Do haredim get a raw deal in the media? Some, Marvin Schick and Agudath Israel's Rabbi Avi Shafran most prominent among them, believe they do.
Schick writes a regular advocacy piece published in the New York Jewish Week. This 'column" is in reality an advertisement and is paid for by a donor. The Jewish Week refuses to disclose the donor's name or affiliation. For a period of months, Schick's ad ran without the requisite disclosure that it was in fact an ad and not editorial copy. (The Jewish Week claims this is an error, and that it will – or already has been – corrected.)
Schick used one of these unlabeled ads to libel (and I do not use that word lightly) Hella Winston, the author of The Unchosen, a book documenting the plight of haredim who seek to leave the fold.
Schick hates Winston, and he does little to hide that animosity. In a column dedicated to 'proving' that there is little sexual abuse in the haredi world, written under the headline, "Group Libel Is Also Abuse," Schick accuses Winston of "claim[ing] that her book deals with sexual abuse among Chasidim," and links her to anti-haredi abuse.
I challenged Schick to provide even one citation where Winston claimed her book is about or focused on haredi sexual abuse. He was unable to do so.
Schick also claimed that Winston relied on "unreliable sexual abuse statistics." It turns out those statistics come from a then-unpublished study (not conducted by Winston) that failed to factor in the presence of ba'alei teshuva in the community. Schick's contention, in effect, is that ba'alei teshuva suffer more abuse and themselves abuse more often than born haredim. Even if this were true, it would barely change the statistical outcome. Nonetheless, Winston told me she added a clarification regarding this in the paperback edition of the book, due out this November. This is all the more remarkable because, in Schick's own words, Winston's book contains "no more than a brief reference" to abuse.
Schick then gets dirty. He writes, "I will add that her dissertation advisor told me that the original manuscript was far more hate-filled than what appears in print." William B. Helmreich, Winston's dissertation advisor, told me this is absolutely false. Helmreich only saw the manuscript – which is not Winston's dissertation – a few days before it was finalized by the publisher. He made no changes. Winston's publisher, which, unlike Helmreich, saw earlier versions of the book manuscript, has no idea what Schick is talking about. There were no edits made to remove hateful or bigoted material.
But what is most shocking is the context of the ad, written by Schick to respond to New York Magazine's story on the thirty-year alleged sex abuse and child molestation carried out by Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, and the ongoing coverup surrounding it. Look again at the tile Schick himself chose for this ad: "Group Libel Is Also Abuse."
Schick has no words of comfort for the alleged victims. He heaps venom on Robert Kolker, journalist who wrote the New York Magazine piece, and on Hella Winston, whose excellent book does nothing more than what it claims to do – document a small subset of haredim who choose to leave.
Schick's own family has itself been at the root of several scandals of note, including the riots caused by his brother's childish reaction to being stopped for a traffic violation in Boro Park. That brother's son was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to conductiong a ponzi scheme that bilked dozens of haredim out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Schick has not, to my knowledge, written about either episode.
Marvin Schick has done much good in his life, but that good does not excuse his venom, his bias, or his libel. Consider this post to be a stub. Much more on the Schick family to come …