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Jewish Journal

AMBER: The U.S. Moral Alert

by Rabbi Eli Hecht

September 19, 2002 | 8:00 pm

At least once a week, we hear reports of missing children. Some are found alive and others, tragically, dead.

Some become names on the missing list and remain a mystery.

The heartbreak is great, and families never truly recover from the trauma. For years, we have been aware of this problem, and no real answers have been found.

Recently, we find a great number of children committing crimes of great magnitude -- cruelty, impressive and unsurpassed. Imagine reading trial reports of youngsters beating their father to death with a bat.

It has also been suggested that a lot of missing children are really runaways, running from abusive parents and schools. The recent investigations and convictions have intensified the concern of all of us. To whom do we turn, and what are we to do?

It was in the fall of 2001 that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children launched the AMBER (America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response) plan nationwide. It is designed to assist cities and towns across the United States in creating their own emergency alert plan. It is now being adopted by more and more cities.

In February 2002, the Emergency Broadcast System adopted rules for missing children. It became a standard for alerting the public about missing children. This system follows support for the AMBER Alert initiated in October 2001.

The AMBER Alert is the missing child response program that notifies the public when children are kidnapped. There are 53 modified versions of the program, and 16 states have adopted statewide plans. Recent kidnappings in California and the recovery of missing children is attributed to the success of the AMBER Alert program.

I believe that this is a wonderful concept, and should be encouraged throughout the United States. It would accomplish a great deal. Most of all, it would save lives.

However, on the other hand, I strongly suggest a different kind of moral supplement to the AMBER Alert -- a plan that alerts us to respond to the growing moral decay of our country.

Instead of the AMBER plan being a system to just find missing children, there should be a system that doesn't let the child get lost in the first place. Perhaps the AMBER plan could also incorporate an "America's Moral Broadcast Emergency Response."

When a responsible citizen sees a family member, an elected official or even a clergyman engaging in abusive behavior, he should have an emergency number to alert authorities who will intervene before an abduction or abusive behavior takes place.

There are times I wonder why we always glorify safe recovery, when we should be instituting preventive laws. The old saying of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" can work in conjunction with the AMBER Alert. Instead of putting out fires, it is wiser to find the arsonist. With all our worries about terrorist attacks, we seem to be forgetting our own home-grown terrorists.

Maybe it is high time for all of us to make a personal AMBER Alert. We need to check the morality of our leaders in government, schools and religious institutions, and call an emergency response and rectify the wrongs and help those in need. If we did that, what a great world we would have.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.

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