January 18, 2019

New Documentary Chronicles Cover-Up of Teacher’s Sexual Abuse and the Damage Done

Screenshot from YouTube.

There has been an assortment of stories of sexual assault in the past year since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, ranging from the alleged violent nastiness of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) towards several women and the alleged fondling of Kevin Spacey toward a myriad of males, including those in their teens.

But it is the story chronicled in the new documentary “What Haunts Us” that is the most disturbing and saddening story of abuse to date, as it explains how a teacher’s sexual abuse of male teens at a school in Charleston, S.C. was allowed to run rampant for years. Several of his victims have since committed suicide.

Paige Goldberg Tolmach, an alumnus of Porter-Gaud school, was disturbed by the news of her former classmates committing suicide, prompting her to delve deeper into the case of Eddie Fischer, who was a physical education teacher at her school from 1972 to 1982.

Fischer was regarded as the suave, hip teacher who epitomized what it meant to be part of the “in” crowd in high school. It was easy for him to use his status and charisma to prey on vulnerable male students with fantasies about how he could arrange them to have sexual intercourse with scores of older women – a dream for many hormonal high school teens.

Baited by this story, various male students would come over to Fischer’s house to receive their “training,” which turned out to be Fischer engaging in a variety of sexual acts upon these underage students. During his abuse, Fischer would tell his victims that it didn’t matter who was performing sexual actions on them, as sex is all about “touching” and “feeling.”

Fischer’s actions were an open secret in the school, but nothing was done when complaints about Fischer’s behavior came in. Fischer eventually resigned from Porter-Gaud, but top school officials gave him a good recommendation to continue his career at other schools, allowing his sexual abuse to continue. The community at large knew about it too, but nothing was done.

Fischer was eventually arrested in 1997 for his sexual abuse and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1999. He died in prison in 2002. Porter-Gaud paid millions of dollars to the families of the Fischer’s victims as part of a settlement in a civil suit.

In total, Fischer had as many as 50 victims, with at least 20 being students he abused at Porter-Gaud.

But the damage done by Fischer and his enablers continues, as six of Tolmach’s classmates have committed suicide as a result of the scars of Fischer’s abuse, including two during the filming of her documentary.

What’s most distressing about the documentary is how it shows that once the lurid headlines and cameras fade away, victims of sexual abuse are continually haunted by the trauma. For some, it’s simply too much to handle.

“What Haunts Us” can be seen in theaters on May 11 and will be featured on Starz on May 14.

Fighting Sexual Abuse in Charedi World

Twenty years have passed, but the moment that drove Rebecca Shwartz to become a pioneering women’s rights lawyer in Jerusalem remains crystalized in her mind.

As a direct result of that one incident, Shwartz today operates Min HaMezar, a growing nonprofit that seeks justice for sexually abused ultra-Orthodox women and girls in Israel.

Shwartz, 36, was part of a delegation of 20 Israelis who recently spent a week in Los Angeles on an educational trip sponsored by the Gesher organization and the Israeli government to observe and interact with members of Diaspora communities. A lifelong Charedi, Shwartz said one of the reasons she came to America was to educate, encourage and motivate women who feel powerless — a commitment born one night in 1997.

The summer of that year, when she was 16 years old, she attended a seminary camp with her best friend, also 16.

“Very late one night, my friend told me she had been getting abused for eight years,” Shwartz said. “I was shocked.” The alleged perpetrator was visible in their ultra-Orthodox enclave of B’nai B’rak. “I knew him, too. I asked, ‘How can it be? I didn’t see anything.’ ”

While the Charedi community maintains an insulated existence to shield its members from perceived negative influences of the secular world, Shwartz said she would come to learn that the arrangement works equally to prevent criminal acts, such as sexual abuse, from being reported to authorities.

That night in the camp, as her friend shared her story, “my friend was crying, and I was crying, too,” Shwartz recalled. “I said, ‘I need to do something.’ I didn’t know what, but something.”

Shwartz went home and immediately relayed the revelations to her mother, whose skepticism was typical of the Charedi community. When Shwartz suggested, “Let’s talk to her parents,” her mother dismissed the story.

“My mother was a simple woman 20 years ago,” Shwartz said. “No one knew anything then. My mother said, ‘It can’t be. Your friend must have been dreaming. [Her abuser] is Charedi. He follows the halachah.’ ”

Undeterred, Shwartz urged the victim to tell her parents. “They’ll kill me,” the fearful girl said.

Shwartz assured her friend, “I’ll come with you. Don’t worry.”

However, when the girl’s parents heard her story, they blamed her. “Something must be wrong with you,” Shwartz recalled them telling their daughter. “Maybe you have not been tznius (modest).”

“They sent her away to a school overseas,” Shwartz said. “She was very mad at me. I felt as if I had done a terrible thing.”

The victim fled her Charedi community, permanently. She became secular and has never married.

“I was innocent and very naïve,” Shwartz recalled.

As a result of that experience, Shwartz unofficially launched her career of attempting to persuade abused ultra-Orthodox women and girls — and others — to tell their stories so that the guilty men can be punished.

Shwartz pledged to herself, “When I grow up, I will open a place where girls who can’t talk to anyone will be able to find a solution.”

Her teenage naivete may have been erased in a single night, but there were signs she would choose her own path. The eighth of 11 children, “I always was different,” she said. “I would look out for the poor, for victims no one was paying attention to.”

Married at 19 and soon the mother of two, she was in her mid-20s when she enrolled in a Charedi law school. Outside of classes, Shwartz volunteered at an office that gave legal advice to the poor. When the few religious women who came to the office seeking help were turned away, Shwartz despaired.

“I saw their look,” she said. “They had no one to speak their language. I wanted them to know that I was like them. I sympathized with them.”

Rebecca Shwartz (far right) speaks at a 2016 event, teaching women how to educate children to be protected. Photo by Boaz Cohen

“I started to get so many cases that I didn’t know how to handle them. It was amazing.” — Rebecca Shwartz

Employed in the state attorney’s office early in her career, she examined prison files and learned that far more crimes of abuse existed in the Charedi community than she had realized. “When men went away from the community, I thought they were leaving the country,” she said.

No one in the Orthodox media was interested in reporting Shwartz’s discoveries. “I wanted to say to victims, ‘Someone is willing to help you. Please come.’

“I said, ‘OK, I will make pro bono cases.’ I wrote on Facebook, ‘I want to help. It’s free.’ I started to get so many cases that I didn’t know how to handle them. It was amazing.”

A mother of four, she started her own law practice six years ago. Her husband, Manny, is a journalist who posts stories about her cases on the news website where he works.

Despite the response she has received from abused women, Shwartz said she does not believe there is more abuse today than years ago in the Charedi community. The difference, she said, is that the abuse is now being reported.

She said she was heartened by the response she received during her visit to the United States.

“I gave lectures to women from all over the country on women’s empowerment and coping with sexual abuse,” Shwartz said. “There was a tremendous response. Women were eager to hear, to learn, to receive information and to open their hearts.

“All of us, here and in Israel, have one thing in common: To keep our children’s souls healthy in a protected body.”

Justice on the Horizon

Malka Leifer, a former Australian school principal who is wanted in Australia on suspicion of sexually abusing students, walks in the corridor of the Jerusalem District Court accompanied by Israeli Prison Service guards, in Jerusalem February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

It was a typical evening. The kids were settled and I finally sat down to relax. Then the phone rang. It was a familiar number from Israel and I thought the call would be nothing more than a quick hello. But within 30 seconds, my life sharply tilted off-kilter.

“Malka Leifer has been arrested.”

“What?” was all I managed to articulate, my body flooding with adrenalin and my mind with a multitude of scrambled thoughts. My fingers shook as I messaged my sisters. Within minutes, they were at my door and we all spoke at once. Could this long journey to justice finally have arrived? Would Leifer finally return to Australia to face her alleged crimes or would she again evade extradition? Five television channels were already clamoring for our reaction to this huge news.

Leifer, the 54-year-old former principal of Adass Israel Jewish School in Melbourne, fled Australia for Israel in March 2008 after allegations of sexual abuse of numerous female students came to light. My sisters and I never thought we would tell anyone of the abuse. But then in early 2011, my sister Elly was the first to make a police statement, followed by my other sister, Dassi. Finally, I made my statement, too.

It was the start of a journey we never imagined would last this long. In May 2014, Leifer was arrested in Israel for the first time and before long was released on bail, albeit with an ankle bracelet. For the next two years, every time a court date was set for extradition proceedings to begin, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital.

Would Leifer finally return to Australia to face her alleged crimes or would she again evade extradition?

Those two years were filled with anguished waiting as dates were adjourned and rescheduled, and still she did not appear in court. I can recall every single conversation that I had with people in Israel directly after the court hearings from which she was absent. I can recall the pain, the dashed hopes, the sense of giving up and the acute sense of unfairness over how she could remain free while I was still shackled by the demons of her abuse.

The final nail in my emotional coffin came when the judge handed down his ruling at the end of those two years: Leifer was to remove the ankle bracelet, live freely and attend a few psychiatric sessions every six months. Only then would she be brought before a psychiatric panel, whose members would decide whether she was fit to stand trial.

We were pretty much broken at this point. We didn’t know where to turn or what to do. After six months, it was decreed there was no change in Leifer’s mental capacity. The panel issued the same ruling six months after that.

Throughout 2017, my sister Dassi had been actively campaigning in Melbourne to bring Leifer back to Australia for trial. Then in May 2017, Leifer was spotted in Meron on Lag B’Omer, appearing perfectly healthy. In late October, we all traveled to Israel and had the most amazingly intense but empowering two weeks of campaigning. We left on a high, with incredible messages of support. We were confident we had raised the issue and increased awareness in the highest places of Israeli government, as well as with many prominent advocates for child abuse organizations.

One of the people we met was Shana Aronson, the Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Community Watch (JCW). She was very moved by our story and hired a private investigator to follow Leifer. JCW uncovered evidence that Leifer was mentally stable and handed over its findings to police. Within a few weeks, Leifer was arrested.

When I look at the recent pictures of Leifer with chains around her ankles and her head bowed, I struggle to reconcile this image with the powerful monster in my head. Images of her hands triggered memories of the things those hands did to me. Yet somehow, there is no big whoop of inner excitement or a need for revenge. There is some empathy, which may be misplaced, but I’m sure other survivors of abuse can understand this.

I see Leifer as the woman she was, and I see her as the submissive woman she is now. I hope she will be extradited to Australia so perhaps I may feel closure by facing her in court. But most importantly, I hope she will be put away so those hands cannot wreak havoc and everlasting damage on another young female.

Nicole Meyer lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a sexual abuse survivor and mother of four children.

Aly Raisman: Olympic Coach Knew About Larry Nassar’s Abuse

Victim and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, (L) a former team USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in November 2017 to sexual assault charges, in Lansing, Michigan, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Jewish Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman is claiming that John Geddert, who coached the Olympic team she was on, knew about team doctor Larry Nassar sexually abusing girls on the team in 2011.

Raisman told CNN’s Jake Tapper that one of her teammates explicitly explained how Nassar had abused her while they were in the car with Geddert, but Geddert was silent about it.

“I don’t know what he did or didn’t do from there,” Raisman said. “I know he didn’t ask us any questions, but that is just why we need the full, independent investigation to get to the bottom of who knew about this.”

Geddert has previously issued a statement denying that he knew about Nassar’s actions; he was suspended by USA Gymnastics as part of the fallout from the Nassar case. Geddert is also under investigation, but the details of the investigation are still unknown to the public.

“Mr. Geddert only wishes to convey his heart-felt sympathy to all victims of Larry Nassar’s abuse,” Geddert’s attorney Chris Bergstrom, said in a statement. “Any further comments will distract from the victims’ statements at Nassar’s sentencing.”

Nassar was recently sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault. Over 150 girls, including Raisman, have alleged that Nassar abused them by using his fingers to penetrate them in their genitalia and anus and also touched their breasts. The victims also claim that Nassar was “visibly sexually aroused” during such treatments.

Until he plead guilty, Nassar’s defense was that his actions were part of necessary medical treatment.

Nassar is already serving a 60 year prison sentence after pleading guilty to child pornography.

Nassar’s former employers – the USA Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University –have been accused of ignoring Nassar’s abuse and even pressured Nassar’s victims from speaking out.

Jewish Olympic Medalist Accuses Team Doctor of Sexual Abuse

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish Olympic medalist is accusing the team doctor of sexually abusing her.

Aly Rai­­­sman, a six-time Olympic medalist, told CBS’ 60 Minutes that she first went to Dr. Larry Nasar, who was a volunteer team doctor for the United States’ gymnastics team, for treatment when she was 15 years old.

Raisman was irked that the USA Gymnastics culture discouraged the girls that Nassar allegedly abused from speaking out sooner.

“I am angry,” said Raisman. “I’m really upset because it’s been — I care a lot, you know, when I see these young girls that come up to me, and they ask for pictures or autographs, whatever it is, I just — I can’t — every time I look at them, every time I see them smiling, I just think — I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.”

Nassar is facing over a 100 lawsuits from athletes and gymnasts at Michigan State and on the Olympics team for sexually abusing them while claiming it was for treatment. For instance, Nassar allegedly used his fingers to penetrate them as well as grope them by stating that it was treatment. Nassar’s defense is that such methods were legitimate forms of treatment.

McKayla Maroney, one of Raisman’s gymnastics teammates, claimed that Nassar twice abused her by claiming it was “treatment” and referred to one of the instances as “the scariest night of my life.”

The former Olympic doctor is currently in prison for pleading guilty to child pornography.

2 British women claim they were sexually abused by Sigmund Freud’s grandson

Two elderly women in Britain said that they had been sexually abused, one of them as a child, by a late lawmaker who was a grandson of the Austrian Jewish psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The accusations were leveled against Clement Freud, a celebrated British broadcaster and politician, to ITV in a documentary scheduled to be aired Wednesday, the television channel revealed Monday.

Clement Freud, who died in 2009, was never convicted of the offenses, which fall outside Britain’s statute of limitations.

One complainant, Sylvia Woosley, said Clement Freud, who was a close family friend and 14 years her senior, initially started to touch her inappropriately when he lived near her parents’ house in the south of France in 1952.

“He’d stroke me and he’d kiss me at the back of the bus on the mouth. … It was horrible and I didn’t like it. I was disgusted and upset,” she said.

Woosley said Freud continued to abuse her when her parents’ marriage broke up when she was 14 and she was sent to live with Freud, his new wife and baby daughter.

Another unnamed woman said that in 1978, when she was 18, Freud raped her at her parents’ home, where he showed up to cook dinner when they were away.

Freud’s widow, Jill, 89, told Exposure she was “shocked and deeply saddened by the claims.”

Mendel Tevel released from N.Y. jail, returns to Beverly Hills

Seven months after being sentenced to a one-year jail term for sexually abusing a minor, Mendel Tevel, who once worked at a local Jewish youth center, has been released on parole from a New York jail and has reportedly been seen in Beverly Hills, where he was arrested in October 2013 on sex offense charges.

Tevel, who is 32 or 33, pleaded guilty in April 2015 to two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, under New York law, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is a minor or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. This was after pleading not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse, most either in the first or third degree, upon his arraignment in 2013.

Tevel is the son-in-law of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel worked until his 2013 arrest.

Tevel’s wife and daughter continue to live in the Los Angeles area, and on Feb. 12 the Beverly Hills Courier published a photo showing him in the city. He does not currently appear on California’s Megan’s Law sexual offender registry, which is maintained by the state’s Department of Justice. The law requires certain sex offenders to register with the state’s Megan’s Law database within five working days of moving to California, giving the public vital information on sex offenders, including their home address.

Brenda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman with the state’s DOJ, said she cannot comment on any specific case, but said the five-day registration requirement applies to offenders “who are registered in other states.” Tevel does not appear on New York’s online sex offender registry; according to the New York State Unified Court System’s website, he is scheduled to have a sixth and possibly final “risk level assessment” hearing related to his status as a sex offender on Feb. 29.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office told the Journal that the hearing will clarify Tevel’s sex offender registration requirements — which could range from 20 years to life — and that until then he’s not required to register. While a sex offender’s designation is typically established before release from prison, the spokesman said there was a technical error in Tevel’s case and the judge had to grant Tevel’s attorney’s request for a re-evaluation.

On Feb. 18, Sgt. Max Subin of the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed that police are aware of Tevel’s presence in California.

“We are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action if necessary and in accordance with state law,” Subin wrote in an email. “If he is found to be in violation [of registration requirements], our Detective Bureau will take appropriate action.”

When the Journal called the JEM Center on Feb. 18, this reporter identified himself and asked Illulian, who answered the phone, whether Tevel was at the center. Illulian said Tevel “is working with children, little children,” and then made clear he wasn’t being serious. He said Tevel hasn’t been to the JEM Center for more than 2 1/2 years, and criticized the Journal’s coverage of the case.

“All your articles are not true,” Illulian said. “Everybody knows [the truth] except the people who like to get headlines.”

The Brooklyn district attorney’s charges against Tevel in 2013 came two months after the Journal published an investigative report in which four of Tevel’s alleged victims described sexual abuse they said occurred from about 1995 to 2004, when their ages ranged from 6 to 14. Allegations against Tevel first became public in October 2012, when Meyer Seewald, founder of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), listed him on the group’s online “Wall of Shame,” the organization’s list of people it believes are sexual predators in Jewish communities. All of the alleged abuses cited in the Journal’s article took place in New York and Pennsylvania.

Tevel’s arrest and JCW’s activism have shed light on a divide within Orthodox communities over how to deal with sex offenders and other potentially dangerous members of the community. In November, the five-member board of the Pico-Robertson Chabad Bais Bezalel unanimously adopted a list of “Child & Member Protection Policies & Procedures.” Those policies allow the synagogue to ban any sex offenders from its property and events, and state that lashon hara prohibitions (which govern forbidden speech) cannot be used “as a means of silencing survivors, or those aware of abuse, who appropriately report abuse, or seek aid, therapy or comfort.” The synagogue’s president, Yonatan Hambourger, said the new policy wasn’t a response specifically to Tevel’s case but was necessary because of the number of people who come in and out of the synagogue during the week.

Prior to Tevel’s guilty plea, he would sometimes attend Bais Bezalel. When Hambourger was made aware, he asked Tevel to leave. Tevel hasn’t since returned. So far, Hambourger said, there’s hasn’t been any blowback to the Child and Member Protection policy.

“It’s a difficult issue for us to address because, on the one hand, we’re a Chabad shul, and we want to be open, but the stark reality is there are a lot of really, really potentially dangerous people,” he said.

On Feb. 10, Bais Bezalel’s board sent an email stating that, per its guidelines, it was advising the community of Tevel’s release from prison and assuring people “that Mendy Tevel is not welcome at Bais Bezalel.”

Mendel Tevel sentenced to one year in prison on sex abuse charges

Nearly two years after his arrest in Beverly Hills on sexual-abuse charges, Mendel Tevel was sentenced on June 8 in a Brooklyn court to one year in prison, a spokesperson with the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has confirmed.

Tevel is married to the daughter of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel worked and where Beverly Hills police arrested him in 2013.

On April 24, Tevel pleaded guilty to two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, as described by the New York penal code, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is a minor or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. Upon his arraignment in late 2013, he pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse — most either first degree or third degree — and was released on $100,000 bail.

Tevel, who is now 31 or 32, was arrested in October 2013 in Beverly Hills, then extradited to New York and charged with sexually abusing a minor there in 2007. His arrest came two months after the Jewish Journal published an investigative report in which four of Tevel’s alleged victims described sexual abuse that they said occurred from about 1995 to about 2004, when their ages ranged from 6 to 14.

Allegations against Tevel first became public in October 2012, when Meyer Seewald, the founder of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), listed him on the group’s website on its “Wall of Shame,” which spotlights people JCW’s internal review board believes are sexual predators within Orthodox communities.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office said that because the crime was sexual in nature, it couldn’t share more information on the case, including the victim’s identity.

With his conviction, Tevel is now a lifetime registered sex offender.

A restless pursuit of sexual abusers

Meyer Seewald, the founder of the sexual abuse watchdog Jewish Community Watch (JCW), uttered the name of a local rabbi to a packed room during a March 22 community event hosted by L.A. Congregation Shaarei Tefila.

The room fell silent. One person gasped, then another. One woman leaned into her friend, restating the rabbi’s name to make sure she heard right.

“I’m not one to name abusers at events,” the New York-based Seewald told the group, but this was a special circumstance. Last month, JCW posted the rabbi’s name and photo on its Wall of Shame, following an 18-month investigation by the organization of “his alleged sexual abuse of a number of female minors,” according to its website.

The Journal is not printing the rabbi’s name because he has not been charged with these allegations in court, but among the Los Angeles audience during Seewald’s recent visit, the rabbi’s name was well known — so it goes in the close-knit Los Angeles Orthodox community. 

Sima Yarmush, now 27, gave her own testimony to the community at the event, accusing this rabbi of numerous acts of molestation. She was 14 at the time.

Yarmush began by telling her story about growing up in Chabad, her bubbe (an Auschwitz survivor), her stifling shyness as a little girl and then about that aforementioned rabbi — how he took her under his wing, charming her and the whole community before, she alleged, abusing her sexually.

When she was 18, after coming home from a year in Israel to attend seminary, she said she decided to speak out and take action. Yarmush was assigned four rabbis who conducted a beit din (rabbinical court) and, for the first time in her life, she recounted the events in explicit detail; the rabbis, separated by a mechitzah, listened to her story with clasped hands. Finally, one of the rabbis asked her, “Who did this to you?” 

That incriminating question with only one answer. 

Finally, she thought to herself, after four years, the moment has come. And as she opened her mouth to answer the question, a Chabad rabbi interjected, “Let’s hold off on saying the name.” Furious and voiceless — yet again — Yarmush said she disobeyed the rabbi and spoke up.

“They simply sent me off that night,” she recalled. Her alleged molester got off scot-free, was sent to therapy and is now working at a nearby Orthodox community in the Los Angeles area, she said. 

“And here I am,” she told the crowd with a sense of newfound courage. 

Her statement was received with a standing ovation, just one of many throughout her speech. 

“I feel like the voice for women who don’t have a voice,” Yarmush, now married, told the Journal later. “It’s empowering,” she said about speaking out. Inspired to help others like herself, Yarmush is organizing a support group for fellow victims of sexual molestation.

After she shared her story, a crowd of women gathered around Yarmush, each one confessing, wanting to be heard, to tell her they, too, have a story. 

“My daughter was molested by my ex-husband,” one woman confided. Others relayed stories of a sister, a son, a brother — the cases countless and unfathomable. 

“I was sexually abused,” an older woman gasped between sobs.

The night before the event, JCW’s Seewald said he slept only two hours. Insomnia has become the norm since he started JCW in 2011. 

“I really don’t want to do this, but I have no choice,” Seewald, 26, told the Journal. “This is my mission.” 

JCW, he said, is not composed of professional social workers, but of fellow child abuse survivors. Seewald, an abuse survivor himself, makes sure not only to go after the perpetrators, but to create a safe community of rehabilitated victims, “so that they know they’re not alone.” 

The organization sends victims to therapy, connects them with other survivors and creates a safe space for open discussion. JCW regularly hosts events like the one at Congregation Shaarei Tefila, which aspire to inform the community. A feature of these meetings includes the “coming out” of a local abuse victim that JCW hopes will inspire other victims to follow suit. 

To date, there are more than 100 alleged predators listed on the Wall of Shame, some convicted and some not. JCW investigates all of its accused abusers internally and requires a unanimous vote by its board before posting the name of a suspect. 

Although JCW has not been sued for libel or defamation, it isn’t without flaw. In August 2012, Seewald immediately responded to an allegation made by an autistic boy, who falsely accused a Crown Heights special education teacher of sexual abuse. As a result of his entry into the JCW database, the man lost his job and was publicly shunned — before Seewald repealed the entry. But by then, the damage had been done and JCW’s integrity was compromised. 

Still, Seewald has no regrets using public shaming in the battle against child molestation, a topic that has long been off limits.

“It’s so covered up, it’s not spoken about and gets swept under the rug,” he said. 

Of course, Seewald’s work is not without backlash.

“Some say he’s on a witch hunt,” one speaker at the event, Eli Nash, told the congregation. At 8, Nash was a victim of sexual abuse, he said, and through the help of JCW, he confronted his abuser years later. 

“Good! It’s about time!” an audience member called out, causing Nash to smile softly. “I am here today to say I’m done defending JCW,” Nash continued to a round of applause. “The Wall of Shame works, JCW works, and Meyer Seewald is a hero.”

Earlier in the night, before Yarmush shared her story publicly for the first time, Seewald took the stage to introduce her.

“I want to apologize on behalf of those leaders that turned you down,” he said, “and I want to say that if any of those leaders are in this room, I’m going to put the mic down and take a seat for 60 seconds and give you the opportunity to come up here and apologize.” 

Congregants whispered to one another. As promised, he took a seat, the microphone left sitting on the nearby table.

An unbearable quiet ensued, accompanied by scattered sounds of creaking chairs, heads turning in anticipation — waiting for something to happen. Nothing did.

“This is silence!” Seewald cried from his chair.


03/26.2015, 4:58 p.m.: 

Correction: This article was changed to reflect the fact that the unnamed rabbi no longer works for Chabad.

Sexual abuse lawsuit against Yeshiva U. tossed

A federal judge tossed out a $680 million sexual abuse lawsuit filed by 34 former students at Yeshiva University.

Manhattan federal Judge John Koeltl in his 52-page legal opinion said the victims, who range in age from their late 30s to their early 60s, waited too long to speak up in accusing the institution of turning a blind eye to molestation they say they suffered there, the New York Post reported Thursday.

“Statutes of limitations strike a balance between providing a reasonable time for victims to bring their claims while assuring that defendants have a fair opportunity to defend themselves before evidence is lost or memories fade,” Koeltl said. “In this case, the statutes of limitations have expired decades ago, and no exceptions apply.”

Kevin Mulhearn, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, called Koeltl’s decision an “abomination and a disgrace” and said he plans to appeal.

“The court has stood up and said to Yeshiva University, ‘Congratulations, you have succeeded in your cover-up of the sex abuse!” he said.

The suit filed in July alleges the university wilfully turned a blind eye while two of its rabbis sexually assaulted then-teenage boys at the institution’s prestigious high school for boys in Manhattan between 1969 and 1989.

Some of the plaintiffs allege they were attacked by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a former teacher who is accused of sodomizing one victim with a toothbrush in a school dorm room.

Yeshiva University officials in a statement said they are “gratified” by the ruling, adding “our thoughts and remorse remain with those affected and harmed, and the confidential counselling services of Yeshiva University remain available to them.”

Beverly Hills Police report arrest of alleged sex abuser

Mendel Tevel, a local rabbi and youth worker


Investigation: Y.U. sex abuse extended beyond high school for boys

Incidents of physical and sexual abuse at Yeshiva University were not limited to its high school for boys, an investigation has found.

An outside investigation commissioned by the university following reports of sexual abuse by two faculty members at Y.U.’s high school for boys in the 1970s and ‘80s confirmed that “multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place” at the school.

Individuals in positions of authority perpetrated the incidents, which continued even after administration members had been made aware of the problem, according to the investigation.

The probe also found sexual abuse at other divisions of the university but did not describe them in any detail or specify where they took place.

Carried out by the New York-based law firm Sullivan and Cromwell and released Monday, the investigation was prompted by a Dec. 13, 2012 article in the Forward newspaper titled “Student Claims of Abuse not Reported by Yeshiva U.”

The article centered on abuse allegations against two Y.U. faculty members, Rabbi George Finkelstein, an administrator and faculty member from 1963 to 1995, and Rabbi Macy Gordon, a teacher from 1956 to 1983.

A group of former students filed a $380 million lawsuit against Yeshiva University in early July, just days after Y.U.’s longtime chancellor, Rabbi Norman Lamm, announced he was stepping down with the end of his contract and acknowledged mishandling the abuse allegations decades earlier. The lawsuit has grown to $680 million.

“There are findings set forth in this report that serve as a source of profound shame and sadness for our institution,” YU President Richard Joel said in a statement released Monday. “On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire University community, I express my deepest and most heartfelt remorse, and truly hope that our recognition of these issues provides some level of comfort and closure to the victims. Although we cannot change the past, we remain committed to making confidential counseling services available to those individual victims in the hope they can achieve a more peaceful future.”

Investigators at Sullivan and Cromwell, led by Karen Patton Seymour, sought to interview the former students named in the suit, but their lawyers declined to make them available, according to the Sullivan and Cromwell report.

“Up until 2001, there were multiple instances in which the University either failed to appropriately act to protect the safety of its students or did not respond to the allegations at all,” the report found. “This lack of an appropriate response by the University caused victims to believe that their complaints fell on deaf ears or were simply not believed by the University’s administration.”

The report noted that Y.U.’s responses to allegations of abuse after 2001 improved significantly but issued detailed recommendations for new policies at the school to prevent and report sexual or physical abuse or harassment. The report did not go into detail on the past instances of sexual abuse.

Investigators at the law firm and T&M Protection Services, a firm specializing in preventing sex abuse, spent 6,300 hours on the investigation, including interviews with 145 people, according to the report.

According to the investigators, 70 people contacted either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to requests for interviews.

Ex-Australian Maccabi team coach jailed for child sex abuse

A former coach of a Maccabi basketball team in Australia was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing four girls more than a decade ago.

Shannon Francis, who is not Jewish, was sentenced Wednesday by County Court of Victoria Judge Meryl Sexton. Francis must serve at least 5 1/2 years before he is eligible for parole.

A suppression order surrounding the case had prevented the media from revealing his name or that of Maccabi, the largest Jewish organization in Australia with some 9,000 members across more than 50 clubs, according to its website.

Earlier this year Francis, 37, pleaded guilty to four charges of child sex abuse, including one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16.

It is understood that at least one incident took place during an overseas trip to the United States. The incidents date back to 1999 and 2000.

Maccabi Australia President Lisa Borowick said in a statement, “Maccabi and its member clubs have never and will never condone or seek to protect their own interests in any case of suspected criminality, especially one involving harm to children. It is our understanding that the officials involved in 2000 acted in full consultation and agreement with the victims and their families.”

Manny Waks, founder of Tzedek, an organization for victims and survivors of Jewish child sex abuse in Australia, welcomed the news.

“It highlights the fact that the scourge of child sexual abuse is not confined to one specific segment of the Jewish community,” he said. “Just as within the broader society, child sexual abuse is prevalent within the Jewish community.”

Two other child sex abuse cases involving Jewish organizations are currently before the courts: one involves a non-Jewish bus driver who worked at the haredi Orthodox Adass Israel School in Melbourne. Reporting on the other case has been suppressed.

Childhood abuse victims name Mendel Tevel as alleged abuser

Sitting with his back hunched, his wife by his side and a kippah on his head, a 23-year-old bearded Orthodox man nervously told a gathering of parents at a private residence near Pico-Robertson that a young man named Mendel Tevel had sexually abused him when he was 14. Tevel now lives in Los Angeles and is believed to have worked in recent months at JEM, a Jewish youth center in Beverly Hills.

The alleged victim did not tell the group his name and demanded that all cell phones be placed in a separate room — and although he told the Journal his full name, because of the sensitivity of the subject he asked that it be withheld from this story. This was his first public accounting of his alleged abuse, talking to about 40 community members on the evening of Aug. 5. As people trickled into the home of David and Etty Abehsera, he began his story:

When he was a 14-year-old student — in around 2004 — at the since-closed Shterns Yeshiva in upstate New York, Tevel, then a mentor at the school, initiated what was at first a friendly relationship with the speaker. Tevel, who is now about 30, was around 21 years old at the time.

At first, the man alleged, Tevel offered simply to be the student’s exercise partner. But eventually, he said, Tevel came up with extreme ways to motivate him to work out harder, including repeatedly whipping him with a metal coat hanger, which he said lacerated his skin and caused bleeding.

He claimed that as the relationship grew, Tevel would crawl into bed with him at night, inappropriately massage him, and rub his clothed body against the boy’s. He claimed Tevel also bent him over and spanked him when he refused to immerse himself in what was sometimes a very cold outdoor mikveh (ritual bath). These incidents occurred multiple times, the speaker said.

“He wasn’t exactly trying to hide the fact that he had an erection at the time,” the alleged victim told the gathering, describing his incidents with Tevel in the mikveh.

“I was a very naïve 14-year-old, but something just didn’t feel right, so I cut off ties with him.”

Because these acts occurred in New York, where the statute of limitations for charging someone with sexual abuse expires when the victim turns 23, the State of New York would not be able to press charges against Tevel based on this man’s testimony alone. The man said he currently lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights but on the night he spoke he was in Los Angeles on vacation.

Following this accounting, three more people alleging to be victims of Tevel shared their stories with the Journal via telephone from Brooklyn, where Tevel was born and raised, and where he lived before he moved to Los Angeles in 2012. All of the alleged victims interviewed by phone, when asked, told the Journal they do not know personally any other people who say they’ve been abused by Tevel. The instances described by those who spoke with the Journal took place as early as around 1995 and as recently as around 2004.

Tevel himself did not respond to multiple phone calls to his personal cell phone, nor to voicemails, text messages and e-mails from the Journal over several days. Searches of both civil and criminal public records did not reveal any convictions, or any closed or pending charges against Tevel in either New York or California.

Two local residents, both of whom asked that their names not be made public, identified Tevel as recently working at the JEM Center. One said that Tevel and his wife, Bracha, were directing JEM’s Hebrew High School Program as recently as one month ago. On the Web site jewishcommunitywatch.org, Tevel is labeled as the “counselor/director of JEM center.”

Another person confirmed seeing Tevel at a farbrengen (a Chasidic celebratory gathering) on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, at JEM. The gathering included both adults and children. 

On the morning of Aug. 13, just before press time, Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, director and founder of the JEM Center, answered one of many phone calls made by the Journal to him over a period of three days. Illulian said he was not able to immediately comment because he was dealing with a recent death in the community. 

Illulian’s daughter, Bracha, married Tevel in 2012. Bracha also did not respond to multiple attempts to reach her.

The accounts from the four alleged victims who spoke with the Journal provided vivid details of both sexual and physical abuse. Two of the alleged cases occurred in Brooklyn, N.Y. The other two occurred at Machane Menachem, a since-closed Chabad-Lubavitch sleepaway camp in Lackawaxen, Penn., where two former staff members have confirmed that Tevel worked in 2001. 

All four of the alleged victims currently live in Brooklyn, and each asked that their names not be made public.

One alleged victim, now 25, who spoke to the Journal on the phone from Brooklyn, described an incident indicating that Tevel’s abuse might have begun at a very early age. The 25-year-old said that when he was 6 or 7 years old, his family lived near Tevel’s family in Brooklyn.

The alleged victim said that Tevel, then 11 or 12, would go to the basement of his home multiple times per week with him, lock the door, tie him down, remove some or all of his clothing, and whip him (he does not remember with what).

“One thing I do remember very clearly is that it was very painful, and saying ‘Ow’ a lot of times,” the 25-year-old told the Journal.

“I had just a T-shirt on and socks,” he continued. “Of course, pants and any sort of underwear, that was gone.” He said that this continued for several months.

The alleged victim, who was raised an observant Jew, said he has since attended therapy for years, on and off. It was not until he was 19 or 20 that he opened up to his therapist about the incidents. He said that he is no longer particularly observant. 

A third alleged victim said that when he was 11, likely in 2001, he was a camper at Machane Menachem. Now 23, he said that Tevel, who was likely about 18 at the time, was a counselor at the camp, and worked closely with the campers.

“I was on my [bunk’s] front porch and he called me to the side of the pool,” the alleged victim said during a phone interview with the Journal. “He started smacking me on my bum with a pingpong paddle.”

He said that although “he didn’t make much of it in the beginning,” when Tevel began smacking him harder and tried to pull down his pants, he asked Tevel, “What are you doing?” Tevel’s response, according to the alleged victim, was that he “brushed the whole thing off.” No further incidents followed. 

A fourth alleged victim who spoke with the Journal is currently 21 years old. He said that when he was about 9 and Tevel was about 18, he was a first-time camper at Machane Menachem. One day, he alleged, Tevel brought him into a sports equipment room. 

As another person watched the door, the 21-year-old man claimed, Tevel bent him over his lap and smacked him on the rear with a pingpong paddle. He then pulled down his bathing suit and continued smacking him.

This alleged victim, who is also no longer observant, said that when he grew up, he would become very anxious when he would occasionally see Tevel walking in the streets of Crown Heights.

According to Pennsylvania law, both of the alleged victims from the sleepaway camp would be able to press charges, should they choose to do so, until they turn 50.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Tevel first became public in October 2012, when Meyer Seewald, the New York-based 24-year-old founder of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), posted about him on the Web site’s “Wall Of Shame,” after multiple alleged victims came to Seewald to accuse Tevel of sexual abuse.

JCW, which regularly publicizes information about suspected sexual abusers within the Jewish community — mostly in Crown Heights, where Seewald lives — currently lists 40 people on its Wall Of Shame. The Journal confirmed that neither Seewald nor JCW has ever been sued for libel or defamation regarding its publicizing of accused abusers. 

That review process includes personal interviews with multiple alleged victims and what appears to be a thorough investigation process. Following that, JCW will only post a suspect if its board unanimously agrees that the person is a child predator. JCW has a database of about 200 suspected predators that it is still investigating.

In one instance, JCW posted the name and a photo of a man, Daniel Granovetter, on its Web site after he was mistakenly charged by New York authorities with abuse when a student accused him, only to later retract the accusation. 

The authorities dropped the charges, and JCW removed Granovetter from its Web site, but the damage to his reputation had been done. 

In June, though, Granovetter penned an op-ed on chabadinfo.com commending JCW for its work, saying that Seewald should continue to post the names of people charged with abuse in order to protect children who could become victims in the time between the arrest and possible conviction.

Seewald claimed to have spoken with at least four more people alleging to have been victims of Tevel, but none of them would speak with the Journal. 

Refusal to go public with sexual abuse accusations, Seewald believes, is a common problem in the Orthodox community.

Seewald, who was at the Aug. 5 gathering, said that in his two years of running JCW and speaking with hundreds of victims, not one had ever told his or her story publicly to so many people.

Ben Forer, a local Orthodox Jew who is also a district attorney for Los Angeles County, wrote a public letter praising JCW’s “impeccable review process before exposing any predators.” (In speaking with the Journal, Forer said he was speaking only as a concerned community member, and not in any way on behalf of the district attorney’s office.) Rabbi Avraham Zajac, a local Orthodox rabbi, also said he respects JCW’s process. “I trust the methodology of Jewish Community Watch,” Zajac said. “The biggest thing is keeping our children safe.”

Forer was at the Aug. 5 gathering; he said that from his experience, “people don’t want to believe” allegations of sexual abuse.

“Families come out in support, in every community, in support of the predator, no matter what the evidence is,” said Forer, who currently specializes in technology-related crimes but has previously prosecuted sexual abuse cases.

In 2012, not long after Tevel’s arrival in Los Angeles, a local Orthodox Jew, Danny Fishman, briefly met Tevel on Shabbat morning at a local synagogue. Fishman said he did not know at the time about the allegations against Tevel. 

“I met him,” Fishman told the Journal. “He came across as personable and charming.”

Tevel has also been known to occasionally attend other synagogues in Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson.

A statement posted late last week on JEM’s Web site addressing the recent controversy surrounding Tevel did not mention him or any of the specific allegations against him, but stated that “JEM Center wishes to reassure the community that every precaution has been taken to resolve the concerns and bring this matter to a closure.”

The statement continued: “The local authorities have been contacted and are thoroughly investigating all issues that have been raised (and if needed action will be taken).”

JEM has surveillance cameras in all areas of its building, the statement continued, and no rooms or offices in the building are allowed to be locked.

Lt. Lincoln Hoshino of the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed on Aug. 13 that it is conducting an investigation involving the JEM Center. He declined to say whether Tevel is involved in the investigation. 

Toward the end of the alleged victim’s account on Aug. 5, the former Shterns Yeshiva student explained why he came forward.

“It actually did take a lot for me to come out here and speak,” he said. But when he heard that Tevel is working around children in Los Angeles, he felt he had an obligation to do something.

“He [Tevel] has damaged a lot of people,” the man alleged. “He cannot be around schools; he cannot be around the community.”

With anger in his voice, he expressed his frustration with what he sees as the Orthodox community’s preference to not bring such cases into public light.

“Keeping it close-knit is not going to help,” the alleged victim asserted, his voice rising. “Keeping it close-knit is what the Jewish community has done for years.”

If you have concerns about possible instances of abuse in your community, you can e-mail us at abusetips@jewishjournal.com. Tipsters’ names will be treated with confidentiality, as requested.

12 plaintiffs join $380 million sex-abuse suit against Y.U.

Twelve former students joined a $380 million lawsuit against Yeshiva University for covering up sexual abuse at its high school.

The new plaintiffs’ names came out in court papers used in a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., according to the New York Daily News, and bring to 31 the number of plaintiffs in the case.

Rabbi George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, former staff members at Y.U.’s High School for Boys in Manhattan, as well as a youth volunteer, Richard Andron, have been accused of sexual abuse. Some of the cases allegedly took place as far back as the 1970s.

Finkelstein left the high school in 1995 and took a post at a Jewish school in Florida before moving to Israel. Gordon also lives in Israel and until recently was a teacher at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center. Both men deny the charges. Andron has not issued a statement on the accusations.

The suit also names top members of Y.U.’s former administration, including Norman Lamm, its former president and chancellor.

Although the statute of limitations has passed on the cases, the alleged cover-up could negate the restrictions, according to Kevin Mulhearn, the plaintiffs’ attorney.

Chicago rabbi arrested on sex abuse charges

Chicago Rabbi Larry Dudovitz was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2006.

Dudovitz, 45, was arrested Saturday, the Chicago Tribune reported, and is being held on $100,000 bail.

Dudovitz, who is also known by his Hebrew name Aryeh, reportedly leads a Chabad synagogue in Chicago. He was formerly a rabbi at the Chabad House of Northwest Indiana.

According to authorities, the alleged assault occurred at the victim’s home on Oct. 26, 2002 in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.

Preventing human trafficking: You can help. Here are some guidelines:

Be aware. Trafficking victims are everywhere, and they often exhibit characteristics similar to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.  Physical indicators may include bruises and other evidence of beatings and assault, as well as untreated critical illnesses or sexually transmitted diseases.  Indicators of psychological distress may include poor dental health, depression and extreme anxiety. First responders should look for lack of personal possessions and numerous inconsistencies in personal history. 

Step up. If you see someone who needs help, call the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) at (888) 539-2373 or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at (888) 373-7888.  Both are 24-hour hotlines.  You can also text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733). 

Be informed. Consumers can make a difference. To find out more about the business practices of companies you buy from, go to slaveryfootprint.org or free2work.org.

Get involved. CAST and Bet Tzedek could not help nearly as many clients without the assistance of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers. To donate your time, go to ­bettzedek.org/volunteer or castla.org/volunteer

Yeshiva teacher admits to sexually abusing boy

A former counselor at a summer camp run by a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., admitted three days into his trial to sexually abusing a boy.

Yosef Kolko, 39, made the admission on Monday after two more victims, a male and a female, came forward, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Kolko pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment. His bail was revoked.

He admitted to committing the sexual assaults on the boy while he was a counselor at a camp run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School.

Kolko was accused of sexually abusing the boy when he was 11 and 12 in 2008 and 2009. The boy and his family have since moved to Michigan.

Kolko’s attorney, Michael Bachner, said his client was “extremely remorseful,” apologizes to the victim and hopes after treatment “to return to society as a benefit to it,” The Associated Press reported.

Kolko, also a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, but state Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson has said he would consider no more than 15 years, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Before sentencing, Kolko will be evaluated at the state Corrections Department’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in the Avenel section of Woodbridge to determine if he is a repetitive and compulsive sexual offender, according to the newspaper.

Former JFS director of children and family services rejects report she shielded Australian abuser

When veteran social worker Debbie Fox’s name appeared in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald on April 10, the story about her claimed she was doing the unthinkable: protecting a known abuser of children.

The story purported to quote from an e-mail she wrote to an unnamed sex offender in November 2011. “I have no idea how anyone found out,” she was quoted as saying, “but calls are coming daily from many sources. So far, we’ve been protecting you.” 

Fox worked at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), until budgetary pressures led her to resign late last year. Most recently she was the agency’s director of children and family services. She also served as director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, an arm of JFS serving the local Orthodox community. 

Fox, who is internationally known as a leading authority on child abuse prevention within Orthodox communities, confirmed in an interview with the Journal that she wrote the e-mail quoted in the Herald, but said the Australian newspaper took it out of context in a way that misrepresents its intent. 

Speaking on April 14, Fox stated that her e-mail was not about protecting the offender from prosecution or from the local Orthodox Jewish community. 

Rather, Fox said she was informing the offender of what he already knew: that if he did not follow through with the evaluation and treatment that he and JFS had come up with, the victim, who had first brought the offender to Fox’s attention, would go public with what the offender had done to him 20 years earlier in Australia. 

The complete chain of e-mails, Fox said, make clear that she and Aleinu had no intention of protecting the offender from such exposure, and Fox said that each e-mail she sent to the offender also was copied to the victim and to a rabbi on Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group of Orthodox rabbis who work with Aleinu on its cases and protocols. 

“The victim, the offender and the rabbi were all notified of every communication,” she said. 

The Herald’s story is just one of many published about abuse within the Australian Jewish community, and it comes at a time when revelations and prosecution of sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities around the world are on the rise. 

This story could draw further scrutiny of the work of Los Angeles’ HAB, which has been considered by many Orthodox experts as a model for treating abusers because of HAB’s close cooperation with law enforcement. Critics, however, see HAB’s work as undermining reporting requirements by presenting itself as an alternative to law enforcement. 

Since the early 2000s, when three sex abuse scandals in Los Angeles’ Orthodox Jewish community received broad press coverage, Fox has been working on a number of fronts to prevent sex abuse. 

A licensed clinical social worker, Fox created a program that aims to educate children, parents and educators about how to prevent and respond to child abuse. She worked with the HAB rabbis to devise a “conduct policy” that has been introduced in Jewish schools and camps. And she oversaw the growth of the HAB to its current size, with 11 local rabbis from across the Orthodox community now working on a volunteer basis on some particularly sensitive issues.

Fox is herself a mandated reporter — if she has reason to suspect child abuse, she must inform authorities — as are JFS and Aleinu. But the HAB, Fox said, only intervenes in cases of child abuse where there is no reportable offense, and has taken on between 25 and 30 cases of alleged or confirmed child abuse in the past eight years. 

Fox said she was contacted in 2011 by a victim who was seeking to force the man who abused him decades earlier in Australia to go before the HAB. 

The offender, now living in Los Angeles, admitted to the abuse, but Fox said that when she called the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, she was told there was nothing to report locally because the offense took place decades earlier and in another country. Fox said she also encouraged the victim to call police in Australia, but he declined to do so at the time, citing personal reasons. 

For a victim of abuse to decline to report an offense, even years later, is not unusual in insular Orthodox communities. That is, Fox said, what drives the HAB in the work that it does. 

In 2011, both the victim and the offender — both of whom provided statements to Fox, but declined to be interviewed by the Journal either by phone, e-mail or in person — were in “100 percent agreement,” Fox said, both about what took place decades earlier and what had to happen going forward.

Under threat of exposure, the offender underwent an in-depth assessment to determine whether he was still a danger to children. 

Such evaluations, used frequently by the HAB, can last up to 50 hours and involve lengthy questionnaires, a lie-detector test and other examinations. 

This one, however, ended up being atypical, Fox said: The assessment found the offender had offended in the past but had not reoffended in “more than 20 years.” 

The outside evaluators recommended the offender undergo therapy with an expert in the field, Fox said, and in accordance with the victim’s wishes, disclose his past offenses to his own rabbi. The offender is now required to meet with that rabbi on a monthly basis. 

The offender complied, Fox said, and the victim told her he was completely satisfied with the results of the HAB’s involvement. 

The other unusual aspect of this case, Fox said, was that the offender took, in his words, “a significant period of time” to complete the evaluation and to get set up with treatment. 

Too long, as Fox made clear in her e-mail of Nov. 21, 2012. 

“We have NEVER had any evaluation take nearly this long,” Fox wrote in the e-mail obtained by the Herald, reminding him that he had to complete it “for [his] security.” 

Fox declined to share the entire e-mail chain with the Journal, but read the text of those that preceded the one obtained by the Herald to a reporter over the phone. The e-mails were insistent that the offender move forward with the agreed-upon assessment and treatment regimen. 

“Every communication was about following through with the protocol,” Fox told the Journal. “When he [the offender] did not follow through in a timely manner, what I said is, ‘I can’t protect you.’ 

“The victim is going to just let everybody know that this is what you’ve done 20 years ago, and I’m not going to stop it,” Fox added. “I can’t protect that. That is what the e-mail said.” 

Fox has many supporters within the Orthodox Jewish community, but some advocates for the sexual abuse victims are critical of her work with the HAB. 

 “Why do you need an advisory board? Why do you need gatekeepers?” asked Ben Hirsch, a spokesperson for Survivors for Justice, an organization that educates and advocates on issues related to child safety. “Duplicating the job of trained law enforcement professionals serves no purpose other than the occasional cover-up.

“The only thing rabbis should be doing is to tell people to report all incidents of abuse directly to the authorities — even when there is no legal requirement to do so — and to offer public moral support to victims who do report,” Hirsch added. 

Richard Baker, one of the reporters who wrote the Herald article, said this week that the unnamed offender is now under investigation by detectives in Sydney for acts committed against four victims when they were children. 

Australia has no statute of limitations on criminal charges of sexual abuse against children. 

Former Jewish leader’s sex abuse charges rock Melbourne community

Menachem (Manny) Waks was on a leadership training program in Israel in June 2011 when he made a decision that would radically change his life.

Flicking through Melbourne’s The Age newspaper on his laptop one morning, he spotted an article about David Kramer, who was convicted of pedophilia in Missouri in 2008 and now was wanted in Melbourne on allegations of child sex abuse dating to his stint as a teacher at Chabad’s Yeshivah College in the late 1980s.

Waks, a former vice president of the Executive Council of Australian Jews, studied at the all-boys college. He was not one of Kramer’s alleged victims, but the article stirred nightmarish flashbacks.

“When I saw that article, I thought this is the right opportunity,” Waks, 36, told JTA. “I knew there were other perpetrators and victims within the Jewish community. Someone needed to shatter the wall of silence, and I realized it needed to be me.”

The wall was decimated on the morning of July 8, 2011, when Waks' story was published on the front page of The Age.

Under the headline “Jewish community leader tells of sex abuse,” Waks revealed he had been molested as a student — not once, but several times. Not by one official, but by two — one of whom he claims is the son of a venerated Chabad emissary.

Waks said he was molested in a synagogue and in a ritual bath, where he was lured to bathe in the nude by his alleged assailant.

His revelations landed like a bomb in Balaclava, a leafy Melbourne suburb that is home to a large proportion of the 50,000-strong Jewish community, including many affiliated with the Chabad hasidic movement. Waks’s explosive accusations — in particular his claim that senior Chabad rabbis covered up complaints by parents and even helped alleged perpetrators flee the country — triggered a sequence of dramatic events that has shaken the Jewish community.

Nearly two years on, the aftershocks are still reverberating.

In December, Waks testified before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse. Next month, he is expected to be called before the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse in Australia. And he has taken leave from his job as a public servant to work as the full-time director of Tzedek, an advocacy group he founded last year for Jewish victims of child sexual abuse.

In short, he has become the face of child sex abuse in the Australian Jewish community, the shoulders on which other victims lean and their primary media spokesman.

Sitting in a cafe in the heart of Jewish Melbourne last week, Waks looks nothing like the devout hasidic kid who grew up in a strictly Orthodox household with 16 siblings. Indeed, his traumatic childhood prompted Waks to sever ties with Chabad in his late teens, shave his beard and abandon his black hat. Today he is bespectacled and sports a goatee beard; a tattoo is visible on his left arm.

“I hate going to synagogue,” Waks says. “I feel very uncomfortable being there. I can’t even utter prayers from the siddur. But I go there for my kids.”

Since he came forward, Waks says dozens of Jewish victims of abuse have contacted him. Of those, only one — Yaakov Wolf, the son of a popular kabbalistic rabbi — has spoken publicly.

“It’s been endemic within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — both the abuses and the cover-ups. There’s enough evidence to support that,” Waks says. “There are so many cases, so many allegations, so many perpetrators, so many victims and so many more allegations yet to be revealed.”

Waks says he has received “incredible” support from within the community. Ze’ev Smason, a St. Louis rabbi who reported the allegations against Kramer to police, congratulated Waks for helping confront “a form of spiritual toxicity” within Orthodoxy. Waks says his family also has been largely supportive.

But to others, Waks is exploiting an unfortunate situation. He has been accused of grandstanding and seeking fame and fortune while taking down the very organization that helped raise him and his siblings.

“Is it grandstanding?” Waks asks. “Maybe. But the simple rhetorical question to these individuals is this: What have you done to address the rampant child sexual abuse and cover-ups that have plagued our community for decades?”

Perhaps inevitably, the intense media coverage Waks has generated has had a polarizing effect in the Jewish community.

The editor of the Australian Jewish News, Zeddy Lawrence, wrote that the scandal indicates the Orthodox rabbinate is “an apple that is rotten to the core.” In response, Rabbi Meir Kluwgant, the president of the Rabbinical Council of Victory, wrote last week, “Never in my history as a religious leader within our community have I experienced such disrespect and contempt leveled at the religious leadership as a whole.”

Chabad's leadership has remained tight-lipped since the charges were first made public. In a July 2011 letter, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, the principal of Yeshivah College, called the effects of abuse “profound” and urged victims to contact authorities. He declined to comment further because the matter is before the courts.

In August, Yeshivah Center, the college's parent body, apologized “unreservedly” for “any historical wrongs that may have occurred.” A spokesman for Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., noted that the organization's child safety policies requires reporting child abuse to the appropriate authorities.

Despite such sentiments, Waks has neither forgiven not forgotten what happened to him under Chabad's watch. He is particularly rankled that his father, Zephaniah, has been denied communal rites at Chabad’s main synagogue and shunned by members of the tight-knit community.

“It has profoundly impacted my father’s health and his life,” Waks says.

At least three cases are slated to go to court this year, two of them embroiling Yeshivah College. Kramer, who was extradited late last year, will face a committal hearing next month to ascertain whether the multiple counts of assaults against minors between 1989 and 1992 merit a trial.

In July, David Cyprys, a former board member of an Orthodox synagogue and a former security guard at the college, will face trial on 41 counts of child sex abuse against 12 former students, including Waks and Wolf.

And a third man, whose name is being suppressed by a court order, also is expected to face trial later this year on charges involving Jewish children in a non-Orthodox Jewish organization.

Despite the progress in the courts, the public criticism and the expressions of remorse from religious leaders, Waks says he has no intention of letting up.

“If I step away, there are many powerful individuals and bodies who would still much rather see this whole scandal swept under the carpet,” Waks says. “We are resilient. We will not be intimidated. We will no longer remain silent.”

Schachter, Y.U. dean, warns about reporting sex abuses cases

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a dean at Yeshiva University, has warned against reporting uncorroborated sex abuse allegations to police.

Schachter was recorded at a rabbinical conference in February in London warning that false allegations could lead to arrests and imprisonment with a “shvartze” — a dergatory Yiddish term for a black person. The recording was posted on FailedMessiah.com and the voice was said to be Schachter's.

Schachter did not respond to inquiries from the Forward newspaper, which has been running stories since December about allegations of abuse by former faculty members at Y.U.'s high school for boys. The alleged incidents took place decades ago.

“Before you go to the police and before you got to family services, every community should have a board…to investigate whether there’s any raglayim la’davar [substance] or not,” Schachter says, according to the recording. He also says that reporting people who are guilty of sex offenses does not contstitute mesirah, or betrayal — the traditional Jewish prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to the secular authorities.

In state prisons, “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews,” he added.

Rabbi who fled sex abuse allegations reportedly will return to Israel

An Israeli rabbi who fled to the United States amid sexual abuse allegations reportedly will return to Israel.

Army Radio reported Monday that the 70-year-old rabbi, who was not named but was identified as being from a “very well known hasidic movement,” agreed to return to Israel in the coming days and face his accusers. Attorney Jacob Weinroth traveled to the U.S. to persuade the rabbi, according to the station.

Army Radio received several testimonies of abuse by unidentified individuals described as the rabbi’s followers.

The report said the affair exploded after one of the rabbi’s followers said he saw the rabbi naked with a woman during what was supposed to be “a purification session.” Police learned of the affair after other followers threatened the man to keep quiet about what he said he witnessed.

One man told Army Radio that his 15-year-old daughter told him the rabbi grabbed her breasts from behind as he kissed her. The girl’s older sister said the rabbi committed similar acts on her three years earlier, when she was 17.

Hanoch Daum, a journalist and writer, said he filed a criminal complaint against the rabbi based on a third testimony of abuse that he heard from an alleged victim.

Rabbi denies he knew of sexual abuse at Jewish school

A man under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing boys at a Sydney Jewish day school told police that senior rabbis knew of his actions but failed to report them to authorities, a newspaper reported.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that the man told New South Wales police, who are investigating allegations that two men associated with the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi sexually abused children during the 1970s and 1980s, that he confessed to Rabbi PInchus Feldman 25 years ago, and was told to “take steps to avoid it.”

American-born Feldman, the chief rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sydney, denied any awareness of child sexual abuse inside his Orthodox institution, despite the allegations.

A statement issued Wednesday by Chabad in Sydney said: “This morning there was a media report that an anonymous individual currently under criminal investigation has alleged to have over a quarter of a century ago privately confessed child sex abuse crimes to Rabbi Feldman. Rabbi Feldman does not have any recollection of such a confession.”

Feldman, who was sent to Australia by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1964, added: “To make my position absolutely clear, I endorse the unequivocal rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police and I will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement agencies in investigating and taking action against these heinous crimes.”

Manny Waks, an advocate for child sex abuse victims, said he believed Chabad officials have “privately acknowledged that it was indeed aware of the abuse allegations” in the 1980s.

Waks claimed he’d been approached with information “alleging that the Yeshiva leadership responded to an alleged incident of child sexual abuse by apparently sending the perpetrator overseas.”

News of the police investigation of the two alleged Jewish cases of child sex abuse in Sydney, one of which is believed to involve a former employee of Chabad-Lubavitch, became public last week, according to the newspaper.

Neither of the men has been publicly named by the New South Wales police. The second alleged perpetrator, also Jewish, is understood to have moved overseas.

The allegations in Sydney come in the wake of multiple cases of alleged child sex abuse in Melbourne, most within the Orthodox community.

Brooklyn man charged in attack on rabbi who advocates for sex abuse victims

A Brooklyn fishmonger was arrested for throwing a cup of bleach in the face of a Chasidic rabbi who advocates for victims of sexual abuse in the haredi Orthodox community.

Meilech Schnitzler, 36, of Williamsburg, turned himself in to police on Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times reported. He was charged with felony assault, misdemeanor assault, menacing, criminal mischief and criminal possession of a weapon.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg on Tuesday was walking down the street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he lives, when a man approached him from behind, tapped him on his shoulder and then threw a chemical believed to be bleach in his face, according to reports.

Rosenberg, 62, was treated for burns on his face, around his eyes and in his left eye. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The rabbi runs a website and blog for sex-abuse victims, as well as a telephone hot line.

Rosenberg reportedly had recognized his assailant, who comes from the Satmar Hasidic community, as does Rosenberg. He had accused Schnitzler's father on his blog of being a sexual predator, according to the New York Times. The man has not been arrested or charged with a crime. 

Nechemya Weberman convicted on 59 counts of sexual abuse

Nechemya Weberman, a member of the Satmar Chasidic community in Brooklyn who practiced therapy without a license, was found guilty on 59 counts of sexual abuse.

Weberman, 54, was convicted Monday by a New York State Supreme Court jury for encounters he had with a female patient when she was between the ages of 12 and 15. He was charged initially on 88 counts, but the number was consolidated by Justice John Ingram, who presided over the case.

No physical evidence was presented during the trial, effectively leaving the prosecution to make the case based on the credibility of the accuser's testimony.

The encounters started in 2007; the accuser turned 18 last week.

The girl's parents sent her for sessions to Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, at the recommendation of the child's school. According to the New York Daily News, 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 trial drew attention for a couple of unusual developments over the last several months.

In June, four men from the Satmar community were arrested for allegedly offering the accuser $500,000 in an attempt to silence her. And on Nov. 30, four spectators at the trial were arrested for taking photos of the accuser during her testimony, including a man by the name of Lemon Juice.

For Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who came under fire in June for his handling of prosecuting sex offenders in the haredi Orthodox community, it was his second high-profile conviction in a week.

On Dec. 3, Emanuel Yegutkin, the ex-principal of the Brooklyn-based Elite High School, was convicted on all charges of sexual abuse stemming from his relationship with three boys between 1996 and 2005, including one who was 7 at the time.

Boys allegedly sexually abused at Orthodox Jewish summer camp

New York State Police are investigating allegations of sexual abuse by a truck driver making a delivery to a Jewish camp, The New York Post reported.

Surveillance video captured footage of a kosher-food truck driver entering bunks for seventh-and eighth-grade boys at Camp Shalva near South Fallsburg, N.Y., early on Aug. 8, according to the newspaper. The suspect is accused of molesting several of the campers.

Unnamed sources told the Post that the boys reported the incidents in the morning to supervisors of the Orthodox Jewish camp but were told not to tell their parents.

The 5 Towns Jewish Times reported that the alleged intruder is Golden Taste employee Yoel Oberlander, a convicted molester and registered sex offender from Monsey, N.Y., who pleaded guilty to molesting an 11-year-old girl in 2002. He was sentenced to six years of probation.

Stephen Lungen, a criminal defense lawyer and former Sullivan County prosecutor, told the Post that he was contacted at approximately 3 p.m. Aug. 11 by frantic camp administrators asking what to do about the allegations.

“They were very upset and concerned about how to deal with it,” Lungen said, adding that he put them in touch with the district attorney and State Police.

The Times Herald-Record reported that a state investigator said no information was available on Monday.

Jerusalem police commander accused of sexually abusing 7 subordinates

Seven female police officers have accused the commander of the Israel Police Jerusalem District of sexual misconduct, Israeli media reported.

District Commander Niso Shaham, 54, has transferred his responsibilities to subordinates for the duration of the investigation, which began last week, a police spokesperson said, according to an Israel Army Radio report on Friday. Shaham is currently on leave.

The Justice Ministry’s internal investigations department opened the probe into Shaham’s actions based on a complaint by a subordinate. She accused Shaham of sexual misconduct.
Over the past week, six additional police officers pressed charges against Shaham. The complaints range from harassment to physical sexual abuse, the news site Ynet reported. The news site quoted an unnamed police officer as saying the investigation could be over by next week.

Shaham arrived on Thursday for a second questioning on the allegations. Also on Thursday, one of Shaham’s subordinate officers admitted to not processing a sexual misconduct complaint against Shaham. The subordinate officer, Nissim Edri, will face a disciplinary review committee.

Shaham was appointed commander of the Jerusalem District in May 2011.

Prosecutors drop charges in Brooklyn sex abuse case

Prosecutors dropped all charges against a group of men who were accused of sexually abusing a young Brooklyn haredi Orthodox woman for eight years.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges on Tuesday against four Crown Heights men accused of raping and forcing the woman to serve as a prostitute in their neighborhood since she was 13, according to reports.

A Brooklyn judge dismissed the case after questions arose about prosecutors withholding evidence that suggested the men were not guilty.

In addition, the accuser, who has a history of mental illness, apparently retracted her story in April, which caused the case to crumble.

Following the dismissal of the charges, the father of the victim released a statement criticizing the district attorney’s decision.

“Our family has the misfortune of living under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn District Attorney, who regards the psychological confusion and fear my daughter experienced during her enslavement as proof that she sought out, enjoyed and deserved her victimization,” the father said in a statement, according to the New York television station WPIX.

Orthodox Jewish woman who claims abuse ostracized by own community

Orthodox counselor to Hasidic community in Nechemya Weberman, is in trial for a sexual abuse case in which the accuser has been ostracized and threatened by her Brooklyn community, according to ” title=”HuffingtonPost.com” target=”_blank”>HuffingtonPost.com.

Brooklyn man sentenced for sexually abusing haredi Orthodox children

A Brooklyn man was sentenced to 20 years to life for sexually abusing children in his Orthodox Jewish community.

Michael Sabo, a 38-year-old father of four, confessed to sexually abusing two children. He was sentenced Monday after agreeing to a plea bargain. 

The district attorney’s office said it had evidence of seven additional victims.

The case has been cited as an example of the difficulties prosecutors face in convincing abuse victims from the close-knit haredi Orthodox Jewish community to come forward.

Many families refused to come forward because of the “intimidation they thought they would endure as part of the Orthodox Jewish community,” prosecutor Kevin O’Donnell told the New York Daily News.

Before the trial was set to begin, the father of one of Sabo’s victims was confronted at his synagogue and warned not to take the stand, according to reports.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has refused to release the names of accused molesters from Brooklyn’s haredi community. He has been criticized for trying to curry favor with that constituency, which has supported him in past elections.

Hynes has defended his actions by citing the insularity of that community and the need to protect sex-abuse victims from intimidation.