Petition against ex-rabbi Gafni gains Jewish community support


In 2015, a film about journalists on the investigative team at the Boston Globe shone a light on abuse in the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the Jewish community in 2015 read news of rabbinic abuse and scandal. And now, several articles are shining a fresh light on former rabbi Marc Gafni and his three decades of incidents involving sexual misconduct and abuse of rabbinic power.

Previously known as both Marc Winiarz and Mordechai Gafni, he is preparing to once again reinvent himself, this time in the New Age space, as co-founder of the Center for Integral Wisdom (CIW). But with the new articles and a petition circulating that has been embraced by clergy and other Jewish leaders — and amplified by the Internet — multiple victims, as well as their friends and families, are coming forward and sharing stories. If you work or live in the Jewish world, you don’t have to reach very far into your social network to find someone with a personal Gafni story to tell.

The first two of the recent articles appeared in The New York Times and Tablet Magazine, both by Mark Oppenheimer, followed by subsequent pieces in the New York Daily News, Haaretz, Religion News Service, the Jewish Daily Forward, Jewschool and other venues. Together they create an Internet rabbit hole: Click on one and you’ll find two others, including the Jewish Journal’s coverage: In a sidebar to a New York Jewish Week piece by Gary Rosenblatt in October 2004, Julie Gruenbaum Fax, then the Journal’s religion editor, interviewed longtime Stephen Wise Temple Rabbi Eli Herscher about Gafni; in 2006, Fax covered the cancellation of an event featuring Gafni at Stephen Wise Temple. The Journal also reprinted Rosenblatt’s 2006 piece noting that Gafni had been ousted for misconduct from the leadership of Bayit Chadash, a Tel Aviv-based prayer and study group co-founded by Gafni, as well as a 2008 report by JTA’s Ben Harris about Gafni seeking to relaunch his career.

Gafni no longer holds his rabbinic titles: Rosenblatt reported in his 2004 article that Gafni had “returned” his semicha to his teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “to spare his former teacher any further embarrassment.” In 2006, the now-late Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi revoked the semicha he had given Gafni. More recently, ALEPH, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, released a statement, noting that, “at no time did Gafni teach ALEPH ordination students or represent the Jewish Renewal Movement — nor will he.” 

The Petition

Rabbi David Ingber, founder and spiritual director of Romemu (“Judaism for body, mind and spirit,” according to its website), has deep roots in the renewal movement. While he was rabbi-in-residence at Elat Chayyim Retreat Center, he witnessed Gafni seduce several students, Ingber said in a phone interview with the Jewish Journal. With Gafni poised to re-establish himself in yet another position of spiritual power at the CIW, Ingber launched an online petition calling on Gafni’s current supporters — including Whole Foods, the Esalen Institute and others — to “Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again.” 

“Marc Gafni has left a trail of pain, suffering, and trauma amongst the people and congregations who were unfortunate to have trusted him,” the petition (in part) reads. “He has abused his extraordinary intellectual gifts and charisma to harm many who came to him in search of spiritual guidance and teaching. He has used professional alliances to legitimize himself by association, and thereby be able to continue creating more harm. As a result, Marc Gafni is neither trusted, respected, nor welcome to teach virtually anywhere in Judaism.” 

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman of the Jewish Mindfulness Network in Los Angeles, one of the initial 109 clergy members and Jewish leaders who signed Ingber’s petition, said Gafni’s “destructive reach” was “widespread and painful.”

“It’s all there in the comments, from Jerusalem to Canada to Florida to New York to California to Alaska, people who were either a victim or were close to someone abused by him,” Zimmerman said in a phone interview.

As of press time, the petition had garnered almost 2,500 signatures; many who read the comments will likely recognize names from their own networks. 

“There were articles about him for years; until now, there wasn’t any one place for all these disparate communities to come together and speak out,” Zimmerman said.

“The rabbis should have done something about this years ago,” Ingber said. “I’m not surprised that this many people were enraged: We are living in an age of Facebook and petitions that go viral. It’s a remarkably settling and unsettling feeling, to watch something gain speed this quickly, the surge of voices. It is a testimony to the power of the Internet, to have this kind of platform.”

Gafni is also using the Internet’s power to spin his own new version of himself. His website identifies him as “Dr. Marc Gafni, Visionary Philosopher, Author, and Social Innovator” (he has a doctorate from Oxford), and includes a “Facts about Marc Gafni” page that begins, “If you have heard of troubling stories on the internet about Marc Gafni, this page is for you. It sets the record straight in relation to the internet distortions about Marc Gafni,” linking to accolades from Center for Integrated Wisdom co-founder Ken Wilber and frequent collaborator Sally Kempton. Next to a photo of Gafni are the words: “We live in a world of outrageous pain, and the only response to outrageous pain is outrageous love.”

“Now that John Mackey [the Whole Foods co-founder who supports Gafni’s Center for Integral Wisdom] is in business with him, it’s time for the non-Jewish spiritual world to learn about who he really is,” Ingber said. “In my opinion, Gafni’s a hardwired sociopath narcissist who has wreaked havoc wherever he’s been a teacher.”

During the three-year period when Gafni and Ingber knew each other, Ingber estimated that Gafni had been sleeping with 15-20 women located across the U.S. and in Israel, all while claiming to be a master teacher on intimacy and relationships. 

Ingber added that Gafni has always been “a master manipulator and triangulator,” who created “an atmosphere of absolute fear and terror” so that victims would fear “that he’s going to expose you for something.” 

In the Times of Israel, a woman identifying herself as Gafni’s third ex-wife spoke out about the verbal abuse, violent outbursts and infidelity during her marriage. “How can it be that there is zero condemnation in this spineless article?” she wrote, criticizing The New York Times report. “Just quotes of excuse from high-power supporters. Just the last word given to the abuser. Just another free pass to the genius caught with his pants down. I am furious for the bruised dozens of victims. Furious for my nightmares that still won’t end. Please God protect us from
the smiling sociopaths whose hands drip with candy.”

Many Gafni accounts speak of his charisma, but Ingber said charisma alone isn’t the problem — that “power plus pathology equals pain” and is “a recipe for disaster.” 

But in Gafni’s view, he’s the victim. The New York Times piece included one story about Gafni at age 19: He had sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl, who said — then and now — that it was not consensual; he says they were in love, adding, “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.” 

In the Daily News article, Gafni calls the attacks against him “sexual McCarthyism” and “social media rape,” repossessing and appropriating the language of sexual violation from his victims to reframe the conversation. 

What’s Next

Rabbis across the spectrum seem to now be taking note that Gafni — and future potential abusers of rabbinic power — is their problem, too. 

“It is a watershed moment, for a larger conversation about abuse of power in the Jewish community, and within the world of Alternative Spiritualities,” Ingber said.

Esalen, at press time, has not caved to the petition pressure. On the Whole Foods website, posts previously containing a video series featuring Gafni now feature a message from Mackey noting his decision to remove the videos from the Whole Foods site — “to be consistent with the position that this is indeed strictly a personal relationship” — but keep them available at the Center for Integral Wisdom site. 

Zimmerman credited Oppenheimer and other journalists for bringing these stories new visibility. 

“There wouldn’t be a petition if it weren’t for the outrage their new articles sparked,” Zimmerman said. 

Zimmerman, who became a rabbi at 47, said rabbinical seminaries need to “better understand what happens when young, bright rabbis are elevated on pedestals before they are emotionally capable and ready,” adding, “it can be a setup for a misuse of power.”

Zimmerman also cautioned that parents need to teach their kids to “pay attention to that voice inside,” she said. “Do not trust anyone — even a rabbi or teacher — who tells you to stay silent about something that doesn’t feel right. Learning to trust their internal feelings about comfort can help them [self-] guard against being a victim.”

But Zimmerman also sees hope in the wider community’s interest. “When 100 rabbis across the spectrum agree on an issue, then, wow. I feel hopeful that there are so many people who have had enough of rabbinic abuse of power.”

How Marlborough let us down


I was accepted into the all-girls Marlborough School on my 12th birthday. I wanted to be a Marlborough girl more than anything. I wanted to put on a khaki skirt and polo shirt and be welcomed into a space where women were encouraged to be loud, smart and powerful.

Although my official acceptance into the class of 2011 established my formal entrance into this elite sisterhood, it wasn’t until I was taught Marlborough’s alma mater by Head of School Barbara Wagner that I truly felt like I was a part of something larger than myself. On that day, our entire seventh-grade class was ushered into the auditorium where Wagner was waiting for us. We stood on the stage as she taught us the Marlborough alma mater, critiquing us when we made an error and cheering us on as our individual voices became one. 

But there was one line in the alma mater, Wagner told us, that almost everyone got wrong: “Love for Marlborough will endure.” It was the word “endure” that all previous classes stumbled over. We would be the class to fix this. We would sing the word with perfect pronunciation and imbue it with all the meaning it commanded. 

Looking back on that day now, as a 21-year-old woman, far away from the unsure 12-year-old girl I was then, I can hear that line echoing over and over again. In the midst of the horrific behavior of English teacher Joseph Koetters and the appalling response of Wagner, Director of Upper School Laura Hotchkiss and Marlborough’s board of trustees, I am questioning if love for Marlborough should endure in its current contradictory state. 

The institution of Marlborough does a lot of things well. I cannot deny that as a middle and high school student I received a superb education. I was given every academic opportunity and taught how to take my intelligence seriously, which is a gift I will always cherish, and one that has undoubtedly shaped the woman I am today. Nearly every day in school we were told that women were invaluable, that no man was better than us simply because he was male. Our teachers challenged us. They pushed us to think creatively, to work harder than we thought possible, and to grow into women who would someday run the world. Here is where the disparity emerges. While we were consistently taught to be loud, we were simultaneously silenced where it mattered. Marlborough excelled at celebrating our accomplishments — a personalized letter home from Wagner whenever I won a debate tournament or Model U.N. conference. Yet when we failed, or when we felt disappointed, or uncertain, we were made invisible. 

I could write pages on how disgusted I am with Koetters, a predator who was also my AP English teacher. A man who made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. A man who sexually abused his students and went unpunished for many years, and who deserves to be publicly and legally identified as a dangerous person. I hope that this happens and that his case is treated with the seriousness it deserves. However, my disgust with Koetters is self-explanatory. It is my deep disappointment with the institution of Marlborough, specifically with the non-actions of Wagner and Hotchkiss, that need explanation.

Wagner and Hotchkiss seem to exemplify what all Marlborough girls hope to become — strong and powerful women who run a respected institution. Wagner and Hotchkiss both position themselves as resources and support systems for all Marlborough girls. They preach about the safety and security of their students being their No. 1 priority. However, when a student actually goes to them for help, their safety and their emotional needs take a back seat to the reputation of Marlborough and its faculty. 

I would like to say that what happened with Koetters was an isolated incident, but that would be untrue. 

While I was a student at Marlborough, teachers and staff repeatedly crossed boundaries, interacting with us like we were adults, and not adolescents who were still growing and forming. As a student, I was privy to numerous inappropriate student-teacher relationships. Aside from Koetters, to my knowledge none of these relationships resulted in sexual abuse, but they did result in extreme distress, and still the institution of Marlborough did not take concrete actions in any of these situations unless forced to by parents. A female teacher became so involved in a student’s life that she sent secret messages and followed her off campus. There were teachers who instant-messaged students inappropriate and cryptic messages at all hours of the night, significantly blurring the line between right and wrong.

This paradox creates patterns of boundary-violating relationships that have been sanctioned by the school itself. The priority of Wagner, Hotchkiss and the faculty was not protecting the girls. They valued the institution above all else. Teachers were not fired or openly acknowledged as acting inappropriately unless parents and the students themselves fought to be heard. It should not have been this way. Young women who are taught to demand equality in academic spheres should not simultaneously be taught to be quiet when it comes to their safety and their emotional and physical well-being.

I wonder how Wagner, Hotchkiss and the institution of Marlborough can pride itself on its exceptional student body, the same student body that it doesn’t protect? In writing this, I am pleading for the institution of Marlborough to prioritize its students and their safety above all else. We need to value the voices of young women even when what they are saying may be hard to hear and even more difficult to address. The current scandal at Marlborough is not only about Koetters. It is about a school culture that needs critical self-evaluation that will lead to core changes. Marlborough needs to face the dangerous culture that it has created in order to stop allowing its students to pay the price of its neglect. Love for Marlborough must be questioned and reconstructed in order to endure. 

Isabelle Sanderson is a Los Angeles native and currently a senior at Kenyon College in Ohio, studying psychology and trauma

The Torah and child sexual abuse


Everything we build and teach our children, all our investments and dedication to good, all our moral standards, our entire education system, can be wiped out in one fell swoop when we or our children are violated.

The first of all ethical and Torah axioms must be stated at the outset: No one has a right to in any way violate in any way the body or soul of another human being. Indeed, we don’t even have the right to mutilate our own bodies, because your body does not belong to you; it is “Divine property.” 

No crime is worse that assaulting another’s dignity — which is compared to the dignity of G-d Himself, being that every person was created in the Divine Image. Even a hanged murderer must not be defiled and his body not left to hang overnight because it reflects the Divine Image. How much more so — infinitely more so — regarding a live person and innocent child.

Abuse, in any form or shape, physical, psychological, verbal, emotional or sexual, is above all a violent crime — a terrible crime. Abusing another (even if it’s intangible) is no different than taking a weapon and beating someone to a pulp. And because of its terrible long-term effects, the crime is that much worse.

The next question is this: What are our obligations as parents, teachers, writers, Web site editors or just plain adult citizens when it comes to abuse?

On one hand, we are talking about protecting innocent people from criminal predators, which clearly is a major obligation and a priority concern. On the other hand, we do have laws prohibiting embarrassing people (even criminals) in public, always hopeful, allowing people to correct their ways. We have laws about avoiding gossip and speaking ill about others (lashon harah), and not feeding into the base instinct of “talking about others” or “mob mentality” witch-hunting expeditions.

We have several obligations when we see or know about a crime, as well as obligations to prevent further crimes:

1) A witness to a crime who does not testify “must bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1). 

2) “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14), which includes the obligation to warn someone from a danger we are aware of. If you see someone walking down the street and you know that farther down the block there is an uncovered pit in the ground or a man with a gun, you are obligated to warn him. If we are aware of a predator, we must do everything possible to protect people from him.

3) “Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood (when your neighbor’s life is in danger)” (Leviticus 19:16). It’s interesting to note that this commandment follows (in the same verse) “do not go around as a gossiper among your people,” suggesting that gossip is an issue only when no life is in danger. But if a life is in danger, then “do not stand still” even if means speaking about it in public.

4) “You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). If one does not admonish, then he is responsible for the other’s sin (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive 205; see Shabbat 54b. 119b). Although at the outset rebuke must be done “in private, kindly and gently,” not to embarrass him publicly (Arkhin 16b; Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative 305), but if it doesn’t help, the obligation is to admonish him in public (Rambam Deos 6:8. Shulchan Aruch HaRav Hilchos Onaah v’Gneivas Daas 30).

This is true even about a crime that does not affect other people. All the care taken about public shame is because the crime does not affect the public. And even then, there are situations where the admonishment must be done publicly. By contrast, in our discussion about abuse, which affects others, all these restrictions do not apply: Embarrassment of a criminal is never an excuse or a reason to put anyone else in potential danger.

Based on the above, I would submit the following criteria to determine whether to publish and publicize the name of a molester:

1) The abuse must be established without a shred of doubt. Because just as we must protect the potential victims of abuse, we also are obligated to protect the reputations of the innocent, and not wrongly accuse anyone without evidence or witnesses.

 2) Publicizing the fact will serve as a deterrent or even possible deterrent of further crimes, or will warn and protect possible future victims. If that is true, then lashon harah does not apply. It would be the equivalent of saying that it is lashon harah to warn someone of a weapon-wielding criminal who may cause harm.

3) Even if a name is not available to be publicized, the issue of abuse itself must be addressed for the same reasons stated: to make the public aware of the dangers, to protect innocent children.

The argument that publicity will give the community a “bad name” and “why wash our dirty laundry in public?” does not supersede the obligation to protect the innocent from being hurt.

Anyone who suggests that abuse must be overlooked, because (as one person told me) it “happens all the time” and “by many people, including our leaders,” or for any other reasons — is not different from ignoring any other crime, and is in itself a grave crime.

One could even argue that the greatest “kiddush HaShem” (sanctifying God’s name) is when a Torah-based community demonstrates that it doesn’t just mechanically follow the laws or isn’t merely concerned with reputations, but that it sets and demands the highest standard of accountability among its citizens, and invests the greatest possible measures to protect its children from predators, create trust and absolutely will not tolerate any breach or abuse. That the greatest sin of all is ignoring or minimizing crimes being perpetrated against our most innocent and vulnerable members: our children.

In conclusion: The bottom line in all matters regarding abuse is one and only one thing: protecting the innocent. Not the reputation of an individual, not the reputation of the community, not anything but the welfare of our children. In every given case, whether to publicize, whether to take any other action, the question that must be asked is this: What is best for the victims? Will or can this action help prevent someone from being hurt or not? If the answer is yes or even maybe yes, then the action should be taken.

The crisis has reached a boiling point where it must be addressed and brought to the attention of the public to make everyone aware of the dangers, the long-term consequences and the zero-tolerance policy that needs to be applied to every form of abuse.

Anything less would be irresponsible, immoral and, yes, in some way complicit.


Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life.” He heads The Meaningful Life Center (meaningfullife.com), in Manhattan, N.Y., which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of live and on-line programming.

Oustanding Graduate: Sepora Makabeh — Using gift of gab for good


Sepora Makabeh is a social butterfly — outgoing, talkative, friendly and approachable. But rather than using this quality to just collect friends and speak her mind, the 18-year-old senior at Milken Community High School has employed it to assist people with special needs and desperate teens seeking help.

This year, she volunteered with The Help Group, a nonprofit serving children, adolescents and young adults with special needs. Always interested in psychology, she put both her ability to communicate and interest in mental health to work by teaching children who were socially challenged or diagnosed with autism how to interact in society. 

“We worked on how you respond in conversations and how you treat people,” Makabeh said. “The kids learned a lot.”

Since she was a freshman at Milken — where she is this year’s valedictorian — Makabeh also has been part of Teen Line, a confidential phone line for teenagers in need. For five hours a week, she’s on call, aiding teens dealing with abuse, suicide, depression and various mental health issues. Makabeh said she started volunteering with the organization because she’s always been a shoulder for friends to lean on. 

“You know how everyone has a friend they call in the middle of the night? It’s me. I thought that if I’m doing this for friends, I want to do it for other people, too. I wanted to understand how to do it more effectively.” 

Being part of the program has taught her valuable skills, Makabeh said.

[Next Grad: Rachel Arditi]

“Sometimes you don’t know what to say to people. It taught me how to react to those situations,” she said. “I feel like everyone should go through training like that. It taught me how to be an empathetic person.”

Makabeh said that she learned from her parents the importance of helping others. She applied this value yet again in high school when she became involved with Cover the Homeless Ministry, a nonprofit dedicated to getting the poor back on their feet. She and her classmates assisted the founder of the group, Rose Rios, with fundraising, setting up a business plan and delivering 4,000 toys to needy families in South Los Angeles. Through this, Makabeh said, she was able to bridge a gap between communities. 

“I was inspired by this idea of leaving our bubble and going outside of our small community. We used the toy drive as a launching pad for the program. It became so much more than a chance to help people.”

Ross Mankuta, associate director of college counseling at Milken, said that Makabeh is well rounded, passionate about what she does and a hard worker. 

“Everyone who knows her is better off for it. She’s a special human being,” he said.

When Makabeh goes to Washington University in St. Louis this fall, she’s going to continue to pursue psychology. One day, she wants to be a psychiatrist and change how mental health is dealt with in America.

“One of my big goals is to develop programs in school where you would have conversations about these things,” she said. “We try not to talk about suicide, bullying and cutting, but people are dealing with these issues all the time. We try to brush it off. We need to start talking about it.”

Letters to the Editor: JFS, Jackie Robinson, Doheny Meats


Twice Wounded

How terribly unfortunate that a Jewish communal professional who has done more than anyone else to raise awareness about domestic violence and abuse of all kinds, and whose efforts have revolutionized the way these topics are dealt with within a segment of the Jewish community previously underserved, should be smeared in this way (“JFS Denies Sheltering Abuser,” April 19). As your article reported, the allegations against Debbie Fox were based on sloppy, sensationalistic reporting. The scandal here is that such a consummate professional should have to defend herself against such mudslinging, which, while it may sell newspapers [in Australia], has done damage to the very agencies and individuals who work so hard to protect the vulnerable in our community.

Miriam Caiden
Los Angeles

Revisionist History?

Dennis Prager (Letters, April 19) cites Yehuda Bauer’s statement — “Nowhere in Christian thought or in Christian history was there ever a plan to kill the Jewish people” — to back his own argument that “no mainstream Christian institution or theology called for the extermination of the Jews” (“Lessons of the Holocaust,” April 12).  But Jews in the Rhineland who were in the way of the rampaging First Crusade in 1096 would not have drawn any comfort that there was no “plan” to kill Jews at that time. For those Jews who refused to convert to Christianity, the effects were the same as if there had been a plan.

I believe that if Prager had lived closer in time to the Crusades and to the Spanish Inquisition, he would not have made the argument he has developed. I also feel that we should be careful before using the present-day Holocaust as a standard for our historical miseries.   

Barry H. Steiner
Political Science Professor
California State University, Long Beach

School Reform: The New New Deal?

Raphael J. Sonenshein aptly focuses on how school “reform” proposals — favored by the Obama administration as well as by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — divide centrist Democrats from their traditional teacher-union allies (“The Ultimate School Test, April 19). The above-named politicians also favor cuts to Social Security (via the chained Consumer Price Index), as does Rep. Nancy Pelosi.  

This anti-New Deal trend began with the Clinton administration, which deregulated banks and the telecommunication industry, implemented anti-union free trade agreements and even sponsored measures favoring financial derivatives, to cite but a few examples.

The New Deal, and now public education and other domestic “entitlements,” are no longer sacrosanct with mainstream, or even liberal, Democrats. Will Franklin Delano Roosevelt soon be rolling in his grave? 

Gene Rothman
Culver City

Jackie Robinson Piece a Home Run

As a Dodger fan from when they first moved to L.A. from Brooklyn, I read with great interest professor Michael Berenbaum’s piece (“Jackie and the Jews,” April 12). The professor’s piece could only have been enhanced if he had mentioned that Detroit Tiger — and late Pittsburgh Pirate — slugger “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg, a New York Jew, was one of only two players on opposing teams to welcome Jackie Robinson into professional baseball. 

Marc Yablonka
Burbank

Doheny Meats Scandal Far-Reaching

As someone outside of the Los Angeles area, my only thought is: Would I be able to trust anything that the RCC has certified? At present, I would say no (“Doheny Meats Might Change Hands, Again,” April 19). Please remember that Doheny’s “Glatt Kosher” certification was still present even after the RCC knew that not all items that were sold should have had this certification. Also, at the meeting between Mike Engelman and the RCC, the only other person was Shlomo Rechnitz. This looks like the RCC already knew about Doheny’s actions and had been trying to find someone to buy Doheny.

David Sibert
via jewishjournal.com

From Israel, With Gratitude

Thank you, Shmuel Rosner! As always, you present the message we need to hear (“Seven Thoughts for Yom HaAtzmaut,” April 19). As a nine-month new immigrant to Israel, we are so blessed to witness Israel’s continuing miracle. The Memorial Day and Independence Day observances and celebrations in Israel are inspiring. Our neighbors and neighborhood of Baka, German Colony, Old Katamon in Jerusalem is so beautiful. People from every nation and background, all types of synagogues and community institutions. What a blessing. Happy 65th anniversary of her independence to Israel!

Rabbi Gershon Weissman
via jewishjournal.com

Chasidic counseler Nechemya Weberman sentenced to 103 years for abuse


Chasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexual abuse of a teenage female patient over several years.

Weberman, 54, a member of the Satmar Chasidic community in Brooklyn, did not speak during the Jan. 22 sentencing in New York State Supreme Court. He had been sent to Rikers Island prison without bail immediately after his conviction in December.

He was found guilty on 59 counts of sexual abuse. The encounters started in 2007, when his victim was 12, and lasted until she was 15. She is now 18.

Weberman had faced up to 117 years in prison.

The girl's parents sent her for sessions to Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, at the recommendation of the child's school. The girl was referred for not meeting her sect's strict modesty guidelines regarding women's dress and asking questions about the existence of God.

The victim reportedly gave a tearful statement in court.

“I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn't sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body,” she is reported as saying.

The New York Daily News reported Jan. 19 that a new investigation conducted by the paper showed that Weberman had violated at least 10 other female patients.

At Weberman's trial, prosecutors said they were aware of six additional victims — four married women and two underage girls. The newspaper reported that it identified four additional women, who do not want to come forward out of fear of being ostracized by the community.

Weberman victims, according to the new investigation, include four married women, three of whom he counseled, and six unmarried women, all of whom were Weberman clients.

According to the paper, sources close to the women abused by Weberman said he used patterns of grooming and nurturing to lure them. He showered outcast teenagers with attention, taking them on road trips and buying them lingerie, they said. The unlicensed counselor also cited kabbalah when forcing his victims to have sex with him to convince them his acts were allowed, once telling a victim, “I learned kabbalah and we were a couple in another incarnation.”

“The intimate acts he was performing were intended as a form of repentance for sins committed in their previous lifetimes,” Rabbi Yakov Horowitz from Monsey, N.Y., in whom other victims had confided, told the Daily News.

Five others told the New York daily that they were aware of Weberman’s misconduct with clients years before he was accused of sexual abuse, and sources said the anonymous victim who put him on trial came forward after friends told her Weberman “was a known pervert.”

Video shows N.Y. police officers beating man at Chabad center


Two New York police officers were shown on a video beating a man at a Chabad youth center in Brooklyn.

Video of the Oct. 8 incident, as captured by surveillance cameras at the center in the Crown Heights section, was posted Sunday to the Lubavitch news site CrownHeights.info and picked up by the New York Daily News and The Huffington Post. The incident took place over the Shemini Atzeret holiday.

The New York Jewish Week reported Monday that New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board referred the case to the city Police Department's Internal Affairs unit, a review board spokesman said Monday.

Zlamy Trappler, 24, a volunteer security guard at the ALIYA institute, said he called the police upon discovering the man, who was shirtless and sleeping in the lounge. Trappler thought the man was drunk, the Daily News reported.

The man, identified by CrownHeights.info as Ehud Halevi, is shown exchanging words with a male officer and pushing away the hands of the officer, who had taken out handcuffs. Shortly after, the cop assumes a fighting stance and takes several punches at Halevi, as he and a female officer wrestle Halevi to the couch where he was found sleeping, according to CrownHeights.info.

During the two-minute incident, the female officer appears to use a truncheon and pepper spray on Halevi, the Daily News reported. Afterward, eight police officers arrive and handcuff Halevi.

CrownHeights.info reported that Halevi is charged with assaulting a police officer, trespassing, resisting arrest and harassment.

Police did not respond to requests for comment Sunday night, according to the Daily News, which added that Sara Feiglin, the wife of Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, who runs the youth center, confirmed the account given by CrownHeights.info.

Australian Jews balk at ‘Breaking the Silence’ abuse reports


Australian Jewish officials lashed out at a group of former Israeli soldiers who reported abuses they witnessed while serving in the Palestinian territories.

The front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers on Monday carried a report on the Aug. 24 release of testimonies by 30 former Israeli soldiers who belong to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that has amassed more than 850 testimonies from soldiers about military abuses in the Palestinian territories over the last decade.

It cited allegations of maltreatment of Palestinian children by the soldiers, including “forcing them to act as human shields in military operations.”

The newspaper reports triggered a scathing response Tuesday from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s president, Dr. Danny Lamm, who described it as “crude propaganda” and challenged the testimonies, which he said were “anonymous, non-specific as to times and places, devoid of critical detail and untested by any kind of cross-questioning.”

“Sadly, many Australians … are being left with the false, indeed ridiculous, impression that the IDF is a serious abuser of children’s rights,” Lamm said.

But Dana Golan, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, fired back Wednesday, accusing Lamm of “insidious allegations against us” and scolding his “armchair Zionism” for “questioning our loyalty and integrity.”

“It is precisely because we have been on the front lines that we understand that the future of our country depends on its moral fortitude no less than on its military might,” she said in a statement co-signed by 15 ex-soldiers.

Lamm was backed by Zionist Federation of Australia President Philip Chester; Labor lawmaker Michael Danby and Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, who said it was “profoundly disappointing” to see Australia’s leading broadsheets “so uncritically repeating the latest rehashed propaganda.”

“Even in the unlikely event that the 15 or so incidents of alleged wrong-doing … in this report were fully confirmed, this would not alter the fact the IDF remains probably the most moral army in the world,” Rubenstein said.

Worker accuses Sara Netanyahu of abuse


A foreign worker has accused the Israeli prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, of mistreating and assaulting her.

The woman from Nepal, identified Tuesday night by Israel’s Channel 2 only as “T,” accused Netanyahu of not feeding her, rejecting vacation requests, and verbally and physically abusing her.

The worker, who cares for Netanyahu’s elderly and ill father, was accused by Netanyahu of stealing money from her father’s bank account and of neglect, after the elderly man fell in her care, which the worker did not disclose.

“T” had been caring for Shmuel Ben-Artzi for two years when she was fired on Monday, according to reports. She went to the media after she was fired.

The worker injured her hand during a recent altercation with Netanyahu; the worker claims Netanyahu pushed her and Netanyahu claims the woman hurt herself when she fell after becoming upset, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Netanyahu has been accused of abusing her house staff in the past, most recently in a lawsuit filed in January 2010 by a woman hired to clean the Netanyahu’s house.

Black students group slams ‘apartheid’ abuse


An African American students group took out ads in college newspapers blasting “Israel Apartheid week” organizers for abusing the term.

In a full page entitled “words matter” and appearing in the newspapers on April 7, Vanguard Leadership Group accuses Students for Justice in Palestine of a “false and deeply offensive” characterization of Israel.

“SJP has chosen to manipulate rather than inform with this illegitimate analogy,” Vanguard says in the ad, signed by its members attending a number of historically black colleges. “We request that you immediately stop referring to Israel as an apartheid society and to acknowledge that the Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.”

The ad appeared in newspapers on campuses that saw “Israel Apartheid Week” activity in February, including Brown University, the University of California-Los Angeles, Columbia and the University of Maryland.

Vanguard, a leadership development group for students from historically black universities, has in recent years forged ties with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its members have visited Israel.

Silverado facility confronts elder abuse


Elmore Kittower was 80 when he died in November 2007 at Silverado Senior Living, an assisted-living facility in Calabasas. His death was initially attributed to natural causes; at the time, a sheriff’s deputy told Kittower’s wife of 49 years, Rita, that her husband had “just stopped breathing.”

But after an anonymous whistle-blower tipped off authorities, Kittower’s body was exhumed, and experts found that he had suffered multiple broken bones and blunt- force trauma. The injuries were cited as a contributing factor in his death, and it was soon revealed that a Silverado employee had inflicted them.

The grieving family was left devastated, and the company — one of the premier senior living facilities in the country — was left to sift through the facts to figure out what went wrong.

“We had to look at what we have in place: hiring practices, retention, training,” said Anne Ellett, Silverado’s senior vice president. “We had to put everything on the table, and had weeks-long self-reflection as a company.”

Silverado Senior Living, which has 20 assisted living facilities in four states, is priced well above the national average — residents pay nearly $6,000 a month, compared to the national median cost of $2,575 per month, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America, for a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted living facility. Silverado residents, many of whom have dementia, are given more control over decisions about what to do and how they spend their time, and registered nurses are on site 24 hours a day.

But after Kittower’s death, it became clear that even upscale amenities can’t ensure residents’ safety. Subsequent revelations in court found that Kittower wasn’t the only resident abused by former employee Cesar Ulloa, who was accused of slamming his body into an elderly woman and laughing as he punched another resident in the stomach.

In May 2010, Ulloa received six years in prison for elder abuse and a life sentence for torture.

Steve Winner, Silverado’s chief of culture, said that elder abuse is a tragedy that’s nearly impossible to prevent. Ulloa passed all the tests given by the company in advance of his hiring, he said, including a background check and tests that screen for drug use.

He was so adept at “faking it,” Winner said, that families of other residents hoped he would be acquitted of the abuse charges and given his job back. 

“We had families that said, ‘If he’s cleared, can you bring him back on?’ ” Winner said.

Elder abuse is a problem that’s getting worse nationally. Between 2000 and 2004 alone, reports of elder abuse increased 19.7 percent — from 482,913 to 565,747 — according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency. The organization estimates that for every one case of abuse reported to authorities, another five go unreported.

If outright prevention is difficult to achieve, though, Silverado claims to be doing everything it can to catch abuse sooner.

Among the company’s initial efforts to ensure swift reporting of abuse was the installation of an anonymous 24-hour hotline for staff (it later came out in court that other employees knew about Ulloa’s actions but never reported them). The facility also implemented new background checks and personality tests for prospective employees.

“It’s amazing how some people answer” the honesty tests, Winner said. “Sometimes bad behavior is so ingrained in your personality that you no longer even recognize it as being a negative trait.”

The facility will also work to uncover personal issues that might be affecting employees.

“Caregivers can be affected by outside stressors — and when we know that that is happening, we can be sure that those people aren’t working with” residents who might trigger those stressors, said Shannon Ingram, Silverado’s senior director of marketing and communications.

The organization now offers staff one-on-one meetings with social workers, during which staff members can talk about pressures they’re facing in their personal lives and learn ways to handle feelings that might be triggered at work. 

Even with all these precautions, finding the right kind of employees to work with dementia patients isn’t easy, said John Danner, clinical social worker at the Memory and Aging Center at USC.

“It’s extremely difficult to recruit people to work in assisted living and nursing homes,” he said. “Since most of jobs are pretty low-paying, it’s a challenge to get people who are good at it and who see it as a career.”

Recently, Silverado also added a somewhat irreverent component to its approach, inviting author Derek Munson to speak to the staff. Munson is the author of “Enemy Pie,” a children’s book that deals with bullying.

While the book may be a bit far-fetched in terms of its link to elder abuse, executives at Silverado — as well as Munson himself — believe that the collaboration represents a mutual philosophy.

“ ‘Enemy Pie’ is about bullying for kids, and it talks about how to recognize a bully, how to react to it — and, in many ways, abuse is a bullying tactic as well,” Winner said.

When it comes to helping people with dementia, though, the most important qualities in caregivers may simply be compassion and patience.

“I believe that everyone with dementia is trying to make sense of the world, and it’s a frightening situation,” Danner said. “If someone isn’t able to handle that, then they shouldn’t be hired.”

Abusive ‘rabbi’ sentenced to 24 years in prison


A self-proclaimed rabbi who counseled his followers to commit acts of child abuse and abused several children who lived with him was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Elior Chen was sentenced Monday in Jerusalem District Court to 24 years in prison and damages of $192,000 to his victims, eight children of the woman with whom he lived, a follower whose husband had given her over to the charismatic leader.

One child has been in a persistent vegetative state for the last nearly three years since suffering abuse at the hands of Chen. The children’s mother is serving a five-year jail sentence for her involvement.

Four of Chen’s followers have already been sentenced to up to 20 years each in prison on similar charges.

Chen’s attorney and his supporters on Monday maintained his innocence.

Chen fled Israel for Canada and then Brazil in 2008, and was extradited back to Israel several months later, after he counseled his followers to severely beat and burn the children in order to rid them of the devil. Some of the children were forced to drink alcohol and turpentine until they vomited, and to eat their own feces. They often were locked in suitcases and other small spaces.

Orthodox Alcohol, Drug Abuse Rising


Peter Gould had his last drink on Purim night seven years ago — or, more accurately, his last drinks.

“I drank more alcohol in a day than a human body can handle,” he said, relaxing on a puffy couch in Baltimore in jeans, sneakers and a black knit kipah.

At the time, Gould — not his real name — had been a functioning alcoholic for years, and his body could tolerate a lot of booze. He listed the staggering litany of alcoholic beverages he consumed that Purim, a holiday some Jews mark by drinking to excess: Three bottles of amaretto, two bottles of wine, one bottle of champagne, a fifth of Scotch and a fifth of bourbon.

“And then I drove home with my kids in the car,” he recalled.

He made it home fine — after all, he was used to driving drunk.

Gould may be an extreme example, but he isn’t unique. Alcohol and drug addiction exist in every sector of American Jewry, but addiction and recovery specialists say Gould is part of a growing problem in the Orthodox community — a problem that, because of the pressures and particularities of an observant Jewish lifestyle, has hit the Orthodox in different and sometimes more troubling ways than other segments of the Jewish community.

“The Orthodox community really does have a need,” said Adrienne Bannon, executive director of Baltimore’s Jewish Recovery Houses, two centers in suburban Baltimore for recovering Jewish drug addicts and alcoholics. Some residents require kosher food and are placed with local families for Shabbat meals. “I thought most of the addicts and alcoholics filling this house would be long-estranged from religion, but it isn’t true,” she said.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that, for years, people couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that drugs had found their way into Orthodox groups. But they had. They say the emphasis in some ultra religious Orthodox communities on finding marriage matches for young people, coupled with the community’s traditional reluctance to air its dirty laundry, leads families and schools to cover up addictions. They call this “the shanda factor”: Who wants to marry a drug addict or even a drug addict’s sibling?

As a result, addicts often don’t receive treatment until their addictions have reached crisis proportions. Those involved in treating these addicts say that until recently, members of the Orthodox community received treatment on average two years later than addicts in society at large — two years during which their dependencies have time to grow, worsen and become harder to beat.

Solid numbers on addiction in the Orthodox community are hard to come by. In the past five to 10 years, the community has begun to more aggressively and publicly address the issue, but it still elicits silence and shame. Anecdotal evidence suggests the problem is getting worse, experts say.

Some describe a chicken-and-egg question: Is the number of Orthodox addicts growing or — because community efforts have made treatment easier, more available or more acceptable — are a greater number of addicts seeking help?

Experts say both might be true.

“What has opened people’s eyes is that, first of all, there’s been much more talk about the problem,” said Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, founder and medical director emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment system in western Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately, there have been several young deaths from overdoses, and these were not covered up and they raised the alert of the community.”

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, an expert in chemical addiction in the Jewish community and author of “Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery: A Personal Guide to Turning From Alcoholism and Other Addictions” (Jewish Lights, 1991), noted that the Orthodox aren’t the only members of the Jewish community with addiction issues.

“Alcohol and drug abuse is about an issue of individuals feeling an emptiness inside of themselves, and they’re self-medicating, trying to fill that hole and get rid of the pain they feel,” said Olitzky, who also is executive director of the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute. “Alcohol and drug abuse, for similar reasons, impact upon members of the Jewish community from one side of the spectrum to the other.”

Recovery communities for Jews like those in Baltimore are few and far between, but many communities are making efforts to fight abuse by forming support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous societies, treatment centers and clearing houses for referral services. The religious streams also have made efforts to address the issue and inform their constituents about it.

The number of Jewish addicts is proportionally similar to the rest of America, Olitzky said, but Jews are overrepresented in Gamblers Anonymous, and many suffer from eating disorders.

Insiders say the Orthodox lifestyle offers another gateway into and cover for addiction: the frequent availability and consumption of alcohol at religious life-cycle events. Habits developed at these celebrations can eventually lead to alcoholism, observers say, and statistics show that individuals who abuse alcohol are more likely to use drugs.

A person can drink a l’chaim at a morning bris, or ritual circumcision ceremony, followed by another at an engagement party that evening. Later in the week, there may be a wedding, followed by a sheva brachot ceremony followed on Shabbat by a bar mitzvah — and alcohol often is available at each event.

Then there is the increasing popularity of so-called synagogue Kiddush clubs, which offer shulgoers schnapps, whiskey and other types of alcohol during and after services.

“Substance abuse is masked by religious practice,” said Rabbi Joel Dinnerstein, founder and director of Ohr Ki Tov: Center for Growth and Transformation, which runs Florida’s Jewish Alcoholism and Addiction Counseling Services. “See who goes for the herring and who goes for the schnapps — you don’t have to be an expert to see right in front of you.”

Gould went for the schnapps. And the whiskey. And the beer. And the champagne.

He spent his bar mitzvah party vomiting in a bathroom after drinking too much alcohol-spiked punch. By the time he was 31, Gould’s doctor told him that his liver “was reaching irreversible damage levels.”

The physician suggested that the test results may have been skewed by consumption of alcohol shortly before the test. He suggested that Gould not drink for two weeks and then return for another test. So he stopped drinking for a few days — until his brother-in-law got engaged and they headed out for a l’chaim; the cycle began again.

Veronica Rose, whose parents are affiliated with a Chabad synagogue, said that an abusive boyfriend drove her to drug abuse.

Rose, a pseudonym, started using cocaine five years ago in what she said was an effort to self-medicate her clinical depression. What started as recreational use soon became a full-blown addiction.

“I spent all of my bubbe’s inheritance on drugs,” said Rose, whose brother is an alcoholic.

When she took up with an abusive man, she turned even more frequently to drugs — cocaine to dull the pain, followed by marijuana or Ativan to come down from the high.

She began to think about cleaning up. Today she’s a resident at Tovah House, the women’s recovery home in Baltimore. She has been clean since Dec. 12.

Observers say it has become increasingly easy for youngsters to obtain drugs, even Orthodox ones.

“The problem in the yeshivas is the same problem as in the public schools,” said Daniel Vitow, headmaster of the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School on New York’s Long Island. “Our kids live in the same society and the same culture as everyone else.”

Where the problem is more acute, some schools have instituted drug testing for students. Some yeshivas eventually expel problem students, who are sent from school to school, their problems left untreated, chalked up simply to hanging out with the wrong group of friends.

“I think that the Jewish community has grown a great deal in its sophistication with regard to its acknowledgment of Jews and alcoholism and Jews as drug addicts, and there are some institutions that have been built,” Olitzky said.

But, he noted, “We still have a long way to go before we are fully prepared to wrestle with the challenges.”


Local Treatment Centers


David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

The Jewish community has two addiction treatment centers in Southern California

Beit T’Shuvah
8831 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles
(310) 204-5200

Beit T’Shuvah is unique among addiction treatment centers nationally, because it requires its residents to use Jewish spirituality and teachings as part of their recovery. The coed, 120-bed facility usually is filled with residents on short-term recovery or long-term treatment programs lasting beyond 30 days.

Chabad Residential Treatment Center
5675 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles
(323) 965-1365

The 44-bed, male-only Chabad Residential Treatment Center close to the Pico-Robertson district uses general Torah teachings and principles to anchor its 12-step approach to addiction treatment, but the approach is broad enough for the facility’s Jewish and non-Jewish residents. A separate, second-phase “sober-living” building adjacent to the main center has room for another 25 patients.

T-Shirts Tell Tales of Domestic Violence


Lisa Kapler remembers the day her high school boyfriend deliberately bit her cheek until it bled.

He thought it was funny, said the 29-year-old San Fernando Valley resident, her tone a combination of perplexity and the frankness one might use with a close friend. Soon, her beau’s odd behavior escalated into weekly acts of violence and intimidation, from punching, hitting and choking to pulling a knife and threatening to hurt Kapler’s family. She remained in the relationship for three years.

After staying silent for many years, Kapler became an advocate against domestic abuse. Her marriage to Gabe Kapler, an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and a Los Angeles native, has given her a platform to share her story nationwide. Locally, Kapler is spokeswoman for The Clothesline Project, an exhibit of original T-shirt art by survivors of domestic violence. The artwork will be on display at The Jewish Federation’s Bell Family Gallery this month in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The artwork was created by women and children who’ve used the shelter run by the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles. The confidential program provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence, be it physical, verbal, sexual or emotional abuse. The artists are not named; in some cases, they need to remain anonymous.

Domestic violence is more pervasive than many realize. About 31 percent of women in the United States reported being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey. Each year, an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence by family members against their mothers or female caretakers, concluded a report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.

Besides JFS, the sponsors include The Jewish Federation and the Gabe Kapler Foundation. The exhibit was inspired by the original 1990 Clothesline Project in Hyannis, Mass.

The process of creating the artwork … allows the survivors and the children to express feelings that they might not be able to express verbally, said Karen Rosenthal, director of Shelter Services with JFS/Family Violence Project. I think it’s a very empowering process.

Using multicolored fabric, thread, paper, glue, paint, markers, rhinestones and feathers, survivors express feelings and share stories through art. One piece depicts a large red heart surrounded by smaller hearts and several sets of eyes.

The eyes represent how I felt, reads the anonymous survivor’s written description of her project. He would watch my every move.

Scattered among shirt’s decorations are evocative words like fear and baby crying. And, I’m sorry, which the artist wrote is … what he would tell me after he hit me.

The T-shirts are displayed on a clothesline, along with silhouettes of women and children hanging laundry. In addition to the artist’s descriptions, the exhibit contains information about domestic violence.

We want it to be a wakeup call, but also something that’s informative, said Shari Davis, exhibit curator.

Visitors can write messages on paper T-shirts provided at the exhibit. The notes will be taken to families currently living in the shelters.

Becoming an advocate against domestic violence has helped Kapler to heal. As a survivor, Kapler feels a responsibility to share her story.

We have to teach our young girls and guys [about domestic violence] so they can be prepared for it. At age 14, I was not prepared for it, said the mother of two.

Kapler said that The Clothesline Project helps drive the message home for the community: When you hear the abuse statistics, it doesn’t move you. But when you read those T-shirts and you can feel what abuse does, it’s a gift to our society.

The Clothesline Project will run from Oct. 11-Dec. 31 at Bell Family Gallery at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. For information, contact Sherri Kadovitz at (323) 761-8800, Ext. 1250.

For more information on The Clothesline Project, go to www.clotheslineproject.org.

 

Shouldering the Burden of Incest


 

When you go to the synagogue, you just might be sitting next to someone who sexually abused his daughter. You might be

shaking his hand, admiring his charming demeanor, thinking how lucky his family is to have him. I should know. People sit next to my father all the time. Not only that, but they make sure to tell me about it.

Take a recent scenario at my local congregation: Two seconds after I walked through the door, a friendly acquaintance informed me that my father had visited there just a few weeks back. Good thing I didn’t go that day, I thought to myself. She continued to describe to me how vibrant he had looked, “as always,” and how lovely it had been to see him. The woman’s intention, of course, was to compliment me by showering praise on my father. Instead, she left me clutching tightly inside myself and forgetting to breathe.

“That’s nice,” I replied. “I haven’t seen him in 14 years.”

The woman stammered around a bit, apologized, and concluded with, “But I’m sure you’ll be glad to know he’s doing well.”

Well, actually, that depends on the day.

 

About 15 minutes later, another woman informed me (just in case I hadn’t heard yet) that my father had visited the congregation a few weeks earlier. She knows these things, she continued, because she is a close friend of his second ex-wife.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I interrupted her.

“Oh, well I’m not talking about it, I was just saying that he visited here, and I’m good friends with…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I repeated, putting my hand up in a stop motion.

“Well, I was just saying that I’m friends with them…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said a third time, adding a “no” head shake for emphasis.

She stopped, then could not think of anything else to say.

“How’s your son doing? Is he here?” I offered, hoping to move the conversation in a more pleasant direction.

“Yes he is,” she replied, “and in fact, I’m taking these cookies over to him.”

She bid me Shabbat Shalom and left. The woman could not get away from me fast enough.

Considering how common incest is, not to mention the preponderance of other forms of domestic violence — I do not cease to be amazed by people’s insensitivity regarding my father. Short of answering, “My father sexually abused me, and discussing him is retraumatizing me,” I have tried every possible approach in getting people to shut up. Not only have they not respected my clear boundaries, but they have gone so far as to make assumptions about what must have happened with my father. A favored scenario has been that he and I had a squabble, and I am too stubborn to forgive him.

One man, who had this notion in his head, repeatedly brought me fliers announcing my father’s latest presentations. He and another man made statements like, “We have to figure out a way to get you and your father back together.”

Even after I hinted, “You really have no clue what goes on behind closed doors,” one of them persisted in his self-appointed mission to save my family.

These interactions have left me profoundly shaken up — physically, as well as emotionally — and have eaten up days and days of my time, dedicated to recovering from each incident. They have caused me to avoid Mizrahi and Sephardi communities; to leave a community organization I cofounded; and to stop attending synagogue services. Given my resulting isolation from Jewish community life, I even stopped observing Shabbat and the holidays; they became too lonely and depressing.

For philosophical, moral and emotional reasons, I refuse to plaster a big fake smile on my face and let people ramble on glowingly about a man who made my childhood miserable. Every time someone starts in on it with me, I feel an overwhelming urge to scream out the truth.

I have no interest in publicly shaming my father. I have silenced my own voice for two-thirds of my life, in fact, in an effort to protect him. In addition, it feels risky to “come out” about my experience. I do not want people pathologizing or pitying me.

And yet, I am tired of holding this burden, and I know there are many like me out there. So I offer my story in an effort to wake up the Jewish community, to let people know that the abuse is happening all around us, that we are not immune to violence. Our friends, colleagues, teachers and rabbis are among both the perpetrators and survivors. Abuse does not happen to “them.”

When we recognize this reality — when we speak and listen in ways that allow for the possibility that people are survivors or current victims, and when we hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, yet approach them with compassion, we will all shoulder the burden of violence together. As such, our community will take one giant step toward healing.

The writer is an author and journalist who lives in Israel and the Bay Area. The Journal requested we withhold her byline for legal purposes.

The Nation and The World


 

New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site, www.fisesp.org.br, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Home Repair


In a narrow Jerusalem alley a few blocks away from the souvenir shops of Ben Yehuda Street, a former drug addict who wants tobe called Shimon is telling me the story of his horrific childhood.

Born into a large Chasidic family in Eilat, Shimon and his 11 siblings were repeatedly raped by their father. The father was eventually arrested and sent to prison, where he is serving a 10-year term.

At 12, Shimon turned to the streets — and drugs. He sniffed glue, drank, smoked. He tried to commit suicide twice. After two years, a friend pushed him toward a program called Susan’s House.

Now 17, Shimon sleeps at a psychiatric institution at night. But during the day he reports for work at Susan’s House, an on-the-job training center for Jerusalem’s most troubled teens. Shimon works under the guidance of caring adults, including some of Israel’s most acclaimed artists who create beautiful crafts for sale worldwide.

“The place really helps me,” he says of Susan’s House. “It gives me self-confidence.”

I thought of my visit to Susan’s House this week because so much of the news from Israel was of a particularly nasty sort. Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, vandalized an art installation by Israeli-born Dror Feiler, setting a sorry example for the rest of the world; Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, is set to wed in a prison ceremony (“I want a grandchild already,” his mother told Israel’s daily Ma’ariv); and outside Israel’s soccer stadiums, Jewish fans have been regularly shouting slogans such as “Death to Arabs” at Israeli Arab players and flinging rocks at them, apparently without fear of repercussion from Israeli authorities.

There is no doubt that the combined effects of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, and the collapse of the Israeli economy have contributed to a social coarsening. Homelessness, hunger, drug abuse, alcoholism and school violence are growing problems; academic scores are plummeting to what one analyst called “pathetic” levels; and the ruling Likud Party is in the midst of a scandal that parades tales of bribes, underworld thugs and payoffs across the front pages. The Israeli press is full of eulogies for a kinder, gentler nation. Two weeks ago, Education Minister Limor Livnat warned of “marginal groups with economic interests, including criminal interests, who are trying to take over the ruling party.”

And she’s a member of the ruling party.

The American Jewish dream of Israel has always been rosier than the reality. But these problems, along with the ongoing political crisis in the Middle East, threaten to enlarge a cultural gulf between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.

That’s why visiting Susan’s House, as I did last November, felt so reassuring. Eyal Kaplansky is a successful diamond merchant whose counterculture beard and clothes hide a savvy business mind. He dreamed with his wife, Susan, of memorializing a young friend by starting a home to help troubled teens. A year after planning began, Susan died of cancer, and Kaplansky continued the project in her memory. Now in business two years, the home provides a last chance for the increasing number of wayward Israeli youth in Jerusalem.

“I thought that the Jewish people don’t rape, abuse or kick their kids,” Kaplansky told me, “and I found out the Jewish people do all these things. We’re getting the toughest kids off the street.”

Susan’s House rents a series of small rooms in an old stone building. About 20 teens sit at work stations creating extraordinarily beautiful crafts of glass beads and homemade paper. Renowned papermaker Zvi Tolkovsky and glassmaker Louis Sakolovsky of the Bezalel Academy helped Susan’s House establish the training program. Kaplansky combines the artistic endeavors with lessons in business.

“These kids are scared of the grown-up world,” he says. “But we teach them if you know the game and play by the rules you can make it.”

Kaplansky knows because he was one of the kids. Rebellious and heavily involved with drugs, he turned his own life around. “I knew that if these kids could survive the streets they could accomplish a lot,” he says.

The organization has a $250,000 annual budget. There are five paid staff, 22 kids and a huge waiting list. Susan’s House doesn’t look to the government for help, because, Kaplansky says, the government is cutting budgets anyway and the red tape would suffocate the endeavor. Instead, Kaplansky tries to expand his project through individual donors and the sale of items in bulk to businesses and institutions around the world (the next time your organization needs items for charity banquets, think of buying them through Susan’s House, www.kys.org.il/susanhome.html).

It is a model Israeli-created charity, and it is not alone. Amid adversity, Israelis are taking it upon themselves to soften their society’s edges. The number of nonprofit associations has swelled to 35,000, according to a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev study, and 77 percent of all Israelis contribute to charity (compare that to 50 percent of Europeans).

“After the streets,” Shimon told me of Susan’s House, “it is a place I can come and feel like family.”

Treating one another like family — wasn’t that the ideal of the Jewish State from the start?

World Briefs


Israel: U.S. Would Assassinate Saddam

Israeli officials reportedly believe that if the United States moves against Iraq, it will be to assassinate Saddam Hussein and members of his family. According to an assessment prepared for the prime minister and foreign minister, the purpose of the action is to bring about a regime change without causing the entire country to collapse, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

Meanwhile, Scott Ritter, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector said that Israel should oppose an American attack on Iraq. An American strike on Baghdad would be a disaster for Israel, Ritter told Ha’aretz. He said it would make Israel vulnerable to an Iraqi attack, would undermine regional stability and further anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab public and would increase terrorism against Israel.

Five Wounded in Blast

Five Palestinian youths were lightly wounded Tuesday in an explosion in a school near Hebron. A second bomb was found in the schoolyard and defused. Israeli officials are investigating whether Israelis were responsible for the blast, which occurred in an area under Israeli security control. The explosion went off in the courtyard of the Ziff secondary school south of Hebron, said the principal, who accused Jewish extremists. Nearly all 380 students were in class at the time.

Peres Supports Diplomatic Efforts

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres applauded the efforts of an international team of diplomats to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After meeting Tuesday in New York with officials from the so-called Quartet — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — Peres reiterated Israel’s willingness to withdraw from Palestinian areas as soon as the security situation improves. On Wednesday, Peres spoke out against terrorism during an address before the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at the start of a Cabinet meeting that no progress could be made without “total cessation of violence and terror.”

Israel Warns Lebanon

Israel will not allow Lebanon to divert water from the Wazzani river, which is shared by the two countries, Israel’s defense minister warned, saying that it is a “violation of every agreement we have signed in the past,” Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Tuesday. The Wazzani feeds into the Hatzbani River, which provides about 10 percent of Israel’s water. On Monday, an American delegation, including a water expert, visited the region in an effort to mediate the crisis. The officials watched as Lebanese workers laid pipes to pump water from the Wazzani.

Al Qaida Linked to Pearl Death

A member of Al Qaida was identified as one of the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, according to The Associated Press. The identification was made by a Pakistani held but not charged in the January kidnapping of Pearl, who was killed earlier this year after admitting to his Jewish roots in a video made by his abductors. If the identification proves true, it would mark the first time that Al Qaida was linked to Pearl’s death.

Lanner Sentencing Postponed

The jail sentencing of New Jersey Rabbi Baruch Lanner on sexual abuse charges has been delayed until Oct. 4. Lanner, 52, was found guilty in Monmouth County, N.J., Superior Court on June 27 of endangering the welfare of two girls who attended the Hillel High School in Ocean Township, N.J., where he was principal from 1992 to 1996. He also was the girls’ supervisor in the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the youth wing of the Orthodox Union. Lanner faces 10 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $300,000 fine at the sentencing, which was postponed from Sept. 13. Lanner has maintained his innocence, and has 45 days to appeal after his sentencing. He remains free on $100,000 bail.

Forward Sells Radio Station

The Forward Association reached an agreement to sell its radio station to ABC Inc. for $78 million. The planned sale of WEVD-AM by the publisher of a family of Jewish newspapers bearing the Forward name follows an agreement announced in September 2001, under which ABC’s ESPN subsidiary was granted the right to provide programming on WEVD and ABC acquired an option to initiate negotiations for the purchase of the station.

Briefs compiled by Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Providing Save Haven


Nikki Tesfai greets me in her office at the African Community Resource Center (ACRC), the only refugee center in Los Angeles that aids people from African as well as European and Asian countries. It is also the only refugee center in the United States with a shelter for refugee women who are escaping abusive husbands.

A beautiful 47-year-old Eritrean (Ethiopian) woman who speaks five languages and has earned a doctorate in humanities, Tesfai has deep, sparkling eyes that hint at her inner strength. She laments that the Sept. 11 tragedy shook her faith in America. This, after all, is the country that welcomed her after she was abused, raped and tortured in Africa. She says now she fears her people will be harmed by repercussions. I ask her why — is she a Muslim?

“No,” she replies. “I’m Jewish.”

Suddenly, instead of being journalist and subject, we are two Jews sharing our fears about anti-Semitism and the fate of the world. Tesfai has seen the worst of human behavior and has been the victim of evil. When we talk about the nightmarish year she spent in an Eritrean prison, she stops and takes several slow, deep breaths, like the Lamaze breathing technique I learned years ago to take my mind off pain. As she tells me her story, I discover that it is one in which Jewish ethics play an important role.

She grew up in Addis Ababa, the oldest of six children in a middle-class family that attended the Coptic Christian church but secretly celebrated Yom Kippur. “My father told us never to tell our friends we were Jewish,” Tesfai explains. “Ethiopians believe that Jews drink blood. He feared what they would do to us.”

Tesfai’s father stressed the importance of education. He saved his money for years in order to send her to school in Switzerland. When Tesfai did so well that she won a scholarship, he was able to pay for her younger brothers to go to college in the United States. Tesfai eventually joined them, and wound up at Union College, a Baptist school in Memphis, Tenn.

“I didn’t know anything about racial prejudice when I came to America,” she says. “In Ethiopia — and in Switzerland, too — foreigners were differentiated by the country they came from, not by their color.” Tesfai recalls the night the Ku Klux Klan gathered outside the college library, where she was studying. “I had no idea what they were — even if they were human. The boy next to me told me to run, that they had come to kill me.” She escaped the Klan that night, but spent the rest of her year in college in fear. “All I wanted to do was graduate and go home to Africa.”

Tesfai returned to Ethiopia in the midst of a civil war, and she joined the Eritrean liberation forces. They imprisoned her because she criticized them for their inhumane treatment of women, among other injustices. When she finally got out, she escaped on foot across the desert to Khartoum, Sudan, where she spent a year in a refugee camp that was nearly as horrific as the prison. Her father implored her to go to America — and to use the education that she had been blessed with to help others.

Her path to fulfilling her father’s dream for her was a long one, and involved her marriage to a man who was instrumental in the relocation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. They settled in Houston, where she bore two children and continued her education. But Tesfai and her husband became estranged, so she packed her kids into the car and started driving. She eventually ended up in Los Angeles, where she sought help from The Jewish Federation.

She soon discovered that the refugee centers in Los Angeles County welcome Hispanics, Vietnamese and Europeans, but not Africans. “Eritrean Jews and other Africans who don’t speak English had nowhere to go. They were turned away because the centers claimed they lacked staff who spoke African languages,” Tesfai says.

In 1984, Tesfai opened a center that would cater to these refugees. Eventually, with the support of Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, ACRC moved into larger quarters on Vermont Avenue. Here, they offer resettlement assistance, family support and counseling, employment placement, education and English language training, not only to refugees from African countries, but also from Bosnia, Iran, Central America, Armenia, Vietnam and Russia.

In the course of interviewing refugees, Tesfai and her staff discovered that over 75 percent of refugee women are the victims of domestic violence. One reason, Tesfai believes, is because women adapt to a new life in the United States more readily than their husbands. The men then take out their frustrations on their wives.

Last year, ACRC opened Refugee Safe Haven for refugee women who flee from abusive husbands. The location is kept secret, and Tesfai enlists lawyers to obtain restraining orders to protect the women. Because it has a separate kosher kitchen, the 22-bed safe house can accommodate Jewish and Muslim residents.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Gordon, the former chairman of the Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council and a member of the Board of ACRC, lauds Tesfai for her work. “The victims served by Refugee Safe Haven are truly strangers in a strange land,” Gordon says. “They have come to the United States after losing their countries, their friends, and in many cases, their families. The losses caused by domestic violence are then added to their pain.”

At Refugee Safe Haven, counselors help build the women’s self- esteem and teach them the skills necessary to lead independent lives. “Three of the residents have already ‘graduated,'” Tesfai says proudly. “They have jobs and their own apartments, but they come back to help the other women.” She visits the safe house every Friday. “I always bring the residents a challah.”

Tesfai is developing a curriculum for the safe house that she intends to take to Israel next year. “I want to train the Ethiopian Jews in Israel to establish a shelter for their own people.”

ACRC receives federal, state, and local government funds, but it relies on private donations as well. Tesfai hopes to receive support from the Jewish community. She admits that many of her Jewish friends have asked why she doesn’t limit ACRC and the shelter just to Eritrean Jews. “They say, that way, I’d be sure to get donations from Jews,” she says. “I answer them: ‘I’m Jewish. Part of being Jewish is helping as many people as I can.”

For more information on the African Community Resource
Center, call (213) 637-1450 or e-mail acrc@pacbell.net .

Children’s Crusade


More than 200 pediatricians across the United States have condemned a particularly virulent form of child abuse by parents, clergy and governments who place children in the front lines of pitched battles in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The pediatricians have formed Doctors Opposed to Child Sacrifice (DOCS), and the impetus for their protest has come from observing constant confrontations in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Day in and day out, Palestinian families feed their children healthy breakfasts and see them off into battles on the streets of the Palestinian-controlled areas to clash with Israeli soldiers at the edges of their communities,” said Dr. Pejman Salimpour, clinical chief of pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“These children are being used as forced foot soldiers in a war directed by their elders,” he added. “They are often placed as human shields for gunmen, who shoot over their heads at Israeli positions. Dozens and dozens of young children have been killed, their innocence and souls snuffed out, all as a result of parents and community members who abuse them by encouraging and allowing their involvement in the violence.”A second co-founder, Dr. Neal Kaufman of Cedars-Sinai, said, “We’re talking mainly about children 8-11 years old. As pediatricians who are devoting their lives to the health and well-being of children, we are morally bound to raise our voices against this vicious form of child abuse. To remain silent would be worse than standing aside while parents sold their children into slavery or prostitution.”

Dr. Ofelia Marin, a pediatric gastroenterologist in private practice, said that her concern “cuts across religious and national lines. As a Catholic, a physician and a human being, I feel strongly that children should be protected, not used. Sending children into battle is the worst form of child abuse.”

While DOCS is now focusing on the proliferation of child “martyrs” by Palestinians, such countries as Sierra Leone, Angola, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia and Afghanistan are guilty of similar practices, said Salimpour.

At the same time, DOCS founding statement urges all governments “to exercise maximum restraint when confronting non-peaceful demonstrations that include children.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, defines a “child” as under 15 years, and Amnesty International estimates that currently more than 300,000 child soldiers under 16 years are fighting in conflicts in more than 30 countries.

Pediatricians interested in the goals of DOCS are asked to contact the organization by e-mail atdocs@dr.com.

Domestic Violence


Ruth Neal, coordinator of Ezras Bayis, has seen Orthodox womenwho have been bitten, shoved, slapped, punched, spit at, scalded withhot chicken soup, threatened with a gun, pushed down a flight ofstairs. Wood cut by Kathe Kollwitz from “German ExpressionistWoodcuts,” 1994.

 

Ilana*, an observant woman living inLos Angeles, felt isolated because of the myth that domestic violencedoesn’t happen in Orthodox homes. She recalled how she once coweredas her husband held a gun to her head, then fired; when the gunturned out to be empty, he laughed at her fear. For Ilana, it wasonly the latest incident in years of abuse.

Six years ago, the Orthodox Counseling Program(OCP) of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles began a “warm line” tohelp women such as Ilana. But at the time, OCP’s Dr. Michael Heldstaunchly refused to talk about the warm line. “If something isdifficult to accept and you splash it all over the front page,” hesaid, “people will clam up, and you’ll find yourself farther awayfrom the people you want to help.”

Instead, Held and his staff quietly worked behindthe scenes, meeting with many of the more than 100 practicingOrthodox rabbis in Los Angeles, and their efforts have paidoff.

Ruth Neal, coordinator of Ezras Bayis, OCP’sfamily-abuse project, does workshops at synagogues and schoolsthroughout the Southland. The Rabbinical Council of California hasscheduled its first seminar on domestic violence for Feb. 8. JewishFamily Service’s 30-day emergency shelter for battered women, TamarHouse, is kosher-friendly.

And now comes “Nishma” (“We Will Listen”), a24-hour hot line for Orthodox women, with 19 observant volunteercounselors. The hot line (818-623-0300), which began on Jan. 1, is ajoint venture of OCP and JFS’ Family Violence Project. It is fundedwith a $38,200 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation. The grantalso funds a variety of workshops and outreach programs that dealwith domestic violence in the observant community.

What opened the community’s eyes, sources say, wasthe 1993 murder of Rita Parizer, 36, an Orthodox wife and motherwhose strangled body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a garageowned by her husband, Shalom, at 325 N. Orange Grove Ave. Ritapreviously had reported a marital rape but refused to press charges,LAPD Det. David Lambkin said. In August 1994, her husband wasconvicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to lifein prison.

“More than anything, the Parizer case brokethrough the community’s denial,” said Shirley Lebovics, a licensedclinical social worker who is observant and a domestic-violenceexpert. “It made rabbis stop and say, ‘This can happen. This isfrightening. This is real.'”

As for how often abuse occurs in the Orthodoxcommunity, or within the Jewish community at large, that is difficultto say. Many activists, citing an unpublished 1980 master’s thesisfrom Hebrew Union College/USC, say up to 20 percent of all Jewish menabuse their wives — the same as the general population.

But according to The Forward, a University ofRhode Island study concluded that violence in Jewish homes is almost40 percent below the national average. A University of Maryland studyfound the numbers somewhere in between, The Forward said.

Several Orthodox rabbis interviewed believe thatabuse occurs less frequently in observant homes. Religious husbandsare less likely to batter because of Orthodox ethical training andpeer pressure, Young Israel of Century City’s Rabbi Elazar Muskinsaid.

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek, however,said, “Abuse has nothing to do with one’s moral upbringing, but withthe [generational] cycle of violence.” Tendler speaks about thephenomenon in a new videotape produced for the Jewish community bythe National Center for the Prevention of Sexual and DomesticViolence.

Whatever their belief about the statistics,however, all the rabbis interviewed agreed that the problem isserious enough to warrant action. One-fifth of OCP’s some 200 annualclients report verbal or physical abuse, after all.

Neal has seen Orthodox women who have been bitten,shoved, slapped, punched, spit at, scalded with hot chicken soup,threatened with a gun, pushed down a flight of stairs. One husbandharassed his pregnant wife until 5 a.m. on a workday, accusing her ofinfidelity. Whenever she nodded off, he would grab her by the hairand order her to “sit up and listen.”

Sarah,* a 28-year-old mother of five, said thather husband was careful to beat her where the bruises wouldn’t show.He injured her so seriously on several occasions that she requiredphysical therapy. On Friday evenings, her family tensely sat at theShabbos table, “walking on eggshells” lest they provoke him.

Yet Sarah was hesitant to speak out because of theprohibition against lashon hara (gossip), and because of themisconception that shalom bayis (peace in the home) is the soleresponsibility of the woman. When she tentatively approached severalrespected women in her community, they told her to speak nicely toher husband, to go home and make an extra-special Shabbosmeal.

When Sarah finally approached the beit din(rabbinical court) for a get (a religious divorce), some rabbiswarned her that it would be almost impossible for her to remarry.Sarah could not bring herself to tell them that her husband wasinappropriately touching her during times of the month prohibited byJewish family purity laws.

Orthodox women, such as Sarah, tend to stay longerin abusive relationships, Neal said, for a number of reasons. Manyare wary of secular counseling; they are concerned thatpsychotherapists might not understand their need to consult arabbi.

Observant wives tend to have many children, so itis harder for them to find someplace to go, especially when theirhusbands control the purse strings. They worry that they won’t beable to keep kosher in a shelter; that they cannot hide from aviolent husband within the small, closely knit Orthodox community;that the stigma of divorce could damage their children’s chances fora good marriage.

At Nishma, the observant volunteers, who aremodern Orthodox through Chassidic, inherently understand thesedifficulties. All have completed 45 hours of training with expertsfrom FVP, the county, the district attorney’s office and therabbinate.

Because Los Angeles’ Orthodox community is sosmall, the Nishma volunteers maintain even higher levels ofconfidentiality than those at secular hot lines; each woman uses analias and is forbidden from mentioning that she works at Nishma toeveryone but her immediate family. When a battered woman telephonesthe hot line, day or night, an FVP counselor patches her through to avolunteer; the hot line has a list of rabbinic referrals if a womandoes not want to speak to her husband’ s rabbi.

Neal, for her part, is working on making TamarHouse more accessible to Orthodox women. She has purified new dishesfor the shelter, which has a locked kosher cabinet with food, dishesand a microwave. Orthodox women have the option of seeing anobservant counselor while at the shelter.

Neal and other experts, meanwhile, have a wishlist for Orthodox battered women in Los Angeles. They would like tosee a counseling program for Orthodox batterers and for existingpremarital classes to outline warning signs of spousal abuse. Theywant more training for rabbis, who, for example, should know thatcouples counseling is contraindicated in cases of domestic violence.Lebovics would like to see a specifically Jewish emergency shelter inLos Angeles.

“When I counsel couples, I tell the woman, infront of her intended husband, that if he ever raises a hand to her,she should pick herself up and leave until the problem is resolved,”Tendler said. “And if a woman is unsafe, it is incumbent upon everyrabbi to pull out all the stops, including saying from the bimah thata man is not welcome in the community, because he abuses hiswife.”

* not their real names


Community


A union victory was scored at the Miramar Sheraton Hotel in Santa Monica late last month, with some help from the Jewish community.

During a press conference late last year, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom and Rick Chertoff of the Jewish Labor Committee marched into the hotel lobby and alleged that hotel officials had tried to intimidate workers into voting “no” for the union. They also denounced a poster that hung by the worker’s time clock, which, they believed, portrayed a union organizer as a Nazi storm trooper. They scored a small victory when the poster was removed.

Despite a mock vote that had shown overwhelming support for Local 814 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, employees nevertheless voted against the union, 120 to 108, in the real election. Union officials appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, charging that the hotel had engaged in conduct that had tainted the election. Comess-Daniels and Chertoff also sprang to action, helping to author a report outlining the hotel’s alleged conduct.

On June 29, an NLRB hearing officer recommended that the election be set aside and a new election conducted. The hotel may appeal that recommendation to the NLRB board in Washington. The Jewish Journal was unable to reach hotel general manager William Worcester for comment. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer


Confrontation Ends

A three-year confrontation between management and union has ended at the Summit Hotel on Rodeo Drive with the signing of a contract, substantially improving wages, job security and health and pension benefits for the hotel’s predominantly Latino workers.

Resolution of the conflict was announced at a brunch hosted by the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), which had rallied a number of rabbis and Jewish personalities in support of the workers’ grievances and of their union, Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.

On the other hand, Efrem Harkham, the hotel’s owner and a major benefactor of Orthodox organizations and educational institutions, had the backing of a number of prominent Orthodox rabbis.

Among the new contract’s provisions, the current $6.55 per hour wage for housekeepers was raised retroactively by $1.90 per hour, with culminative raises over the next six years bringing hourly wages to $11, according to Rick Chertoff, executive director of the JLC.

Harkham was not available for comment but his executive assistant, Anna Gargioni, confirmed the labor dispute had been settled.

At the brunch, the JLC presented awards to Howard Welinsky, incoming president of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, veteran labor leader Elinor Glenn, and State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

Chertoff took note of the combined Jewish, Latino and African American support for the hotel workers and the voting pattern by the three groups in defeating Proposition 226, widely viewed as an anti-union measure.

“We are seeing the re-emergence of a multiethnic alliance many had pronounced dead,” he said. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor


Today, I Am A Teenager

The old bar/bat mitzvah adage of “Today I am a man” or “Today I am a woman” was nowhere to be found as 11 b’nai mitzvah were called to the Torah at Congregation B’nai Emet in Simi Valley last week. All of them were already adults, but didn’t have a chance to observe the traditional coming of age when they were 13.

Some were converts, others women who were not given the opportunity to have a bat mitzvah. Some just didn’t know how to read Hebrew.

“My goal has been to give them skills to enable them to feel comfortable as part of the service,” says Rabbi Michele Paskow, leader of the 120-family Reform congregation. “It means a lot to them. It’s a big accomplishment.”

Congregation B’nai Emet, 4645 Industrial St., Simi Valley, CA 93062; (805) 581-3723. Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor.

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