Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Raising A Mensch

Raising A Mensch
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice - September 30, 2008

Protecting Your Children... From the silent epidemic that no one wants to talk about.  -- Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

Child abuse is an uncomfortable topic to broad, but if we want to protect our children from this trauma we must speak up. The subject has been in news lately, so we would like to give you the evidence on how to protect your children.

Child molesters can often be trusted family members or friends, men or women. The Catholic priests do not have a monopoly on the scourge of pedophilia. In fact, the
Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault details over 100 cases of Jewish Rabbis and other community leaders who have betrayed our trust. In our area, Cantor Phillip Wittlin of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg and Ari Sorkin of Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park have been convicted of molesting children under their care.

Children in suburban Philadelphia are vulnerable to these attacks just as children in inner city neighborhoods.

As parents, educators or community leaders what can we do to protect children?

Supervision and vigilence is important, but education plays an essential role according to Dr. David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

While a member of the Illinois General Assembly Barack Obama along with the Illinois Parent Teacher Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Public Health Association and the Illinois Educational Association endorsed legislation to amend the Illinois School code to include such age and developmentally appropriate child sexual abuse prevention education:

SB99: Course material and instruction shall discuss and provide for the development of positive communication skills to maintain healthy relationships and avoid unwanted sexual activity. ... Course material and instruction shall teach pupils ... how to say no to unwanted sexual advances ... and shall include information about verbal, physical, and visual sexual harassment, including without limitation nonconsensual sexual advances, nonconsensual physical sexual contact, and rape by an acquaintance. The course material and instruction shall contain methods of preventing sexual assault by an acquaintance, including exercising good judgment and avoiding behavior that impairs one's judgment.

The bill called for all sex education course materials to include information that would help students recognize, among other activities, inappropriate touching, sexual assault and rape. Obama's intentions are painfully clear and valid:

"I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse, because I have family members as well as friends who suffered abuse at that age."

While the Jewish community is relatively open about giving our children the information they need to help protect themselves, the issue of sex education has not been without debate in more conservative circles.

Political Advertisement from the McCain campaign plays on racial stereotypes, accusing Obama in essence of corrupting five-year old girls. "His [Barack Obama's] one accomplishment? Teaching comprehensive sex-education to kindergardeners. I am John McCain and I approve this message."

Senator McCain has revived attacks launched in 2004 by Alan Keyes falsely accusing Senator Obama of wanting to pervert our youth through comprehensive sexual eduation to kindergardeners. However, Obama did not support "explicit sex education to children in kindergarten". In fact, the bill granted parents the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes without question.

In 2006, the Catholic Medical Association Task Force reeling from abuse scandals characterized sex education as "ineffective" and "inconsistant with the science of emotional, cognitive, neurobiological and moral development of the child". On the other hand, some have pointed to Governor Palin's daughter Bristol's pregnancy as an example of the failure of abstinence-only based sex education.

In his study "Prevention of Sexual Abuse Through Educational Programs Directed Toward Children" published in Pediatrics, Dr. David Finkelhor concludes that:

"It is worth providing children with high-quality prevention education programs. Some research has suggested that the programs promote disclosure. One study found lower rates of victimization for children who were exposed to these programs. A study found that children who are exposed to prevention education have less self-blame if they are victimized."

Satirical video from 23/6 shows a hypothetical response in kind to the McCain attack ad.

All of this underscores the importance of protecting our children against sexual preditors.

According to Safe Place (The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Center for Child Protection and Health) children should practice saying no. Children who are able to appropriately assert themselves are at lower risk of victimization.

Talk to your kids about what kind of touching is not okay. For example, they should be told that the parts of the body covered by underwear is private.

Encourage children to tell someone they trust if anyone tries to touch their private parts. It is very common for kids to be molested, know it is wrong, but they feel like there is nobody they can talk to about it, or that their parents wouldn't care or would not believe them. Give your kids a safe forum to be able to talk about anything. Teach children never to keep secrets that make them feel uncomfortable or bad.

Answer questions children ask with language they will understand, and answer only what was asked. This gives the child the opportunity to come back after he or she integrates the information you provided.

Children with internet resources are vulnerable to contact from neighborhood bullies and inappropriate adult contact in ways that their parents never faced. As an adult community it is up to us all to protect our children from these threats. This can mean a level of intrusiveness and monitoring which may seem to cross the line of childrens’ privacy, It is the approach we take to such monitoring which will make our children understand our intentions.

Christine Downs of Safe Place  recommends the following children's books to help parents talk to their children about this issue:
  • It's MY Body, A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch by Lory Freeman,
  • Your Body Belongs to You by Cornelia Maude Spelman and
  •  I Can Be Safe, A First Look at Safety by Pat Thomas.

 According to the Children Are Worth Saving Community Outreach Program:
  • Parents can help protect their children by teaching them awareness of dangerous people and the lures used to entice children. Children should be aware not afraid of the dangers! Through education, perhaps we can prevent a child's disappearance.
  • Set aside time to talk to your children about dangerous people and strangers. Gear the talk to your children's level of understanding. Be straightforward, without frightening a sensitive child.
  • Teach your children their full name and yours, phone number with area code, and address with zip code. They should know how to make local and long distance calls; use a pay phone; call home and law enforcement departments; and dial "0" for the operator or 911 in an emergency.
  • Be sure your children know what to do if you are separated while shopping. They should not look for you; they should go to the nearest clerk and ask for help!
  • Explain who a stranger is. Children should never enter a stranger's home, get into their car, or take gifts from them. Explain when the child has the right to say NO to an adult. Be aware of anyone who pays an unusual amount of attention to your children. Listen to your children if they don't want to be left alone with someone. Ask them to tell you about anyone who asks them to keep a secret or any new adults they meet.
  • Encourage your children to use the buddy system. Advise them what to do if a stranger follows or approaches them. Get to know your neighbors and establish "safe homes" where children can go for help.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rabbinic Molesters Issue Moving Agudah

Rabbinic Molesters Issue Moving Agudah
Spurred by ‘anguish,’ ultra-Orthodox umbrella group now open to gov’t fingerprinting, other oversight of yeshiva rabbis.

New York Jewish Week - September 24, 2008
By Larry Cohler-Esses, Editor At Large

The recent rash of cases in which rabbis have allegedly molested young children going back decades has moved one group that usually bristles at government involvement in Orthodox schools to envision shifting its stance.

“Our general sense is that we’re much better off when government leaves usalone,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America for government and public affairs. “But because of the sensitivity of this particular issue, I could see the possibility of our rabbis affirmatively encouraging schools to buy into the system, and even maybe affirmatively encouraging government to impose it on us.”

Zwiebel was speaking specifically about a new law that will, for the first time, allow non-public schools to voluntarily take part in a program to fingerprint school employees for use in criminal background checks.  But for Agudah, an umbrella organization of ultra-traditional Orthodox groups that
seek a degree of insulation from the secular world, it was a striking statement.

To be sure, Agudah contemplates no welcome mat for a mandatory government fingerprint program just yet. That would be “quite premature,” said  Zwiebel. Agudah, he said, wants first to see how the state implements the voluntary law.

But in an interview with The Jewish Week, Zwiebel, whose organization many in Albany check with first on legislation involving the Orthodox community, appeared to offer a wary road map to supporting greater oversight by the government on issues relating to sexual molestation of children.

The pressure for increased government involvement has been building for years. It began with the shocking emergence earlier this decade of Catholic priests who, it turned out, had molested children under their care for decades, and had often been protected by their Church superiors.
More recently, credible allegations have emerged here in New York against a small number of yeshiva rabbis said to have also sexually abused their students over several decades. The alleged victims — often now adults — have also charged that the yeshivas and rabbinic supervisors were informed
about their teachers’ conduct but did nothing, or even protected them.

Now, State Assembly Member Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), who has become deeply involved in this issue, speaks of hearing “hundreds” of reports of rabbinic sexual abuse — reports that appear to him to be credible. This week, speaking at a conference on this controversy, Hikind for the first time numbered these reports in the “thousands.”

Slowly, and somewhat erratically, the state legislature has begun to take up the question of legal reforms to address this situation. The fingerprinting law passed last year, will permit non-public schools to voluntarily take part in a program that is already mandatory for all public schools.

But some lawmakers hope to go further next year, with legislation to make non-public school participation mandatory. They also want to pass a bill that would make clergy and non-public school officials “mandated reporters” — individuals required by law to report to the authorities any  information or evidence they receive that a child has been abused or molested in a school setting. Public school officials are already required to do so, thanks to an education law passed in 2000 that excluded the private school sector.

Another bill, now stalled by differences between the Assembly and Senate, would extend the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution ofmolesters and for civil suits to be filed against them. Presently, prosecutors cannot go after a child molester once the child in question reaches age 23. And a child victim of sexual molestation must sue his molester — or a school that fails in its duty to protect him — for civil damages by between one and six years after he turns 18, depending on the
nature of the allegation. But experts say child victims can take many years, or even decades, after they reach adulthood to process what was done to them and act on it.

Agudath Israel does not oppose any of these measures in principle, Zwiebel said. But God is in the details. And one red flag for the group is disparate treatment.

“It’s never been our position that non-public schools should be treated differently than public schools,” when it comes to protecting children, he said. “But our position is that they should not be singled out.”

This led Agudath Israel to vigorously oppose a 2003 proposal that would have required members of the clergy and certain categories of religious educators and administrators to go to the authorities with any information they had received about child abuse by other clergy over the last 20 years.
Inspired by the continuing revelations coming from the Catholic Church, the bill singled out the duty of these religious workers to report on their colleagues — but not on sexual abuse from other sources.

In a memo then to leaders of the State Assembly and Senate, Zwiebel denounced the legislation as “patently unconstitutional” for its “apparent assumption that religious functionaries, more than any other element of society, are inherently suspect — and should therefore be subject to special legal scrutiny and reporting requirements — regarding allegations of child abuse.”

Since then, critics have frequently denounced Agudath Israel’s stand as
obstructionist and cited its opposition to this bill as evidence of an intent to shield rabbinic abusers. Condemnations on the Internet against the group have been especially angry and intense.

But Zwiebel said that if the legislature were to introduce a bill that simply included non-public school officials in the duty to report evidence of abuse of students in a school setting, as public school officialsalready must do, “At a minimum, I am pretty certain we’d advise our friends in the
legislature we don’t oppose this.”

As for efforts to expand the statute of limitations, whether criminally or civilly, “I don’t imagine we’ll oppose any of that” either, Zwiebel said.

“Whether we would affirmatively push it, I can’t answer.”

Indeed, legislation on this appears to be stuck between the State Senate and the Assembly. And according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau County), it is opposition from the Catholic Church and the insurance industry that is playing a role.

The Assembly’s bill would significantly extend both the criminal and  civilstatute of limitations for child sex abuse going into the future. But the Democratic-dominated Assembly is determined to also give those now beyond the civil statute of limitations a key back into the courts. Its bill  would
establish a one-year “window” for adults with allegations of childhoodabuse to file suit, regardless of when the abuse took place.

Skelos’ spokesperson voiced concern about this provision, citing the potential difficulties of obtaining evidence in very old cases. The Senate, he noted, has passed three different bills to eliminate or extend the criminal statute of limitation. But it has refused to pass the Assembly’s
bill. The Assembly, in turn, has held fast against the Senate’s bill.

Meanwhile, the regulations have yet to be published for implementing the law passed last year that would allow non-public schools to opt in on fingerprinting and criminal background checks of its staff. Zwiebel made clear that Agudah’s willingness to accept a bill to make this mandatory for non-public schools will depend on how the voluntary program goes.

One regulation under consideration, he related, would institute a “roach motel” principle: Once a school chooses to opt in, it will not be allowed to opt out.

“I’m troubled by that,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like wise public policy.”

Another proposed rule would mandate that a school opting into the system must require every employee to be fingerprinted, without exception.

“I don’t understand that part of it,” he said. “It would allow us no discretion to [exempt], say, certain veterans about whom there have never been any questions from a criminal background check.”

Still, he said, “I’m not necessarily implying those two rules would push us away. I’d like to know exactly what the details are.”

In many cases, Zwiebel said, Agudah’s views have been misrepresented. He pointed, among other things, to an error in a recent Jewish Week story — since acknowledged — that stated the group opposed a mandatory fingerprinting law and another to make yeshiva officials mandated  reporters.

But referring to disturbing exposes that have appeared in this paper and elsewhere, he said, “Some of the anguish and pain that has come in the last few years, though uncomfortable, promotes consciousness of a problem that’s been in the shadows. So, though our views have been misrepresented, I can’t say [critics] are bad people. They obviously care a lot about this  issue.” n

Hella Winston contributed to this story.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is David Mandel a Mandated Reporter?

Is David Mandel a Mandated Reporter?
By Vicki Polin
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - September 21, 2008

David Mandel is the Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in New York City, which has been serving the ultra-religious Jewish community since 1969. Ohel is an non-profit mental health agency that receives both state and federal funding.

One has to ask, why doesn't David Mandel believe that children from orthodox homes deserve the same civil rights and protection as children secular backgrounds?

When watching the following film keep the following in mind?
  1. What does David Mandel mean -- girls who were abuse don't need therapy, but boys do ? Where did he come up with that ?
  2. David Mandel eludes to the issue that if a parent molests their own child that one should be more concerned about the parents ability to earn a living over protecting a child from incest or other forms of child abuse and or neglect. If one SUSPECTS a child is being abused or neglected we all need to report our suspicions to the police and Child Protection Services. Case closed.
  3. David Mandel wants to "Discourage people from being a detective." "Don't go looking for shadows where none exist." These are ominous statements that almost sound as if he is promoting a conspiracy to keep people from being too vigilant, observant and aware of their surroundings.
  4. David Mandel's dismissive response to the Child Protection Services question should infuriate everyone, especially since he is a CEO of a agency that is supposed to be protecting children.

Bottom line. . . Everyone needs to make hotline reports if abuse or neglect is suspected.

This is the introduction to David Mandel's response to questions.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Case of Jacek Marczsewski

Case of Jacek Marczsewski

Custodian - Congregation Kehilas Jacob (The While Shul), Far Rockaway, NY
New York, NY
Makawao, HI

Convicted sex offender.  According to court records, Marcszewski reached down into the pants of a an unidentified youth, and fondled him on several occasions between September of 2006 and July of 2008.

In 2011 Marczsewski plead guilty to charges of reckless endangerment stemming from the crime. Marczewski then sued both the publisher and author of a news report for defamation and punitive damages over the stories they wrote on his charges and subsequent trial proceedings. Queens County Judge Sidney F. Strauss decided there was no merit to the case.

As of January 18, 2014 Marczsewski does NOT appear on the New York Sex Offender's Registry, nor does it appear he is still living in the United States

There are several people who go by the name of Jacek Marczsewski.  The individual discussed on this page was born around 1965.  If you have any more information about this case, please forward it to The Awareness Center.

If anyone has a photograph of Jacek Marczsewski, please forward it to The Awareness Center.

Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:

  1. Synagogue Shocker: Custodian Nabbed For Molesting Young Boy (09/19/2008)
  2. Charge of abuse at shul in Far Rockaway (09/26/2008)


  1. Press Release: District Attorney Queens County (10/04/2010)

  1. Perv Pleads Guilty (07/01/2011)

  1. Case Dismissed - Jacek Marczewski v. Wave Publishing Co and Howard Schwach (03/15/2013)
  2. Judge rules N.Y. newspaper protected by fair report privilege (04/26/2013)


Synagogue Shocker: Custodian Nabbed For Molesting Young Boy
By Howard Schwach
The Wave - September 19, 2008

The custodian at a Far Rockaway synagogue was arrested last week for molesting the son of a congregant in the house of worship's basement over a two-year period, police officials say.

Officials identify the man as Jacek Marczewski, 46, who worked at the Congregation Kehelas Jacob at 821 Roosevelt Court in Far Rockaway. That address is also listed as Marczewski's home address.
According to court papers, Marczewski reached down into the pants of the unidentified youth, who is now ten years old, and fondled him on several occasions between September of 2006 and July of this year.
Sources say that the boy finally got up the nerve to tell his parents about the abuse and they reported it to the police.
The arrest last week was made by Detective Cecilia Papaleo of the Queens Special Victims Squad.
Marczewski was arraigned on September 10, charged with first degree sexual abuse, a course of sexual conduct against a child and endangering the welfare of a child.
Bail was set at $25,000 and his next court date was set for September 29.
Should he be convicted of the top offense of the charges, Marczewski could serve up to seven years in prison.
Calls to Congregation Kehelas Jacob for comment went unreturned.
Charge of abuse at shul in Far Rockaway
By Michael Orbach
Jewish Star - September  26, 2008

A man who lived on the grounds of a Far Rockaway shul has a hearing on Sept. 29 on charges that he abused a child during davening.

The case was first reported last week in The Wave, a Far Rockaway newspaper, which incorrectly identified Jacek Marczsewski, 46, as a custodian at Congregation Kehilas Jacob.

Marczsewski was arraigned September 10th and charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a course of sexual conduct against a child, and endangering the welfare of a child. He could face up to seven years in jail if convicted.

The report in The Wave said the boy had been molested repeatedly over a period of two years beginning in 2006, ending in July, but a source tells The Jewish Star that only a single episode of abuse is now believed to have occurred.

The child, who reportedly has been diagnosed as autistic, is said to be at the center of a custody dispute between his parents.


Press Release: District Attorney Queens County
October 4, 2010


Perv Pleads Guilty
By Howard Schwarch
The Wave - July 1, 2011
The former custodian at a Far Rockaway synagogue, who was arrested in September of 2008 for molesting the son of a congregant in the house of worship’s basement over a two-year period, pled guilty to the crime in Queens Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Court officials identify the man as Jacek Marczsewski, 46, who worked at the Congregation Kehelas Jacob at 821 Roosevelt Court in Far Rockaway. That address was also listed as Marczsewski’s home address at the time of the crime. According to court papers, Marcszewski reached down into the pants of the unidentified youth, who is now twelve years old, and fondled him on several occasions between September of 2006 and July of 2008.
Sources say that the boy finally got up the nerve to tell his parents about the abuse and they reported it to the police.
The 2008 arrest was made by Detective Cecilia Papaleo of the Queens Special Victims Squad.
Marczsewski was arraigned on September 10, 2008 charged with first degree sexual abuse, a course of sexual conduct against a child and endangering the welfare of a child.
Bail was set at $25,000 and he has been free on bail since that time.
Marczsewski could serve up to seven years in prison after his sentencing on August 1.
As part of the plea deal, Marczsewski must register as a sex offender, court sources say.
Calls to Congregation Kehelas Jacob for comment went unreturned
Judge rules N.Y. newspaper protected by fair report privilege
By Jack Komperda
Reporters Committee - April 26, 2013

A New York trial court judge dismissed a defamation claim brought by a convicted sex offender against a local newspaper that reported on his arrest and guilty plea. 

Queens County Judge Sidney F. Strauss concluded this week that Wave Publishing Co., publishers of the weekly newspaper The Wave in Rockaway Beach, were protected by the state’s fair report privilege for a 2008 story concerning the criminal charges brought by local authorities against Jacek Marczewski, the custodian of a synagogue in Far Rockaway, Queens. 

Statements made by others in certain settings and in official government documents are often granted either a conditional or total privilege by laws in many states if the reporter, in good faith, accurately reports information of public interest. This privilege usually applies to material from official meetings such as judicial proceedings, legislative hearings, city council meetings and grand jury deliberations. Reports of this nature must be accurate and fair in order for the reporter to invoke the fair report privilege. 

Under New York Civil Rights Law Section 74, "fair and true" reports of such such proceedings are granted a complete immunity from defamation claims. 

Marczewski was accused of molesting a child in the basement of the synagogue over a two-year period and ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of reckless endangerment stemming from the crime. Marczewski then sued both the publisher and author of the news report for defamation and punitive damages over the stories they wrote on his charges and subsequent trial proceedings. 

Judge Strauss flatly noted in an opinion released on Tuesday that “fair and true” accounts in news reports receive an absolute privilege from libel claims brought by the subjects of those news reports. 

“The purpose of (New York’s fair report privilege) is to protect reporting of matters which are in the public interest, as in this instance,” Judge Strauss wrote in the three-page opinion. “Accordingly, courts routinely construe the standard of ‘fair and true’ with wide latitude.” 

Strauss seemed satisfied that the local newspaper fairly and accurately reported the incidents leading up to Marczewski’s ultimate conviction. 

“No matter how the plaintiff attempts to couch the terms of his ultimate plea agreement, the facts underlying both the plea and the defendants’ reporting remain the same,” Strauss wrote, “both arise out of a criminal prosecution for fondling of the genitals of a minor.” 


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"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." –– Margaret Mead

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Top Doc Scared Off Panel On Rabbinic Sex Molestors

Top Doc Scared Off Panel On Rabbinic Sex Molestors
Tapped by Hikind, Twerski cites threats; pol ready to ‘name names’ of alleged abusers.
By Hella Winston
New York Jewish Week - September 10, 2008

"He was basically forced to resign," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, above, of Dr. Benzion Twerski. "He was literally put against the wall, and he felt he had no choice...the point is, they got to him, they threatened him."

A prominent Orthodox rabbi and psychologist has been intimidated into quitting as head of a just-formed task force dealing with rabbinic sex abuse of minors, organized by Assemblyman Dov Hikind this week.

Dr. Benzion Twerski told The Jewish Week Wednesday that he was quitting the task force because “I was prosecuted in the street for daring to join such a venture.”

“To protect myself, my family, and reputation, I decided to withdraw from this project,” he wrote in an e-mail as the paper was going to press with a story announcing Hikind’s formation of the task force. “From this point, I am avoiding participation in any forms of public service. Public life is not for me.”

Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat who represents Borough Park and Flatbush, deplored Twerski’s abrupt departure from his new panel.

“He was basically forced to resign,” said Hikind. “He was literally put against the wall, and he felt he had no choice. We’ll get somebody else who’s very respected. But that’s not the point. The point is they got to him, they threatened him.”

Twerski’s dramatic departure came just as Hikind was rolling out the new panel, planned as the next step in a personal crusade against child sex abuse in the Orthodox community that he has come to view as an epidemic.

Hikind said he had amassed a dossier with the cases of “hundreds” of individuals who say they have been sexually molested by rabbis and other Orthodox community members during their childhood. And he threatened to broadcast the names of their abusers if community leaders do not respond to his call for action against them.

“Let me tell you,” he said in an interview last week, “when there’s a person who we have confirmed through a variety of people has been doing terrible things” and those who know refuse to go to the authorities, “I am prepared to name names. I am prepared to be sued by those pedophiles. If they’re innocent, let them sue me.”

Speaking after a rash of highly publicized sexual molestation cases in the Orthodox community, Hikind said, “I have been learning that a lot of people out there know who the bad guys are. Where have I been? How come no one talked to me, how come no one came to me?”

Now, Hikind says, he is more determined than ever to establish a community task force to address the issue. Though vague on the panel’s broader makeup and specific plans, Hikind ultimately seeks to develop a list of sexual molesters in Orthodox schools to keep them away from children.

Neither man would specify the nature of the threats made against Twerski to force his departure. But Hikind called them “pathetic and sad.”

“My heart goes out to him,” he said. “I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. Things are opening up, people are coming forward, but we are still so far away.”

Hikind’s new crusade follows several cases in which individuals — often adults now — have gone public with accounts of sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of respected yeshiva teachers when they were children. The alleged victims have spoken, too, of the rejection or even intimidation they experienced from their yeshivas and rabbinic leaders when they tried to report what had happened to them.

In one of the few cases in which victims went to the secular court system, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko of Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Flatbush was convicted on two counts of child endangerment last April. Another alleged abuser, Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz, now awaits extradition from Israel to Brooklyn, where he has been charged with sexual abuse of children.

More recently Joel Engelman, a former student at the Satmar chasidic sect’s United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg, has alleged he was abused when he eight years old by Rabbi Avrohom Reichman. Engelman, now 23, has filed suit against Rabbi Reichman and UTA, which, he says, violated its promise to him to dismiss Rabbi Reichman in exchange for his not going public. UTA has yet to respond to the suit.

Hikind, who began broadcasting radio shows addressing the issue bluntly about a month ago said, “For a couple of weeks now, so many people have been coming forward. It’s made me absolutely sick, to have to listen to this, to be so shocked, to see so much pain, so much suffering. ... I actually feel that [this] may be the most important thing I’ve done in 26 years. Because you’re talking about saving lives.”

At times during his interview, Hikind sounded vague when pressed on just what his task force would do and how it proposed to go about doing it. The panel will present its findings to “leading rabbis” in various Orthodox communities, he said. And the rabbis, he predicted, “will be absolutely flabbergasted” by what they hear.

His ultimate goal, said Hikind, is to establish a communal registry that would list the names of teachers removed from schools due to abusive behavior.

“We need to develop a system, a roster, a protocol needs to be developed,” he said. “If you have a pedophile who is teaching in a yeshiva, that person needs to be on a list, and before any other yeshiva hires a person, you need to be able to go to a roster and see if that rebbe was teaching somewhere else and got thrown out.”

But at another point, apparently recognizing that many schools are often reluctant to dismiss such teachers in the first place, Hikind appeared to envision a more ambitious, quasi-judicial function for his panel.

“It’s sort of hard to investigate yourself,” Hikind admitted. “There’s got to be a system where trusted people, respected leaders, who are not directly a part of that particular organization examine everything. Look, I wasn’t there when these boys were abused, nor was anyone else. So we have to make judgments. We do that all the time.”

Some advocates for the abused children, while praising Hikind for highlighting an issue about which they claim Orthodox Jews are in denial, voiced reservations about his plan.

The father of one child allegedly abused by Rabbi Kolko, who spoke on condition of anonymity, derided the notion of the community policing itself, citing his own unsuccessful efforts to marshal rabbinic action in his son’s case.

“I commend Dov for what he is doing,” said the father of the 10-year-old boy, who was allegedly molested in first grade, “but all these rabbis will make a farce of it. It touches their business. All these schools are somehow connected together.”

Another long-time community activist, who spoke to The Jewish Week on condition of anonymity due to the controversial nature of the issue, said, “Dov’s actions of these past few months are moving to anyone who cares about this issue. Yet we are very concerned that he has set back the cause by offering community members an alternative to the secular authorities.

Reporting the abusers to the rabbis is “akin to asking the fox to watch the henhouse,” this source said.  “We spent close to three decades reporting abusers to their yeshiva employers, local rabbis and ‘gedolim’ only to watch time and time again as the information we provided was used to protect the abusers and vilify the victims.

“There is a functioning system in place that we will never have the resources or expertise to replicate, “ he continued, referring to the secular authorities. “Indeed, to suggest that we are doing so is to do a grave injustice.  If people believe we have an alternative to the police, which we do not and never will have, they will rely upon this belief and nothing will change.  We tried this and came to the painful conclusion that it can not work.”

Hikind himself took a nuanced position on the issue of going to outside authorities.

“Look, I would like to see people report to the police,” he said. “But there are some realities in our communities.  ... People in our community, as you know, don’t want to go public. They want to keep it quiet, which is terrible. It’s sinful. I use the word sinful because for someone not to come forward in a situation of abuse of their child is not only to be guilty for not pressing issues for their own child, but they are guilty for every other child that is abused after their child. And they have to live with that. I keep on repeating that to everyone.”

But given the reality, “At least let’s get these people off the street,” he said. “With regard to institutions, where we find teachers, one of the things we are going to work on, if we establish that a teacher is a pedophile, that name needs to go on a list. Before anyone hires anyone, they must look at that list.”

Others active on this issue believe that legislative reforms are also crucial. As an assemblyman, Hikind said he is supportive on this front. He voiced strong backing, for example, for an extension of the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual molestation, and for the alleged victims of such abuse to file civil suits.

Under current law, the state cannot pursue criminal prosecutions of an alleged molester once the alleged victim turns 23. A victim himself must bring a civil suit against his molester or against the school he alleges failed to protect him by between one and six years after his 18th birthday, depending on the nature of the allegation.

But child victims of sexual abuse often do not understand or come to terms with their experiences — or sometimes, even recall them — until years, or even decades after they take place. Members of the Orthodox community have the additional burden of overcoming their peer group’s hostility to turning to secular authorities on such a sensitive matter. By then, the statute of limitations often bars their entry to the courtroom.

There are currently several bills in the state Legislature to address this problem, though none have passed in the Senate yet. A bill to extend the statute of limitations and open a one-year window for victims to seek damages regardless of their age recently passed in the Assembly but has repeatedly stalled in the Senate.

“The statute of limitations needs to be extended,” said Hikind. “I’m totally for that . . . I will do everything in the world to make that happen because now I realize how critical that is.”
Elliot Pasik, an attorney in private practice and a co-founder of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, a newly organized grassroots group, has also been pressing for legislation that would require mandatory background checks and fingerprinting of teachers in non-public schools. In addition, his group is working for the passage of a law that would require teachers in non-public schools to report cases of abuse when they see evidence of it or it is reported to them. Public school officials are already required to do so.

New York — unlike 25 other states —  does not now classify clergy as mandated reporters, which means that they are not required to report evidence of sex abuse or violence to state child welfare authorities.

Legislation requiring fingerprinting and background checks for prospective non-public school faculty was defeated in the Assembly last year but reintroduced this year by Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. The legislation does not, however, have the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side).

Agudath Israel, an umbrella group of ultra-traditional Orthodox organizations, is opposed to both the mandated reporting and finger printing, and background check legislation.
Pasik, who currently represents Engelman in his lawsuit against Rabbi Reichman and United Talmudical Academy, said, “New York State has the weakest laws in the country.

[Parochial schools] are near-totally unsupervised by the state, which is a throwback to pre-16th century English common law when the church could give sanctuary [to fugitives]. This has to change.”

Hikind would not commit yet on such specifics. “I am sitting with my legislative person right now. We are just going to start our conversation. It’s sort of a new look for me at everything,” he said.”

But he added: “Anything that contributes to apprehending the bad guy and helping the victims, we need to do — period, end of the story. That’s my position. I have a new perspective because I’ve taken a close look, because I’ve spent almost four weeks now listening non-stop to horror stories, and then I’m told by people today who met with me, ‘Dov, it’s worse than even you think right now.’ I said, ‘what?’”