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."
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.
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
COUNTY OF KINGS
UNITED TALMUDICAL ACADEMY, SATMAR Index No. 24507/08
BUNGALOW COLONY, and AVROHOM REICHMAN,
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
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.
FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION
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.
SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION
29. Plaintiff repeats paras. 1-26 above.
30. Defendants conspired to defraud plaintiff, who has been damaged and
THIRD CAUSE OF ACTION
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.
FOURTH CAUSE OF ACTION
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.
FIFTH CAUSE OF ACTION
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.
SIXTH CAUSE OF ACTION
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.
SEVENTH CAUSE OF ACTION
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
ELLIOT B. PASIK
Of counsel, Law Office of Gerald P. Gross
Attorney for plaintiff
366 Pearsall Avenue, Suite 5
Cedarhurst, New York 11516
Telephone: (516) 371-2800