Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dov Hikind: “We are all guilty of not doing more to address sexual abuse in our community”

Hikind To Host Morning Of Chizuk For Victims Of Abuse

On Sunday, March 1, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn is scheduled to host a community-wide event entitled “A Morning of Chizuk” to show solidarity with victims of sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community and to provide information to concerned citizens. The program includes inspirational speeches and the recitation of Tehillim.

Addressing the audience will be Dr. Benzion Twerski; Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, director of Iggud HaRabbanim; Shmelke Klein of Eitzah; and Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein, executive vice-president of Project Chazon, among others. “We are all guilty of not doing more to address sexual abuse in our community,” Hikind said. “The time has come to ask forgiveness from the victims and to pray for continued strength from G-d to combat this issue. I urge the community to join in this unprecedented event.” A Morning of Chizuk will be held at the Boro Park Y, 4912 14th Avenue, at 11:00 a.m. Separate seating for men and women will be available.

In furtherance of Hikind’s mission to educate the public about sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, Hikind is dedicating two radio shows, on February 21 and 28, to interviewing sex-abuse victims from the Orthodox Jewish community. During the course of the shows, Hikind intends to announce that the multifaceted plan created by his task force to tackle sexual abuse is nearing completion. “We are putting the final touches on our plan to implement education, prevention, and intervention systems in homes, schools, camps, and the general community,” remarked Hikind. “Education and awareness are the only way to protect our children from predators.”

Hikind invites listeners to share their opinions by calling 718-436-1700. The Dov Hikind Show airs Saturday nights at 11:00 p.m. on WMCA 570 AM.

Published on 26/02/2009

Abuse comes to light: Hasidim silence on perverts cracking

Saturday, February 28th 2009, 10:13 PM

Just before last Thanksgiving, a 13-year-old Brooklyn girl told her parents she had been molested. They didn't go to police.

Her dad went straight to their rabbi.

The religious leader told him to go to another rabbi for guidance. The frantic couple spoke to two more rabbis before taking their advice: Talk to cops.

"I wanted to find the right way to go about this without traumatizing my daughter any further," the 32-year-old mom told the Daily News.

"I knew if I called the police, they would ask us to come down to the precinct. It would become public knowledge and my daughter would have to retell the story over and over again."

The family met privately with a detective and a prosecutor, and authorities charged a 59-year-old neighbor, Arye Ickovits, with sexually abusing the young teen after luring her into his bedroom.

As crimes go, the Dec. 3 arrest was so run-of-the mill, it barely made headlines. But until recently, it might not have happened at all.

Sexual abuse in New York's Hasidic community was almost never reported to police for fear of shaming the victim and exposing the insular world's less savory elements.

Advocates say that wall of silence is starting to crumble.

"They are coming to terms, standing up and saying, 'No more sweeping the abuse under the rug; no more denial. We need to deal with it, to face it, and to protect our children,'" said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).

Since October, at least four men living in Brooklyn's Hasidic enclaves have been charged with sexually abusing children, ranging in age from 7 to 15.

"In the past few months, communication between the community and law enforcement has improved, there is more sharing of information," said a law enforcement source who works with the Brooklyn Jewish community.

One of Orthodox Judaism's biggest political champions, Hikind is hosting a forum today where mental health experts and rabbinical leaders will openly address the problem.

The purpose is "to say to victims of sexual abuse, 'We are sorry we didn't see your pain,'" Hikind said.

Even with recent progress, investigators say it is tough to navigate the closed culture.

Just as the "stop snitching" mantra hides crimes in the hip-hop world, a similar code of silence keeps Hasidic families from talking to cops.

They fear being branded a moser - a violator of religious law that forbids Jews from informing on each other.

"If the family goes to the police, the family is worried that they can't send their kids to yeshivas, they worry that they can't marry off their daughters, they worry that they will be known as traitors," said one police source.

"The only way to stop it, is to stop people that offend, and that is to go through the criminal justice system," the source said.

During a recent interview with The News, Ickovits said he asked the teen to help him up the stairs of his home, where he did nothing wrong.

"She helped me. She came in, and I told her goodbye and she ran away," said Ickovits, who uses a walker. "She gave me a kiss and I gave her a kiss and she ran home."

Ickovits also said he handed the girl cash in exchange for helping him up the stairs.

Some in the community have said it was cruel to lock up Ickovits, a stroke survivor in frail health, but the victim's mom has ignored them.

"Everybody has a responsibility to come forward and speak up when they know that a child is being hurt," the mother said.


Brooklyn Hasidic Community Grapples With Scandal

Coburn Dukehart/NPR

Joel Engelman, 23, says he was abused by a rabbi when he was 8.

Read The Coverage

Last month, NPR told the stories of two men who allege they were sexually abused as boys.

Weekend Edition Sunday, March 1, 2009 · A month after allegations of child sexual abuse surfaced in the mainstream press, the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, N.Y., is taking cautious steps to confront the scandal. Meanwhile, outsiders are tackling the issue head on.

On Sunday, state Assemblyman Dov Hikind plans to host a community-wide "morning of chizuk" (support) for the alleged victims of abuse. Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who is largely responsible for bringing public attention to the scandal, has recruited rabbis and community leaders to speak at the event, which takes place in Boro Park, the center of the Hasidic district he represents. Some community members believe the gesture is merely symbolic, but Hikind calls the event "unprecedented."

"No one has touched this subject before," he says. "We're telling the victims we're sorry we didn't see your pain before, and we're turning the corner."

Another development is potentially much more powerful. The New York State Assembly recently introduced a bill to increase the age by which a person must bring a criminal or civil complaint to 28 from 23. In addition, the House is proposing that for one year, anyone can bring a complaint, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. The House has passed this legislation several years in a row, but it always died in the state Senate. This year, however, several new state senators have pledged to support the bill, and victims groups are optimistic that the law will be changed.

Inside the community, the talk has taken more muted tones. Pearl Engelman, mother of one of the alleged victims, Joel Engelman, says "everyone" in her community heard the NPR story because it was posted on the community's most popular blog. The story drew a huge nu0mber of online responses, she said, "more than anything else I can remember."

"Many people said they knew people personally who had been abuse," she said, "and some said they were themselves victims."

This story has received attention by the local Jewish press, notably The Jewish Week. But even with the publicity generated by NPR's coverage, Engelman says, there's been a "deafening silence." Her neighbors have avoided the subject with her, she says, largely because people in this Hasidic community do not confront Jewish leaders, because they depend on them to educate and later arrange marriages for their children.

"It's unusual to come forward," she says. "It's unusual to be outspoken about issues, especially a subject that's been swept under the rug like this. And [it] hasn't only been swept under the rug, but there are many people standing on the rug."

Engelman notes that this silence is a recipe for enabling the abuse to continue, but she believes her son's case may have created a small fissure in the dam.

Since the NPR story aired, a new victims' group, Survivors for Justice, met and welcomed several new people. According to people at the meeting, one young man said he had witnessed a child being molested in a mikvah, a bathhouse, a few years ago. A detective from the Brooklyn sex crimes unit was in attendance, and, one source says, she is investigating that case and several others that have come through the group's tip line.

A couple of other people have come forward anonymously to say they had problems with Rabbi Avrohom Reichman, the school teacher accused of abusing Joel Engelman. Reichman is still teaching, and school officials refuse to discuss the case because of an ongoing lawsuit.

Asked what it will take to change the school system, Pearl Engelman responds, "Exactly what we're doing now — bringing awareness and attention to the situation, and making schools uncomfortable with covering up with these criminals. Uncomfortable because they now have a fear there will be others like Joel."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Man Of Many Visions

A Universal and Shameful Connection

Religion and domestic violence have, unfortunately, not been strangers to each other. And which religious tradition doesn't seem to matter, unless there are comparative statistics I haven't seen.

Let's see, a few years ago a rabbi on New Jersey was convicted of hiring a killer to kill his wife for the sake of a mistress with whom he began an affair after she came for grief counseling upon the death of her husband. Uggggggggghh.

I'm not even going to try to count, let alone list, the cases of sexual molestation of children by Catholic priests -- which I think counts as family abuse because the celibate(?) priests had chosen the people of the Church as their family.

There may even be a psychospiritual process whereby the elevation in status and perceived holiness that defines the clergy of many different religions gives them a sense of superiority, entitlement, -- and, therefore, the right to use physical or emotional abuse.

Please e-mail On Faith if you'd like to receive an email notification when On Faith sends out a new question.

Arthur Waskow

Rabbi, founder and director of The Shalom Center.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has been one of the creators and leaders of Jewish renewal since writing the original Freedom Seder in 1969. In 1983, he founded and has since been director of The Shalom Center ( In 2007, Newsweek named him one of America's fifty most influential rabbis. He is a co-author of "The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, & Muslims" (Beacon, 2006). He is a pioneer in the shaping of Eco-Judaism, both through his books ("Down-to-Earth Judaism"; editor, "Torah of the Earth" (2 vols); co-editor, "Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology") and religiously rooted social action (e.g. The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant campaign). He taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College from 1982 till 1989 and has taught as a Visiting Professor at the Hebrew Union College -Jewish Institute of Religion and in the departments of religion at Swarthmore, Vassar, Temple University, and Drew University.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An abuse of belief

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

An abuse of belief

Feb. 14, 2009
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich , THE JERUSALEM POST

Abuse of women, children and the elderly in the religious Jewish community was long denied, on the grounds that observance of the Torah and Talmud prevented it. Physical, sexual, emotional, economic and other types of maltreatment of the weak, claimed this sector, occurs among secular Jews, but "not in our camp."

But this has been disproven by infamous cases of child abuse reported recently in the general media, and the opening of shelters for battered women in haredi neighborhoods.

THE RECENT ninth Jerusalem conference of ATEM Nefesh-Israel - an organization of observant social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists - had several sessions devoted to this topic. Although all the 200 or so participants were religious (most of them women), the public nature of the conference at the Bayit Vegan Guesthouse constituted a welcome airing of the religious community's "dirty laundry," though some rabbis still insist on hiding it. The organization of religious therapists was founded by Shaare Zedek Medical Center neuropsychologist Dr. Judith Guedalia and geriatric social worker and Melabev found Leah Abramowitz.

Clearly, most religious Jewish men are good or excellent husbands and fathers. No data were provided on how common abuse is in the religious - especially haredi - community, and how it compares with the secular community, but the fact that it was discussed is a healthy phenomenon.

"Twenty years ago, no one would dream of talking openly about violence in the religious family," said Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau. The modern Orthodox rabbi - who is director of the Center for Judaism and Society, heads Jerusalem's Institute for Social Justice at Beit Morasha, serves as rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in the Katamon quarter and lectures on Jewish law and social justice at Bar-Ilan University - delivered a keynote address at the conference. "If a community gives a legitimacy to violence and abuse, these can happen. There are closets in haredi society that are still not open."

AN EYE-OPENING workshop on "Spiritual Abuse" of haredi women opened the closet door a crack. Dr. Nicole Dahan, a social worker at the Ariel University Center and Tzipi Levy, a social worker in the Jerusalem Municipality, have done much to put this subject on the public agenda.

While until recently, men's abuse of their partners was known to involve physical, emotional, sexual and verbal violence, as well as economic abuse and the reduction of freedom, Levy and Dahan discovered that some haredi men use God and the commandments to abuse their wives.

Such spiritual abuse occurs solely in observant communities, mostly the ultra-Orthodox. Men who spend all their time in a kollel (yeshiva for married men) and have a very low level of secular education may be jealous of their wives, who are often required to work and support their large families. A growing number of haredi wives attend courses and colleges, earn degrees and work in advanced fields such as computers and even engineering. This may lead to abuse by their husbands.

Levy, who like Dahan is Orthodox and who has worked as a municipal coordinator against abuse of women, described a haredi man who told all the relatives invited to his daughter's bat mitzva that his wife was "crazy" and proceeded to bad-mouth her even though this is forbidden by halacha.

After running workshops for secular abused women in northern Jerusalem, she began to organize them for haredi women. Groups of women met regularly for a year and a half and poured out their hearts about what they live with. They told stories about husbands who denigrated their prayers. "One husband told his wife that her praying was a 'waste of time,' that 'God doesn't listen' to her and that there was 'no value' to her supplications." Levy recalled one woman whose husband screamed at her in the middle of the night when she got out of bed "immodestly" in her bare feet to breastfeed her crying newborn.

Another example of spiritual abuse was a woman who very much wanted to observe the commandment of "separating halla" - a commandment given especially to women. This involves the removal and burning of a portion of dough before baking bread containing at least 1.6 kilos of flour. The moment of separating the dough and reciting a special blessing is viewed as an especially propitious moment for praying for one's loved ones. The act is symbolic, like offering a sacrifice on the Temple altar in expiation of sins, as a tithe to the kohen or as a plea to God to protect the woman from sorrow and pain. Separation of the halla is also regarded as a way to have an easy, safe birth and a good livelihood.

But one husband denigrated his wife for "wasting money on flour" or "making a mess on Friday afternoons" when she should have been preparing for Shabbat, and declared it was cheaper to buy readymade halla. Levy said the husband then ordered a child to go to the nearest grocery and buy loaves. Instead of saying a blessing on the homemade halla, he did so on the store-bought bread. "He whispered to his wife: 'When I say the blessing on the wine [kiddush], I will not include you!' The woman was thus forced to eat without the required inclusion in this blessing that begins the Shabbat meal."

Another technique of spiritual abuse is to bring bread into rooms that the wife has already meticulously cleaned before Pessah, or disappearing when the woman has returned "pure" from the ritual bath - a time when couples traditionally have sexual relations after about 12 days of abstention. He is thus able to control his wife by using their religion.

DAHAN NOTED that this type of abuse involves repeated attempts to harm the wife's spiritual life. "It is ridiculing, minimizing the wife's spiritual activity. It is usually not a one-time occurrence," she said, after interviewing numerous victims who feel shame, guilt and lack of worth. "The more seriously the woman takes religion, the harder it is for her."

Dahan added that she believes spiritual abuse can cause even more damage than physical abuse, and that "it seems to occur much more in the haredi community than the modern Orthodox because Jewish law has such a supreme role in haredi lives."

"Could spiritual abuse be perpetrated by wives on their husbands?" one woman asked Dahan.

"It could be, but we focused on abuse of women."

One haredi woman in the room, with seating separated by gender, raised her hand and suggested it does go both ways. "I know a woman who goes to the Western Wall to pray every week, leaving her husband to cook for the family, and she refuses to accompany him to weddings and other ceremonial family events."

"A man may dress like a haredi in black and with all the paraphernalia," suggested another haredi woman, "but he is just acting. It may be he suffers from psychopathology, or he may feel jealous of his wife."

Dahan nodded her head. "Yes, he can have a split personality, giving the impression of living a religious life while hiding his bad side."

A participant from the male side of the audience said men who spiritually abuse their wives may get support from their rabbis, some of whom assert that a Jewish woman must do exactly what her husband says, even if he is abusing her. "The rabbi may even quote the Talmud to back the man's arguments and help him control her.

But another haredi man said that "not every such story is spiritual violence. The husband may legitimately be opposed to his wife wearing a wig instead of a hat."

Dahan commented that "therapists have to be very careful not to label everything immediately as spiritual abuse. There's a thin line between a woman serving or listening to her husband and being punished by him."

A hassidic woman in the audience said she knew of spiritual abuse of hassidic women whose husbands are "devoted to the Admor [the hassidic rebbe who heads their community], but go to all events while ignoring their wives. I know of a woman who was getting fertility treatments, but the husband wouldn't cooperate because he "had" to be at the rebbe's sermon and festive meal.

Levy said Jerusalem social workers and mental health professionals have accepted their description of spiritual abuse and now screen haredi women who come for help. "There are all kinds of problems that a non-religious therapist wouldn't identify. But there are observant therapists who have asked me whether it's a desecration of God's name if they investigate accusations of spiritual abuse. I say it is a consecration of God's name to identify such acts and treat victims."

The social workers were more vague about the treatment than the phenomenon. "I am sure that some things have to be changed in the education of haredi girls," said Dahan. "Many may need to get a feeling of empowerment so they can choose a husband carefully and detect signs of potential abusers. Nefesh is gradually bringing changes by educating and integrating rabbis."

"We must give haredi women the choice of whether to be a victim or not," added Levy. "Problems often appear in childhood. We have to help the victim identify the problem. Men will be willing to change if doing so doesn't cost him more than he gains. Rabbis can find a halachic solution for the problem. Sometimes, if there is no hope, they can suggest divorce. They can instruct the woman to pray at the Kotel to empower her."

A haredi woman in the audience suggested: "If the husband is unwilling to take the blame, the rabbi can blame the woman even though she is not at fault, and then the husband will be more willing to go for treatment."

So the "dirty laundry" is being exposed. Now it's time for the sunlight to do its work.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1233304778373&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tribute to Rabbi Noah Weinberg Zt'l


Rabbi Noah Weinberg (Hebrew: ישראל נח וינברג‎) (February 16, 1930 – February 5, 2009) was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and a pioneer of today's baal teshuva movement with his establishment of a global network of educational and kiruv (outreach) programs for unaffiliated Jewish men and women. Primarily through the multifaceted activities of Jerusalem-based Aish HaTorah, Weinberg influenced tens of thousands of college-aged youth to learn more about their Jewish heritage and embrace lives of Torah and mitzvah observance. He also reached out to business executives, professionals and Hollywood celebrities with private and group learning opportunities. Many of the programs which he and his staff developed became successful spin-offs in their own right, such as the Discovery Seminar, Jerusalem Fellowships, HonestReporting, and the highly-trafficked Jewish educational website,

His upbeat, charismatic personality and message of gaining happiness through acquiring Torah wisdom and experiencing the pleasure of a relationship with God were well-known to listeners of his widely-circulated tape series, especially "The 48 Ways to Wisdom". He also authored a book, What the Angel Taught You, ISBN 978-1578191345, published by ArtScroll.


Final years

Weinberg was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2007,[5] for which he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. After completing therapy, he broke his thigh bone and shoulder. He died on the morning of February 5, 2009 (11 Shevat 5769). In accordance with a halakhic ruling by Rabbi Chizkiyahu Nebenzahl, Rav of the Old City, his casket was not allowed to be brought into the Old City for eulogies at his yeshiva, Aish HaTorah. Rather, the funeral began at a synagogue near his home in Kiryat Sanz, and proceeded to interment on Har HaMenuchot.

[edit] Teachings

Through his inspiring lectures and personal contact, Rabbi Weinberg emphasized these Torah ideals:

• The Almighty created a beautiful world, bursting with pleasure. We must focus on the gifts G-d has given us, and live life to the fullest.

• G-d loves each and every one of us, more than a parent even loves his child.

• We must get total clarity on life's purpose, and to ask every day: What are my goals in life? What are my strategies to accomplish them?

• Every human being has limitless potential, as God Himself testified to the inherent greatness in every human being.

• The Jewish people are meant to be a light unto nations, and we must inspire the Jewish people to live up to that mission.

• If masses of Jews are assimilating, it is a responsibility to bring each and every one back. If there is a threat to the Jewish nation, or to the Western world, it cannot be ignored. We must meet the challenges facing us head on and do whatever we can to remedy the situation.

Many of these topics are explored in Rabbi Weinberg's book, What the Angel Taught You (ArtScroll Publications), ISBN 978-1578191345. His tape series, "48 Ways to Wisdom," is popular throughout the Jewish world.


Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, dies

By Ben Harris · February 6, 2009

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder and dean of Aish HaTorah, died Feb. 5, 2009 at his Jerusalem home. (Moshe Mayerfeld)
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder and dean of Aish HaTorah, died Feb. 5, 2009 at his Jerusalem home. (Moshe Mayerfeld)

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder and dean of the sprawling global outreach operation Aish HaTorah, was being called a "unique visionary" following his death in Jerusalem.

Weinberg, a brilliant educator and charismatic lecturer, was suffering from cancer when he died Feb. 5 at his home. He was 78.

A pioneering figure in the ba'al teshuvah movement, the process of bringing secular Jews to Orthodox Judaism, he was the guiding force behind Aish HaTorah's emergence as a leader of efforts to turn back the tide of assimilation.

With just five students, Weinberg founded Aish in 1974 in Jerusalem. It now occupies prime real estate opposite the Western Wall and encompasses dozens of branches around the world. About 100,000 people reportedly attend Aish programs annually in 77 cities in 17 countries.

The organization also operates a rabbinical training program in Jerusalem, a hesder Yeshiva for Israeli soldiers and draws untold numbers of Jewish students and travelers to its introductory courses in Jerusalem and around the world., the organization's home on the Internet, is among the most popular Jewish educational Web sites and features endorsements from a range of celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.

“Rav Noah was a unique visionary who believed that every Jew was innately interested in their Jewishness, but because of the lack of education was ignorant of the wealth of their heritage,” said Rabbi Yitz Greenman, the executive director of Aish HaTorah New York/Discovery. “He saw it as his mission to make Judaism relevant to an apathetic generation. He was incredibly successful over the last 50 years at reigniting the spark of Jewishness in hundreds of thousands of Jewish souls.”

Like the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose vast global network comprises what is probably the best known and most successful outreach effort in the Jewish world, Weinberg believed the greatest challenge facing Jewry today was the loss of Jews to ignorance, apathy and assimilation. He spoke of a spiritual holocaust that was depriving the world of more Jewish souls than the actual Holocaust. His disciples at Aish headquarters in Jerusalem would frequently invoke war metaphors to describe the struggle they were engaged in to save the Jewish people.

To drive the point home, Weinberg led a delegation of Aish rabbis to Poland in 2006, a journey that became the subject of a film, “From the Ashes.”

“Why did we come here? Why did I come and ask all the fellas, all the rabbis, to come?” Weinberg asks in the film. “To wake us up. The time is drawing closer. We are losing more neshamas [souls] every day than we're gaining. We're in trouble. We got to wake up.”

Weinberg is lauded for taking a non-judgmental approach to outreach. He welcomed atheists and non-believers to his yeshiva, saying he would make them better atheists. He even reportedly allowed a practicing Muslim to study at Aish, even though the student prayed five times a day to Mecca.

“A lot of Orthodoxy's outreach was always tinged with judgmentalism -- not always, but often,” said Samuel Heilman, a sociologist of American Jewry and a critic of what some observers describe as Orthodoxy's rightward drift. “Both Chabad and Rabbi Weinberg found you could reach out to people without having to force them to deny who they were, and not be quite as judgmental. And that was a key element. Now we take that for granted.”

Unlike Chabad, Aish principally relies not on the warmth and charisma of its emissaries but on presenting a rational, cogent argument for God's existence and the unique mission of the Jewish people. For a time, Aish was virtually synonymous with the popular Discovery seminars, a series of lectures on topics such as Bible codes, Genesis and the Big Bang, and Jewish history, that collectively attempt to present a logical and scientific case for the divine origins of the Torah.

Weinberg's devotion to programs like Discovery was rooted in his interest in changing perceptions about Judaism and stressing the practical applicability of its teachings. One of his most famous lectures was “Five Levels of Pleasure,” in which he taught that Judaism wants human beings to derive pleasure from the world, but that the highest pleasure of all is spiritual connection.

Weinberg once asked a young visitor if he was capable of repaying all the kindness of his father simply by saying thank you. When the boy replied in the negative, Weinberg drew an analogy to the relationship between God and his creations.

“There's nothing that you can do for God,” said Rabbi Moshe Mayerfeld, an Aish rabbi in London and the boy's father, recalling Weinberg's message. “He doesn't become more infinite when you pray. He doesn't become more infinite when you eat more matzah on Pesach. He doesn't need anything from us. All He wants from us is to gain the pleasures of the world that He created for us.”

Aish also differs from Chabad in another crucial respect: Chabad's emissaries often are the children of emissaries themselves and the movement's most dedicated cadre, steeped in its values from an early age and charged by the movement's late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to retrieve Jewish souls from the far corners of the world.

Weinberg, after trying and failing several times to start outreach efforts in the 1960s and 1970s, realized he needed to populate his organization with individuals who once were secular. Only they, he believed, understood the urgency of the task.

“He had a way about him,” said Adam Jacobs, a rabbi at the Aish Center in Manhattan who first encountered Aish as a secular Jew studying at Brandeis University and eventually found his way to Jerusalem. “He was so focused on other people and it was so genuine the way he would interact with other people. He paid attention to people in a way I don't recall seeing ever before.”

Over the years, transformations like Jacobs' have drawn criticism, with some branding Aish a cult and speaking in hushed tones of their once-secular friends who had been “Aished.”

Heilman says such reactions are inevitable.

“Anytime you have a movement that causes people to convert -- and that's what we're really talking about, conversion -- the groups from which they've been converting are always going to say these folks have been brainwashed,” he said. “To some extent it is. Brainwashing is just a negative way of talking about conversion. It's sort of inherent in the process.”

As the organization has drifted into Israel advocacy work, in North America principally through its Hasbara Fellowships program, it also has been branded as right wing and a supporter of Israeli settlements. Aish is “just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today,” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote in October.

Rabbi Shalom Schwartz, one of the original group of students who joined Aish in 1974, said Weinberg always emphasized the need for students to apply their studies to real-world problems. He recalled Weinberg once blasted a Time magazine article that accused Israel of unleashing biblical justice on the Palestinians and, in later years, he insisted on confronting the threat of radical Islam.

“He was very, very concerned about the current rise of anti-Semitism and the situation in Iran,” Schwartz said. “He made a point of pressing whoever would listen to him that these are not normal times. This is a time when every concerned human being has to take up the cause of confronting militant Islam, and especially the threat from Iran, and that this is a responsible position of every caring -- not only Jew, but every human being. This is from day one in his teaching.”

Greenman recalled once visiting Weinberg at his home on a Friday night. On entering, Weinberg's young son was climbing up a pipe. Expecting the rabbi to scold his son for misbehaving, Greenman was shocked to discover him offer to lift his son on his shoulders so he could better reach the ceiling.

“That's who Rabbi Weinberg was,” Greenman said. “He was a man who said to everyone, stand on my shoulders and I'll help you go further. He helped every Jew try to reach the ceiling.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Broken, Beaten & Scarred

Abuse Scandal Plagues Hasidic Jews In Brooklyn

Engelman and Diangelo haven't been here in years. They just met a few weeks ago, but as they begin swapping stories and the names of family members, they realize they have a lot in common. Both men are in their 20s, both were raised as strict Hasidic Jews, and both fled their upbringing for the same reason.

"Are you ready for this?" Engelman asks Diangelo, glancing at his friend in the back seat.

"Yeah," Diangelo says, his breath quickening. "Yeah, I'll do it, just a quick pass by."

Diangelo grows quiet as we approach a nondescript brownstone building: a synagogue.

"See the Hebrew sign?" he says, pointing. "You go downstairs, and that's where the mikvah is."

The mikvah is a bathhouse usually used by women for ritual cleansing. But in some Hasidic communities, like this one, fathers bring their young sons on Friday afternoons before Shabbat begins. Twenty-one years ago, when he was 7, Diangelo recalls going to the mikvah with his father to find the place packed with naked men and boys.

"And I was in the tub, and I had my back turned, and somebody raped me while I was in the water," he says. He takes a shaky breath. "And I didn't know what happened. I couldn't make sense of it, really."

Diangelo says he never saw the man who abused him. These days, monitors are posted by the bath to stop any sexual activity. But back then, the boy was on his own. He told no one but began refusing to go to the mikvah. He left Orthodox Judaism when he was 17. He changed his name from Joel Deutsch and cut almost all ties with his family and friends.

Now, Diangelo wears black leather and mascara. He plays in a rock band and takes refuge in the heavy-metal lyrics of Metallica.

"There are so many songs, you know. They have a latest song, which is called 'Broken, Beaten & Scarred,' and one of the verses is: 'They scratched me, they scraped me, they cut and raped me.' " He laughs wearily. "And that's my life right there. When I listen to it, it gives me strength."

Allegations Of Abuse

For these two men, this is a tour through aching secrets and violent memories. Diangelo and Engelman are unusual because they let their names be used. But they believe that sexual abuse is woven throughout this Hasidic community.

For Engelman, the loss of innocence came at school.

"This is it, right here," he says.

Engelman parks his car across from the United Talmudical Academy, a hulking building on a desolate street. This was the yeshiva, or Jewish boys' school, that Engelman attended. Engelman says he was 8 years old, sitting in Hebrew class one day, when he was called to the principal's office. When he arrived, he says, Rabbi Avrohom Reichman told him to close the door.

"He motioned for me to get on his lap, and as soon as I got on the chair, he would swivel the chair from right to left, continuously," Engelman says. "Then he would start touching me while talking to me. He would start at my shoulders and work his way down to my genitals."

Engelman says this occurred twice a week for two months. He told no one for more than a decade. Reichman was, after all, a revered rabbi. Four years ago, he told his parents. And a year ago, when he heard that Reichman had allegedly abused several other boys, they confronted Reichman. When the school heard about it, they gave the rabbi a polygraph.

"He failed miserably," Engelman says. "So they told me, 'This guy is gone. This guy has to go.' "

But a few weeks later, a religious leader from the school approached Engelman's mother, Pearl. He posed an astonishing question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was the molestation?

She was speechless. Then she says, the man continued, " 'We found out there was no skin-to-skin contact, that it was through clothing.' So he's telling me, 'On a scale of 1 to 10, this was maybe a 2 or a 3, so what's the big fuss?' "

The school hired Reichman back. That was in July 2008 — one week after Joel Engelmen turned 23 and could no longer bring a criminal or civil case against the rabbi.

An Open Secret

Reichman and school officials declined to be interviewed for this story. But Rabbi David Niederman, who heads the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, says the school did its due diligence. He says the allegation was thoroughly investigated by an independent committee of lay people and rabbis.

"I'm convinced that they made a serious investigation," he says. "They felt that it's not credible."

Now Engelman has filed a long-shot civil suit against Reichman and the school, claiming they broke an oral contract.

Reichman's attorney, Jacob Laufer, says the lawsuit is baseless and that the community is fully behind the rabbi.

"Even after these accusations were publicly made," he says, "the parents continue to compete among themselves for the opportunity to have their children be educated by Rabbi Reichman."

The Reichman case is not isolated. Four ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn have been sued or arrested for abusing boys in the past three years. That's a tiny fraction of the actual abuse, says Hella Winston, author of Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. She says that in researching her book, she encountered dozens of alleged victims who told her sexual abuse is an open secret in the Hasidic community. But the community is so insulated and the rabbis are so powerful that few dare to come forward.

"If I become known as an informer, then people also won't want to have anything to do with my family," she explains. "They won't want to marry my children, won't want to give me a job. This is the fear."

But more and more accusations against rabbis have begun to circulate. Last August, politician and radio talk show host Dov Hikind devoted an hourlong program to sexual abuse. He interviewed Pearl Engelman, who spoke under an alias, about her son's case.

The calls flooded in. Hikind, who is an Orthodox Jew himself, represents this area in the New York Assembly. He says after the show, people started showing up at his office with their stories.

"Fifty, 60, 70 people," he says, "but you got to remember for each person who comes forward, God only knows how many people are not coming forward."

Ongoing Investigations

Hikind refuses to release the names of alleged perpetrators, although he is working with the district attorney's office. He says the people who confided in him are afraid to go public, which creates a perfect situation for abusers.

"If you're a pedophile, the best place for you to come to are some of the Jewish communities," he says. "Why? Because you can be a pedophile and no one's going to do anything. Even if they catch you, you'll get away with it."

"To me, it does not make sense," says Niederman, of the United Jewish Organizations, "that so many people have been violated and for so many years they have been quiet. Something does not add up. It's being blown out of proportion — big time."

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes says he has 10 active sexual abuse cases involving Orthodox Jews — including a school principal who was recently arrested on a lead from Hikind. And Hynes says there could be many more. Yeshivas are private schools, which means they don't have to report accusations of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

"I've got no way to know if there's a pattern of concealing the conduct," he says.

Hynes says the Jewish leaders — like Catholic bishops — try to handle these affairs internally, through a rabbinical court. It's a practice that infuriates him.

"You have no business taking these cases to religious tribunals," Hynes says. "They are either civil or criminal in nature. Or both. Your obligation is to bring these allegations to us and let us conduct the investigation."

Hynes says he's trying to work out a memorandum of understanding with the rabbis, in which they promise to bring the prosecutor every allegation of abuse.

Pearl Engelman is skeptical: The rabbis have hardly been forthcoming in her son's case. Still, she loves her community and worries these allegations have tarnished it.

"This is a community of the most wonderful people, hardworking people who lead righteous lives," she says. "And it's just a few corrupt people who give us a bad taint."

Her son Joel isn't so sure it's that few. Anyway, for him, any remedies come too late.

"Pretty much, I left my childhood here," he says. "After I left here, I had a totally different picture of school, religion and life."

But Engelman hopes that his story will shine a light on the secret and, perhaps, protect the next generation of children in this community.


Plaintiff, VERIFIED
Plaintiff, by and through the Law Office of Gerald P. Gross, as and for a
Verified Complaint, respectfully pleads as follows:
1. Plaintiff, Joel Engelman, is a natural person, born on June 24, 1985,
residing in Brooklyn, New York
2. Defendant, United Talmudical Academy (hereinafter, “UTA”), is a
nonpublic, religious school, operated by the Satmar Chassidic movement, which owns
operates, and manages certain school buildings in and about the Williamsburg section of
Brooklyn, and maintains an office at 82 Lee Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
3. Defendant Satmar Bungalow Colony is located at or about the
intersection of State Route 17B and State Highway 55, in White Lake, New York, where
it operated a bungalow colony and camp.
4. That Joel Engelman, in or about October and November, 1993, was a
student at UTA, when he was eight years-old.
5. That defendant Avrohom Reichman is a natural person, residing in
Brooklyn, New York.
6. That Avrohom Reichman has, over the course of many decades, been
employed by UTA and the Satmar Bungalow Colony, including but not limited to, as a
principal20and “rebbe” (teacher of Jewish subjects).
7. That UTA and Reichman owed, and continue to owe, a fiduciary duty
to Joel Engelman.
8. That UTA and Reichman owed, and continue to owe, a special and/or
heightened duty of care to Joel Engelman.
9. That UTA and Reichman owed the duty of in loco parentis to Joel
10. That in or about October and November, 1993, when Reichman was a
principal employed at UTA, Reichman sexually assaulted and abused the eight year old
Joel Engelman.
11. That UTA then lacked and continues to lack basic rules protecting
children such as Joel Engelman from sexual assault, including but not limited to, written
rules and regulations prohibiting sexual contact between UTA principals, teachers and
other employees with children; rules prohibiting corporal punishment; rules prohibiting
UTA employees and children being alone together in the same room; rules requiring
background checks on all employees; rules requiring mandatory reporting of any and all
sexual abuse incidents to government law enforcement and child protection authorities;
rules requiring discipline, including immediate termination, of employees who sexually
abuse and/or inflict corporal punishment.
12. That UTA failed to adequately protect its student, Joel Engelman,
from sexual assault and abuse.
13. That as a result of UTA and Reichman’s wrongful conduct, Joel
Engelman suffered grievously.
14. That Joel Engelman suffered psychological and physical injury, which
required medical and psychological treatment; his grades, socialization, personal familial
and other relationships suffered; his sleep patterns suffered; his religious growth and
development in the Jewish religion suffered; he was required to attend multiple schools;
he suffered from panic and anxiety; and he suffered other serious and grievous personal
and other injuries.
15. That aware that the statute of limitations may be expiring for bringing
a criminal prosecution against Reichman, Joel Engelman contacted defendants in or about
early April 2008.
16. That delivered to Reichman in early April 2008 was a letter, in the
Yiddish language, Exhibit A herewith (together with an English translation), which
demanded Reichman’s immediate resignation from any type of employment where he
comes into close proximity to children, including school and camp.
17. That various Satmar officials then contacted Joel Engelman and his
family on various dates in April 2008, purporting to investigate the claims.
18. That during this investigation, and prior thereto, it was learned by
various Satmar officials, that there were multiple, credible complaints of sexual abuse
made against Reichman.
19. That in April 2008, Satmar officials, acting on behalf=2 0of UTA and the
Satmar Bungalow Colony, determined that Reichman was guilty of sexual abuse, against
Joel Engelman and others.
20. That in April 2008, it was agreed among all parties that Reichman
would be immediately and permanently terminated from all school, bungalow, camp, and
any other Satmar related employment where he might come into close proximity to
children; and Joel Engelman would not file any civil lawsuit, nor file any criminal
complaint with law enforcement authorities.
21. That defendants fraudulently induced Joel Engelman to enter into this
exchange of mutual promises, and oral contract.
22. That defendants’ motivation was the expiration of the criminal statute
of limitations for sex crimes on the 23rd birthday of Joel Engelman on June 24, 2008.
23. That in breach of the promises and oral contract, Reichman has most
recently been working as a teacher and/or rebbe at the Satmar Bungalow Colony, during
the Summer, 2008, in White Lake, New York.
24. That upon learning that Reichman is working at the Satmar Bungalow
Colony, Joel Engelman again attempted, in July 2008, to have Reichman removed from
his position by distributing in the White Lake region a Yiddish-language flyer, Exhibit B
herewith (with an English translation), warning people that Reichman has a history of
child sexual molestation.
25. That notwithstanding the written warning, Reichman continued to
teach at the Satmar Bungalow Colony and camp, and has been videotaped doing so.
26. That Joel Engelman has now been denied access to the New York
courts for the purpose of criminally prosecuting Avrohom Rei chman.
27. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
28. That plaintiff has been fraudulently induced by defendants to enter
into a promise, suffered damage, and has been injured.
29. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
30. Defendants conspired to defraud plaintiff, who has been damaged and
31. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
32. Defendants breached their promises to, and their contract with,
plaintiff, and as a result, plaintiff has been damaged and injured.
33. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
34. Defendants intentionally inflicted great emotional distress and trauma
upon plaintiff, by denying him the opportunity to criminally prosecute Avrohom
Reichman, in exchange for a fraudulent promise. This conduct is outrageous, and beyond
the bounds of all decent and humane society.
35. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
36. Defendants intentionally made false misrepresentations of fact, and as a result, plaintiff has been
damaged and injured.
37. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
38. That defendants intentionally inflicted harm upon plaintiff.
39. That there is no reasonable excuse nor justification for defendants’ conduct, which would
otherwise be lawful.
40. That plaintiff has been damaged, including special damages.
41. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
42. Defendants have breached their fiduciary duty to plaintiff, and as a result, plaintiff has been
AD DAMNUM WHEREFORE, plaintiff demands judgment on all causes of action in the
amount of $5 million, together with punitive damages in an amount to be determined by
the jury, together with costs, disbursements, and applicable interest.
Dated: August 27, 2008
Cedarhurst, New York
Yours, etc.
Of counsel, Law Office of Gerald P. Gross
Attorney for plaintiff
366 Pearsall Avenue, Suite 5
Cedarhurst, New York 11516
Telephone: (516) 371-2800

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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!!!!!!!