Saturday, June 24, 2006

Case of Stephen Colmer

Case of Stephen Colmer
(AKA: Dovid Cohen, Steven Colmer, Steve Colmber, Stefan Colmer)

Brooklyn, NY
Jerusalem, Israel

If you know of a child who was sexually victimized by Stephen Colmer or anyone one else in Brooklyn, please contact: CAMBA: Rape Crisis Services. All services are free and confidential 

Phone: 718-282-5575     24 Hour Hotline: 800-310-2449

Indicted on charges of child sexual abuse.  Stephen Colmer attempted to escape facing criminal charges in Brooklyn by moving to Israel.  Colmer was arrested in Israel on June 14, 2007, on a provisional arrest warrant. He is currently in custody awaiting extradition back to New York.

On Sunday, November 11, 2007 the Jerusalem District Court decided to extradite Steven Colmer.
The allegations being made include an event in which Stephen Colmer had a group of children ages seven - ten in his home over the shabbat (sabbath).  The reports state that he performed oral sex on several of the children.

On June 23, 2006, family members of the children went to Rabbi Rosenbloom and asked him if they should go to the police. Rabbi Yosef Rosenbloom allegedly said they should not tell anyone about the offenses.

The Awareness Center was told that Rabbi Laser Ginsberg was aware of the allegations made against Colmer, yet allowed him to enter into his synagogue unescorted -- endangering the safety of other children.


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Table of Contents: 

  1. Anonymous Tip - Stefan Colmer  (06/24/2006)
  2. Anonymous Tip #2  (07/28/2006)
  1. Israel Nabs Brooklyn Sexual Predator  (06/15/2007)
  2. Israel to extradite to US man accused of molesting two American minors  (11/11/2007)
  3. Israel OKs extradition of Brooklyn pedophile suspect  (11/12/2007)
  4. Israel to extradite alleged pedophile (11/12/2007)

  1. Brooklyn DA Announces Extradition of Accused Sex Offender from Israel  (01/08/2007)
  2. Israel Extradites Bklyn 'Perv' (01/08/2007)
  3. Pedophile suspect extradited from Israel charged in NY   (01/09/2007)

  1. A Suspected Pedophile Eludes The System (05/08/2009)
  2. Man Extradited From Israel Pleads Guilty To Sex Crime (06/09/2009)
  3. Colmer Plea Deal Seen Raising Question (06/19/2009)
  4. A Haredi Town Confronts Abuse From The Inside (11/11/2009)

  1. Brooklyn DA accused of failing to tackle Orthodox Jews' cover-up of sex abuse (03/29/2012)


  1. National Sex Offender Registry (12/23/2013)

Anonymous Tip - Stefan Colmer
Unorthodox Jew Blogger - June 24, 2006

Stefan Comer a Shabbos Group in his home for children ages 7-10. He molested and performed oral sex on the children.

Last night the families went to Rabbi Rosenbloom and asked him if they should go to the police. Rabbi Rosenbloom said they should not tell people about it. Rabbi  Ginsberg lets him Daven (pray) in his Shul (synagogue). R Ginsberg knows about it. R abbi Ginsberg why does this man need to daven in a Shul? Shame on the families that hesitated and did not go straight to the police. Shame on you R abbi Rosenbloom who said that the person who has the Capital Hotel in Lakewood could be killed, yet you protect a child rapist. Shame on you Rabbi  Rosenbloom shame on , shame on you.

Anonymous Tip #2
Unorthodox Jew Blogger - July 28, 2006

Colmer is still around!!

He had access to many children and it is 100% confirmed that he fondled them, and had oral sex with some of them.

The parents were advised by Rabbi Leizer Ginzberg to leave it alone!! HELP US FROM IGNORANT RABBIS WHO OVERSTEP THEIR ROLE AS RABBIS!

BTW Rabbi rosenblum said not to press charges now because of the victoms exposure.
Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky said the same thing.






New York Post - June 15, 2007

Brooklyn, NY - A suspect of preying on as many as a dozen young boys in Brooklyn, NY was arrested in Israel following his indictment on charges he abused two 13-year-olds.

Stefan Colmer, 30, a computer technician and salesman, was picked up by Israeli police in Jerusalem at the request of the U.S. Justice and State departments.

Colmer was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury for allegedly abusing boys. He was charged with eight counts of committing a criminal act and faces up to seven years in prison. "We are looking to have him extradited," said Sandy Silverstein, a spokesman for Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes.

The investigation began last fall following rumors that Colmer had lured boys at the Mirrer Yeshiva to his nearby home.


Israel to extradite to US man accused of molesting two American minors
Jerusalem Post - November 11, 2007

Israel will extradite Steven Colmer, who is accused of molesting two American minors, to the United States, the Jerusalem District Court decided Sunday.


Note From The Awareness Center: What will it take for Israel to also extradite both Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz and Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel?


Israel OKs extradition of Brooklyn pedophile suspect
New York Daily News - Monday, November 12, 2007

JERUSALEM - A suspected Brooklyn pedophile hiding from sex abuse charges in Israel will become the first American extradited to the U.S. under a revamped treaty, a Jerusalem court ruled Sunday.

Stefan Colmer, 30, was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on charges he sexually abused two 13-year-old boys from the ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn where he lived.

Hoping to avoid arrest, Colmer, a computer technician and salesman, fled to Israel and changed his name to David Cohen.

Jerusalem police arrested Colmer in June and have held him pending Sunday's extradition hearing, at which an Israeli judge ruled he must be returned to face the charges in Brooklyn.

Before a January change to the treaty, Israel and the U.S. had agreed to extradite suspected sex criminals only if they had been charged with rape.

Colmer is suspected of performing oral sex on the two boys over several months last year after luring them to his home from a nearby yeshiva high school, according to the U.S. Justice Department's extradition request.

The Brooklyn grand jury indicted Colmer on eight counts of criminal sexual acts. If found guilty, he could face up to seven years in prison.

The Justice Department also has requested the extradition of another alleged Brooklyn child molester, Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz, who fled to Jerusalem 23 years ago amid allegations the former counselor and principal molested four boys.

Mondrowitz was arrested last month by Israeli police but was released. The Israeli Justice Ministry has refused to comment on the case. Attorney Michael Lesher, who represents six men who have accused Mondrowitz of molesting them as children, said Mondrowitz must be returned to face charges.

"I am certainly delighted to see that Colmer will be extradited to face justice in Brooklyn," Lesher said. "But we certainly will not rest until the same is done with Avrohom Mondrowitz."


Israel to extradite alleged pedophile
JTA - November 12, 2007

Stefan Colmer will become the first American extradited from Israel on sex abuse charges.

Colmer, who was indicted on charges he abused two fervently Orthodox boys in Brooklyn, will be sent back to the United States following a Jerusalem court ruling Sunday, the New York Daily News reported. Colmer, 30, was arrested in June after he fled to Israel to avoid arrest.

Israel and the United States had agreed only to extradite suspected sex criminals if they had been charged with rape, but the agreement was revised in January.

Colmer was indicted in Brooklyn on eight counts of sexual abuse. He allegedly performed oral sex on the two boys over a period of several months last year.


Brooklyn DA Announces Extradition of Accused Sex Offender From Israel
By Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn Eagle - January 7, 2008

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN รข¤" Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes Monday announced that Stefan Colmer, 31, would return to the United States to face charges he sodomized two 13-year-old boys in his Midwood home in 2006.

Colmer is the first person to be extradited from Israel to the United States under a newly negotiated extradition treaty between the two countries. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

After learning he was under investigation, in February 2007, Colmer fled to Israel. A new extradition treaty between the United States and Israel, which went into effect Jan. 10, 2007, allowed Colmer to be returned to Brooklyn. Prior to the newly amended treaty, the crimes for which Colmer is charged were not subject to extradition.

The indictment charges that between March and May 2006, Colmer sodomized two teenage boys on numerous occasions.

Colmer is charged with eight counts of Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree, eight counts of Sexual Misconduct, 19 Counts of Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree and two counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

The new treaty may also allow for the extradition of Avrohom Mondrowitz, who claimed to be a rabbi and posed as a school psychologist in Borough Park during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was indicted in 1984 for sodomizing young boys and fled to Israel after learning he was under investigation. Since then, Mondrowitz has remained in Israel, protected by the now-defunct treaty. He was recently arrested there after the treaty was amended, and extradition proceedings are pending.

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Doerfler is prosecuting Colmer.


Israel Extradites Bklyn 'Perv'
By Stefanie Cohen
New York Post - January 8, 2008

January 8, 2008 -- An accused pedophile was extradited from Israel yesterday to face charges he sodomized two 13-year-old boys, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said yesterday.

Stefan Colmer, 30, a computer technician, is the first person returned to the United States under a new provision in a treaty with Israel that covers male sex victims. He fled in February after learning he was being probed, and was busted in Jerusalem in June.

The investigation into Colmer began following rumors he had lured boys outside a yeshiva to his nearby home.

The new provision may also allow for the extradition of Avrohom Mondrowitz, who claimed to be a rabbi and posed as a school psychologist in Borough Park during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He was indicted in 1984 for sodomizing young boys, and fled to Israel after learning he was under investigation. He was recently arrested there, and extradition proceedings are pending


Pedophile suspect extradited from Israel charged in NY
by Michal Lando
Jerusalem Post - January 9, 2008

A suspected Brooklyn pedophile extradited from Israel to the US under a revised extradition treaty was arraigned and held on $10-million bail on Tuesday.

Stefan Colmer was indicted by a Brooklyn grand jury on charges that he sodomized two 13-year-old boys from the haredi Jewish community in Brooklyn where he lived.

To avoid arrest, Colmer, a computer technician and salesman, fled to Israel, where he has been hiding under the name David Cohen.

A revamped extradition treaty between the United States and Israel, which went into effect January 10, 2007, allowed Colmer to be returned to Brooklyn. Prior to the newly amended treaty, Israel and the US had agreed to extradite suspected sex criminals only if they had been charged with rape. Since last January, at least two other sex offenders have been extradited, including Michael Leon Zeve and Kenneth Frank.

"Until now, Israel has been a Mecca for sex offenders," said Vicki Polin, founder and executive director of The Awareness Center, the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault.

The indictment charges that between March and May 2006, Colmer sodomized two teenage boys on numerous occasions, after luring them to his home from a nearby yeshiva high school, according to the US extradition request.

Colmer is charged with eight counts of criminal sexual acts in the second degree, eight counts of sexual misconduct, 19 counts of sexual abuse in the second degree and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

In the Orthodox world, "the status quo has been to protect offenders' parnassa [income] and not shame family members, at the expense of shaming those who have been victimized," said Polin, who has been working in the sexual violence field for just under 25 years.

The new treaty may also allow for the extradition of Avrohom Mondrowitz, who claimed to be a rabbi and posed as a school psychologist in Boro Park during the late 1970s and early 80s. He was indicted in 1984 for sodomizing young boys, and he fled to Israel after learning he was under investigation. Since then, Mondrowitz has remained in Israel, protected by the now-defunct treaty. He was recently arrested there, pursuant to the amended treaty, and extradition proceedings are pending.

Michael Lesher, an Orthodox lawyer representing six of Mondrowitz's alleged victims and actively pursuing his extradition, has been facing intense pushback.

"I continued to bang on the door about Mondrowitz, but I am operating against tremendous institutional logic," said Lesher. "He should have been first to be extradited years ago. When they arrested Colmer, I think they were testing the waters."


A Suspected Pedophile Eludes The System
By Hella Winston
Jewish Week - May 8, 2009

A married Jew with peyos and a black hat, Stefan Colmer used to spend hours, according to reports, reading the Talmud in the main study hall of the Mirrer Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. While there, he also befriended some boys  in and around the yeshiva and, on occasion, invited a few of them to his nearby home.

And, according to a source close to the case, Colmer allegedly sexually abused several of them — in addition to other young boys from the “general neighborhood” near the yeshiva, a law enforcement source believes.

Colmer, 32, who moved to Israel in early 2007, weeks before any of his alleged victims approached the police, was extradited to Brooklyn in January 2008 and is now being held 
 at Rikers Island, awaiting trial on charges that he sodomized two teenage boys, both 13 at the time, on numerous occasions. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted on all charges.

What isn’t in the criminal charges against Colmer is that, according to numerous sources familiar with the facts, several years before allegedly abusing the two victims named in the May 2007 indictment he was treated in the sex-offender program of a prominent Jewish agency — only to leave of his own volition before his treatment was completed. 

Yet, until his arrest in June 2007, Colmer had never been reported by anyone to the police — not by his alleged victims, their parents or community members who knew of allegations against him — a fact confirmed by a law enforcement source who notes that, until 2007, Colmer had a “clean record.”

Further, because Colmer was never reported to the police and thus came to the agency, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, without a mandate from the court, when he dropped out of its offender program around 2002, according to friends, Ohel was not required to report him to the authorities for non-compliance. For the same reason, his activities were not monitored and his name did not appear on any public registries designed to alert the public to those who might pose a danger to children.

The Colmer case and the way it was apparently handled illuminates a controversial debate raging in the Orthodox community in the wake of the cases of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, Avrohom Mondrowitz and others: whether suspected cases of child sexual abuse should be dealt with “internally” — even if only initially — by rabbis or professionals within the Orthodox community, or whether they should be handed directly over to law enforcement for investigation. 

No one interviewed for this story suggested that Ohel did anything illegal by apparently not reporting Colmer to the authorities after he dropped out of treatment. Indeed, laws about confidentiality that govern the doctor-patient relationship limit what a psychologist can divulge about his patient. Nonetheless, there are those who believe that in a case like Colmer’s, reporting would not have constituted a breach of doctor-patient privilege.

Treating someone who has not been mandated by the courts is “a complex and dangerous situation,” said Dr. Michael Salamon, a New York-based psychologist who has had experience in this area. “As I learned it, and teach it to others [you are permitted] to report if there is any reasonable cause to suspect that this person is a danger to himself or others. If I were a supervisor in a case [where someone who was not mandated for treatment dropped out] I would insist on calling the state hotline [of Child Protective Services] for guidance.”

Given this, Colmer’s case raises several thorny questions: Should Ohel have agreed to treat Colmer, knowing that he had never been reported to the police? Is there a will on the part of the community and its institutions to reform reporting policies and practices to plug what appears to be a gaping hole in the reporting system, one that leaves children unprotected from men like Colmer? And, most pressing of all, who, in the end, should bear responsibility for what happened to the two innocent 13-year-old  alleged victims of Colmer, whose lives will likely never be the same?

According to Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School and the author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children,” the Colmer case highlights, among other things, the need for tougher reporting laws. “This can be prevented in the future by a clearer and more rigorous reporting statute. This is just another example of the culture protecting the adults at the expense of the children.”

Stefan Colmer’s journey to a prison cell in Rikers Island began in Brooklyn, in 2006, and took him from there to Passaic, N.J., and, ultimately, to a religious West Bank settlement in Israel, where he was arrested on the charges he faces today. The Jewish Week pieced together the facts of the Colmer case from interviews with and information obtained from more than a dozen people during the course of a months-long investigation. Most wanted anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. Law enforcement officials wanted it because of the pending criminal case and the desire to protect those who have cooperated with them. Friends of Colmer’s wanted anonymity because, although they wanted to speak out, their rabbis forbade them speaking to The Jewish Week. Liaisons in the Jewish community between alleged victims and community leaders wanted it so as not to compromise their ongoing relationships.

According to a source with firsthand knowledge, Colmer’s behavior first came to the attention of Rabbi Asher Berenbaum, the son of the then rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva, in the spring of 2006, when two boys disclosed to him and a colleague what Colmer had allegedly done to them. Efforts to reach Rabbi Berenbaum were unsuccessful.

At the time, Rabbi Berenbaum approached Colmer, who admitted to him that he had a problem and had been treated previously at Ohel, according to a source who related a conversation he had with the rabbi to The Jewish Week. Colmer, the source said, told Rabbi Berenbaum that the treatment had not worked for him, citing the fact that he had molested while in treatment, and ultimately dropped out of the program.

Unsure about how to handle the situation, Rabbi Berenbaum reached out for advice. One of the people from whom he sought counsel, and who spoke with The Jewish Week under condition of anonymity, instructed him to call the police. But it seems Rabbi Berenbaum did not do so at the time and instead successfully exerted pressure on Colmer to keep his distance from the school.

In the summer of 2006, likely as a result of the growing awareness of his proclivities among those in his Brooklyn neighborhood — there were even blog postings that he had abused kids around the Mir — Colmer moved to Passaic, N.J., where residents learned of his history through informal communications between alleged victims of Colmer.  

“Colmer was in town for six months before word reached us,” said Michael Lesher, a lawyer and advocate for abused children who is also a member of Passaic’s Orthodox community. “It was a grass-roots message. We heard absolutely nothing from any rabbis in Brooklyn, though by this time there should have been plenty to report.” According to Lesher, rabbis in Passaic raised money and were prepared to buy Colmer’s house in an effort to get him to move out of town — but Colmer left on his own, without taking the offer.

By February of 2007, Colmer was living in Israel under an assumed name where, sources close to him say, he tried to buy a house. Soon after his arrival, a local rabbi reportedly made inquiries and found out about the charges circulating through the community, and that Colmer had never been reported to the police. 

Meanwhile, during this time, two alleged victims came forward to Brooklyn police and formal charges were filed against Colmer. Working with information from Lesher and other community activists and Brooklyn law enforcement, the Israeli authorities were able to locate and arrest Colmer provisionally in Israel, until an extradition request was finalized. Colmer was returned to the United States in January 2008 and is now awaiting trial on the Brooklyn charges.

The Colmer case appears against a backdrop of growing alarm about what looks increasingly like a serious sexual abuse problem in the Brooklyn Orthodox community, and a sense that Orthodox leaders and institutions are coming up short in their efforts to handle the problem themselves.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind has won praise (and some criticism) for shining a light on the problem, which he has characterized as at “epidemic proportions.” But, as an indication of the community’s continued resistance to reporting these alleged crimes directly to the police, a December 2008 article in the Jewish Press by Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum of the Rabbinical Alliance of America noted that “overcoming [the reluctance to report molestation to the authorities] could possibly be achieved by the creation of an intermediary entity that would ensure offenders are either put on the road to proper behavior or punished accordingly.”

In the wake of highly publicized cases, including those of alleged pedophiles Yehuda Kolko, Avrohom Mondrowitz and Avrohom Reichman, a group called Survivors for Justice recently formed to help provide support for people who were sexually abused in the Orthodox communities and to aid them in reporting crimes to the police and in seeking redress in the civil courts.

And, more recently, state legislators have been working on competing bills to extend the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. At issue is the one-year “window” provision in Assemblywoman Marge Markey’s bill that would allow previously time-barred victims a one-year window in which to file civil claims, regardless of when the abuse took place — something the Catholic Church and several major Orthodox Jewish organizations  are opposing.

In the past several weeks, Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah, the network of Orthodox yeshivas and day schools, have already stated their opposition to the window provisions on the grounds that it could bankrupt many Orthodox institutions. Ohel has also expressed opposition to the window provision in the Markey bill, and proposed a “compromise” position, which calls for amnesty from civil actions for pedophiles who voluntarily come forward and admit their crimes within a one-year “window” period. 

Ohel, which has a long history of dealing with sensitive issues within the Orthodox community, is standing, in a sense, between the Orthodox community and law enforcement and occupies a prominent — and heretofore little examined — place in the unfolding sexual abuse story in Brooklyn. Founded in 1969 to “provide homes and families for abandoned, neglected, abused and disabled Jewish children,”

Ohel now provides housing, foster care, outpatient counseling, at-home and sexual abuse services, as well as school-based programs and camps. While it has a respected reputation for providing much-needed services to its clients, the fact that Ohel has been willing to treat sex offenders referred from within the community, and who have not been reported to the police, has left the agency open to criticism that it may not be acting in the best interest of children in the community. 

Asked multiple times over a period of more than a month for an explanation of its reporting policies, Ohel said in a statement provided just before the paper’s deadline that the agency “fully complies with New York State laws, including those related to mandated reporting.” The statement did not address the group’s policies and practices when a non-court-mandated offender drops out of treatment. 

Indeed, the agency’s CEO, David Mandel, has made public statements, including at a community workshop last year in Baltimore, indicating that it is not always appropriate — even when legally permissible — to report sexual abuse to the police. 

While Ohel did not respond to numerous written and e-mail requests for information about its Offender Treatment Program, published reports note that it was begun in early 1997, when, according, to a 2000 article in The Jewish Week, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes approached Mandel with a request to create a specialized program for Orthodox child molesters. The program was intended, according to the article, to address the fact that religious pedophiles were rarely prosecuted for their crimes.

This was — and to a great extent remains — the case because most Orthodox victims and their families are reluctant to report abuse to the authorities out of fear of intimidation and ostracism, as well as the desire to preserve the marriage prospects of the victim. Further, Hynes noted at the time, those molesters who were reported were apparently unwilling to participate in existing sex offender programs because, among other obstacles, men and women were treated together, a violation of communal norms. “There is not going to be an appropriate mix,” explained Hynes at the time, “if you put them in with a group that is not chasidic, that is not Orthodox.” 

According to a 2001 JTA article, by that year over 30 people had received evaluation or treatment through the program and more were on a waiting list. Half of the offenders were referred through the criminal justice system and half through rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, “whom the community pressured to seek help without notifying authorities,” The Jewish Week article noted. “A very small number of men have joined the program of their own accord,” the article added.

However, the Colmer case, and at least two others described to The Jewish Week by sources close to Ohel, suggests that referring suspected child molesters for treatment in the absence of the involvement of law enforcement can result in the exposure of new potential victims to men whose danger to children was already evident.

Cardozo Law School’s Hamilton notes that this practice also occurred within the Catholic Church, with disastrous results.  

Just one example was the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico, where, according to Hamilton, priests “were sent for treatment from all over the country. They had a treatment center where the authorities were never notified. They would let the priests on the weekend go to the local parishes. The amount of abuse in New Mexico was astronomical because it was the locus for this activity.” 

Though Ohel’s offenders’ program was announced as a cooperative project between the Orthodox agency and the Brooklyn District Attorney, the DA’s office has had very little to say about the program since it closed several years ago.

Without addressing the Colmer case specifically, DA spokesman Jerry Schmetterer told The Jewish Week that if an offender came into the program from the community, it would have been Ohel’s responsibility to report, if it felt it necessary. If the offender had come through the DA’s office and stopped treatment, Ohel would have been required to notify the DA. “If you don’t show up [for treatment] you’re going to face the penalties. The treatment would have been a part of their agreement with the DA’s office,” Schmetterer explained.

Schmetterer could not say what steps Ohel should have taken when an offender dropped out of Ohel’s program but was not involved in a specific agreement with prosecutors, as occurred in the Stefan Colmer case. However, Schmetterer noted, “We always hope that if somebody is breaking the law that they would be reported to this office. If that didn’t happen [in the Colmer case], it’s unfortunate. Nobody has ever denied that [reporting] didn’t happen [in some cases]. Our position then and now is if you have knowledge of a crime you should report it to us. I don’t know who had knowledge of it and who dropped the ball.”

Schmetterer added that “we would like to focus on the relationship we have [with Ohel] now [the new Kol Tzedek program, which offers a confidential hotline for Orthodox abuse victims]. Things are going very well. ... We have a good system in place that seems to be working.”

But it comes too late for the two 13-year-olds who charge they were molested at the hands of Stefan Colmer, and for the others that law enforcement officials suspect he abused but who have not yet filed charges. And as Colmer, who is no longer married, whiles away his days in a Rikers cell awaiting trial, the debate about whether it is possible to police the pedophilia problem within the Orthodox community is only intensifying.

Lonnie Soury, a spokesman for Survivors for Justice, said: “We stand for the basic truth that pedophiles must be reported directly to the authorities, who alone have the ability to investigate, arrest and monitor the behavior of offenders.

“Treatment has its place, and that place is within the structure of our criminal justice system. The staggering number of incidents of abuse we have become aware of in the short time we have been existence,” Soury continued, “does nothing but drive home the point that no rabbi or communal organization, no matter how well meaning or technically legal their actions, has the moral right to play Russian Roulette with our children’s lives.”


Man Extradited From Israel Pleads Guilty To Sex Crime
By Adam Nichols
New York Post - June 9, 2009

An orthodox Jew who bolted Brooklyn for Israel after being accused of molesting teenage boys pleaded guilty today to performing a criminal sex act.

Stefan Colmer, 32, went on the lam in February 2007 after learning he was under investigation for molesting two 13-year-old boys he had invited to play board games at his Midwood home.

He became the first person extradited from Israel to the U.S. under a new treaty which defines sodomy as an extraditable offense.

He pleaded guilty to eight counts, including endangering the welfare of a child. He’s due to be sentenced June 30 and faces up to seven years in jail.


Colmer Plea Deal Seen Raising Question
By Hella Winston
Jewish Week - June 19, 2009

A Brooklyn sex offender indicted on 37 counts, including sexually molesting two teenage boys in his Brooklyn home, may go free in just a few months under a plea deal announced last week. The deal involving Stefan Colmer, once a member of Midwood’s Orthodox community, is raising questions about the handling of his case and its impact on future victims’ willingness to come forward to law enforcement officials, according to observers.

Colmer, 32, who was arrested in Israel and extradited to Brooklyn in 2007, faced a maximum sentence of close to 50 years in jail. But under the terms of the plea agreement, Colmer pled guilty only to eight counts of criminal sexual act in the second degree. 

According to a press release from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, he will be sentenced on June 30 to two and one-third to seven years in prison. With credit for time already served, Colmer could be out of jail before the end of the year. The DA had asked the judge to run two counts of criminal sexual act consecutively, which would have meant a sentence for Colmer of four and two-thirds to 16 years in prison.

However, according to an article in the New York Daily News, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Martin Murphy rejected the request because “Colmer had no record, was being treated for his sexual problems and the case against him was weak.” Efforts to reach the judge for comment were unsuccessful.

When asked whether Colmer had received any treatment for his problems, his attorney, Robert Gottlieb, told The Jewish Week “What I said [to the judge] is that he accepted responsibility and that he had received treatment. Obviously, while he is incarcerated, it’s not any present, ongoing treatment, but in the past he had seen doctors.”

In fact, as The Jewish Week reported in May, Colmer had received treatment several years before he was arrested, in the now-defunct Ohel Family and Children’s Services Sex Offender Treatment Program. He dropped out of the program of his own volition, however, because, according to those who discussed it with him, he did not feel it was helping him. 

Further, the claim that Colmer’s case was weak has also puzzled those close to the investigation.

Michael Lesher, an attorney and author who was directly involved in the case and who wrote about it in the newly released book “Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals” (Brandeis University Press), told The Jewish Week, “I’m very surprised that the judge declared the case against Colmer ‘weak.’ Two highly credible children gave grand jury testimony describing in detail their abuse by Colmer. The police detective in charge of the case always told me he considered it a strong one.”

Another source familiar with the facts of the case confirmed Lesher’s impression and further noted that the young victims were highly credible and ready to testify. This source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the case, also told The Jewish Week that law enforcement knew of approximately 10 more victims, some of whom had been instructed by their rabbis not to come forward.

Indeed, the lead detective on the case told The Jewish Week that within the Orthodox community it is not atypical for victims to be discouraged from coming forward to law enforcement, particularly if there are others who already have done so. While this means fewer victims have to subject themselves to a difficult process, according to the detective, it also spares the molester the prospect of more jail time that could result from additional charges.

There appear to be other inconsistencies in the report of the plea deal. According to the DA’s own press release, “After learning he was under investigation, in February 2007, Colmer fled to Israel.”

This statement seems at odds with those of the lead detective on the case, who told The Jewish Week last month that Colmer was not under investigation until after he arrived in Israel, following a report made by one of his victims to the Brooklyn police. When asked to clarify its statement, a spokesman for the Brooklyn DA said only that “our press release is accurate.”

Further complicating matters is the fact that Colmer was in fact reported to the Brooklyn Special Victims Unit on Jan. 7, 2007 by Marc Stern, a prominent attorney and member of Passaic’s Orthodox community. Colmer had moved to Passaic after his activities had become known to rabbis and others in his Brooklyn neighborhood, none of whom reported him to the police or encouraged his victims to do so.

While Stern gave a detailed report to the Special Victims Unit detective, the case was promptly closed, according to a law enforcement source, for lack of a “complaining witness,” or victim.

In Stern’s view, the fact that the case was not investigated at the time “underscores the unavoidable need — and duty — of those molested to come forward promptly to the authorities as witnesses. Secondhand [information] just does not cut it.” 

The fact that the case was apparently closed for this reason, however, raises questions about a new initiative by the Brooklyn DA, dubbed Kol Tzedek, to address sexual abuse in the Orthodox community.

According to the DA, a central aim of the project, which offers, among other services, a confidential hotline for the reporting of the abuse, is to generate more prosecutions of sex offenders. When asked how the new initiative plans to deal with anonymous reports, or reports from those other than victims, a spokesman for the DA’s office offered a vague response, saying that “we take every phone call to our hotline seriously.”

While Lesher clearly acknowledges the need for victims to report these crimes to the police, he and other advocates see something much more troubling in the Colmer case.
“What we see is that child sex abuse victims in the Orthodox community are still fighting every element of the system to get justice,” said Lesher. “Few rabbis will support them when they come forward; they’re attacked by other Orthodox Jews; the Brooklyn DA is in no rush to prosecute the offenders; an agency like Ohel will look the other way; and the few brave survivors who come forward end up being told the case is ‘weak’ because so many others didn’t make their own reports.

“Right now,” Lesher continued, “the innocent few are still paying the price for the guilty — and their moral accomplices.”

Lonnie Soury, the spokesman for Survivors for Justice, an advocacy group, said, “The case of Stefan Colmer is not about Stefan Colmer — it is about the ongoing failure of the Brooklyn Orthodox community and its institutions to protect its children because they are instead focused on protecting their own reputations and the reputations of the pedophiles.
“The fact that there are at least 10 more victims who seem to have been discouraged from coming forward,” Soury continued, “highlights the severity of this problem.”


A Haredi Town Confronts Abuse From The Inside
Passaic, N.J., is waging a lonely fight against molestation in the Orthodox community. Will its example spread?
By Steven Lipman
Jewish Week - November 11, 2009

On the night before Yom Kippur in September, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman stood before his Orthodox congregation, in a room crowded with men wearing black hats and women wearing sheitels, and moderated a panel discussion among five Orthodox Jews who said they had been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of other Orthodox Jews. The rabbi regularly uses his pulpit to preach against the evils of sexual molestation.

On another recent day Michael Lesher, an Orthodox lawyer and author, welcomed four young Orthodox Jews into his home, two men and two women, who told him their stories of sexual molestations committed by Orthodox Jews. For more than a decade he has served as the legal “advocate” for sexual abuse victims and as “their voice,” since first handling a custody case that involved a sexually abused child.

Also not long ago, Brochie Neugarten, an Orthodox mother who works as a purchasing manager, described to a friend her plan to establish an organization that will offer financial support to victims of sexual abuse in the community. Neugarten became an activist a few years ago, after someone she knows became the target of a molester.

The efforts by Rabbi Eisenman, Lesher and Neugarten, rare steps against sexual abuse in a religious community, took place within a few blocks of each other in Passaic, a middle-class suburb with a growing haredi community 10 miles west of Manhattan in northern New Jersey.

Following more than a decade of sensational accusations of rapes and molestations committed by members — often leaders — of Orthodox Jewry, and increasing criticism of the Orthodox community’s leadership for ignoring or attempting to cover up the accusations, Passaic is slowly and quietly building a reputation as an exception.

The work of several members of Passaic’s Jewish community, which has taken on a haredi, “yeshivishe” and “chasidishe” character in recent years, has established Passaic as a place that is taking a stand against sexual predators and the people who protect them. And it’s a place where abuse victims are urged to take their allegations to the police and not simply rely on rabbis to handle the cases inside the community.

In addition to Rabbi Eisenman, who coordinated the event at his shul, as well as Lesher and Neugarten, Passaic is also the home of Mitch Morrison, a magazine editor who has lobbied rabbis in his area to openly discuss the topic, and Marc Stern, an attorney who has served as a pro bono advisor to local rabbis about the legal ramifications of sexual abuse accusations.

The grass-roots advocates sometimes work independently, sometimes together.

Twice within the past few years, several pulpit rabbis in Passaic, Rabbi Eisenman among them, announced in shul when men accused of being sexual molesters had moved into the community. One, Stefan Colmer, left Passaic soon thereafter, likely because of the public exposure, Passaic residents say, and is now in jail having been convicted of eight counts of criminal sexual act in the second degree; the other, Mitchell Levinton, pleaded guilty to child endangerment last month and faces a five-year prison term.

The pair of disgraced molesters who had lived there played a role in energizing Passaic’s Jewish community, residents say.

To an outsider, Passaic’s Orthodox community — which features a wide variety of synagogues and Shabbat-only shtiebels [minyan sites], a strip of kosher restaurants along Main Avenue and notices posted around town about upcoming Torah lectures and chesed projects — seems like any other.

But, Morrison wrote last month on the blog, Passaic “is unlike many Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey. It is neither Modern Orthodox nor Chassidish.” It has, Morrison wrote, a demographic distinction that may explain why its Orthodox community is responding to the sexual abuse issue more aggressively than others. “It is, per capita, home to one of the largest populations of baalei teshuva and is among the fastest growing religious Jewish communities in the country.”

“The people who came out” to the Ahavas Israel program “were largely from the [baal teshuvah] community,” says Lesley Schofield, a member of the congregation who attended the panel discussion. Baalei teshuvah, people from non-religious backgrounds who turned as adults to lives of traditional Judaism, have “a lesser fear of dealing with controversial things” than many “frum from birth” (the so-called FFBs) Orthodox Jews do, Schofield says. Because their family members are outside the community, they are less fearful of harming relatives’ marriage prospects, a motivation that keeps many Orthodox people from drawing attention to themselves or speaking out on controversial matters.

Rabbi Eisenman says he put the program together on short notice — he intentionally scheduled it during the High Holy Days, for the greatest spiritual impact — and proceeded when other local rabbis dropped out. The other rabbis reportedly expressed concern about what the panelists might say, including giving names of molesters who have not been formally accused, indicted or convicted.

“It’s just easier to do it alone,” Rabbi Eisenman says.

He did not tell the panelists what to say or what not to say; such limitations, he explains, would limit the emotional impact of their words.

“It opened him up to criticism ... some felt it was irresponsible for him to allow people to have an open mic,” Morrison says.

In his FailedMessiah post on the Ahavas Israel program, Morrison called Rabbi Eisenman “a maverick rabbi.”

“He’s very much an independent person,” Morrison says. “Rabbi Eisenman is an emotional person. Passaic is a passionate community. In a lot of [other Orthodox communities] there’s an intellectual response that’s devoid of passion.”

“Do I want to shake things up? For sure,” Rabbi Eisenman says. “Is there a side of me that is anti-establishment? Yes. I don’t have any stage fright. I love the stage.”

For two and a half hours, Schofield and the other members of the audience heard the abuse victims describe their experiences and the often-unsupportive reaction they got from family and friends. The program, she says, “was an eye opener. There was hardly a dry eye in the room.”

Activists caution, however, that the Orthodox community’s forthright stance against sexual abuse, epitomized by Rabbi Eisenman’s panel discussion and by calls for alleged victims to go to the police with their allegations, is not embraced by all of Passaic’s Orthodox Jews, rabbis or laity, or everyone in the wider haredi community.

“I think parents are talking to their kids a little more” about prudent safety measures, Neugarten says. But she adds, “I don’t think [the children] are safer here, because there are still 5,000 people who didn’t come” to the Ahavas Israel program. “It’s just a beginning.”

“At this point,” Morrison says, “[the movement to confront such abuse] has not necessarily spread outside of Passaic.”

In fact, Agudath Israel, the umbrella organization for the haredi community in the United States, has given mixed signals when it comes to combating abuse in the Orthodox community. The group’s executive vice president, David Zwiebel, told The New York Times recently, “A broad consensus has emerged in the last few years that many of these issues are beyond the ability of the community to handle internally.”

But, he added, that prosecutors should recognize “religious sensitivities” in pressing their cases and should seek alternatives to prison. “The district attorney should be careful not to be seen as making a power grab from rabbinic authority,” Zwiebel told The Times.

Rabbi Eisenman, who ranks as “one of the most prominent rabbis in Passaic,” has a following “of probably 20 to 25 percent” of the community, Morrison says. In Orthodox circles that don’t read newspapers, don’t watch TV, don’t surf the Internet, many simply haven’t heard about the Ahavas Israel program, Morrison continues. And many of those who do know, “feel that the issue should be handled privately.”

Neither of Passaic’s major day schools, Yeshiva Ketana or the Hillel School, offers a formal sexual abuse prevention curriculum for students or faculty, Morrison says.

Requests by The Jewish Week for comments on this issue from several pulpit rabbis in Passaic and from the heads of the two day schools were not returned.

Rabbi Eisenman’s Ahavas Israel has grown from about 40 Shabbat-observant families to about 250 since he became spiritual leader 14 years ago, after it changed from Conservative to Orthodox. He has drawn veiled criticism, but no outright attacks, for unilaterally sponsoring the program, members of Passaic’s Orthodox community say.

“No one [openly] condemns him for what he did,” says psychologist Mordechai Rindenow, who attended the panel discussion. “I don’t see anyone speaking against him. I just don’t see [other rabbis] siding with him.”

Without the vocal support of other Passaic rabbis, Rabbi Eisenman is “somewhat doing this in a vacuum,” Rindenow says.

“Absolutely, it’s not a revolution,” says Asher Lipner, a psychologist and abuse victim who took part in the Ahavas Israel program. “It’s a matter of time” before other communities, other rabbis follow the Passaic example, he says.

Lipner says he has received calls from members of two area Orthodox communities — from lay leaders, not rabbis — who want to run similar programs with abuse victims. “In other communities it will start with members of the community” asking their rabbis, ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’”

In Passaic, “certainly, the shul is behind him,” says Howard Penner, Ahavas Israel president.

Rabbi Eisenman, 50, was ordained at the Modern Orthodox flagship institution, Yeshiva University. But since then he has taken on the outward trappings (a full, reddish-gray beard and long black coat) and the practices (his children attend right-wing schools) of the haredi faction. Which make his actions on combating sexual abuse all the more rare.

“What he did is significant,” says Rabbi Yosef Blau, masgiach ruchani, or spiritual guidance counselor, at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, who has become an outspoken advocate for abuse victims. “It demonstrates that the community now understands the problem.”

Marc Stern, acting co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress, says a ruling some 20 years ago by Rabbi Meir Stern (no relation), rosh yeshiva of the town’s Yeshiva Gedola (a post-high school institution of Talmudic learning), that an autopsy was permitted after a child in the community died and a contagious disease was suspected, set a tone for the primacy of children’s physical and emotional safety.

“The community has grown up with that assumption ... that within the bounds of halacha, we will do everything that is possible to protect the interests of children,” Stern says. “Other communities don’t have that.”

Community-wide outrage at the possibility of children being molested was evident in the size of the crowd at the Ahavas Israel program, an estimated 300 to 400 men and women, sitting separately, Neugarten says. “We expected 40 people to show up. We were in shock.”

“It wasn’t just from our shul,” says Daniel Pollack, a professor of social work who belongs to Ahavas Israel.

Lipner, a therapist who counsels other abuse victims, calls the event “historic.”

It was, he says, the first time Orthodox victims of sexual abuse were invited to describe their experiences in a haredi congregation; the first time a haredi rabbi himself was the impetus behind such a program; the first time parents in a right-wing Orthodox community were publicly advised to go the police or district attorneys, instead of just consulting with rabbis, when a child is abused.

Most of the panelists went public with their stories for the first time that night.

“For the first time, survivors of abuse were asked, ‘Please come. We want to hear your experience,’” Lipner says. “This was a huge step forward.” Past programs in the New York area or out of town, sponsored by synagogues or politicians, drew smaller crowds, featured mental health professionals instead of victims themselves, and avoided mention of bringing in police or district attorneys, he says.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Sarah, a 16-year-old girl from the New York area who spoke at the program, under a pseudonym, about being raped by a friend of her family from the time she was 7 until three years ago. After the program, she says, many members of the audience stayed to talk with the panelists past 2 a.m., offering hugs and Shabbat invitations. “They acknowledged our pain.”

“I’m used to hearing, ‘It can’t happen in the [Orthodox] Jewish community,’” Sarah says.

According to most mental health experts, the incidence of sexual abuse in Orthodox circles is comparable to the rate in wider society, but most leaders of the community have denied the problem and discouraged victims from taking their complaints to secular authorities. Lipner says he has heard of abuse victims and relatives being threatened with physical abuse, public embarrassment, loss of business, summons to a beit din and exclusion from the community if they go to the police.

The reasons for Orthodox reticence to publicly confront abusers vary: publicizing molestations committed by persons identified as Orthodox Jews, some rabbinic leaders have ruled, would blacken the image of Orthodox Judaism and lessen respect for rabbis; it is against Jewish law to go outside the structure of a beit din, or rabbinic court; it is immodest to discuss sexual matters in public.

“The current trend in Judaism toward hagiography has made matters worse, where it is considered unconscionable to even mention a person’s failings on the grounds that it is gossip and contrary to Jewish l aw, even if Jewish law itself requires such matters to be placed in the open to avoid repetition,” Rabbi Jeremy Rosen writes in the preface to the recently published “Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals” (Brandeis University Press), edited by sociologist Amy Neustein.

Rabbis’ unwillingness to publicly condemn Orthodox pedophiles is contrary to Jewish tradition, says Rabbi Eisenman. The oft-cited prohibition against mesira, or turning in a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, “doesn’t apply if there is no comparable [law enforcement] system in the beit din system,” he says; a beit din can’t arrest or imprison an offender. Therefore, the rabbi says, “there is no prohibition against going to the police.”

During the panel discussion, a recording of which is available on the site, Rabbi Eisenman acknowledged that he, like other Passaic rabbis who have taken a less-public position on the sexual abuse issue, was “brought into this kicking and screaming.” Alerted to the problem by members of the Orthodox community who came to him for counseling, he conducted further research, he says, and realized the extent of abuse committed against and by Orthodox Jews.

He declared at the program that other, unnamed pulpit rabbis in the community, declined to co-sponsor the panel discussion, and he urged the audience to eschew giving charitable donations to the Ger chasidic sect, which has fought extradition from Israel of a molester who is a member of the group.

The program, Passaic activists say, gave their work the imprimatur of a major rabbi who has the status of a rav, a communal leader. Morrison calls himself part of “bunch of yechidim,” individuals working on behalf of abuse victims. “Now we have a springboard.”

So are children in Passaic’s Orthodox community safer because of the activists’ work?
“Yes, 100 percent,” Lipner says. In Passaic, he says, a child making an accusation of abuse will be believed, and the perpetrator will be confronted. Because of attention focused on the subject, parents there say they are more protective of their children.

“If you’re a child abuser,” says Marc Stern “you don’t want to live in Passaic. There’s no refuge here.”

As a therapist, Lipner says he frequently deals with Orthodox Jews who were sexually abused and state they do not feel understood or accepted in Orthodox communities. “Now I can say, ‘Move to Passaic.’”


Brooklyn DA accused of failing to tackle Orthodox Jews' cover-up of sex abuse
Critics say Charles Hynes has failed to wrest control from rabbis who refuse to co-operate with secular authorities
By Zoe Blacker
The Guardian - March 29, 2012

A systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclaves continues to obstruct justice for young victims, despite claims by religious leaders and the Brooklyn district attorney that the problem is in hand.

A long-standing culture of non-cooperation with secular justice by Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jews keeps many child sex offenders out of the courts and at large in their communities.

Victim advocates say Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes has failed to wrest control from rabbinic leaders, who continue to hamper efforts to uncover abuse. Hynes' recent claim to have radically increased prosecution rates for these crimes has drawn scorn from critics.

Brooklyn's Jewish communities, home to the largest number of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside Israel, are insular and close-knit. They maintain their own shadow justice system based on religious halachic law, enforced by religious courts known as the beit din. In recent years, they have also established their own community police force, the Shomrim.

Like the Catholic bishops before them, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who lead these communities are charged with the concealment of crimes stretching back decades, and of fostering a culture where witnesses are silenced through intimidation.

"The rabbis are still, to an unfortunate degree, protecting the system," said victims' advocate Rabbi Yosef Blau, a more moderate Orthodox rabbi than his Brooklyn counterparts and spiritual advisor at Yeshiva University. Blau said the community feels it has to protect its image. "The battle is over the cover-up. That's what we're fighting now."

Until the late 2000s, only a handful of ultra-Orthodox child sex crimes made their way into the criminal courts. But in April 2009 – as pressure from victims' advocates, whistle-blower blogs and parts of the secular Jewish press intensified – District Attorney Hynes launched Kol Tzedek, a community outreach effort to encourage community leaders to report child sexual abuse. The DA's Orthodox community liaison Henna White plays a key role in Kol Tzedek, which features a reporting hotline staffed by a culturally sensitive social worker.

Hynes' office says that between April 2009 and November 2011, there were 85 arrests with 47 of those cases pending. Of the 38 closed cases, it said, six had gone to trial, 23 had ended in plea deals and nine with acquittals or dismissals. These figures contrast sharply with the negligible prosecutions in the years between Hynes taking office in 1990 and the start of Kol Tzedek.

But they also represent a mere fraction of the incidents of abuse that advocates say they hear about. Because of scant reporting, there are no statistics for child sexual abuse in these communities. Most, however, believe the numbers are at least consistent with broader society if not higher.

Even the most outspoken advocates acknowledge some positive change – primarily a growing community acceptance of the problem and a slight increase in reports to the authorities. Nonetheless, they accuse Hynes and the religious leadership of playing a PR game.

Ben Hirsch of victims advocate group Survivors for Justice said, "The DA has been very reluctant to prosecute these cases. Recently he's become a little more aggressive in response to pressure from advocates and critical stories in the press. But he's still not behaving in a way that's consistent with the way he treats non-Orthodox cases."

Hirsch points to the DA's blanket refusal to release information about recent arrests and convictions, his controversial plea deals and the number of cases that by the DA's own admission have collapsed due to witness intimidation.

The DA's spokesperson, Jerry Schmetterer, said it was policy not to discuss child sex crimes with the media in order to protect the victims' anonymity.

But Dan Schorr, a former sex crimes prosecutor at Queens County and Westchester County, said the policy was surprising. In Schorr's experience, publicising the names of suspected child molesters, except in cases where that might identify the victim, is one of the best ways to strengthen a prosecution "and prevent the abuse of other children". All other New York City DAs decide whether to publicise details of arrests and convictions for child sex crimes on a case by case basis. (The identity of the victim, however, will always be protected.)

The Brooklyn DA's office has also broken its own stated rule, for certain cases, in recent years.

The most infamous plea deal, often cited by advocates, was in the case of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko. In 2007, Kolko, a teacher and summer camp counsellor, was indicted for molesting two boys aged eight and nine. But under a plea deal, Kolko was only convicted on child endangerment charges, given a three year probationary sentence with no requirement to join the sex offender registry.

Kolko's prosecution followed an earlier civil suit against the school by two adult men who claimed they were also abused as children – one in the late 1960s, the other in the mid 1980s. The suit, which was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, alleged Kolko's principal knew he was a serial molester, but suppressed the allegations.

Stefan Colmer's conviction is also controversial. Colmer was indicted on 37 charges after abusing two teenage boys, but in June 2009 he pled guilty to just eight counts of criminal sexual act in the second degree and was sentenced to two-and-a-third to seven years jail time. Colmer was released last month.

To date, and to the best of our knowledge, only eight Orthodox Jews prosecuted in Brooklyn have been required to join the sex offender registry, established in 1996. Of those eight, only four received custodial sentences, four were given probation.

The Guardian knows of two cases which have closed since the beginning of the year. Joseph Passof had been facing 12 charges, including six felonies. The most serious charge was for a criminal sexual act in the first degree – oral or anal sexual conduct with a child under 11 – a class B felony that carries a sentence of five to 25 years imprisonment.

But under a plea deal he was allowed to plead guilty to two counts of sexual abuse in the first degree - a less serious charge for which he would receive 10 years probation with a treatment programme. While this is a standard sentence for the charges Passof pleaded guilty to, former prosecutor Dan Schorr said he would consider the disparity between the original charges and the eventual sentence a disappointing outcome. Passof's sentencing hearing has been adjourned until May.

The case against David Greenfeld for child molestation collapsed in January after the DA failed to bring a case in the time allowed. The DA's spokesperson said this was because the victim's family was not co-operative.

Child sexual crimes are notoriously hard to prosecute. An apparently strong case at arrest stage can become considerably weaker as the prosecution progresses. DNA evidence may not support the allegations, for example. In ultra-Orthodox abuse cases, witnesses also frequently pull out.

DA spokesperson Jerry Schmetterer admitted cases collapse because victims are pressured by their communities. "If [victims and their families] come to us with an allegation or any concern that they are being intimidated we will take action to help them," he said.

But Mark Meyer Appel of victim support group Voice of Justice said the DA is not doing enough. "They should be going out to the community to find out why these victims are dropping out."

In the face of powerful community non-cooperation, Hynes faces a genuine obstacle. Rabbi Mark Dratch, a modern-Orthodox rabbi who founded JSafe to tackle abuse in the Jewish community, said: "Unless you get the trust of the community, you're not going to get the reporting. If, however, you're less than responsible about how you get the reports, you're not really solving the problem."

Dratch believes Hynes is being influenced by religious leaders: "The DA's position is an elected position, and the orthodox have a large voting bloc and I'm sure Mr Hynes will deny it but I think that is the nature of the situation. I know there is a lot of pressure on his office from the organised rabbinic community in Brooklyn either not to deal with the cases or to minimise them."

Rabbi Blau said the cases coming to court reflect the nature of Hynes's arrangement with community leaders. "Yes, Hynes has got a number of cases into the courts, but they're all the nobodies. They won't get somebody prominent because then the community won't co-operate. But if it's some weird guy, OK, let the police handle it."

Blau's analysis is supported by Joel Engelman, an abuse survivor and spokesperson for the victims, who follows these cases closely. Engelman said that of the handful of defendants currently in the system, most are on the fringes of Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox communities, rather than their leaders and power brokers.

Both the DA's office and rabbinical leaders deny there is a deal. Both insist they are doing all in their power to solve the problem.

But in recent months, the leaders of Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella body for Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jews, has clarified its position on reporting abuse to the police. To avoid the ancient prohibition against mesirah – the act of handing over a fellow Jew to secular authorities – Agudath directs its members to consult with a rabbi first, before calling children's services.

The rabbi must establish whether the suspicions are weighty enough to justify a report. "A person can be destroyed if allegations which are baseless are raised against him," said Agudath's executive vice-president, Rabbi David Zwiebel.

While some observers are encouraged that Agudath is now at least recognising secular justice, others are horrified. "This is the latest outrage from Agudath Israel," said Eliot Pasik, a lawyer who has represented Orthodox abuse victims, including those of Yehuda Kolko. "In the name of maintaining what they think is the best image possible, they've become ideological fanatics."

There are some signs of a growing schism within the rabbinic leadership – including inside Agudath – even if most critics are still afraid to speak up. In a significant move last summer, the Crown Heights Beit Din declared it will no longer handle child sex abuse cases, which it said must be taken to the secular authorities.

But progress, say advocates, is far slower than the official picture suggests.

Last November, the Jewish radio show Talkline held a heated debate on child sexual abuse. Zvi Gluck, a community mediator who helps other ultra-Orthodox Jews in trouble with the law, rang in to say the DA's arrest figure was "not a real number". Gluck said he knew most of those arrests, "and most of those, because of pressure within the community, were dropped and resulted in nothing happening".

Gluck added he knew of at least three abused children who had committed suicide in recent months. "As Frum Yidden [observant Jews] we have an obligation to protect our community and our children. We are making progress but they are small steps and we are nowhere near where we need to be."


National Sex Offender Registry
December 23, 2013



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