Fear and loathing in Har Nof
By Stuart Winer, Additional reporting by Hilary Leila Krieger
Jerusalem Post - March 7, 2003
Edition; In Jerusalem, Section: Features, Page: 01
Friday, March 7, 2003 -- In the last two months, public revelations of child molestation have caused fear and shock in the predominantly haredi neighborhood of Har Nof. As police try to combat the incidents of abuse, the community must combat a code of silence which has traditionally pushed such abuse below the surface.
"The haredi community is not used to talking to strangers on any subject, " said Dov Bernstein, supervisor for the Jerusalem area investigators of the Child Investigation Service at the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. "Add to that the problem of them being victims of sexual attacks and it can be very difficult."
Yet police succeeded in arresting two long-time abusers this winter. In early January, a 17-year-old haredi Har Nof resident admitted to sexually abusing young boys. The police said he had raped and sodomized 15 to 20 children from the ages of five to 10 in a local synagogue. And one month later, a 27-year-old non-haredi man from Har Nof admitted to committing over 25 acts of molestation on girls aged six to 11 over the past three years, according to Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby.
But there are scores of other cases in the neighborhood that go unprosecuted for lack of evidence; in many instances they are not even reported. Now that the topic has been brought to the public's attention, everyone seems to know someone who has been affected by the phenomena.
"No one knows names," said Bertha Goldstein as she watched a group of children playing on Rehov Kaplan in Har Nof. "But there are men approaching children."
Over the past months local Har Nof newsletters have carried numerous appeals for parents to remain alert after children were accosted in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood.
"I recently heard of a guy who tried to stop a 12- year-old girl from leaving a building. She way lucky because some other girls walked in and she managed to run for it," Goldstein said. "Everyone thought these were isolated incidents but now they are beginning to piece things together."
"People are now very cautious about letting their children walk around alone," Goldstein said. "Even 12 and 13-year-old girls are not allowed out by themselves."
When victims do go to the authorities, they often find there's not much that can be done. One Har Nof mother recounted that after her 18-year-old daughter was fondled by an unknown haredi man in the elevator of their apartment complex one afternoon last summer, she filed a complaint with the police.
She said the complaint was a means of taking action, "[But] I don' t know if it does any good."
She noted that no arrest was ever made but didn't blame the police.
"I don't think the police can really do anything," she said, explaining, "he [the perpetrator] looks like the rest of the population. What would he do to stand out? It has to be residents, who know he's different and doesn't belong."
That's one of the reasons she said she believes speaking out about incidents of abuse is important. "If everybody called [attention to potential abusers], maybe we could do something about these weirdos."
Once she and her daughter began to talk about what had happened, they found that several friends and neighbors had experienced similar traumas.
"There's a lot of stuff going on in Har Nof," the mother said, noting that her daughter's experience "wasn't such an isolated case ... Frequently I've found out that people have gone through this."
While she said the women whom she told about the molestation were supportive and as a result felt freer to talk about their own similar experiences, she expressed some annoyance that no one had shared these incidents with her before.
"They weren't common knowledge. I didn't know I should be worried and alert."
Even so, she said her daughter thought twice about entering the elevator when she saw a strange man inside. When she noticed a second-grader also in the lift, she decided it was safe to enter.
"As soon as the doors closed he began to handle [fondle] my daughter, to grope her," the mother described. "She yelled at him and he got out and ran."
Afterwards, the mother recollected how her daughter "was very shaken, " as was the young girl who witnessed the attack.
But her daughter told her, "I have to go out now or I won't be able to go out."
The alternative would have been that "she would get crippled by fear, " the mother added. "It strikes your security. You don't trust anybody."
The sense of mistrust applies to the community as a whole, the mother explained.
"One would think that ostensibly in a religious neighborhood, people behave better," she said. "I think that we assume a certain kind of [safety]. We don't play around. We live by the Torah. Guys don't bother girls. Men stay married. It's not a free-for-all in terms of morality ... One individual can wreak a lot of havoc. "
But experts contacted by In Jerusalem said they didn't have any statistics to track whether rates of sexual abuse are higher or lower in haredi communities than in the public at large.
But Haim Walder, manager of the Center for the Child and Family in Bnei Brak, an organization that deals with child abuse in the haredi community, said that while "petty crime is almost unheard of in the haredi community, sexual crime is more common and more of a problem. People don't even think about it going on."
Walder, himself haredi, added, "The biggest problem is closure. People don't want to report it or talk about it."
"We found in Har Nof that we knew a lot of information but parents were not prepared to talk. We knew things were going on but people would not come forward," Bernstein said.
Yifat Boyer, an attorney at the National Council for the Child, an organization that provides legal aid for children, agreed that the lack of openness makes tackling child abuse in communities like Har Nof difficult.
"Even the people who are trying to address the issue in the haredi community don't talk about sex, or sexuality, or even use words like that."
"You don't want to overexpose the specifics of the threat the way a lot of media tends to go into graphic detail," Walder said. "On the other hand we don't want to ignore it."
Walder said that community leaders face the dilemma of how to warn children without exposing them to things that they don't want them to know about. The solution, in his opinion, is to give over the message in a way that is acceptable to community sensitivities.
"For example, there is a kid's book with a story that explains it is important to keep away from strangers without explaining what the danger is," Walder explained. He added that the idea is to encourage children to talk more about what happens to them.
At the same time he noted, "In some ways it is better not to scare the children" about concepts such as incest, inicidents of which he claimed is rare.
Boyer said educating children about incest in the haredi community can be a real problem due to the absolute authority wielded by haredi parents.
"You can't tell haredi children not to do what their father tells them to do," Boyer said.
Bernstein said that in some cases it can take years for children to realize that something happened to them.
Bernstein theorized that the dogma of benevolence and generosity on which haredi youth is raised may make them easy targets.
"There is a method to seducing children, of getting close to them. Child molesters know just how to talk to children to gain their confidence, " Bernstein said. "Since haredi youth are educated to believe in helping people whenever they can, they are easier to seduce."
Bernstein suggested that in some cases the hospitality inherent in haredi communities can result in predators being invited right into victims' homes.
"They also want to help each other and to help ba'alei tshuva (the newly observant), Bernstein added. "So it is confusing to the children who see their parents inviting these people into their homes and then they are not sure if there is something wrong when they interfere with them."
And the unwillingness to challenge authority extends to the means of dealing with cases, which Boyer said often revolve around the rabbis.
"Even when a rabbi knows about a case in his community he is less likely to report it to the authorities but will try to deal with it himself," he said. "That could be because they don't recognize the authorities and they also don't want the story to get out."
Additionally, Walder said, "Sometimes the victim suffers at the expense of the public and the media who have a field day, and that is something that the rabbis did not want to happen.The idea is to help the victim and the community."
Bernstein said that all victims of sexual abuse need to receive treatment. If denied it, the results can be dire. Studies have shown that victims of child sexual abuse who are not treated are prone to become abusers themselves as adults.
"The more serious the initial attack, the more intensive the treatment must be," Bernstein said. "It takes time, sometimes even up to three years of treatment, but it is critical."
Bernstein said some rabbinic leaders are taking special training and there are additional courses for religious women to help them to deal with these situations.
"People who do try to deal with incidents by intuition or from the Holy Scriptures can do even more damage," Bernstein said. "I know of cases in which rabbis said, 'It's not so bad,' or they drove families out of the community instead of trying to deal with the problem."
Har Nof resident and school principal Yizhak Soffer, said he feels that community leaders could be doing more.
"The cover-up attitude is stupid," he said. "The correct attitude is to be on the offensive. They should be supervising education, be much more aware of strangers, teach basic self-defense so that the kids know what to do if something happens."
Because of the difficulties in breaking into the closed community on a subject that is not only intimate, but also taboo, Bernstein said the investigators apply a method known as "joining."
He explained, "We often investigate in stages. First we build confidence by getting to know the children, and talking about neutral subjects."
"We are really in early days with dealing with it," Boyer said. "We are trying to hold a meeting with the people in the haredi community to try and make in-roads."
"It all starts with the rabbi," Bernstein said. "The more the rabbis are involved, the more likely the community is to involve outsiders in the process. I know one rabbi who managed to persuade some families to go to the police although they didn't want to at first."
Bernstein sees the first stage to tackling the problem in gaining the support of the community leaders.
"The more the rabbis are prepared to listen to us, even if they have suspicions, they will understand that we have the same interests: to protect the children."
The process of apprehending and punishing pedophiles in this country is a long and complicated one that can continue for years. First the perpetrator must be identified and subsequently arrested. The 27-year- old arrested in Har Nof last month carried out attacks for three years before being apprehended after a girl came forward with details of how he had molested her in a residential building. After police began investing the case, other victims spoke out.
There are many instances when the accused is released until the case comes to court. The 17-year-old arrested in January is currently under house arrest at his brother's.
Prosecution procedures begin when police receive a complaint from a victim. If, on the basis of initial evidence, the state attorney' s office decides to prosecute, then the child investigators take over. According to the law, children under the age of 14 are forbidden from providing testimony in court in order to protect them from difficult questioning. Instead of the child, the investigator who handled the case gives testimony.
All investigations with the children are videotaped from the first interview until the end of the investigation. The tape is then submitted to the court, where the judges watch all the footage and the investigator give testimony in place of the victim. Child abuse investigator Dov Bernstein said that in some cases the investigator decides that the victim can give evidence if the child seems confident and strong enough to do so. Usually, however, it is the investigator who speaks in the name of the child, a circumstance that Bernstein says is unique in the whole world.
By law, anyone who knows of a case and doesn't report it to the authorities can be sentenced to six months in prison.
"There is a legal requirement to report incidents that apply not just to community leaders or educators but all members of the public too, " Bernstein said. "There have been cases in the past when rabbis were investigated."
Case of Yeedle Werdyger - Chassidic Singer
(AKA: The Case of The Son of Famous Orthodox Singer and a Haredi Friend)
Yeedle Werdyger and an unnamed haredi friend, were arrested in Jerusalem for enticing teenage girls, some of whom were below the age of 16, to take dangerous drugs and then to have sexual relations with them.
In addition, police said the two men photographed the girls in intimate positions in the bathroom and having sexual relations with other men. The suspects would later show the pictures to their friends. A search of the downtown apartment of one of the suspects turned up the miniature camera that was used.
When the singer was arrested, he tried to swallow the memory disc of his computer, breaking the chip as he chewed it. Yeedle's relatives say: This is a frameup.
According to the article "Rabbis calling for a boycott of the Ben David"; the rabbis were also distributing a Jerusalem Post article relating to the arrest in Israel of a Charedi performer, even though the case was later dropped through lack of evidence.").
by Abigail Radoszkowicz, Judy Siegel, Gail Lichtman
The Jerusalem Post, September 26, 2003
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 6
Two haredi men, one the singer son of a prominent American haredi performer, were arrested Friday afternoon in Jerusalem for enticing girls, some of whom were below the age of 16, to take dangerous drugs and then to have sexual relations with them.
In addition, police said the two men photographed the girls in intimate positions in the bathroom and having sexual relations with other men. The suspects would later show the pictures to their friends. A search of the downtown apartment of one of the suspects turned up the miniature camera that was used.
When the singer was arrested, he tried to swallow the memory disc of his computer, breaking the chip as he chewed it. "We think he had good reason to do so," the police told the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge.
The victims were all harediot, and police said the suspects took advantage of the girls' innocence and lack of sex education.
Investigation of the case began based on complaints filed by some of the girls as well as on additional sources, said police.
The police description of one of the suspects as the son of a prominent haredi personality led to wild speculation in the haredi community. Radio reports noted that Israeli Internet sites carried the full names of the suspects.
The judge ordered the police to allow friends of the two suspects to supply them with strictly kosher food with Eda Haredit certification.
Yeedle: The Legacy Continues
by Charni Sochet
The coronation of the prince of Jewish music reiterates the intensity of a musical dynasty that has for three generations defined and revolutionized the medium. With a legendary grandfather, Chazzan David Werdyger, and the King of Jewish Music, Mordechai Ben David, for a father, Yeedle Werdyger's meteoric rather than episodic ascent to the court of musical excellence was paved in gold; two debut albums - "Together" and "Yeedle II" which both went gold.
Three years ago, as Yeedle embarked on a daunting journey to deliver his unique musical manifesto there was the ever present specter of his father's formidable shadow of excellence. MBD's twenty-five year seminal influence in the trends and direction of Jewish music would invoke analogous predictions that could prove disastrous to a debut artist. That dialogue of expectations has undermined the potential of sons who attempt to entertain the success of their fathers. Yeedle is very much his father's son, yet remarkably, he has emerged and cast a resplendent shadow of his own.
The parallels to his father's career are unavoidable and provide commentary on the Werdyger legacy of assiduous commitment to the format. Yeedle's status as heir apparent is distinguished in the familiar, yet uniquely eloquent vocal characterizations of his own stylistic imperative. MBD's visionary albums celebrate the medium of American Jewish music. He captured the volatility of contemporary music and made it palatable for a generation who would otherwise have been enticed by more alien refrains, bridging the gap between classical and contemporary music, and creating the premise for American Jewish music. Twenty-five years later, Yeedle generates identical revolutionary overtones by captivating the musical conscience of the next generation.
As Yeedle enthusiastically comments, "It's in my blood. As a child my father sang before he spoke. The heart he puts into music, is the heart he puts into everything else and he relayed that to me in every note and chorus. I live the music, and inhale its potency in the perfectionist tendencies my father passed on to me." Both Yeedle's and MBD's intensity embodies that ideal, in every arena in their lives. That orientation resonates in the success of "Together" and "Yeedle II". Yeedle's unassuming candor belies the impact he has had on the Jewish music industry. The response to "Together" was so overwhelming that it compelled Yeedle to devote himself to the full-time realization of his potential.
The public response to "Yeedle II" has by far surpassed all expectations. Yeedle reflects on its thunderous popularity, "The vocals, arrangements, choir, etc., every element of this album was formulated and reformulated to perfection. As an MBD production my father was directly involved in the arranging, mixing, and he guided me vocally." The selections on "Yeedle II" run the spectrum from the classical ballad to rhythmic dispensations with a variety that appeals to sensitivities across the spectrum.
The phenomenon that is Yeedle has swept the international music scene, with concert appearances in Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Paris, London, Canada, and Israel. He recently returned from a concert in Israel at Parkei Hayarkon Gan Yehoshua at which he made a guest appearance and enthralled an audience that was 200,000 strong. "It's staggering to look out at a sea of faces 200,000 deep and perform to an audience ten times the size of a New York presentation." He shared the stage with MBD, Avrohom Fried, and Dedi and confides his anxieties in performing before a live audience of this magnitude. "I'm always nervous before a performance, but the expectations and exceptional show of unity generated by the concert inspired, motivated, and kept me focused. The incredible surge of exultation that swept the crowd demonstrates the vast inroads that Jewish music has accomplished in the last twenty-five years." That coincides with the significant contribution the Werdygers have made. His return from Israel is marked by his impending departure for another concert in mid-June back in Israel. The intense popularity of "Yeedle II" keeps him shuttling back and forth between concert destinations in an effort not to disappoint any of his fans.
The remarkable reception that "Yeedle II" encountered internationally bespeaks the universality of the message that Yeedle conveys, "I like to experiment with different styles of music, without negotiating the standards of Jewish music. Music that makes you feel guilty is not Jewish music. You have to feel the song, it's essence and it's message. I try to reach out to every Jewish neighborhood and affect each person, because each song is enhanced by our particular perspective. My intent is to take traditional Jewish music and update it; popularize it for consumption by the next generation." And it has been voraciously consumed by numbers that stagger industry standards.
Artistically, Yeedle corroborates his father's musical achievements by elaborating on their momentum. For the generation that has been weaned on MBD, the timeless classics are those selections that punctuated their youth and the very special moments in their lives. For the generation that is currently weaned on Yeedle these 10 gems incorporated on "Yeedle II" are destined to be irrevocably fused with the memories and reminiscences that support a generation. Yeedle is characteristically compulsive about the quality of his album, "There were no arbitrary selections. There is no justification to subject the listener to insipid tones and rhythms that serve as nothing more than filler. Therefore it was imperative to assemble the finest composers, musicians, technicians, choir, arranger, etc. for a project of this magnitude." Parenthetically, Yeedle is frequently queried as to the placement of his father's compositions on Side Two. He remarks, "The fact of the matter is that Side One can be Side Two and vice versa. Each song is singularly amazing for its message and spectacular arrangements." Mona Rosenblum distinguishes "Yeedle II" with his unique signature arrangements, interludes, and overtures complemented by MBD's own interpretations. Yeedle examines the intent of compositions by MBD, Yitzy Bald, and Reb Chaim Banet with the flair of a vocal master.
Specifically, "Kivisi", composed by Reb Boruch Chait, has been especially well received and appreciated by Yeedle's constituency. "Laasos Retzon Avicha Shebashamyaim", the title song initially suffuses the album with a fervor that reflects Yeedle's design; to do the A-mighty's bidding, and it further alludes to fulfilling his own father's visions.
Recently Yeedle was featured on Gideon Levine's "Best of the Best" album, and the response to his performance illustrates his dominance in the medium. His vision has, however, not been betrayed by his success, "I love having the power to create with music and using it to sustain the audience, without being destructive. The exuberant reaction of a child confined to a wheelchair after we've shared a song thrills the spirit and awakens the soul. I am privileged to use my music the way Hashem intended."
Yeedle's goal of releasing an album a year is well underway. He is currently summoning and assembling his network of professionals who will infuse his personality and their perspectives into a cadence of indomitable energy and spirit that will enthrall his audience from generation II generation.
The Jewish Telegraph (UK) - June 11, 2004 - Sivan 22, 5764
(Note: according to the following article the Rabbis calling for a boycott of this concert "... are also distributing a Jerusalem Post article relating to the arrest in Israel of a Charedi performer, even though the case was later dropped through lack of evidence.").
A GROUP of Manchester rabbis has called for a boycott of the Mordechai Ben David Jerusalem Experience concert in Salford on Sunday week.
But the Lowry Theatre event, in aid of Israeli rescue organisation Zaka, will still go ahead.
The rabbis, including Manchester Beth Din dayanim Osher Westheim and Gabriel Krausz, put their signatures to a letter posted in synagogues advising people not to attend.
The stars are Mordechai Ben David - the world's number one Chassidic singer - together with his son Yeedle Werdyger and son-in-law Mendy Wald.
To satisfy Manchester's ultra-Orthodox community, the organisers - hoping to attract a 1,700 audience - arranged separate seating and entrances and even separate interval refreshment facilities.
Yet last weekend, posters signed by Dayanim Westheim and Krausz, Rabbis M M Schneebalg of Machzikei Hadass, Simcha Bamberger of Daf Hayomi, Y Wreschner of Adass Yeshurun Synagogue, Y Horwitz of Satmar, Leibish Rabinowitz of Shaarei Tefilah Synagogue and Sammy Goldberg of Damesek Eliezer Synagogue went up in the respective shools - banning attendance at the concert.
In defence of their position, the banning rabbis circulated an article, It's All a Matter of Taste, written by former Mancunian Ephraim Luft.
Mr Luft, now living in Bnei Brak, makes a swingeing attack on any Jewish music influenced by non-Jewish sources, even that played at religious weddings.
He particularly blames pop culture for leading to sexual immorality and claims chassidic pop is similarly tarnished.
He alleges that the intention of "frum singers" is "only to make money and they ignore the terrible negative influence that they are bringing with their music. Even if it is not intentional, it still takes control of the minds of young fans."
He quotes Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon, formerly of Gateshead, who warns against the idolising of Chassidic singers. Mr Luft also warns against the security risks of large public gatherings.
The rabbis are also distributing a Jerusalem Post article relating to the arrest in Israel of a Charedi performer, even though the case was later dropped through lack of evidence.
But Rabbi Yehuda Brodie of Manchester Beth Din said the ban did not represent the views of the Beth Din.
The dayanim, he said, had signed in their private capacity. Manchester Beth Din dayanim Isaac Berger and Yehuda Steiner were not consulted on the matter. Concert organiser Dovid Holder, a daily Machzike Hadass synagogue worshipper, said: "The concert is going ahead. We hope it will be a sell-out.
''Mordechai Ben David, whom I know personally, is a very spiritual, Chassidic man.
"He is always learning Talmud and hardly speaks lest he talk lashon hora (slander). He is such a holy man that he makes a point of eating meat only on Shabbat."
He continued: "I am trying to do something nice for the Manchester Jewish community so that people can see how a frum gathering can be fun, uplifting and entertaining, that there are nice things in our religion. What's wrong with that?"
Tickets are available at the Lowry Box Office on 0870 787 5790.
By Steven I. Weiss
Foward - June 14, 2004
The Awareness Center has launched its page on Yeedle Werdyger, the popular Jewish singer and son of the yet-more-popular Jewish singer, Mordechai Ben David, who was reportedly accused of various criminal acts relating to drugs and sexual activity with fans who were minors in Jerusalem. Note that the original two articles there do not name Werdyger.
The launch of the page follows some controversy when certain UK rabbis issued a letter directing congregants not to attend a pair of recent concerts (covered heavily in the J-blogosphere, at Blog in Dm and most recently at Bloghead), one of which featured Werdyger. If I recall correctly, this was Werdyger's first concert since the arrest mentioned in the reports; if it was not, then some other concert in the UK was. The anti-concert contingent seems to have had plenty of desire to issue the concert ban without the accusations agains Werdyger. Indeed, the accusations against him, if the news and blogosphere reports are accurate, was merely a footnote. The Awareness Center caught one sentence in an article on the situation. Notes the Awareness Center:
Note: according to the following article the Rabbis calling for a boycott of this concert "... are also distributing a Jerusalem Post article relating to the arrest in Israel of a Charedi performer, even though the case was later dropped through lack of evidence."So the accusations were more the icing on the cake.
I've been following this as closely as anyone since the accusations first surfaced, and I'm struggling to see what news has been added to all-of-a-sudden bring these reported alleged indiscretions (note how long that string is) to the fore. I've sent The Awareness Center's Vicki Polin an e-mail asking as much. I'm as much for exposing abuse by those in power as anyone else, but this case, thus far, seems to be about as tenuous as any we've seen. I do hope we'll get more information about it, whichever way it turns out.
Posted by Steven I. Weiss, 11:29 PM
I suspect there are several factors at play here:
1) For months there has been pressure/communication with Rabbonim and concert promoters to quietly remove Yeedle from this concert. Some of this can be read in Blog in DM and MOChassid.
2) Apparently the promoters and MBD are standing firm.
3) I suspect the Rabbonim can't deal with Yeedle directly so they're going after the JM industry as a whole. On some level, I believe they actually believe it's not Yeedle's character but the nature of the JM industry that is screwed up.
4) The Awareness Center has had the Yeedle case up for months as an unamed case. I suspect for several reasons: the articles didn't name Yeedle, Rabonim were probably consulted to determine a course of action and at the time Yeedle had left public performance (private individual, not a public performer anymore) and was a reduced threat to potential victims.
5) But now Yeedle has re-emerged in England for the first time since the arrest, re-establishing himself as a public performer.
6) The Yeedle camp in trying to protect Yeedle has put out the most bizzare story. This story has further damaged the JM industry. If you were to believe it, you would have to believe that a competing JM had Yeedle framed with underage children and child pornography. If that were so, I might have to believe what the Rabbonim in England are saying about the JM industry.
a. Rabbonim in England feel it is appropriate to publicize the Jerusalem Post article about Yeedle b. Yeedle chooses to be a public performer/figure the Awareness Center has no reason to maintain the case as an unkmown case.
Posted by me at June 14, 2004 12:21 AM
After reading ME's comment (it was posted as I was writing my comment above) I must agree with what he wrote. I would only add that I still believe that this is a means to an end -- and that is the end of 'Jewish music' as we now know it.
Posted by Shmarya at June 14, 2004 12:33 AM
My questions and comments:
1) Why has the reporting on this story been so poor? There doesn't seem to be follow-up. No US news outlet picked up on this story at all. Why were the charges dropped? Why has Yeedle been out of the spotlight? What happened?
2) If Yeedle's claims of being set up are true, why no arrests?
3) Has Yeedle damaged the JM industry? I think it is more than the "icing on the cake" for the Rabbonim in England. I really think they see something wrong in the JM industry and it is Yeedle. But what can they do? The charges were dropped in Israel. The only thing they can do is make the JM industry pay a price till they clean their industry up. Otherwise why the timing? Why pass around the Jerusalem Post article?
4) If the stories about Yeedle are true, does this mean the post-Lanner Orthodox community is still incapable and unwilling to take the necessary action to protect our children?
Posted by me at June 14, 2004 12:39 AM