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November 28, 2009

Haredim "End Silence" On Sex Abuse

Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon A few months ago, a high-ranking rabbi and spiritual leader at the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, Matisyahu Salomon, quietly closed a rabbinical court, a Bais Din, that handled many of Lakewood's sex abuse allegations.

Orthodox end silence on sex abuse

The boy was raped before he could take his weekly mikvah. Pinned from behind in the bathhouse where Orthodox Jews purify themselves with rain water, the 7-year-old never saw his attacker.

Now 29, Joseph Diangello no longer wears a yarmulke. He plays the drums and sports tattoos of heavy metal bands. He changed his name to one that sounds less Jewish. On Sept. 26, he stood in a synagogue for the first time in years, he said, before a sea of bearded men in black hats and women in customary wigs. For a brief moment, there was a sense of pride for the heritage he left behind.

"This is the first time I'm validated in the Orthodox community," he said into the microphone, according to an audio recording of the event posted on a Jewish blog site.

Other victims spoke that night in Passaic, including a 16-year-old girl who was raped in her bed for years by a family friend. Most of them had never before shared their stories publicly. In March, a similar forum in Teaneck drew about 60 people. Seven months later in Passaic, attendance was more than 300.

Evidently, addressing child molestation in Orthodox communities is no longer a quiet process. From the back channels of private dialogue and in-house cleaning, it has in recent months swelled into a flash flood of popular debate. Panel discussions moderated by rabbis and led by victims' testimony attract crowds in the hundreds from New Jersey to Baltimore. Front-page headlines crisscross secular and Jewish newspapers. Pedophile arrests have jumped by as much as 800 percent in Brooklyn.

Advocates have called this fall a tipping point.

"In the beginning, it was like trying to open a can with your teeth," said Mitch Morrison, a writer and campaigner for sex abuse transparency among the Orthodox. "Now it's like we have a can opener."

In Lakewood, which has been called this country's "Rome" of scholarly Orthodox communities, change has begun, but with a subtler tone. Community leaders are planning two closed-door seminars in December: one to teach school officials, clergy and social workers ways to identify possible offenders and detect warning signs; the other, to teach parents prevention skills.

Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon

And a few months ago, a high-ranking rabbi and spiritual leader at the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, Matisyahu Salomon, quietly closed a rabbinical court, a Bais Din, that handled many of Lakewood's sex abuse allegations, according to two rabbis. Such Batei Din have come under criticism by child advocates, therapists and victims' families for deciding molestation cases without alerting secular law enforcement. Internally ruling on alleged offenses through a venue with no real judicial powers, they say, could let suspected pedophiles go with little to no therapy or monitoring.

Efforts to reach Salomon were unsuccessful.

A new partnership

But perhaps the most progressive move was the Lakewood Orthodox leadership's meeting with Ocean County prosecutors twice in two weeks to fuse for the first time a joint approach to sex abuse. Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, who runs the social aid agency Lakewood Community Services Corp., said the most recent sit-down Nov. 20 focused on appointing a liaison between the Prosecutor's Office and the Orthodox community. Being from the community, the appointee would help prosecutors and investigators gain the trust of Orthodox residents who have long been wary of outsiders.

"The purpose is to bridge the cultures," said Weisberg, who brought two social workers and support staff to the hour-long meeting with Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford and members of her staff. "It's to convey to the victim that prosecutors are sensitive to our religious differences."

Ford said her office is looking to borrow from the Kings County (N.Y.) district attorney, whose office has hired its own liaison and started a hotline that uses Orthodox social workers to persuade reluctant victims to report sex crimes. In the past year, 26 arrests were made within Brooklyn's Orthodox enclaves, The New York Times reported in October, a near-vertical leap from the few, if any, arrests in previous years.

"We're using Brooklyn as a jumping-off point," Ford said in a phone interview after the meeting. "We do realize we're not reaching everyone we'd like to reach and we're trying to improve on that."

The pilot program would proceed on a trial basis with the hope of eventually broadening to other ethnic groups such as Latinos, Ford said. She added, however, that her budget might not allow for expanding her staff, so the liaison likely would be on loan from another law enforcement or social service agency.

The next steps are setting dates for prosecutors to educate Orthodox leaders on the criminal process, followed by inviting religious representatives to discuss the "interesting yet unique cultural mores" that could hinder sex abuse reporting, Ford said.

Statistics show that child molestation is no more common in Orthodox communities than elsewhere.

Yet total reliance on secular law enforcement was never the endgame. The Bais Din closing likely had less to do with any policy shift than a breakdown over one case, rabbis have said. Weisberg called the tribunal system a "complementary process" to "a holistic approach."

"The Bais Din still has its place. They have tools the prosecutor does not have," he said. "We just need to figure out how to interface with prosecutors."

Progress varies

Reform across the Orthodox landscape isn't lockstep. Unlike the Catholic Church, the haredim do not have one authority, but separate leadership in each community. Progress, then, occurs in stages and at different rates, said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University in New York. Many of Passaic's Orthodox residents, for example, are baalei teshuva — those with nonreligious backgrounds who were "born again" into Judaism — and so may be prone to more modernized thinking, said Morrison, who lives in the North Jersey city. Conversely, Lakewood's population, composed mainly of Litvaks, or Lithuanian Jews, is perceived as the most tightly knit, religiously strict community in the region, if not the nation, making traditions difficult to break and change difficult to bear.

"It was set up as an island to re-create the yeshivos in Eastern Europe," Blau said. "To be removed from all influences of American society."

Such walls have frustrated Orthodox social workers trying to make dents in the sex abuse problem.

"That's why they insist we have to get it right this time," Weisberg said, referring to Batei Din and the program with prosecutors. "If we don't get it right, we take two steps backward."

Yet, as home to one of the largest and most respected yeshivas in the world, Lakewood is also a breeding ground for free thinking and powerful influence. Any budge in mind-set, therefore, is glacial but resounding, according to people in the Orthodox communities.

"A shift in Lakewood would impact the entire Litvak world and, in time, possibly the Hasidic world," said Ben Hirsch, founder of the victims advocacy group Survivors for Justice. Hasidic sects are found in many parts of Brooklyn.

A bubble bursting

Concern over sex crime reporting in Orthodox neighborhoods has been bubbling for years. Child advocates attribute the recent escalation to a plethora of blogs and support groups that give emboldened victims a voice.

Ronald D. Price, the executive vice president of the Union for Traditional Judaism, saw it simply as the glass ceiling to old thinking.

"We blithely thought that religious values would keep this from happening," he said. "But enough evidence has come forward where you reach that tipping point, and a responsible leader has to acknowledge it, even if he doesn't want to."

Perhaps faster than change among the leadership in Lakewood, though, has been the rise of residents' awareness. For one mother, the July arrest of her son's yeshiva teacher, Yosef Kolko, on charges of sexually assaulting a young boy was an eye-opener.

Asked what she'd do if she saw symptoms of abuse with her own child, the woman, who asked not to be identified, said: "I'd run to the police the first second and make sure there was justice."


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"We're using Brooklyn as a jumping-off point," [Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch] Ford said...

Isn't that what Motty Borger reportedly did?

Approaching the subject of sexual molestation is just the beginning, they need to commit themselves that they will report sexual molestation to the police and the DA without any hesitation, and then they might have an impact, otherwise I am willing to bet that it will not change a iota.

More lip service, like Zwiebel's mention of child molestation at the Agudah convention on Thursday. No substance whatsoever.

Pensack, you are a sick person and should get help.

This issue has nothing to do with Lakewood or any other community in specific. As long as the top brass like M D niederman and such wont admit that we have a major problem and the ONLY way to solve it is to go to the police and fully prosecute, we will have to do what we continue to do and expose pedophiles and molesters ourselves while helping victims and survivors.  

This sounds like a huge step forward. The word is getting out that pedophilia is not an inherent right of those in authority! I anticipate that the more publicity this movement prompts, the more empowered other victims will become to speak out and validate what these pervs have done to their lives. To those directly involved, it probably feels like the movement has taken baby steps to get where it is, and even if as you say, it is getting more "lipservice" vs action, the point is, it IS at least being talked about and publicized more than ever. From my own perspective as an outsider, in the two short years I've been on this blog, it seems like the momentum has slipped into turbo-speed! Look how long it took the Catholic Church to acknowledge and take responsibility. But it has happened, and there are now many more checks and balances in place to prevent it. Let's hope the same happens here.

Pensack, you are a sick person and should get help.

Posted by: alternative childcare | November 29, 2009 at 01:20 PM

Maybe I'm just a refreshing alternative to "alternative childcare." By the way, what does your pseudonym mean or stand for, if anything (other than being cowardly and obnoxious)?

God bless you Joey Diangelo! By creating a new name, you, like Jacob, have established a new identity.

Many years ago, I had a congregant whose name (i am changing) was Majorie Hope. Hope wasn't her original birth name, but she was repeatedly raped by her father in her youth and later in life, she created a name signifying hope. Joey, you too have endured a battle with the angel of darkness and have emerged triumphant. I pray you will continue being an angel to many, as your new name indicates. Perhaps this kind of voicing will give purpose and redemptive meaning to your suffering.

Thank you Sam for your kind words

Yes, Pensack, it means that had you been raised properly and gotten the medications you need you wouldn't be writing the sick things that you write, like claiming the Shoah was due to charedi child abuse, making jokes about an unfortunate young man who was abused as a child and committed suicide, or claiming that poor Annie Le's murder at Yale was divine retribution for her upcoming "intermarriage". Yes, had you had alternative childcare, you might have been a human being and not a sick deviant.

"The Bais Din still has its place. They have tools the prosecutor does not have," he said.

Name one. ONE. You can't.

"We just need to figure out how to interface with prosecutors."

Easy. Tell them what happened, and assist in their investigation. Don't get in their way. Let them do their job, which you don't know how to do. They have the tools you don't have, so stay clear and let the pros do it. Kapish?

To alternative childcare:

You still didn't answer my question about what your pseudonym means or stands for, but you hide behind it like a snake under a rock. Come out and fight like a man -- or a woman, if that's what you are.

You blatantly lie when you say I claimed the Shoah was due to charedi child abuse; I never said that. You seem to have difficulty distinguishing your fantasies from reality. Perhaps you need medication for your delusions.

There are rumors on the internet that the newlywed Brooklyn hatan may have committed more than just suicide -- in other words, there are rumors that he was himself more than just a victim of sexual abuse. Furthermore, it's also rumored that he was getting some, shall we say, "alternative childcare" at home, if you get my drift.

I do think the New Jersey prosecutor could have chosen more politically sensitive language than "using Brooklyn as a jumping-off point" in matters of sex abuse; do you disagree?

What's your understanding, if any, of the significance of the murder of the woman at Yale who was apparently scheduled to marry a Jewish man? Why do you think the Jewish high holiday season timing and massive publicity worked out the way they did regarding that story? You apparently wouldn't recognize a divine message if was written on your forehead.

Why do you put "intermarriage" in quotes? Do you not recognize intermarriage as something real and a religious problem? I do not think the woman's murder was "divine retribution" but rather a very effective way of sending a divine message to the general public.

I wasn't justifying any murder. I was indicating what may indeed be the meaning and significance of a very highly publicized murder that had already occurred. You are quick to defame me simply because you disagree with my views. Well, that's too bad -- for you. You a self-righteous fool totally lacking in courage.

Your venomous language indicates that you have serious anger issues and probably should consult a psychological or psychiatric professional for help dealing with them.

Do you attempt to dehumanize everyone you disagree with? I think you need help -- spiritually and emotionally.

Meanwhile, chew on this:

"As Annie Le's fiance sat with his head bowed, her family and friends filling the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the Yale University student was remembered for her 'fullness of life.'

"Le was laid to rest today [Shabbos Shuvah] near her Placerville, Calif., hometown...

"Her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, acted as the head usher for the [Catholic] service attended by more than 600 people."...

"Her funeral comes nearly two weeks to the day that Le's body was found stuffed into a basement wall inside the Yale University lab where she worked. It was the day she and Widawsky were supposed to be married."...

"Today's funeral comes less than a week after Le was memorialized at a [Jewish "temple"] service on Long Island where her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, lives. Le's body was found the day she and Widawsky, who met at the University of Rochester, were to be married."


Correction to add are: You are a self-righteous fool totally lacking in courage.

You can call me names all day, but that is easily one of the most revolting posts I've seen in a while.

If you think the brutal murder of an innocent girl is a divine message about presumed intermarriage, you are a very ill man.

It was apparently a scheduled intermarriage, which is what is theologically relevant to this discussion, regardless of the public's level of awareness and understanding (or lack thereof) regarding the inherent divine message, which atheists and fools like you will inevitably try to drown out in a sea of media-induced crocodile tears for someone they did not know.

Your description of the victim as "innocent" is probably based on zero direct knowledge. Do you know for sure, for instance, that the alleged killer (or some other third party, for that matter) wasn't her lover? If that were the case, which is not a logical impossibility, what would happen to the camera-ready media story line you and the public so cherished?

From a religious point of view, it's very unlikely that any adult human being is truly "innocent." The victim was a 24-year-old woman, neither a child nor a "girl." By Torah definition, parties to a Jewish-gentile intermarriage are not innocent.

Do you think "brutal murder" is morally worse and more repugnant than than, say, gentle murder?

Now that I've done my duty per Proverbs 26:5, I think it's time for me to follow the advice of verse 4. Goodbye.

One other thing, "ac": I see from the link you have now added to your pseudonym above that you are a class act. Do you play that song for the children in your "alternative childcare" center?

Yes, I teach children to hate Nazis and to keep away from scary warped people like you. Your making those assumptions about a 24 year old innocent girl murdered at work by a sicko I suppose is only a small measure of your diseased brain (the part of it not killed by Gd's hitting you with a stroke), given that you are ready to justify the murder of millions of Jews with a one line accusation about child abuse.
And how do you explain the death of those kids by Elior Chen? What did they do?

Alternative Childcare and Yisroel Pensack are two complete and total idiots, separated at birth but bound by idiocy.

what happens when you come forward and report the molestation to the police and the victim identifies the predator nothing has been done. We were told the crime took place in Israeland has to be prosecuted there. (we were living there at the time when he came to visit). Even though the molester lives here in Teaneck,(a young husband with a child the same age as when he assaulted my child) and was identified by my child nothing has been done? I don't understand if they are both american how there is no justice to be had. If anyone has any ideas how justice can be served I'm all ears.

any rabbi who molests is making a mistake taking the job hes doing. this results from the atitude in the community to one who has no religious job... thats enough for me to say

The death of the boy this week coudl have been prevented if the parents of the several other boys the killer tried to get in his car would have understood that they could report these incidents and possibly save a life.

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