Table of Contents
- A Community's Shameful Silence (01/28/2000)
- Loud and Clear: Community must speak up to protect children (03/03/2000)
- Doing the Right Thing: Day School Moved Quickly to
Deal with Perpetrator
- Guidelines and Rules Aimed at Protecting Our Children (Fall/2000)
- Court Document - Circuit Court of Cook County (12/20/2001)
- Comment from a parent (06/12/2007)
- WARNING: To Parents in Baltimore - ex-Rabbi Tzvi Wainhaus (07/28/2008)
A Community's Shameful Silence
Two women are working to get Orthodox rabbis to do more to inform and educate the public about child sexual abuse
By Joseph Aaron and Golda Shira
Chicago Jewish News - Jan. 28 - Feb. 3, 2000 (page 16 - 19)
The Awareness Center would like to thank Joseph Aaron (editor Chicago Jewish News) and Golda Shira for researching and printing the following article. It was, and still is an extremely controversial issue. But a story that needs to be addressed. Both Joseph and Golda are heroes for NOT keeping the silence.
It is a story more than 30 years old.
A story few wish to talk about and even fewer wish to hear about; a story of children being sexually abused by respected members of the community; a story of rabbinic leaders devoting more energy to keeping the story out of the public eye than making sure the perpetrator doesn't strike again; a story of victims feeling not only uncared for but feeling victimized over and over by not having what was done to them publicly acknowledged, by having to watch as their perpetrators walk around the community. It is a story of too many Jews not wanting to believe something like this could happen among Jews by Jews, a story of how their disbelief has allowed it to keep happening.
It is a story that goes back more than 30 years and a story that until very recently was continuing to go on, destroying lives.
It is not a very pretty story, but it is a story that is resulting in, if not a happy, at least, a productive, constructive ending. In the shameful silence coming to an end. In positive steps being taken. In a community coming face to face with reality and giving a face to all those who have suffered in silence and searing pain.
And that is thanks to the work of two very determined, very courageous, very caring women, women who would not just pretend it wasn't happening, wouldn't just sit back when others were doing nothing, wouldn't let ignorance or fear of shame be an answer. Two women who pushed and pushed community leaders to recognize and acknowledge how serious the problem was, to understand that trying to keep it hidden was the very worst thing to do, who understood that protecting the victims was far more important than shielding the perpetrator, who understood that the only way to ensure there were no future victims was not to assume the problem would disappear but to address the problem head on.
It would be a cliché to call Debbie Hartman and Jo Bruck women of valor. Besides that, the far more accurate description is that they are women with guts, inspiring women who saw ignorance and indifference and wrong all around them and who wouldn't give up until people starting caring, started acting, started doing what was right.
And right needed to be done for a very long time.
The story begins more than 30 years ago, when a respected well-known member of the Chicago's Orthodox community began sexually molesting young girls. Most were between the ages of 5 and 12. Each thought they were the only one. And so all kept quiet about what had happened to them.
Which is why it kept happening. Some Orthodox leaders knew about it bust said nothing, did nothing. Most members of the community heard the occasional whispered rumor but either didn't believe it or chose not to believe it.
And because each of the victims thought they were the only ones, they said nothing, in most cases blaming themselves, figuring they had done something wrong for this to happen to them.
It was about seven years ago that a community lecture on sexual abuse was canceled because it was decided it was "not relevant for the frume community." When Bruck was told that by the event organizer, she said, "oh yes, it is." Hartman and Bruck, who are sisters, had a family member who was a victim of abuse.
Over lunch shortly after, Hartman mentioned the incident to the women she was with and said that, in fact, there was someone in the community who had abused young girls. "One of the women go very upset and said 'you must tell me who it is, you must tell me right now'. And then she told us that he done the same to her more than 20 years before."
Then, Hartman said, word began circulating in her shul that a child had also been victimized by the man, a kosher butcher. "I asked her parents if that was true," said Hartman, "and they said it was."
It was with that that Hartman began "shaking things up, talking about this, saying something had to be done." Once it became known she was talking about it, Hartman said she got calls from others who had also been victimized.
"I wasn't out looking for this and this in not something people want to share. But they had kept it buried for so long and when they found out they weren't alone, they needed to open up."
Indeed, Hartman tells of one woman who had been victimized when she was five years old "and hadn't told a soul until she told me, when she was thirty something. She had been festering inside of her for all those years and when she finally opened up the gates, it was like a flood of emotions."
Hartman isn't sure why this woman and others opened up to her. She is sure, however, why she listened and responded.
"One of my family members was hurt in a way they should not have been hurt and didn't tell anyone for a very long time. They didn't know how. No one should have to feel such pain, humiliation and degradation. No one should have to wait 30 years to be helped."
What made sure Hartman would begin a crusade to see that help was there, was when she was talking to a woman in shul who had just moved to Chicago from out of town and learned that the family was temporarily staying in the house of the perpetrator.
"I told her she needed to know that while the wife was nice, she had to be very careful about the husband. I thought she might get mad at me, tell me to mind my own business. Instead, she thanked me and said 'I couldn't understand why he kept taking my daughter down to the van with him.' The woman came back a few minutes later and thanked me again.
"Needless to say they quickly moved out of that house. The truth is I was sick to my stomach having to tell her that, but I knew somebody had to say something'.
And do something about this man who had been molesting young girls in the community for more than 25 years.
Problem is no one was doing anything about it. Hartman and Bruck asked a therapist they knew to go to the community's leading rabbis and urge them to do something about the perpetrator. After much urging and pushing, the rabbis did finally call the man in. He admitted to having abused the young girls and promised to stop. Shocked that he so readily confessed, the rabbis told him to get counseling and instituted some minor restrictions on his activities.
And that was that.
But that was not enough.
"You would see him at public events," said Hartman. "In fact, I was there when he came up to get his ticket and one of his victims was working behind the desk. She sees him and starts shaking, shaking and he's fine, he's having a life."
And so Hartman and her sister went back to the rabbis and pushed more, pushed to have the rabbis "come up with more stringent rules and regulations on what he could and couldn't do. That he shouldn't be allowed to go to a bar mitzvah, weddings, any social events. So they finally did that. But other things that should have been done were not done. It was a year before his own family was told. Meanwhile, his oldest daughters were in outreach and would bring home girls and girls and girls every Shabbos. When what he had done became known in the community, his youngest daughter was still living in the house with him. She should have been in counseling, but he wouldn't allow it. Who the hell is he not to allow it? But nobody did anything about it."
The problem, says Hartman, was that this was an area that the community's leading rabbis were simply not prepared to handle properly.
"They're not educated in this. Which is understandable. When they were in school, no one ever sat down with them and said: some day you're going to have to deal with sexual molestation and abuse."
Hartman doesn't blame them for not knowing, but she does blame them for not trying to know, for the community's rabbis not coming together and sitting down and figuring out how to deal with this.
They didn't do that, says Bruck, "because they don't want any part of it. They don't want to believe this happens. And so even when it was shown that it does happen, they say it was an isolated incident, that Jewish men don't behave like this, that it will not happen again."
But does. And it has.
Indeed, it was just in the last couple of months that it was discovered a teacher at one of Chicago's Orthodox day schools, a rabbi, had been sexually molesting students, mostly boys.
According to Marjorie Newman, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, their investigation found that at least nine students at the school, 8 boys and one girl, ages 10 to 14, were abused.
And there may be more. "We know it wasn't just this year," said Bruck. "He has taught there for many years. He also gave bar-mitzvah lessons. One incident is bad enough", said Bruck, "but this is unbelievable."
When they learned of this second, current incidence of a respected community member sexually molesting children, Hartman and Bruck were determined things would be handled differently than they were seven years ago.
"When we came to them so many years ago, it would have been nice if they had gotten together and put into effect some sort of program, some sort of mechanism but they were not willing to do it," said Hartman. "If they had, maybe what has happened wouldn't have, maybe one of these young men would have spoken up and said 'my rebbe is doing something that is wrong' and it would have been stopped earlier. They would have had a place to go, know there would be someone who would do something."
But because nothing was done then, Hartman and Bruck were adamant something be done now.
Incredibly, however, at first, they got basically the same kind of response this time as they had last time from virtually all the rabbis in the Orthodox community.
"We went to several rabbis and nobody would step up and do anything," said Hartman.
"We approached every rav," adds Bruck. "They weren't surprised about it, they all knew about it and they all said 'no thanks, we don't want any involvement.' They were not interested in dealing with it."
Which convinced the two sisters they had to go and talk to the community's leading halachic authority.
But wanting to make sure all aspects of the issue would be covered by those better versed in the area than they are, Hartman and Bruck asked a prominent rabbi, an Orthodox attorney and an Orthodox psychotherapist to go with them.
"They each said they'd let us know. But we never heard back from any of them. So we went ourselves."
"I told him I was not happy he didn't not get involved seven years ago and that he had to be involved this time," says Hartman. "I did not speak meekly but was adamant to get my point across. We explained to him, from a to z, how others had been victimized because things had not been put into place. He said he didn't know how to deal with it and we explained that wasn't an answer." And so Bruck and Harman spent hours explaining that pedophilia is a disease, explaining why it was so important the community be alerted that this goes on and had been going on, explaining the pain it causes its victims. They begged this rabbi to learn more, to do more. He said he would.
And, indeed, Hartman and Bruck are pleased that four rabbis, Rabbi Zev Cohen of Congregation Adas Yehurun, Rabbi Gedaliah Schwarts of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Agudath Israel of Illinois, and Rabbi Avrohom Levin of Telshe Yeshiva have agreed to serve as the rabbinical advisory board of Project Shield, a new effort to more systematically deal with the issue of sexual abuse (see separate story).
Rabbi Cohen defends how the community's rabbis have dealt with the current perpetrator, saying he and three other rabbis have spent more than 300 hours on the case, forming a Beit Din to protect the victims by "confronting the perpetrator, making sure he was in counseling and issuing stringent guidelines to prevent any interactions with young boys." He says the community should be proud of the "incredible amount of work that has been done to help the victims and their parents and ensure there are no future victims."
Rabbi Cohen adds that the community's rabbis should not be criticized in this instance and says that "if rabbis are not seen as strong in the eyes of the community, they don't have the ability to do anything and that doesn't benefit anyone."
Hartman and Bruck agree that Rabbi Cohen has been the most responsive rabbi in the community about this matter but not that not one rabbi, not even Cohen, has spoken from the pulpit about the issue. And that while he, and Rabbis Levin, Schwartz, and Fuerst are trying to deal with the issue, the vast majority of Orthodox rabbis continue to do nothing.
"Our goal is to get the rabbis to work with us on this, not to read this article and get all upset," said Hartman. "Yes, a few rabbis have tried to do good and that's a big step and we are grateful, but we need more, we need a majority to get involved to protect our children.
"Some rabbis say they don't like the line that their attitude about this has been 'don't ask don't tell.' Well, I'm sorry but that has been the majority of the rabbinical response."
And because that has been so, the rabbis have failed to let the community know about the issue.
"Why wasn't the community alerted about this school rebbe from the pulpit so that parents could take the necessary precautions?" asks Hartman. "Why haven't rabbis gotten up in shul and said something?"
Indeed, Bruck confronted one rabbi and said, "you're the rabbi of a shul. Have you gotten up there and said anything to anyone? He said 'what do you want me to say?' I used to go to his shul and he would talk about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, talk about O.J. Simpson. I said to him you can talk about it with your children. So he said to me, 'I'm up for suggestions. Please."
While Hartman is pleased that the four rabbis have joined her efforts, she notes that they still have not sat down together as a group and talked about a plan of action. "And I understand that they are very busy and have a lot of immediate things to deal with. But you can't wait until something else happens. We need the rabbis to be pro-active, to react now and plan now. We can't wait for later, we must prevent there from being a later."
She notes that one rabbi has said that because it happened in her family, she is over reacting to the situation. "No, I've under-reacted, I waited too long to do something, I should have done more seven years ago. The rabbis are talking now about the dangers of the Internet. Well they also need to talk and educate about this danger."
While Hartman is hopeful they will, some still have their doubts. A therapist involved in the issue says that she put together a bunch of materials about child sexual abuse for the community's leading halachic authority to read and brought it to his house. "He said that he didn't want the material and that the guy is not going to do it again because he's a frum man."
Brucks notes the same kind of silence has happened not only in the school where the incidents occurred but in all the Orthodox days schools. "They don't have a clue. Every school and every principal was called and asked if someone could come in and talk to the parents, to the teachers, to the students; and every single one said no, said they felt no one was talking about it and to do so would be to open up a Pandora's box.
"Even more amazing, they haven't even talked to the class whose members were molested."
Why? First and foremost, they don't want it getting out into the public world. The last thing they want is that people should know it happens in the frum community. Then there's the fact that people don't want to believe it happens. There are still lots of people who don't believe what the first perpetrator did is true or they say it's "lashon hara" (gossip) to talk about it. It's not an issue anyone wants to get involved with, it's easier to say it's a rumor, nobody can prove it. And so they just deny it."
The problem with the rabbis not publicly acknowledging what has occurred, says Hartman, is that it aids the feeling of "most people who don't believe the perpetrator is guilty. After all, up until this point he has been a respected person, unless you have the facts. But the facts are supposed to be kept confidential to protect the victims and since no one wants to come out and say, 'yes I was sexually abused and this is exactly what happened to me.' You don't have the facts and so it is dismissed as hearsay. Those in the community who know the perpetrator, say they've never been molested so it's probably not true. That's the point. These perpetrators lead a double life so why believe this blind information when I know this guy, he's a nice frum man in our community?"
And so the perpetrator gets away with his crime and the victims pay even more.
Indeed, the Department of Children and Family Services began its investigation because one of the boys molested at the school called their hotline to file charges against the rabbi and, says Hartman, "this kid is being persecuted. Kids in that class love their rebbe and so this victim is being penalized for pressing charges, his life is being made a living hell."
Beyond that, the rabbi is being protected to see that he stays out of jail and his story kept out of the newspapers.
Why are the rabbis working so hard to make sure he doesn't stand trial, let alone go to jail? "Because it didn't happen to their kids," said Bruck, "it's as simple as that."
The perpetrator's attorney, Hal Garfinkel, refused to comment on any aspect of the case when called by the Chicago Jewish News.
Hartman says that the community's fear of the story being public is putting the concern very much on the wrong thing. "I brought one of the victims, now grown up, to the office of one of the rabbis and he said he felt such rage he wanted to murder the perpetrator. The parents of another victim told the rabbi they wanted to kill the man.
"When a victim voices these raw emotions, the rabbis should be shaking in their boots. But they did nothing, all they were focused on was keeping it out of the papers and the perpetrators out of jail. I finally said, 'are you guys waiting for someone to actually shoot the perpetrator? How are you going to hide that from the newspapers?"
To not acknowledge what has gone on, says Bruck, "you destroy victims' lives over and over. Think about those who have poured their hearts out--and yet who see nothing being done about it, who walk through the community and there the perpetrator is, go to the pizza shop and there he is, so they are victimized over and over again and the rabbinic reaction is nothing. The victims continue to be pained that it is not being publicly acknowledged that what the perpetrator did was wrong. Meanwhile, the perpetrator, whose life isn't easy, but still he's managing to go to shul, his life goes on, people want to help his family."
Not that there shouldn't be compassion for his family, says Hartman, who calls them victims, too. "I know his wife, she's a very find young woman. Her life is over, her life is hell and will be forever, whether she stays with him or not. He destroyed lots of lives and you have to have sympathy for that. They have eight children. No one knows what goes on behind her closed doors, but I can guarantee, it ain't a pretty site and my heart goes out to her. She and her children are big victims in this."
But, says Harman, first and foremost there are the victims this rabbi sexually abused. She calls them "the faceless victims."
"In the case of his family, the community knows who the victims are and so they want to do for them. But everyone seems to be forgetting the faceless victims, these innocent children who nobody knows, who are being left out to hang, to live with this pain the rest of their lives."
Which is why Hartman and Bruck believe it is so important people talk about this, know about it, that people let their rabbis know they expect them to act.
"I think it's pretty pathetic that the rabbis can't work together to protect our innocent children," says Hartman. She notes that the hot issue at the moment in Orthodox circles is something being labeled 'Children at Risk', referring to the increasing number of Orthodox youth who are leaving the community, often getting into drugs and other destructive behaviors.
"You have all the rabbis speaking from the pulpit about 'children at risk. I think if someone did a little research to see how many of those children were sexually molested, it might be a pretty eye-opening experience. Children do not come from nice home and become so deep rooted in anger and frustration and so self-destructive unless something pretty horrible has happened to them .
"Everybody talks about the children, the children, being there for the children, well then when a child or their parent comes to you and say someone has really hurt my child, then do something about it. It's very nice to preach about 'children at risk' but helping children who are victims of sexual abuse is at the core and nobody is responding to it."
And there is no excuse for that, says Bruck. "This happens everywhere, in every community. It doesn't happen more in the Orthodox community, actually it probably happens less, but it does happen."
Which is why Hartman and Bruck are doing what they're doing, saying what they're saying, because the truth is they wish they didn't have to.
"There is no question some will be unhappy this is being talked about publicly," says Bruck, "but it's either say nothing or say and do something to make things better. People don't want us to talk about it., but that's the only way something gets done."
This is something that goes to the heart of what all of us are supposed to be all about," adds Hartman. "Never in a million years did we think we'd be sitting here talking about this. I am part of this community. Every person in my family has dedicated themselves to being a responsible member of the community and to making it a better community. It is not our desire to tear it apart in any way, shape or form. Our goal is to unite it and make it better.
"Maybe 25 years ago, this kind of thing wasn't discussed. But we discuss it now. This is not going to disappear, not going to go away by itself. So you have to be ready to deal with it."
And you start to do that, she says, by "putting a face on it. We have to give it legitimacy, make it a reality, get our leaders and the community to take it seriously. We need the rabbis to sit down and get educated about it, understand the irreparable damage these perpetrators do to their victims.
"People want to believe they can trust their spiritual leaders to deal with this problem, but if nothing is done, this is a bomb waiting to explode in everyone's face."
Loud and Clear: Community must speak up to protect children
By Pauline Dubkin Yearwood - Managing Editor
Chicago Jewish Times - March 3-9, 2000
"Child sexual abuse is a disease of secrecy," says Dr. Robert Bloom, executive director of Chicago's Jewish Children's Bureau.
"It needs to be opened up. Like cleaning out a boil, you have to open it up before you can treat the underlying problem," he says.
His words echo those of every expert contacted for this article.
Among them are David Mandel, chief executive officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services, a New York-area social service agency. For the last two years, he has been studying the and publicizing the problem of child sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, and has written five articles on the subject for the New York-based Jewish Press newspaper.
In one he writes "...it's not likely that you're going to find any Orthodox offenders on this list (of sex offenders required to register under a federal provision known as Megan's Law). By and large, these people haven't been forced to go through the judicial system because the victims' parents are fearful that their child will be traumatized, that shame will be brought to their family or that this will cause difficulty with future shidduchm (marriages).
"The system does work. Our frum community has not been using the system," he concludes.
(Mandel and other experts emphasized that child sexual abuse does not occur more frequently in the Orthodox community than among other groups, only that people in the Orthodox community, and other strongly religious communities, are not as likely to bring the problem out into the open.)
Bloom, of the Jewish Children's Bureau, has worked with child victims of sexual abuse, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, for more than 20 years. The agency worked with some of the children involved in the Hillel Torah abuse case. He believes that there is a fundamental misunderstanding among many about what is required in terms of reporting a suspected perpetrator (for reporting him to the authorities)."
That is not the case, he says, even if the allegations later turn out to be unfounded. In fact, Bloom says, the law requires people to cal authorities anytime there is a suspicion of child abuse or sexual molestation. Those authorities will then investigate and determine if the allegations are true.
"People are afraid they might get sued if they report a person who later turns out to be innocent," he says. "They want to wait and be sure. But the law is real clear -- you're not supposed to be sure. You must have to be suspicious."
The only way an accused abuser could sue someone who reported him is if he could prove it was done with malicious intent, says Bloom.
"It doesn't matter if you were wrong, if they were on the planet Mars (when the abuse occurred)," Bloom says. "they have no legal standing to sue you because it turned out they were innocent."
In fact, he says, it is more likely that the victims of abuse and their families would sue an individual or institution who knew the abuse was going on and did nothing to stop it.
Reporting suspected abuse to the Illinois hotline is not only a legal requirement, he says, but "it makes things a whole lot simpler and gets everybody off the hot spot. You've reported it and the state then carries the burden of what must be done next."
Parents must work with the authorities in deciding whether to press charges against an abuser, he says, adding that the decision is a complex one.
"Putting children through the legal process can be very painful. Some think they are being reabuse," he says.
However, he adds, "People who abuse children must be held accountable. They need help, and children must be protected from them."
Bloom says the reporting requirement is crucial because in all settings, child sexual abuse thrives on secrecy.
"Almost all kids who are abused are in their homes or among family or friends," he says. "It's (generally) not strangers who hurt kids.
"It happens in all walks of life," he adds. "I don't see any difference in the percentage of sexual abuse in the Jewish community (and other communities). We are NOT protected by our faith or our social status."
The Children and Adolescent Institute of the Jewish Children's Bureau has published a pamphlet. "Child Abuse and Neglect: A Responsibility of the Jewish Community," that deal with these and other issues.
Dr. Jerry Lob echoed many of the same themes as Bloom when he was called to speak to Hillel Torah parents and teachers shortly after allegations of sexual abuse at the school surfaced.
Lob, a clinical psychologist and Orthodox Jew, says that at a time of great turmoil in the school community, he tried to give parents a sense of what their children -- both those who were victims of abuse and those who simply knew others who were -- might be feeling.
"This was a teacher, someone who was in a position of trust," he says. "The children would feel a betrayal of trust. It wouldn't be easy for them to trust again, even if they just heard that it had happened to someone else.
"It was also a betrayal of love, because this was a teacher that was very beloved. That turns their whole world upside down."
Children might be likely to feel "guilt and shame, a sense of isolation, powerlessness and fear. And because they live in a religious environment, they might feel angry at G-d," he says. Because the accused figure was a rabbi, that brought the G-d equation into it in a stronger way.
"We talked about that a lot (in meetings with parents)," he says. "I told them to blow their children to voice that anger. I'm a firm believer that G-d can tolerate our anger."
In talking with parents, Lob stressed the importance of not placing any blame on children who come forward and tell of their experiences. "There was a fear that the children who came forward and tell of their experiences. "There was a fear that the children who came would be blamed by the other children," he says. He told parents to convey to their children that "it is heroic of children to come forward. It is the right thing to do."
He urged parents whose children might have been abused to seek therapy for them and to avoid sending them any messages of blame, such as, "Why didn't you tell How could you not know what was going on?" He also warned parents, "Don't make light of it."
After he spoke, and for weeks afterwards, he received numerous phone calls from parents of current students and from Hillel Torah graduates and their parents, some as far away as Israel.
He praises the "very professional" way the matter was handled by Hillel Torah. "There was no sense of sweeping anything under the rug," he says "I got a lot of positive feedback from parents about the way the school handled it."
Lobe says he believes the community needs more education in such matters and hopes to be involved in planning community-wide lectures and forums.
"There is a great deal of shame when something like this happens in the Orthodox community," he says. "We try to hold ourselves up to a higher standard. Then a thing like this happens. But every community has this, and it is important for us to realize we're not perfect, to look at our own weaknesses. This kind of exploded the issue in a healthy way."
Mandel, the head of the New York social service agency told the Chicago Jewish News that he "has heard the same story" of child molestation in the Jewish community in cities from Brooklyn, to Los Angeles and many points in between.
Even though the instances of molestation may not be frequent, they involve many members of the community because "one perpetrator can affect dozens, hundreds, in extreme cases even thousands of kids," he says.
Mandel says he has found that everywhere, "segments of the community band together to protect the perpetrator. Other segments are trying very hard to ensure that the molester is prosecuted and to ensure that other children in the community are not hurt. Too often, these segments are at cross-purposes, and so the pain continues."
Also he says, parents are often reluctant to come forward and report abuse for a number of reasons, including their fear that "the child's pain will continue during the investigation and prosecution; the neighbors whispering; and wondering, will this affect my child's shidduchs (marriages)?
"Put all these things together and you have a complex situation that has so far enabled perpetrators to win, to beat the odds."
In this article the Jewish Press, Mandel tells parents and others in the Jewish community that "you need to make your voice heard." He writes, "Our collective action to ensure that our voices are heard loud and clear may not put a child molester in jail but we could at least ensure he doesn't live on our block, daven (pray) in our shul, teach our children or be our neighborhood grocer. . . Yes, this can be done, it is possible
Chicago Jewish News - March 3-9, 2000
Rabbi Yaakov Dvorin, principal of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School in Skokie, says he kept one thought in mind throughout the tumultuous period when it was discovered that a teacher at the school had sexually molested students.
That thought was: "The concern and safety of our kids is number one, and it will not be compromised. Everything else is secondary."
He held fast to that notion even when members of the Orthodox rabbinic community suggested that he keep the matter quiet and do more to protect the perpetrator.
Dvorin says that now, close to four months later, he and Hillel Torah have come through trail by fire and "are able to get back to the business of running a school."
It's very quiet now," he says. Obviously, he likes it that way.
The educator says he was taken completely by surprise on a Friday in November when he received a call from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services informing him that a teacher, a rabbi, was suspected of sexually abusing boys at the school.
Dvorin had been at the Skokie day school for just four years, two as assistant principal and two as principal. He knew the teacher as an enormously popular and beloved faculty member who had been at the school for about 14 years. He taught Jewish Studies, Talmud and Jewish law to 5th and 8th grade students.
Dvorin says he had never heard about any problems in the teachers' past, either from personnel from other schools or from his predecessor, former Hillel Torah principal Rabbi Avram Skurowitz, who now lives on the East Coast. The teacher was "very well thought of," Dvorin says.
Though not at a yeshiva in Albany Park. Several individuals who wished to remain anonymous, have told the Chicago Jewish News that the teacher has been fired or been forced to resign from the yeshiva because he sexually abused high school students there. The teacher was a rebbe at the yeshiva from 1977 to 1984.
The yeshiva, however, did not warn Hillel Torah or any other Chicago day school about what the teacher had done. According to sources, they didn't want to jeopardize his ability to find employment and support his family.
"Schools are living in the dark ages" as far as informing other schools about such matters, Dvorin says.
When he first heard of the charges, Dvorin says that even though DCFS didn't give him any details, his first thought was to get the teacher out the classroom. On that day, that wasn't a problem because the teacher had no class periods with students left. Dvorin called and made arrangements for a substitute to take over his classes for the next few days. The teacher never taught another class at that school.
The next week, as more details about the extent of the abuse emerged, Dvorin called the teacher in to his office and the teacher resigned. Dvorin says he neither confessed to the abuse nor denied it, speaking little on the advice of his attorney. Dvorin did impress on him that he should get professional help.
Meanwhile, DCFS began conducting an investigation into the incidents. Dvorin says the school cooperated fully with the agency, providing them with the names, addresses and phone numbers of all the families whose children were in classes taught by the Rabbi, as well as of former students of his.
Abiding by the mutual decision that interviewing children at the school would be too disruptive, DCFS called children and parents to be interviewed at the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center in Chicago. Dvorin says he told parents that he would sit in on the interviews if it would make them and their children feel more comfortable.
A number of parents requested that he do so.
He says he did not give any parents advice on whether to press charges, but suggested that they discuss that within the family and with an attorney.
At the same time, Dvorin and his staff took a series of steps to ensure that the matter was brought out in the open for parents, other teachers and students (the matter was not discussed with the youngest children in the school). Psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, both from within and outside the school, spoke to each group and answered questions.
Dvorin and a trusted female staff member spoke to each class the rabbi had taught, Dvorin speaking to the boys and the female staff member to the girls. There were many questions and rumors, he says.
What made the matter even more difficult, according to Dvorin, was that the teacher was very popular and well-liked by students. "There was a sense of betrayal, " he says. "There was disbelief and anger -- 'how could we be duped like this?'"
Dvorin told parents that they should feel free to discuss the matter with him, and many did. The incidents, he knew were a prime subject for "kiddish talk and bakery talk" in the Orthodox community. For three or four weeks, he says "I was deluged by calls and visits. It was a major, major distraction for the school."
He also received some other, not so welcome, calls. These were from Orthodox rabbis and community leaders who, Dvorin says, "suggested that we do what we can to protect the perpetrator.
"They said, "keep it quiet,"' he says. "I was absolutely appalled."
He believes that the reaction of these leaders taps into the "shandah" factor (the belief that when one Jew is found to have done something wrong, it reflects badly on all Jews) and is also based on a fundamental lack of understanding of the issues involved.
"If a child, G-d forbid, is beaten, he shows scars," Dvorin says. '"With this, the child doesn't necessarily show outward scars. So some people don't understand the long-term effects. They don't see the inward scars, the betrayal. Until you see it, grasp it, you can't imagine."
He believes that "what's worse than the sexual abuse are the people who support and protect the perpetrators, who make alibis and look the other way."
The community leaders, he says, did not so much attempt to put pressure on him and the school as to offer him "advice." They could not advise him to keep the teacher at the school because he had already left by the time they called, but, he says, they did ask him to keep the issue quiet was applied by the ultra-Orthodox community's leading halachic authority.
On the other hand, two high-profile rabbis, Dvorin says, were extremely supportive of his efforts. Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz of the Chicago Rabbinical Council "fully fathoms the issue," he says. "I'm not sure everyone has his depth of knowledge of it."
He also praises the efforts of Rabbi Harvey Well, superintendent of Associated Talmud Torah, the agency that oversees Chicago-area Orthodox day schools. Well contacted all the other schools in the system to let them know what had happened. Dvorin had already contacted the principal of another school who , he knew, was looking to hire a teacher to make sure he would not consider hiring the abuser.
Because of all these efforts, Dvorin says, "we can keep our heads up. We did not close our eyes and hope it goes away. Twenty-five years ago it was, 'don't talk about it.' Now we knew so much more."
Today, nearly four months later, "we have gotten back to being a school again," Dvorin says. Board members and parents were all supportive, and none took their children out of the school.
Dvorin himself says he is grateful for the support he has received and realizes that "this could happen in any school. Any community."
But he remains shaken. "I have a strong feeling toward children," he says. "The child is 100 percent blameless, innocent."
As for the perpetrator, Dvorin says, The impulse to act this way is an illness, but to act on it is criminal and 100 percent unacceptable. Perpetrators look for excuses -- they will try to blame the victim. But the children are blameless. I feel strongly that anyone who commits a crime of this type should be punished to the full extent of the law."
Some members of the community have expressed unhappiness that the teacher has been deprived of a livelihood, but Dvorin says, "I question some of tolerance we find in the community. I feel very strongly that he should never be around children again."
Mostly, he says, what is needed is that "our community must become more knowledgeable."
Edwin Plotkin, a two-time past president of the school's board and a current Hilllel Torah parent, echoes that sentiment. Dvorin "had the board's support from start to finish," he says. "We have to remember that just because we're Jewish doesn't mean that these things don't happen.
"If all schools were on the same wavelength as we are, it would be better for all the children.
The following statement was made public as a result of the Ad Hoc Bais Din of Chicago deliberated on what to do with the allegations made against Rabbi Tzvi Wainhaus of sexual abused children at Hillel Torah.
Under NO Circumstances whatsoever may the perpetrator teach in any classroom situation or any private or tutorial situation with any students, nor may he enter any school building at any time under any circumstances. Included in school buildings are any kollel buildings (adult learning center) that are open during non-school hours, such as during the summer, all school holidays, as well as Sundays and after school hours.
He may not go to any mikvah (ritual bath) anywhere in the world at any time, including erev Shabbos, Erev Yom Tov, erev Rosh Hashanah and erev Yom HaKipurim.
He may not go to any J.C.C. (Jewish Community Center) or any swimming facility anywhere at any time.
He many not use the restroom in any synagogue, yeshiva, kollel, or any other Jewish facility at any time, even if this will force him to miss davening (praying) or krias HaTorah or learning. The only exception is during the times that it is permissible to be in a kollel as enumerated above. During those times, and those times only, it is permissible for him to use the restroom.
He may not attend any simchas (celebrations), including weddings, bar mitzvahs, bas mitzvahs, kiddushim, brissim, vorts (lectures), banquets, or any other simcha anywhere or any time until the ad hoc bais din is advised to the contrary by his therapist.
He must be engaged in regularly scheduled uninterrupted intensive therapy with a therapist with whom the bais din is advised to the contrary by his therapist.
The Bais Din (Jewish Court), after much deliberation, and taking into consideration his health problems, will allow him to daven in different area shuls on Shabbos, even though there are children present, with the understanding that every Rav (Rabbi) will be made aware of his name, and to make sure that there is surveillance whenever he leaves the sanctuary to use the restrooms or any other area of the building. Any Rabbi not wishing to take on this responsibility has the right to prohibit him from davening (praying) in their shul.
Rabbi Gedaliah Dov Schwartz, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin, Rabbi Shmuel Furest,
Rabbi Zev Cohen
Court Document - Circuit Court of Cook County
December 20, 2001
Comment from a parent
Jewish Survivors of Sexual Abuse Speak Out Blog - June 12, 2007
Just stumbled on this site and what surprises! I heartily agree with the comments that the Vaad has done nothing to support the victims of sexual abuse. My son was one of the many abused by Tzvi Wainhaus.
Shmuel Furest did NOTHING. Quite the contrary. We were actually called to come to his office- which we did- at the height of the IL DCFS investigations. Did he call to see how he could support our son? Of course not! Imagine my shock when he actually had the audacity to ask us to 'Keep Quiet' and not say anything to the newspapers, or press charges! After all 'what a shonda in front of the goyim, and the poor man (Wainhaus) feels horribly, and he has a family'. Unbelievable. To this day, 7 years later this is still something that brings rage and anger to the core of my being and tears to my eyes. Literally and Always.
And to see that post that Jamie Dvorin cares so much about protecting the kids- I want to scream in rage: the lies! He not only told me to send my son out of town for high school ('for his own good') he also tried to prevent him from joining his class at ICJA. Of course I refused to send my son away. Would he have sent his 13 year old child away after being sexually abused by his favorite teacher? Away from his family? When his entire world came crashing down? Mr. Dvorin also made up a vicious lie about how the teachers didn't think my son should go with his class on his senior trip. When I called every teacher of my child I caught his right in his lie- HE didn't want my son to go. My son was an excellent student with no history of any behavior issues. Prior to being a victim there was no reason to assume he wouldn’t go on his senior trip, or go to ICJA. Dvorin also called ICJA to prevent my son from getting accepted there. Jamie said the problem was that he was a 'high risk child' – why? because one of HIS teachers abused him. He never accepted any responsibility- nor has Mr. Fuerst or the orthodox community. The only rabbi that behaved with any kindness or degree of menschkiet was Rabbi Harvey Well. The rest are filthy hypocrites and evil men. They can pretend to hide behind their mitzvot but there is no number of mitzvot they could possibly perform to erase the evil they have perpetrated. They may have avoided the court in this world but they will have their day in the heavenly court one day and there justice will be served.
WARNING: To Parents in Baltimore - ex-Rabbi Tzvi Wainhaus
|Warning to the Community - From The Awareness Center|