbi, and my best friend all in one. Thank you for enabling a moment like this to happen.
So back to last October when I crossed that marathon finish line- oh and by the way- just to answer my most frequently asked question- Yes I do run in a skirt- and nah- it’s not hard at all- but I digress- anyway- so when I crossed the line, besides for being exhausted- I thought to myself- I need to do this again. There are more races to be run and more miles to be logged. This race is just the beginning…….
And today as I stand here I realize- that we the Project Shield team have come a long way, but we have a lot more to do and more distance to cover. So to end- I invite you all- every person in this room- to take the message of project shield, and help us to create safer Jewish homes by starting conversations in your own lives, with your own family members, and with organizations that you’re involved with. Learn about the signs of symptoms of child sexual abuse, urge parents to learn how to talk to their children about prevention- because Education is power and the key to prevention.
And if we – the Project Shield team of today’s annual meeting – all step up to day “we can and we will, we can and we will” imagine where we’ll all be in three more years from now.
- It is unfortunate that it has come to this. It is a big darn shame it has come to this. It is very hurtful that it has come to this. But yet, IT HAS COME TO THIS. It has come at the price of a GREAT CHILUL HASHEM. It has come to Hashem having to allow his holy name to be DESECRATED so that his CHILDREN remain SAFE. Shame on all those responsible for enabling and permitting Hashem's name to be desecrated! When you save children you save the future. You save the future you save generations. You save generations you save lives. You save lives you have saved the world!!!!!!!