Or­tho­dox ‘shield­ing sex abusers’

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY PAUL BERGER NEW YORK

A NEW York State Supreme Court judge has crit­i­cised the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity for shield­ing per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual abuse while per­se­cut­ing vic­tims.

Judge Gustin Re­ich­bach lamented the com­mu­nity’s “cir­cle-the-wag­ons at­ti­tude” as he sen­tenced Yona Wein­berg, a barmitzvah tu­tor and so­cial worker from Brook­lyn, to 13 months in jail for mo­lest­ing two boys.

At the sen­tenc­ing ear­lier this month, the court­room was filled with Wein­berg’s sup­port­ers. Al­most 100 mem­bers of the Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity wrote let­ters to the judge de­fend­ing him.

Judge Re­ich­bach lamented that no let­ters dis­played “any con­cern or even any ac­knowl­edge­ment for th­ese young vic­tims which, frankly, I find shame­ful”. Rather, the com­mu­nity “seeks to blame, in­deed pun­ish, vic­tims who seek jus­tice from... civil so­ci­ety”.

Sex­ual abuse has be­come a highly con­tentious is­sue in the US Or­tho­dox com­mu­nity fol­low­ing a string of cases in­volv­ing well-known teach­ers and rab­bis. Over the past year, 26 strictly Or­tho­dox men have been ar­rested in Brook­lyn in child sex­ual abuse cases; eight have been con­victed and 18 await trial.

The strictly Or­tho­dox are sta­tis­ti­cally no more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ual abuse than any other group. But the prob­lem is of­ten ex­ac­er­bated be­cause there is pres­sure on vic­tims not to go to the po­lice, due to a sus­pi­cion of sec­u­lar so­ci­ety and a fear of bring­ing shame on the com­mu­nity. In some cases, par- ents worry that re­veal­ing abuse might harm chances of a shid­duch. Mean­while, some com­mu­nity leaders pre­fer to act solely through a beth din.

How­ever, the tim­ing of Judge Re­ich­bach’s com­ments may be ironic, as some see signs that the taboo against re­port­ing sex­ual abuse is beginning to fade. NY state As­sem­bly­man Dov Hikind be­came in­volved in the is­sue 15 months ago. He says many peo­ple in the com­mu­nity have over­come the stigma as­so­ci­ated with abuse and are openly dis­cussing it.

“There has been an im­prove­ment, no ques­tion about it,” says Mr Hikind. “The fact that peo­ple are act­ing is a huge ac­com­plish­ment, but we have an even longer way to go.”

This year, more than 40 mi­nors have agreed to tes­tify about abuse in court.

David Zwiebel, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Charedi group Agu­dath Is­rael of Amer­ica, told the New York Times this week that “A broad con­sen­sus has emerged that many of th­ese is­sues are be­yond the abil­ity of the com­mu­nity to han­dle in­ter­nally.”

In the past, vic­tims who have spo­ken out have faced os­tracism, as well as ver­bal and phys­i­cal threats.

One vic­tim, Shua Finkel­stein, died of an over­dose at the beginning of this year. His par­ents later dis­cov­ered a let­ter he had writ­ten crit­i­cis­ing the com­mu­nity for not con­fronting abuse, which they pub­lished on­line. Soon af­ter­wards, their New Jer­sey home was dam­aged in a sus­pected ar­son at­tack.

Yona Wein­berg joins a list of re­cent high-pro­file court cases in­volv­ing Or­tho­dox Jews. Last year, Rabbi Ye­huda Kolko, a teacher at Yeshiva To­rah Temimah in Brook­lyn, struck a plea deal with the Brook­lyn district at­tor­ney. To cam­paign­ers’ dis­may, Kolko pleaded guilty to two counts of child en­dan­ger­ment, duck­ing a jail sen­tence and avoid­ing regis­tra­tion as a sex of­fender.

Mean­while, Rabbi Avro­hom Re­ich­man, a prin­ci­pal at the United Tal­mu­dic Academy in Wil­liams­burg, is cur­rently the sub­ject of a civil law­suit filed by Joel En­gle­man, who claims he was mo­lested dur­ing the 1990s.

Rabbi Avro­hom Mondrowitz, who fled to Is­rael from New York in 1984 to avoid prose­cu­tion for sex­ual abuse, con­tin­ues to fight ex­tra­di­tion.

Mark Weiss, who says he was abused by Mondrowitz in the late 1970s, blames com­mu­nity leaders for the sup­port shown to Wein­berg and oth­ers like him. Mr Weiss says that “oth­er­wise good, warm­hearted, car­ing peo­ple are sud­denly re­pro­grammed to defy all logic”, when they are told that they must de­fend the com­mu­nity from a chilul hashem — dis­grac­ing god’s name — by stand­ing up for the ac­cused.

“It’s a dis­grace that our com­mu­nity has to get chas­tised by some­one like Judge Re­ich­bach, but he’s 100 per cent right,” he added. “This is about the Or­tho­dox lead­er­ship’s con­trol over peo­ple.”

Sus­pected abuser Avro­hom Mondrowitz in an Is­raeli court in 2007. He is still fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion back to the US

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