Tuesday, December 18, 2007

City bar mitzvah teacher charged with sex offenses Incidents involving two boys allegedly occurred more than a decade ago

By Melissa Harris
Baltimore Sun - December 18, 2007

A former bar mitzvah lessons teacher in Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community has been charged with sex offenses against two boys that are alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago, according to the city state's attorney's office.

The boys were learning to chant passages from the Torah at Israel Shapiro's home on Olympia Avenue on separate occasions in September 1988 and June 1994 when the offenses are said to have occurred, according to court documents.

Shapiro was charged Dec. 4 with felony child abuse, second-degree assault and a fourth-degree sex offense in both cases. The boys, who are related, came forward in June, according to Baltimore police spokesman Sterling Clifford.

Prosecutors handling the case were not in their office Tuesday, and the men making the accusations did not return phone calls Tuesday.

Accusations against Shapiro were known in the Orthodox community as early as 2004, when alleged victims began circulating a flier with Shapiro's name and picture, according to Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center Inc., which is an advocate on behalf of Jewish victims of sexual abuse in Baltimore.

Polin has posted a copy of the flier on the center's Web site.

According to court documents, Shapiro put the boys, then age 12 and 13, on his lap while they practiced chanting the Torah. One of the victims reported that Shapiro would touch him inappropriately over his clothing, and the other said he was held on Shapiro's lap against his will and touched inappropriately.

Shapiro, 57, works in a kosher butcher shop, according to the

Jewish Times, which reported extensively on the allegations in June.

A phone message left Tuesday at Shapiro's house was not returned.

Arthur C. Abramson, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that the organization recently became aware of the allegations but had not been involved in the matter or Shapiro's removal from teaching.

"The Orthodox community -- that end of the Orthodox community -- tends to be very insular," Abramson said. "Information can circulate very rapidly within the framework of the Orthodox community, and it doesn't necessarily get out into more general circles unless reported by The Sun or the Jewish Times."

In April, amid discussions in the Orthodox community about the allegations, Vaad HaRabbonim of Baltimore, the city's Council of Orthodox rabbis, released a letter on "Abuse in Our Community."

"We feel it essential to discuss this matter directly with you, as the greatest allies of the abuser are ignorance and silence," according to the letter, which was signed by nearly two dozen rabbis.

Shapiro is out on a combined $175,000 bail in the two cases.


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