Sunday, February 02, 2003

Rabbi's Odyssey Reflects Struggle on Sexual Abuse

Rabbi's Odyssey Reflects Struggle on Sexual Abuse 
Jews Begin to Confront Silence That Hid Clergy's Misdeeds
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post - Sunday, February 2, 2003; Page A17

During his 30-year career, Sidney I. Goldenberg taught math in the New York schools, served as cantor at two synagogues on Long Island and became the rabbi of a Jewish congregation in California. He was a respected teacher, a man of learning -- and a child molester.
Before he was convicted and sent to prison in 1997 for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl during bat mitzvah lessons, there had been numerous complaints against him. But each time allegations arose, he moved to a new community, leaving a trail of whispers and shattered lives.

Prosecutors, alleged victims and their families say Goldenberg was able to move from job to job because of a wall of silence and shame around sexual abuse in the Jewish community -- a wall that some believe is finally coming down, thanks to the scandal over sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.
"In the past it was covered up, just like in the Catholic Church," said Vicki Polin, an art therapist in Baltimore who is forming an association of Jewish survivors of childhood sexual abuse. "Survivors' stories were discounted. They were told they were lying. Their parents would go to the proper authorities within the Jewish community and nothing was done."
While Catholicism has been hardest hit, almost every major religion in the United States has grappled with cases of child sexual abuse by clergy. Protestant and Jewish leaders assert that their problems are much smaller than those of the Catholic Church, with its celibate priesthood and global hierarchy. But they are moving nonetheless to shore up their disciplinary procedures, prevention programs and insurance policies.
In recent years, for example, the Episcopal Church has revised its disciplinary code and extended its internal statute of limitations to encourage victims of abuse to come forward, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) has eliminated its time limit on such complaints. The United Methodist Church recommends that two unrelated adults be present with any child or group of children.
The reasons are clear: Lawyers who have specialized in suing Catholic dioceses are turning their sights on other religious groups, including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. Liability insurance costs are rising for synagogues as well as churches. State legislatures are requiring clergy of all faiths to report allegations of child sexual abuse. 
"I don't think pedophilia has a religion," said Na'ama Yehuda, a speech pathologist in New York who is co-founder, with Polin, of the Awareness Center, an organization for Jewish survivors of childhood trauma.
The center's Web site ( lists more than 30 Jewish officials who have been accused of child sexual abuse. They include the late Shlomo Carlebach, a renowned Hasidic rabbi; Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox rabbi who was convicted last year of molesting two teenage girls; and Jerrold Levy, a Reform rabbi imprisoned for sex crimes involving teenage boys. 
Goldenberg's story -- pieced together from court documents and interviews with prosecutors, alleged victims and their families -- is a particularly well-documented example of how some Jewish and Protestant clergy, like some priests, have relied on children's shame, parents' trust and other adults' disbelief to keep their misconduct hidden for years.
His trail through four communities in two states resembles the movement of pedophile priests from parish to parish. But there are significant differences.
Unlike the priests, who were transferred by superiors, Goldenberg moved on his own volition. The families of some of his alleged victims, all teenage girls, believe that their complaints were ignored or hushed up. But none has sued.
"In the Catholic Church, the issue was the cover-up by the church hierarchy. Here, it's the community, not the hierarchy. It's the whole community not wanting to admit trouble in our midst," said Yosef Blau, an Orthodox rabbi at New York's Yeshiva University who counsels victims of sexual abuse.
Goldenberg arrived in California in 1996 with glowing recommendations. Leaders of Congregation B'nai Israel, a small Conservative synagogue in the farming town of Petaluma, say they checked the 58-year-old rabbi's references, and no one hinted at any improprieties.
The rabbinate, however, was Goldenberg's second career. He had been ordained a year earlier at an independent Orthodox seminary, Tifereth Yisrael in Sayville, N.Y. Before that, he was a public school teacher and a cantor, or prayer singer, at synagogues on Long Island. And there had long been trouble.
In 1971, the superintendent of schools in Levittown, N.Y., reprimanded Goldenberg and sent him for a psychiatric evaluation after he allegedly made suggestive remarks to a high school student. 
In 1976, school records show, he was arrested after another student complained that he had exposed her breasts. The charge was dropped when he resigned, and a lawyer for Goldenberg sent school officials a letter suggesting that they should not mention the incident if they received requests for references.
Goldenberg went to work as a part-time cantor and teacher at the Seaford Jewish Center on Long Island. In 1985, a member of that congregation, Donald Novitt, complained that Goldenberg had made sexual comments to his daughter during a lesson for her bat mitzvah, the coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish 13-year-olds.
"My first move was to call the rabbi," Novitt recalls. "I said, 'Rabbi, I have something to tell you that's about Cantor Goldenberg.' He said, 'I know what you're going to tell me. We've had complaints before.' "
The rabbi, Esor Ben-Sorek, later told police in California that he had received three complaints from 12-year-olds tutored by the cantor. Goldenberg "apologized, said that he was aware of his problem and would seek help, and I then informed him that he would no longer be able to offer religious instruction to girls in the religious school," Ben-Sorek wrote to California investigators.
One of Goldenberg's accusers, now in her thirties, is still angry about the synagogue's response. 
"They did not fire him, they did not really do anything. Nobody ever apologized to me. I had my bat mitzvah and he was there -- he was the cantor who sang in front of my whole family," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When I think back about that, I can't believe it."
Another alleged victim, Robin Patrusky, 37, said Goldenberg "spoiled my innocence" but that "I was too shy, too scared to say anything." "It has affected all my relationships to this day," she added.
Goldenberg soon moved to the Jewish Center of Bay Shore, another Long Island synagogue, where he was cantor from 1990 to 1996. Its former rabbi, Steven Rosenberg, wrote a letter to the California court saying he was unaware of any allegations before Goldenberg left for California. But he said he later learned that several girls had complained to parents or teachers about suggestive remarks and inappropriate touching by the cantor.
The complaints never reached him, Rosenberg said, because the parents and teachers were trying to protect their children from embarrassment, did not want Goldenberg to be fired or "could not believe that Cantor Goldenberg would have done such a thing."
In December 1996, Goldenberg was arrested by the Petaluma Police Department for molesting a teenager at Congregation B'nai Israel. Over a four-month period, the girl said, Goldenberg made lewd remarks, touched her breasts, had her lift her shirt, exposed his undershorts and coaxed her to reach into his front pockets for coins.
The arrest "really split the congregation here, because he was an extremely popular rabbi, and very few people believed this young girl," said the prosecutor, Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Gary A. Medvigy. 
As news of the arrest hit the media, however, 10 women in New York alleged that Goldenberg had abused them in similar ways, usually beginning with dirty talk and progressing to fondling but not intercourse, Medvigy said. 
Facing mounting allegations, Goldenberg pleaded no contest to a single charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor. He was sentenced in April 1997 to three years in state prison. Although he was released on parole in 1999, he could not be located for this article.
The manager of a Santa Rosa, Calif., apartment complex where he lived in 2002 said he moved out a month ago. His attorney, Stephen M. Gallenson, said he did not know Goldenberg's whereabouts. His wife, reached by telephone in New York, said he was in another state and that she did not know when, or if, she would hear from him. His name did not turn up in an online search of sex offenders' registries, computerized public records and telephone listings around the country.
Wherever he is, Goldenberg can still call himself a rabbi, because Jewish authorities say ordination is like an academic degree -- once conferred, it cannot be revoked. However, officials of the major Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbinical associations said he would not be eligible for membership and doubted that he could find work as a rabbi.
Jeff Zaret, president of Congregation B'nai Israel, said it has hired a female rabbi and made a rule that teachers should not meet alone behind closed doors with children.
"Everyone here took it seriously," he said. "They weren't going to sweep it under the rug and make it somebody else's problem." 
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

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