BY MICHAEL RICONDA
Brooklyn – Child sexual abuse is an unfortunate and tragic occurrence in any community, but adding insult to injury by purposely ostracizing a child’s family almost seems too cruel to comprehend.
Still, for reporting sexual abuse of children, Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish families, also known as Haredi or ritually observant, often report strong ostracism from their community members up to and including exclusion from housing and having children booted from private schools.
“There is no nice way of saying it: Our community protects molesters,” Pearl Engelman, whose son reported he was fondled by a United Talmudical Academy teacher in Williamsburg, explained to the New York Times. “Other than that, we are wonderful.”
Such communities often prefer to handle problems internally through rabbinic authorities. According to the interpretation of a rule called “mesirah,” many rabbis believe Jews informing on other Jews to secular authorities without rabbinical permission is forbidden under Jewish law.
“The work we do is perceived by the rabbinic leadership as a direct challenge to their authority and control over the community and they react accordingly,” Survivors for Justice President Ben Hirsch explained.
In total, of the last 51 cases that have impacted the Brooklyn community, nine ended with victim dropping out primarily due to societal pressure. All others ended with plea deals, often the perp getting less punishment than prosecutors would normally seek.
The most recent case was that of the Jungreis family of Brooklyn, whose teenage son was abused by Meir Dascalowitz, 29. Dascalowitz pled guilty to sexual abuse in April and received five years in prison and ten of probation.
The boy’s father, Mordecai Jungreis, explained to the New York Times that on the advice of a rabbi, the family reported the crime to a psychologist. Other rabbis they consulted prior to the last were reportedly unhelpful. In response, the family was scorned by their community, intimidated with the hope they would drop their case against Dascalowitz and even kicked out of their apartment.
The issue allegedly reaches into legal responses as well. Blogger and victims’ rights activist Yerachmiel Lopin explained no indication was given that Dascalowitz’s video confession was disqualified from evidence and the DA’s office was merely playing politics by failing to pursue a harsher sentence.
“So, while it is always good to have a serial rapist convicted, I am not yet convinced this case was handled nearly as well as it could have been by a DA who was less beholden to Hasidic power brokers,” Lopin explained.
Recently in Rockland, Dovid Kohn, 60 of Monsey, was sentenced to eight years in prison in June 2013 for abusing one of his daughter’s female friends. If she had testified, Kohn could have faced 25 years on 35 charges.
Local victims right and pro-decency activist Rabbi Noson Leiter lauded the case as progress. “Sometimes, a strong victim can actually force a plea with incarceration,” Leiter said.
In another instance of local sex abuse, Shmuel M. Dym, 31 of Monsey, pled guilty to molesting two brothers age seven and nine in June 2012 and was sentenced to 10 years probation. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe explained Dym could have served up to eight years if not for local Haredi leaders’ pressure on the victim’s family.
“In the end, we went with the family’s wishes,” Zugibe said.
In spite of community opposition and unhelpful leaders, reporting has been advocated by a small but growing minority of Orthodox Jews, including Leiter and Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg of Brooklyn, who runs a phone line imploring victims to contact police for which he himself has been demonized by his community.
The politicians of New York, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, do business with powerful rabbis who control blocs of votes and money even if they systematically cover up sex abuse. Rabbi Rosenberg and Rabbi Leiter who stick up for children tend to get no political support. In Leiter’s case, he’s been the subject of political attacks.
In 2012, Leiter publicly stated his view, common among Haredim, that societal acceptance of homosexuality leads to natural disasters. Immediately he was confronted in the press by a brave new Governor Cuomo.
Leiter’s sin to politicians such as Cuomo, evidently, is his lack of political influence.
Survivors for Justice comprises another group advocating for abuse survivors and their families by sponsoring research, reaching out and connecting victims to legal and mental health services, and educating rabbis, healthcare professionals, law enforcement and elected officials on the issue. However, their president, Ben Hirsch, argued prosecution of offenders is not enough.
“The reality is that absent aggressive criminal prosecutions of rabbinic leaders for obstruction of justice-a politically difficult task-this will not end and thousands of children will continue to suffer the unspeakable consequences,” Hirsch argued. “Survivors will be persuaded to stand up to bullying rabbis when they see their elected law enforcement officials placing justice ahead of politics.”