More Fallout on Sex Abuse Allegations in Brooklyn Orthodox Communities

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has been under fire for his handling of sex abuse allegations in his borough's Orthodox community. (Photo via The Jewish Week)

The Jewish and community press has continued to report on allegations of sex abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities in the days since The New York Times reported on the story. The Times described a culture of silence around sex abuse in the borough’s Hasidic communities, and published a damning report that detailed the ties of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes to Hasidic communities.

The anger over reported suppression of sex abuse allegations turned violent last week when a group of demonstrators in Williamsburg confronted supporters of Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, who was arrested last year after a teenage girl accused him of forcing her to perform oral sex when she was 12, The Jewish Daily Forward reported. Supporters have remained adamant that the rabbi is innocent. Two people involved last Wednesday’s scuffle were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct outside a fundraising dinner to raise funds for Weberman’s legal support.

DNAinfo reported that the protesters, including many from the Orthodox community as well as a Catholic priest, yelled outside the fundraiser as hundreds of Hasidic Jews praised Weberman inside the event space.

Weberman, who is set to appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court in June, is one of several rabbis accused of sex abuse in a growing scandal that includes accusations of community leaders intimidating and ostracizing victims and their families. The Jewish Week reported last week that the parents of a 13-year-old boy has accused his Brooklyn yeshiva teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, of abuse were pressured into withdrawing their case.

A prominent Brooklyn rabbi and Yaakov Applegrad, an administrator at Yeshiva Torah Temimah, the school parents were suing, asked the parents to a meeting — without their lawyer. After pleading with the couple to drop the suit, Applegrad and the rabbi turned up the heat and played the card they hoped would resonate powerfully with religious Jews: they compared the parents to Nazis for attempting to “bankrupt” the yeshiva. The Nazis, they said, destroyed the yeshiva in Europe built before the war by the father of Rabbi Lipa Margulies, Torah Temimah’s founder and dean. Now, the two suggested, the parents were doing the same with their lawsuit. (It is not clear that Rabbi Margulies’ father actually had a yeshiva in Europe).

The tactic worked. At a second meeting five days later, the husband, feeling “agitated … outnumbered and overwhelmed with terrible emotions,” and with his wife in tears, signed “under great duress” a document to end the lawsuit.

The parents have decided to move forward with the lawsuit, but the rabbi and Applegrad are not expected to face any charges because their alleged actions did not “rise to the level of a crime,” the family’s lawyer, Michael Dowd, told The Jewish Week.

Fordham law professor James A. Cohen, an expert in witness tampering, agrees with Dowd in this case, noting, however, that if there were any actual threats made to the family, the conduct would have been criminal. Nonetheless, Cohen added, “I think it’s inexcusable that Jews behave like this.”

Rabbi Kolko has been the target of abuse allegations for decades, and in 2008, when faced with felony charges of molesting two first graders, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child. The children’s families reported threatening phone calls from anonymous callers after filing lawsuits against the yeshiva, including one call that appeared to come from the yeshiva itself, The Jewish Week reported.

Intimidation of those alleging sex abuse has drawn widespread outrage after the article in The New York Times highlighted the problem. The Times also reported that Hynes implicitly agreed to allow rabbis to screen abuse allegations before the complaints are forwarded to the authorities. Hynes said last week that he plans to set up a panel to address witness intimidation in ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cases, The Jewish Week reported.

It’s a problem Hynes claims produces a “terror” in Orthodox Jewish victims far greater than that experienced by those “who deal with crooked public officials or organized crime thugs.” That is because they “believe they have no option but to remain living in the community which threatens to destroy them.”

Hynes expressed his interest in convening such a committee, which was suggested to him by former Mayor Ed Koch, in a sometimes passionate but friendly e-mail exchange carried out between the two in the wake of intense media scrutiny of Hynes’ handling of Orthodox sex abuse cases.

The e-mail exchange was made available by Mayor Koch to The Jewish Week in what some advocates see as a calculated public relations gambit to portray Hynes as knowledgeable and concerned about the problem, but hamstrung by the particular nature of the Orthodox community.

Some expressed skepticism about Hynes’ motives, and said he had done little to address the problem before the press attention.

“Hynes is acknowledging that he both understands and is directly aware of the severity of the problem, yet he needs our esteemed former mayor to suggest a solution?” quipped Ros Dann, a spokesperson for the advocacy organization Survivors for Justice.

“The fact is, SFJ has brought complainants to the DA’s office with complaints of direct intimidation, who wanted to file charges and were willing to cooperate in any investigation,” Dann continued. “The DA not only did nothing, but ignored repeated attempts by these complainants to follow-up with his office. We have the paper trail to prove it.”

In another article,  The Jewish Week examined the political response to the allegations against Hynes. As we have noted at Voices of NY, The Jewish Daily Forward has waged a protracted battle with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office over its blanket refusal to name ultra-Orthodox suspects in sex abuse cases or release other information on such cases. The newspaper has filed Freedom of Information Act requests and, along with The Jewish Week, has detailed efforts to extract information in individual cases.

Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio have all spoken out against the practice of rabbis screening abuse allegations before they are reported to the police, the newspaper reported that the pols were less vocal on the issue of whether Hynes should release the names of suspected abusers in the Orthodox community gathered through Kol Tzedek, a hotline for Orthodox abuse victims.

But when asked whether Hynes should release the Kol Tzedek names of suspected abusers, none responded in time for publication.

The silence seems to illustrate the sensitivity of the topic in dealing with a community that can deliver large blocs of votes, but also may suggest a wariness to publicly criticize a man who has been a fixture in Brooklyn politics, occupying the same office for more than two decades.

Still, the increasing media attention on the sex abuse scandal has some hoping for the revival of a stalled bill in the New York State legislature, reported The Jewish Daily Forward.

The bill, proposed by Democratic New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, would extend the statute of limitations for an additional five years, allowing childhood victims to file complaints until age 28. The proposed legislation would also eliminate the restriction completely for one year after its passage, allowing victims to file suit who were harmed decades ago but who are blocked by the current statute of limitations.

A similar bill, proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, exempts schools and religious institutions from the statute of limitations extension.

Markey’s bill isn’t the only proposed legislation dealing with the statute of limitations in the assembly this session. Dov Hikind, a Democratic assemblyman who represents the ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park, has presented a rival bill that has many of the same components — but there’s one major difference: Hikind’s bill would extend the statute of limitations for victims to file suit against alleged sex abusers, but not against the schools and religious institutions that have, in some cases, protected them.

“The concern is about institutions,” Hikind said. “Yeshivas are hardly surviving financially. You would put them out of business.”

One Comment

  1. Crazy. Another reason to be an atheist these days.

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