The call of Koleinu

Melanie Uranovsky

I never knew that ‘nice Jewish girls’ suffered abuse, nor that it happened to boys either, or to anyone, unless they were miles away from my world. I once saw a man abusing a woman, so I stopped and shouted at him to leave her alone. If I witness abuse, my adrenaline surges, my Superman cape appears, and I become relentless because I cannot bear to see a person at the mercy of another.

Abuse of any kind is usually kept behind closed doors, especially in the Jewish community. In my ignorance, I thought that abuse happened only to the person in the street, or in disadvantaged communities. Until one day a girl of 11 walked into my office. 

That day altered the course of my life. Quietly, with her eyes cast down, she told me what her paternal grandfather had done to her daily during her school holidays. I hadn’t been trained for this. I had no clue how to respond, but I knew that I would fight to seek justice for this fragile child. When she left my office, I put my head down on my arms in sheer disbelief. She had told nobody but me. The phone call I made to her mother that day was the most difficult one I have ever made. It was then that I realised that abuse, even sexual abuse, can be perpetrated by somebody you know, love and trust.

Misconceptions about abusers abound. The survivor struggles to understand how someone for whom they have positive feelings could do this.  Likewise, the public is often swayed by ‘the exceptional husband/father’, ‘the fantastic CEO’, ‘the philanthropist in our city’, or ‘the marvellous community guy’. Bill Cosby? Never! 

We fought the monster until we got our day in court, with my student on camera, and me on the witness stand. We won our case, and he was incarcerated. From that day on, I knew that I needed to delve into this area as well as keeping my remedial and learning support therapy practice. 

I had read about Koleinu, established by Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack in Johannesburg,and we met. Soon I flew to Johannesburg for training sessions. In 2020, Koleinu Cape Town was born – with me proudly at the helm.

Where does someone go after suffering abuse? Who will know what to do? Who can be trusted? This is how and why Koleinu exists. 

All Capetonians should know that Koleinu provides a safe, secure, and confidential place for them to be heard, supported and ultimately steered in the right direction. A place of comfort through your journey from disclosure until you have reached a place of catharsis, or until justice has been served. 

The first step –  to come forward and to disclose –  is the most difficult step. We need to stop protecting abusers by keeping silent. Don’t be a bystander. If you know of anyone suffering abuse, or needing support, encourage them to call our 24-hour helpline 074 1805687 (except on Shabbat). Koleinu deals with all types of abuse, not only sexual. To date in Cape Town, we have had three cases heard in court with two upcoming cases. 

Melanie Uranovsky is a member of The Mensch Network and a graduate of Mensch’s Leadership Programme (LIFT). To learn more about her work visit and select Network Members. | Mensch on Facebook | Mensch on Instagram

• Published in the December 2023/January 2024 issue – Click here to start reading.

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