Thursday, October 30, 2008

Letters to the Editor - The Awareness Center wants to thank David Framowitz, Mark Weiss, Joel Engelman Baruch Sandhaus

Letter To The Editor

Letters to the Editor - The Awareness Center wants to thank David Framowitz, Mark Weiss, Joel Engelman,  Baruch Sandhaus
By Vicki Polin, CEO/Founder
Jewish Week - October 30, 2008

The Awareness Center wants to thank David Framowitz, Mark Weiss, Joel Engelman Baruch Sandhaus for their courage for being public and also for joining the fight in protecting children from sexual predators and for helping to get the word out about the upcoming legislation in New York in hopes of abolishing the statute of limitations on civil suits against sex offenders and those who assist in covering up crimes.

We all need to remember that a quarter of the population in the United States (including the orthodox world) have been sexually abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday (National Crimes Victim Center). Both male and female children are targets. According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (1988) the typical child molester will offend on average 117 children, most of whom will never report the crimes.

Over a 25-year period, child molesters had a higher rate of re-offense than rapists: 52% versus 39%. (Prentky, Lee, Knight, and Cerce). Considering the statistics above, as Jews we all need to do what we can to protect children, educate our community members and demand change in the way our community leaders have been dealing with both those who have been victimized and those who perpetrate the crimes.

If you are interested in helping with the pending legislation in New York contact Joseph Byrnes:

Vicki Polin, MA, NCC, LCPC, ATR-BC Founder and CEO
The Awareness Center, Inc.
(the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)
P.O. Box 65273, Baltimore, MD 21209

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fleeing Jewish School Teacher Jailed in US

Fleeing Jewish School Teacher Jailed in US
By James Campbell

David Kramer
A SECOND case has emerged of a teacher at a Jewish school fleeing Australia after allegations of inappropriate behaviour with students.

David Kramer - a former teacher at Yeshiva College in Caulfield - was jailed in July for seven years in St Louis, Missouri, US, after pleading guilty to two counts of child molestation.

Allegations were made in the 1990s that Kramer, now 47, had abused boys while teaching at Yeshiva.

He is understood to have been dismissed by the school and is claimed to have been asked to leave the country. The alleged incidents were not reported to the police.

Vicki Polin, of the US-based (The Awareness Center) International Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, said she had been contacted by several former pupils and parents of the school.

"I have been told that Kramer abused over 30 boys in his time at Yeshiva," Ms Polin said.

She said when parents complained to the school, Yeshiva Centre head, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner - who died in July - told Kramer to leave.

"He paid for him to leave - he gave him a ticket," Ms Polin said.

Yeshiva College general manager Nechama Bendet confirmed the school employed Kramer in June 1989, but could not find records of when he left.

"We have robust policies in place to deal with these allegations," she said. "We take it very seriously."

In March, Malka Leifer, principal of Adass Israel Girls School in Elsternwick, fled Australia after being sacked over allegations of improper behaviour with girls in her care.

Forgiving, forgetting:Jews use the High Holidays

Forgiving, forgetting
Jews use the High Holidays

by Richard Greenberg, Associate Editor
Washington Jewish Week - October 19, 2008

To err is human, to forgive divine. - Alexander Pope, 1688-1744

Judaism says basically the same thing. That is, humans can emulate God by accepting a heartfelt apology, an act that has metaphysical merit as well as psychological benefit.

Simply put, Jewish tradition teaches that remorse alone cannot atone for a sin committed against another individual. God does not forgive the perpetrator until that person has been forgiven by the victim.

Hence, the custom of baring one's soul to another is a key component of the Yomim Noraim, the Days of Awe, which close today with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the chief deadline for the resolution of nagging interpersonal conflicts, among other important issues.

"It's a highly cathartic process," Rona Fields, a District-based clinical psychologist, said of the act of bestowing forgiveness, known in Hebrew as granting mechilah, or pardon. "It passes to the victim the power that he or she had lost in the original victimization. It's very important, and it sometimes gets lost in formulaic rituals."

Falls Church resident Geoff Michaelson, also a clinical psychologist, said the emphasis on sincerely making amends at this time of year demonstrates the inherent wisdom of Judaism.

"It involves something beyond mindfulness," he said, referring to a popular meditative concept that involves "awareness of living in the moment." He added: "It also takes into account your effect on another human being. It requires your soul, your heart and your mind as well as your body, since you have to walk over to another person and open your mouth. As a psychologist, I call this integration. It really pulls together the whole person."

Both Fields and Michaelson have themselves either sought or granted mechilah in a High Holidays context in conjunction with unresolved conflicts, some more traumatic than others.

Fields, for example, who attends Conservative Tifereth Israel Congregation in the District, once asked her daughter to forgive her as Yom Kippur approached. Her transgression: Not believing her daughter when she said she had been the target of "predatory sexual advances" by a former colleague of Fields'.

"I didn't listen to her," said Fields, 74, a District resident. "She kept trying to tell me about it, but I was so insensitive to what she was trying to tell me. I tried to rationalize it because I couldn't believe this person could behave that way. But the truth came out later." Her daughter, Fields said, eventually forgave her, "but not fully. I think she still carries that with her."

Fields' own father once pleaded for mechilah under somewhat similar circumstances, she said. As a teenager, she recounted, she had been molested by a relative by marriage who happened to be seeking a big loan from her father.

Her father, Fields said, believed the perpetrator when he pre-emptively professed his innocence, maintaining that Fields was "loose" and should be watched closely.

"My father was very angry at me for that," she said. "I cried, and I told him what had happened, but he didn't believe me."

Her father, Fields continued, asked her for forgiveness during the High Holidays some 20 years later when he realized what had actually transpired. Did she grant his request? "Of course I did," she said. "I cried horribly at the time and so did my father."

She added: "It was like a horrible weight had been lifted from me. I was relieved, because I loved my father more than anything else, and I was horrified that he had lost his trust in me. But that trust had been restored."

Michaelson, who attends Chabad in both Fairfax and Tysons Corner, said that this year he asked forgiveness of a rabbi with whom he has studied Torah. He sensed from a teasing remark the rabbi made that he had been overly contentious during their study sessions. "I thought that maybe I was not only disagreeing, but being disagreeable," Michaelson said. "He immediately forgave me on the spot."

Michaelson, 56, said the outcome of his exchange with the rabbi "was a relief to me; a concern I had was relieved. But I also felt that I had made a commitment to approach my [Torah] discussions in a different way in terms of how I was presenting my opinions." Heather Moran, a member of Reform Temple Micah in the District, said asking mechilah from others has been a critical element of her High Holidays ritual for years.

"What surprises me," she said, "is how surprised the other person usually is when you bring up the subject."

For example, last year, Moran, a resident of Kensington, was asked by a friend to forgive her "for something that had really been bothering her for a while." It involved a sarcastic remark the friend reportedly had made about Moran's son.

"I had no idea what she was talking about, but she was clearly mortified and the event had haunted her," said Moran, 35, who immediately granted her friend's request. "It clearly lifted a weight off her shoulders; I was so glad she had asked."

That episode and others like it, Moran said, "made me wonder what things I might have done to others that I wasn't aware of. It's made me much more willing to approach others at this time of year."

Still, making such an overture can often "take lots of humility and courage," she added, "because you don't always know what's going to take place on the other end of the conversation."

Moran said she can remember only once being turned down flat when she sought mechilah. As a teenager, she recalled, her synagogue youth adviser (not at her current congregation) had made it clear that he was displeased with her efforts on behalf of a synagogue-related activity.

He rejected her request for forgiveness. "He actually turned me down in shul," Moran reported. "I remember thinking that his response was not Jewish. But it was crushing at the time. It hurts."

Several classical Jewish texts, including the Talmud, explicitly state that in virtually all cases the victim of a sin is obligated to forgive the perpetrator, and thus emulate a compassionate God.

In that respect, Moran said she also takes her cue from her late mother, who was always ready to grant mechilah. "I learned through her how to forgive," she said.

Although making amends is potentially uplifting, it can also be an unsettling process because "it involves getting near those who you've had bad blood with" and raising the possibility of opening up old wounds, said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk of Reform Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston.

For example, Nosanchuk said he once sought forgiveness via e-mail from someone who had told him nearly 20 years earlier that he never wanted to speak to him again.

"The response was lightning fast and specific," he said, explaining that his apology was summarily rejected. "It was as if the [original] event had happened only a week or a month ago. It startled me, but when I read it carefully, I was absolutely certain the person was right."

Nosanchuk said he and his correspondent mended fences, however, after exchanging more e-mails. "Once that happened," he said, "I felt the impact of growth and maturity and responsibility taking hold. I'm the same person, but I've grown through the experience."

The possibility of achieving rapprochement with an old friend named Dawn has prompted Arlington resident Erica Steen, 36, to seriously consider reaching out to her.

They had known each other since eighth grade, but became alienated from each other about 10 years ago when Dawn was going through a difficult period in her life, reported Steen, director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

"I should have been the friend I had always been and asked her what was going on," Steen, a member of Reform Washington Hebrew Congregation in the District, said when contacted on Rosh Hashanah eve. "I should have offered my support and helped her through whatever problems she was having. Instead, I decided that I lived 500 miles away and that it was just easier to back off."

She added: "I think there's been a part of me over these years that has felt horrible about severing our friendship. I've grown up a lot over the past couple of years. For some reason, I have a different perspective [on] life now and feel it's time to make things right. I'm nervous; I've never had to ask forgiveness from someone that I truly wronged in the past, but it's time."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Former Melbourne Jewish school teacher jailed in the United States

Former Melbourne Jewish school teacher jailed in the United States

Australian Jewish News - October 16, 2008

A FORMER Yeshivah College teacher pleaded guilty to two counts of child molestation and was sentenced to a seven-year prison term in the United States, The AJN learnt this week.

David Kramer was jailed in St Louis, Missouri, in July, after a local psychologist and the community's rabbi raised concerns about his conduct.

Former Yeshivah College principal Rabbi Avrohom Glick confirmed this week, that for a short time in the early 1990s, Kramer had taught Jewish studies to boys in years 5 to 8. It is understood Kramer was asked to leave the school, and the country, immediately following an alleged incident, which was not formally investigated.

Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges general manager Nechama Bendet told The AJN this week that the school has since implemented rigorous protocols to prevent inappropriate behaviour.

"Any allegations of misconduct would be taken very seriously by the school and immediately reported to the appropriate authorities," she said.

She added that the school was fully compliant with the Working with Children Check requirements – a government policy that helps protect children from physical and sexual abuse – as well as the mandatory reporting legislation.

There are also policies in place on appropriate communication between teachers and students within and outside of school hours, and classroom doors have been fitted with windows. In addition, students have been taught to understand their rights to be safe and to develop strategies to avoid inappropriate behaviour.

"The Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges will act without hesitation to ensure the maintenance of a child-safe environment at all times," Bendet said.

Rabbinical Council of Victoria president Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant also emphasised that schools are better equipped now to deal with complaints about teachers.

"Schools are more vigilant and teachers know what to look for," Rabbi Kluwgant said.

Kramer was working as a volunteer youth leader at the Nusach Hari B'nai Zion Synagogue in St Louis, when Rabbi Ze'ev Smason – who was leading the congregation – developed concerns after discussions with members of the synagogue.

"I met with him to tell him that he would be restricted from any further contact with youngsters within our congregation," Rabbi Smason told The AJN from the United States. "I also contacted the local government abuse hotline to register my concern.

"When my concerns ... intensified, I told him that he would no longer be welcome to attend our synagogue, nor would he be welcome to participate in any of our programs."

Rabbi Smason described Kramer as likeable and personable and said that this made it somewhat difficult to confront him.

"However, it was a no-brainer that I had an obligation to speak with him immediately upon hearing concerns expressed by families in my congregation," he said.

Rabbi Smason added that all rabbis have a legal, moral and religious obligation to protect children at risk.

"To do anything less is a dereliction of the duty we as rabbis have been entrusted with. Our children's safety comes before any other consideration."

The United States-based Awareness Centre, also known as the International Jewish Coalition against Sexual Abuse/Assault, reported details of an impact statement presented in court by the victim's father during Kramer's trial.

"This sentence sends an important and much needed message to the Jewish community and society at large, namely, there shall be zero tolerance of sexual abuse and molestation of children," the statement excerpt reads. "We, the parents, leaders and clergy, have to stand up for our children and put our children first."

Monday, October 06, 2008

CALL TO ACTION: Stop the showing of the film about ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach - "alleged" Serial Sexual Predator

In honor of all of the women and teenage girls who were allegedly sexually violated by ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

CALL TO ACTION: Stop the showing of the film about ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach - "alleged" Serial Sexual Predator

October 6, 2008

The JCC of Manhattan will be showing a film about ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The program is being funded by The Arthur F. and Arnold M. Frankel Foundation. We've been told that the film does not portray the alleged sex crimes committed against women and teenage girls by this "alleged serial sexual predator.

We as a people need to stop the rewriting of history. Those who have been sexually victimized by Shlomo Carlebach and their family members deserve to have their voices heard. Stop the false portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach as being Tzadduk (saint).

The JCC in Manhattan
334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St., NY, NY
Membership: 646-505-5700
Registration: 646-505-5708
Press: 646-505-4493 (Angie Lieber)

The Arthur F. and Arnold M. Frankel Foundation
c/o Jedd Wider (Trustee)
101 Park Ave.
New York , NY 10178


You Never Know-Shlomo Carlebach

Directed by Boaz Shahak (63 min, Israel, 2008) Rabbi, folksinger and composer Shlomo Carlebach is considered by many to be the foremost Jewish religious songwriter of our time. He passed away over a decade ago, yet his compositions and spiritual messages have grown in strength. Today his music fills concert halls and enjoys a large following in almost every Jewish community. Carlebach's life touched millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world. The vitality of his personality impacted everyone he met. This sensitive, personal film takes you on a journey that searches for his touch.

Followed by Q&A with Director, Boaz Shahak

Tue, Oct 28
7:30 PM

$8.00 Member
$10.00 Non-Member

Location: The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St. (Program room assignments will be available at the JCC Customer Service Desk, in the lobby of the Samuel Priest Rose Building.)

For more information, or to register, please call 646-505-5708.

The Film program is supported, in part, by a grant from The Arthur F. and Arnold M. Frankel Foundation.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

CALL TO ACTION: In Honor of Those Sexually Violated by ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

October 2, 2008

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (AKA: Soul Doctor) - Alleged Sexual Predator
Over the last several years The Awareness Center has exposed ex-rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach as being an “alleged” serial sexual predator. To the best of our knowledge there have been more women sexually victimized by Carlebach then any other individual “alleged” sex offender. Even though Hadassah Magazine (which is geared towards Jewish women) mentions The Awareness Center and the fact there there have been so many allegations of clergy sexual abuse made against Carlebach, it’s shocking to learn that this month’s cover story would honor the memory of a man who has terrorized so many (see article below).

It is also disgusting to learn that a musical has been created as another attempt in making this "alleged" sexual predator (Shlomo Carlebach) into a tzadik (saint).

As a people we have the responsibility to stop the cult like craze of re-writing history of a man should be seen as nothing more then a sexual predator, who still has a cult like following.

In Honor of Those Sexually Violated by ex-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Contact Hadassah Magazine and demand that they stop honoring a man who created so many victims of sex crimes. Demand that in a future issues they focus on the issues and ramifications sex crimes have played in our communities and the stories of the women and families who have been victimized by Shlomo Carlebach.

The Women's Zionist Organization of America
50 West 58 Street
New York, NY 10019

Shlomo Carlebach - The Music Man
by Rahel Musleah
Illustrations by Ken Orvidas
Hadassah Magazine - October 28 (pages 51-56)

On any given Friday evening, the crowd is standing-room only. The long, narrow sanctuary often overflows with up to 300 people: On one side the paneled mehitz, the women gather, some in head coverings and long skirts, others bareheaded and in pants. The men wear suits or jeans and T-shirts-and even a smattering of Hasidic streimels (fur hats) and stringed robes.

Wealthy or homeless, seekers or grounded in tradition, worshipers are drawn to the Carlebach Shul, as Congregation Kehilath Jacob in New York is affectionately known, because of the musical and spiritual legacy of its renowned leader, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Fourteen years after Carlebach’s death of a heart attack at age 69-- he died on October 20, 1994 -- his influence borders on a grassroots movement, complete with its own music, legends, minyanim, yeshiva, conferences and legions of disciples who count him as one of the world’s 36 hidden righteous people. From Russia to Singapore, in most synagogues in America and in Israel, Carlebach’s music is everywhere, even when the people sin it don’t know it is his or even who he was, transforming places of prayer into vibrant spiritual happenings with uninhibited dancing and closed-eye inwardness.

“[Carlebach] made it a basic expectation that you go to prayer service to have your heart open and your spirit soar,” says Jay Michaelson, 37, a writer and a teacher of spirituality who attended the shul from 1999 to 2004. “He epitomized Yiddishkeit.”

An Orthodox rabbi who embraced feminist and liberal causes while transmitting Hasidic wisdom, Carlebach’s impact today reverberates across Jewish Prayer, outreach and healing. Some Jewish dating Web sites, such as, even offer a category of religious observance called “Carlebachian,” implying openness and a spiritual orientation.

“It would be hard to find a Jewish spiritual leader under 60 who hasn’t been influenced by Carlebach,” notes Michaelson. “It would be like finding a civiil rights leader who hasn’t been influenced by Martin Luther King.”

Carlebach’s blend of folk songs and Hasidic nigguim revolutionized Jewish music. His iconic song range from the first he ever wrote, “Od Yishama” (a wedding staple), to “Ve-ha’er Einenu,” popularized by the Israeli Hasidic Song Festival in 1969, to “Am Yisroel Chai,” which became the anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement. Many have been absorbed so totally into the Jewish Musical canon that they are often categorized as “traditional/folk,” with no composer cited.

And now, there is even a show, Shlomo: The New Musical, which premiered in April at the Museum of Jewish Heritage--A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York. “with his meteoric talent, incredible charisma, unbounded love and treasure house of authentic Judaism, [Carlebach] reinvented the Jewish experience,” says Danny Wise, playwright and producer. Wise’s musical brings Carlebach the man to life, from his birth in Berlin, his escape with his family from Nazi-occupied Europe to New York and his ascendancy to rock-star status as a the singing hippie rabbi who exuded love and shepherded trouble souls. In the show’s opening song, lead actor David Rossmer sings: “in the house of love and prayer/May the fixing finally start/Raise your voice up and prepare/. To mend a broken heart.”

In real life, it would be easy to caricature Carlebach, to mimic phrases as “Holy Brother,” by which he addressed many, and to parody his trademark hugs. “He’d ask himself, ‘If I have [only] two words to say to someone, what would I say?” says Wise, who knew Carlebach well. “So he would ask, ‘Do you know where God is?’ [and answer] ‘Wherever you let Him in.’ Or he’d say, ‘You are the highest of the high.’ It was something that would never leave that person.”

Stories abound of people who not only became religiously observant but also turned their lives around because of Carlebach. “he was the Pied Piper of lost souls, a traveling troubadour,” says musician Rabbi Moshe Shur, who accompanied Carlebach on tour.

Carlebach made Judaism accessible to an audience that might have remained disaffected, adds Michaelson, but he “never dumbed down the sincerity of his belief... The lesson we can learn today is not to dilute our own spiritual tradition, but to communicate it authentically.”

Michaelson remembers waiting--and waiting--for Carlebach to lead a weeknight learning session at Jerusalem synagogue in 1994. As was his wont, Carlebach was two hours late. “But when he entered the room, it magic,” Michael recalls. “There was a current of love and energy that seemed to be able to tap into. It was a real encounter with holiness.”

Born into an Orthodox rabbinic family, Carlebach imbibed Torah from childhood. An opening scene in the musical depicts the true story of 5-year-old Shlomo who went missing and was found in the Ark, arms and legs wrapped around a Torah scroll. He was recognized as a talmudic genius as a teenager at Rabbi Aharon Kotler’s ultra-Orthodox Ben Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, but left to follow his twin brother, Eli Chaim, to Chabad-Lubavitch, choosing outreach over scholarship.

In 1949, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, sent him and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who later became the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, to college campuses as emissaries. Both concluded that to bring Jews back to Judaism they had to break with some elements of tradition, especially with regard to women, and ultimately left Chabad, but not before helping to bring it to the mainstream.

Carlebach devoted himself to reinvigorating Jewish spirituality and pioneering a model of rabbinic activism, espousing the cause of blacks in South Africa, for example. Historian Jonathan Sarna writes in American Judaism (Yale University Press) that after the Holocaust, “Judaism appeared desperately unwell, racked by assimilation, emptiness, and an epidemic of tormented souls. The loss of six million...made it especially imperative to nurture every spark every Jewish who survived.” Carlebach defined Judaism as a religion of happiness and love, said Sarna recently in an interview. “Before there was such a word as outreach, he was doing it.”

People still say to me, ‘Your father was my best friend,’” says Carlebach’s daughter Neshama, 33, who has carried on his work through her own musical career. “I ask them, ‘How long did you know him? They answer, I met him once.” A best friend is that person who sees you, sees your pain, your joy, and my father was that person.”

Carlebach and his wife, Neila, had two daughters, Neshama and Nedara, but separated after several years of marriage because of his long absences; they remained on amicable terms. Neshama sees her father in her nearly 2-year-old son, Rafael Lev Shlomo, and she has just recorded her sixth CD, One and One, featuring the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir; it is based on her father’s teaching. “we think one and one is two, but one and one is one,” she explains. “Until we open our hearts to every person, there won’t be peace.”

Early in the 1950s, Carlebach discovered he could inspire people through music, a living metaphor for the harmony he sought for a fragmented Jewish community. Among the many who influenced him was African-American singer Nina Simone, who became a voice of the civil rights movement. Carlebach recored his first album, Haneshomo Lach, an instant hit, in 1959. After appearing at the Berkeley Folk Festival in California in 1966, he opened the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, “A combination synagogue, yeshiva, crash pad, and sanctuary,” writes Sarna, where he enticed his “holy hippelach” to get high on Judaism even while “Experimenting with meditation, yoga, vegetarianism, Eastern religions, even drugs and sex.” A Zionist who kept his watch on Israel tim, in 1977, Carlebach settled his followers in Mosha Meor Modi’in (formerly Meve Modi’in) in Israel. He continued traveling the world, eventually returning to his base of Kehilath Jacob, which he took over from his father.

Today, the moshav of 40 families perpetuates Carlebach’s teaching, his musical outreach (Moshav Band, Soulfarm and HaMakor all have their roots in the moshav) and spiritual warmth--welcoming students and singles visiting or living in Israel temporarily.

Leah Sands, a member of the moshav, recalls that as a child growing up in Amsterdam, she loved Carlebach’s music. After she moved to Israel in 1979, she attended one of his concerts in Jerusalem and was daydreaming that he’d sing her favorite song, “Bo’V’Shalom” (the last verse of “Lekha Dodi,” which likens Shabbat to a bride), when suddenly, Carlebach picked her out of the audience, beckoned her closer and sang that very song.

“Why did you call me over?” she asked him later. Carlebach responded, “I saw the bride in you.”

“From that moment, my life changed,” says Sands. “Shlomo showed me a halakhic Judaism that made sense, like a puzzle that fits.” She met her husband Avraham, at another Carlebach concert.

Carlbach’s aura was not wrought purely of peace and love. Because he crossed boundaries--ignoring the Jewish laws proscribing physical contact between the sexes, for instance -- the Orthodox community ostracized him, says Wise. Some women alleged that he also crossed personal boundaries. A 1998 article in Lilith magazine and a Web site run by The Awareness Center (, a project of the Baltimore-based International Jewish Coalition AGainst Sexual Abuse/Assault, describe allegations of sexual misconduct, from suggestive middle-of the night phone calls to sexual molestation, especially with teenagers and young women. Consequently, some rabbis and Jewish leaders have thought carefully about using his melodies and stories.

The musical doesn’t shy away from mentioning this controversy, even though Neshama Carlebach was a conceiver of the play. “He didn’t fit in any box,” she points out. “he went against everyone’s wishes, his rebbe, his family, to do what was right in his heart. He struggled. He used to say, ‘If I had two hearts I could afford to use one for hate, but I only have one heart, so I used it for love.’” Now that he’s gone, she says, his message and the beauty of his music remain.

Part of Reb Shlomo’s ground-breaking approach was his joyous and individual expression of faith, which served to mentor generations after him, according to Judah Cohen, a specialist in Jewish music at Indiana University in Bloomington. “There is a sense of yearning in his music,” says Cohen, “the yearling of a soul to reach the divine. He gave people the impetus... to compose their own music [and] express his or her own voice.”

“The limited texts and purposely repetitive Hasidic-style songs he wrote and sang... were the key to his outreach efforts and enable Jewishly uneducated members of his audience to become a part of the music-making,” writes marsha Bryan Edelman, professor of music and education at Gratz College in Philadelphia and author of “Discovering Jewish Music” (Jewish Publication Society). It conformed with the Hasidic notion that words were secondary to music and that they sometimes get in the way of real communion with God. The catchy new tuns encouraged American Jews to incorporate the songs into their services, she writes: “For many, it was among their most powerful Jewish experiences...”

Carlebach was not a virtuoso musician. “He was a teacher who used music as a vehicle,” explains Shur, executive director of the Queens College Hillel in New York, admitting that Carlebach’s guitar was often missing a string and was tuned by others.

But, says Velvel Pasternak, owner of Tara Publications, a Jewish music publisher distributor who produced two Carleach songbooks, “there is something beyond the notes and the composition that you can’t analyze. His is the music that has lasted.” Indeed, artists who have preserved his tunes include Eitan Katz, who recorded “Unplugged”, a CD of little known niggunim, and Israelis Chaim Dovid, Aaron Razel and Shlomo Katz’s K’Shoshana.

Carlebach’s liturgical niggunim comprise the “nusah Carlebach,” used in 100 minyanim from Passaic, New Jersey, to Safed, Israel. other shuls have integrated heavy dollops of it into Friday night services.

The Carlebach minyan itself, says Rabbi Naftali Citron, Carlebach’s great-nephew and spiritual leader at Kehilath Jacob for the past five years, “is a haymish experience that combines Hasidic strands and touches New Age but retains a lot if its Eastern European roots.” Being nonjudgmental is vital; he adds: “Shlomo’s feeling was about [love of Jews}, not the minutae of halakha (Jewish law).

Citron’s relationship with his great-uncle deepened when his grandfather, Eli Chaim, died and he looked to Shlomo to fill the void. As the two grew closer, the would go for walks in New York. “He was so full of love for the homeless,” Citron recalls. “They’d come and talk to him. Not just because he’d give them money--which he did--but because they were really his friends.”

In the tradition of Hasidism’s charismatic leaders, Carlebach has been idealized, says Michaelson, but in a way that “simplifies and distorts his complex and controversial personality. Yet for all Reb Shlomo’s faults, his is a sect where the doors are wide open. The Carlebach yeshiva, Simchat Shlomo in Nahlaot, Jerusalem, accepts men and women from diverse backgrounds for text and experiential learning. To fulfill its vision of a “spiritual traditional Judaism that is in constant dialogue with the complex modern world in which we live,” its course range from Mishna, Talmud and Kabbala to “Secrets of Joy” and “Torah and Ecology.” Its Web site quotes Carlebach: “The right Yeshiva is a place where there is so much love that it’s awesome. God gave us Torah with so much love, so if I want to give over Torah to my children, it has to be done in the same way....”

Despite the allegations about his womanizing, Carlebach had an enormous impact on large numbers of women and believed in their empowerment, says Sarna. He was the only male rabbi to join the feminist group Women of the Wall at the Kotel in 1989, and he ordained two women, a controversial decision.

“Even though he was an Orthodox rabbi, we women didn’t feel ‘less than,’” says Melinda Ribner, a student of Carlebach’s for over 20 years whom he ordained to serve as spiritual guide and transmitter of Jewish meditation, prayer and Torah. At Kehilath Jacob, she says, Carlebach gave her semikha at a public event on his father’s yortzeit. Ribner’s organization, Beit Miriam and Kabbalah of the Heart, offer spiritual psychotherapy, healing and the “Kabbalah of the feminine: (

Rib tries to live by Carlebach’s teachings. In Safed, she once met some female soldiers outside a synagogue and invited them in. One of the women responded with discomfort, and as they talked, Ribner forged a connection with her, tell her about the prayer for Israeli soldiers recited in American synagogues. “Then I asked myself, ‘What would Shlomo do?’” Ribner recalls. I asked her if I could give her a hug. She accepted, and then all the women soldiers lined up for hugs.”

Carlebach himself recognized he was not a perfect vessel. he taught that the world is a broken place and was always conscious of the need for personal healing and universal repair. Says Wise: “Shlomo’s legacy is that people can still discover an oasis of safe joy wherever they are just by listening to his music.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Rabbi Hershy Worch and the Book "Torn Messiah"

Sex and the synagogue
By Liz Porter
The Age (Australia) - September 21, 2008

He seduced vulnerable women who came to him for spiritual enlightenment. Now Rabbi Hershy Worch is the one being exposed and shamed.

RABBI Hershy Worch did not look like a serial seducer. Short, fat and married, he favoured the white silk stockings, knee breeches and big fur hat - or "shtreimel" - worn by ultra-Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath.

But the rabbi could sing magnificently - and played a mean guitar. He was also an inspiring teacher of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical doctrine famously studied by Madonna. Talented and charismatic, despite his homely looks, the "singing rabbi" attracted crowds of students of both sexes.

Women predominated because Worch specialised in teaching female students the Talmud - Jewish commentaries traditionally taught to men.

The English-born rabbi came to Melbourne from the United States in 1995 as a 41-year-old chaplain and mentor for Jewish students at Victorian university campuses. Now a new book by one of his former students, Melbourne writer Yvonne Fein, paints him as a manipulative seducer, a man who made sexual advances to his most vulnerable students and was psychologically abusive to many others.

The Torn Messiah is a novel, not a memoir or a work of investigative journalism, but it is an open secret in the Jewish community that it is a thinly disguised account of the effects of the maverick rabbi's sexual escapades.

The main character is "Rabbi Reuven Klein", not Hershy Worch. Meanwhile, Fein herself, the editor of the 1990s Jewish magazine Generations, appears in the novel as Freddie Rose, editor of the magazine Diaspora Dreaming. Its headquarters are downstairs from Rabbi Klein's office - just as Generations was downstairs from Rabbi Worch's office - and its location is "Ben Gurion House" in Kooyong Road, Caulfield, easily identifiable as the Beth Weizmann centre, a few blocks away on Hawthorn Road - the setting for many of Worch's classes.

HaMakom, the "alternative" orthodox synagogue Worch established, appears in the novel as "HaDrasha". The fictional Rabbi Klein has sexual relations with three of his students and tries to seduce others.

Fein openly admits that much of the novel's content is based on Worch. She made her fictional Rabbi Klein a "composite character", based on Worch and several other rabbis, because she feared she was unable to make a "short, fat and ugly" rabbi into a credible fictional seducer.

She wrote the story as a novel, she says, mainly to protect the identities of other women involved. Fein says her fictional rabbi and the real Rabbi Worch both played on the emotions of a group of young adults who were all children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

"We were all consenting, tertiary-educated adults. But, in some sense, we were all damaged," Fein says. "(Jewish) Melbourne is still, in many ways, a Holocaust town. We were all looking for a way to be Jewish that was not defined by Holocaust suffering or by loyalty to Israel ... We wanted to find another way. And he came with another way."

Fein says she and others were vulnerable to someone who could teach Hebrew biblical texts "without butchering it".

"He came along with this Torah from heaven ... He made it poetic - and mysterious."

Women came to study early and late, and were often alone with the rabbi. It was then, Fein says, that he made sexual advances that several did not resist - but which later led to anger and distress.

Worch left Melbourne in 1997 because the Hillel Foundation - the Jewish student support organisation employing him - had run out of money to pay his salary. But in 2004 a few of Worch's former Melbourne students were contacted by a representative of the Baltimore-based Awareness Centre - a Jewish organisation specialising in helping sex abuse victims.

These women wrote a long, anonymous statement accusing the rabbi of "predatory" and "manipulative" behaviour and it was added to the Baltimore website's "Case of Rabbi Hershy Worch" listing.

The entry on Worch runs to several pages, noting his alleged 1998 dismissal from an Illinois teaching post and referring to allegations made against him in Chicago in 2004. It also alludes to complaints about him to the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council.

According to the Melbourne women's statement, Worch "proactively sought 'romantic' and sexual relationships with many, many women, specifically targeting those who were emotionally vulnerable and fostering acute dependency. He consistently used his role as counsellor to make sexual advances towards those who came to him in need.

"He had 'romantic' sexual relationships with married and unmarried women who ranged in age from 20 to 50."

The statement also says that his inappropriate behaviour towards female students included "physical sexual interactions", "predatory behaviour in the pursuit of women - late-night phone calls and invitations to teach women privately" and "using the teaching of Torah (bible) as a tool of seduction".

Worch, now 54, has married a third time since leaving Melbourne and lives in California where he runs online Kabbalah and Jewish scripture classes. Responding to The Sunday Age's questions by email, he said he couldn't talk about what was in a book he hadn't read. But, he added: "I, myself, am looking for a publisher for my novel, The Inner Shikseh, about a Hasidic rabbi who meets and ministers to the needs of kinky Jews, sabbath-observant queers, sadists and masochists, bondage freaks, masters and slaves, pain-givers and pain-cravers, humiliation artists and a plethora of other taboo-breakers."

He parried repeated requests to comment on the allegations about his time in Melbourne posted on the Baltimore website. "When a lady of quality ... chooses to divulge a sexual liaison, it's dashed bad form then to approach the man for corroboration," he wrote.

"I came to Australia to work with Jewish students on and off campus, to share my sense of excitement and discovery with them about the Torah ... I found Melbourne brimming with impassioned and enthused people of all ages and every possible religious persuasion, starving for someone to give them access to ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts."

On his own Live Journal blog, the rabbi has twice posted denials of the website's allegations against him. In 2006, he wrote of being "accused in the media, anonymously, of criminal and contemptible offences. Most specifically it was alleged that I use cult-like and manipulative, mind-controlling behaviours to entice women to my home where I assault them. The attack was an outright slander, a lie without one iota of truth in it."

Fein is adamant that Worch's actions, though not illegal, were exploitative and abusive, in that he took advantage of the power imbalance between rabbi and congregant. They were also a serious breach of Halacha (Jewish law), which forbids a rabbi from having illicit sexual liaisons.

Sam Lipski, editor of the Jewish News when Worch was in Melbourne, says that at the time of his sudden departure in 1997 no allegations of impropriety had come to the newspaper's attention.

At the time, influential businessman, rabbi and former Melbourne Football Club president Joseph Gutnick had offered to re-fund Hillel, the organisation that had been paying Worch, if it got rid of the radical rabbi. Gutnick had strongly objected to remarks he regarded as pro-Palestinian that Worch had made at a student meeting hosted by the businessman.

Several years passed before the first accounts of alleged sexual improprieties began to filter in from the US. Joseph Gutnick heard them, and also read testimonies from American and Australian women who reported inappropriate sexual overtures from Worch. The reports confirmed his opinion of the rabbi, Gutnick says now.

"He is a low-life and a heretic. What upsets me is that he uses religion to abuse women. There are numerous women who have suffered at his hands," Gutnick says.

So why didn't the Melbourne women complain to rabbinical authorities when Worch was here?

According to Fein, conversation about alleged impropriety began after the rabbi's sudden departure, when his shocked students gathered to "debrief".

Fein herself was only "intellectually seduced" by Worch, she says, meaning she did not sleep with him. But she was shattered that she had been manipulated by a religious leader .

"I was too ashamed to approach anyone official," she says. "Anyway, who would you go to? And what sort of hearing would you get?"

Another former student of Worch says the rabbi used his own vulnerability as a seduction technique. "He was clearly a damaged person," she says.

"He made inappropriate suggestions to me but I just ignored them." She still feels uncomfortable about her "complicity" with Worch's manipulative ways.

But Worch still has his supporters in Melbourne. Another former female student says she went to many group classes and never witnessed any hint of anything untoward.

"I had respect for what he taught us," she says. "If some women had a problem with him, they should have complained at the time."

At the time, says Fein, any Australian woman considering making allegations of abuse to rabbinical authorities would have first thought of the now notorious case of New York's Rabbi Baruch Lanner. In 1989, some of his congregants complained to a "beth din," or tribunal of rabbis, that Lanner had sexually abused teenagers. But they were not believed. They were not vindicated until 2000, when a Jewish newspaper's reports on the claims sparked a police investigation - and eventually a jail sentence for Lanner.

It is a poorly kept secret in the Jewish community that Lanner came to Melbourne in 1990 to be interviewed for a position as headmaster of a Jewish school. The interview was quietly cancelled after some calls to New York.

THE Torn Messiah took Fein more than five years to write. It took a further year to find a publisher.

"It took me a long time to get over (the Worch era)."

Jewish communities in Australia, says Fein, have been slow even to admit the possibility of clerical abuse.

She points to the secrecy surrounding sexual abuse claims against the principal of the Adass Israel Girls School in Elsternwick. The school board paid for the principal, Malka Leifer, to return to Israel, sacking her after investigating alleged sexual offences.

But Rabbi Meir Kluwgant, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, says that his organisation is now facing up to the issue and has arranged for a small group of professional legal and psychological advisers to offer confidential advice and support to abuse victims.

In the past few months, the council has been investigating - or attempting to investigate - claims of "inappropriate physical contact" as well as "improper financial transactions" by a "trusted" religious official in the Jewish community.

In a front-page article in the Australian Jewish News in late March, Kluwgant provided a special phone number and urged the man's victims to come forward. Twenty people came forward with information, he says, but nobody was prepared to sign a statement.

Kluwgant says confidential advice and assistance will also be offered to any former congregants of Worch who want to come forward.

"There has been a shift in the rabbinate towards addressing the issue (of clerical abuse) openly and frankly and publicly," he says.

But Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Anton Block says there is still "not enough openness" in dealing with sex abuse thoroughly and publicly because of fear of fostering anti-semitism. Like any other community, the Jewish community does not like bad news published about itself .

"But we have the added concern that, when messages like this get out, it adds ammunition to those who want to hurt us and say 'look at the Jews'."