Monday, August 13, 2007

The Month Of Elul Is Upon Us - A Time For Reflection

It was a beautiful morning. I had risen early and sat out on the balcony at my winter vacation spot on Miami Beach. Watching the massive tides crashing into each other; and seemingly being able to understand why at one time people thought the Earth was flat. The Atlantic met the heavens as far as I was able to discern with the naked eye.

The year was 1985, the month was January, and my excitement to greet the day was palpable. I loved Miami that time of year, for different reasons than the school-kid on winter break, or than the Hungarians being able to catch up on their poker game, or the Brooklyn women able to show off their new - pool-wigs and two piece bathing suits from Christian Dior. ( Yeah...my wife told me)

I treasured this time of year because I was able to relax and spend precious time with Moreinu Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky zt"l, who spent the last winters of his life in a comfortable Miami rooming house on Collins Avenue.

I went off to daven at the Miami Kollel, and then called Rebbetzin Kaminetzky asking if the Rosh Yeshiva was able to give his shiur that day. The Rosh Yeshiva was weak and frail she said, but planned on giving the shiur in Mesechta Chullin at 11 a.m.

I had not seen the Rosh Yeshiva for a year; I would keep a notebook of thoughts that I would discuss with him when we met either at his Monsey home or in Miami.

The shiur lasted for forty minutes; it was clear that he was struggling with his health. It seemed that it had taken a turn in the wrong direction. After the shiur, Rav Yaakov would answer some questions from the attendees; I always wondered why the entire Miami was not there, rather than the 8-12 seniors (besides me) that came.

Rav Yaakov then ate a light lunch, carefully prepared by his rebbetzin. I was asked in to their dwelling, but as always, I waited for Rav Yaakov outside on the porch.

Rav Yaakov always apologized for "keeping me waiting", while I knew I would sit there forever waiting to speak with the "Rosh Yeshiva" of America. This day was different than many others; Rav Yaakov seemed very subdued, and said in Yiddish..."I am but a half-person, my memory is failing, I can only remember what happened many years ago but not recent events"...

Rav Yaakov had a wonderful wry sense of humor and enjoyed "some" of my healthy cynicism. To cheer him up, I took the liberty of asking him if the plaque the Agudah gave him at the last siyum ha'shas for completing shas was something he valued. He gave me a healthy smile; he said he valued it as much as yesterday's (tzeitung) newspaper.

My list of items to discuss were many, but I understood that my time today with him could be limited, so I began with the issues that I wanted to ask him all my life, but never was able to gather up the courage.

I will list the five topics that I covered in depth with the Rosh Yeshiva over the next week I spent in Miami, plus other thoughts he had on community issues as it pertained to askanims' level of input and involvement in yeshivas, shuls, and religious organizations. At the time, I needed his wisdom on a new project of mine, that brought down the wrath of the community on my head for all the wrong reasons. I was gratified that both he and Rav Pam zt"l, not only agreed with me, but encouraged me greatly. That project is thriving today beyond any one's wildest imagination, baruch Hashem.

The topics:

1- The machlokes (political war) in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in the mid-1960s between him and Rav Gedalia Schorr z"l, that brought the yeshiva to its knees and to the brink of disaster, and truly to this day never recovered its past glory.

2- His outrage and his outspoken position against the establishment of "Yeshiva Torah Vodaath of Flatbush" later to become Yeshiva Torah Temimah, after a near decade long din Torah that forced Lipa Margulies to change the name.

3-His position on secular studies, and college in particular, for the American yeshiva student.

4- His understanding of the function of Agudath Israel of America and the inherent potential dangers of that organization under the charismatic Moshe Sherer, who in my opinion, used the rosh yeshivas often, as window dressing, for his self-aggrandizement. (He did not disagree; more in an in-depth piece)

5-The not so gradual metamorphism of yeshivas being run by baal habatim, some truly dedicated and wise, but many not, and yeshivas being run by families rather than the most qualified yirei Hashem and lomdei Torah.

To be continued......

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Narrow Bridge - The film is now complete!

Narrow Bridge is a narrative film that chronicles a young Jewish man's struggle to overcome memories of how he was molested by his rabbi when he was a child and deals extensively with the day-to-day anxiety and alienation felt by survivors of sexual abuse. Based on the true story of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko of Yeshiva Torah Temimah - Brooklyn - New York - and the trail of victims he left over a forty year period of molesting children in yeshivas and summer camps, as the rabbis were acutely aware; and enabled him to be around children, and did nothing other than coverup the crime.

The film is now complete. It has great potential as a therapeutic and educational tool in regards to the issue of sexual abuse in all communities. Several organizations have already inquired about holding viewings of the film. I am looking to arrange screenings around the United States and elsewhere as well as possible distribution. If you want more information about the film, are interested in holding a screening or can otherwise get involved, please feel free to contact me.

The main website for the film is here:


Trailers for the film are available here:



Israel Moskovits
IzzyComm Motion Pictures

Friday, August 03, 2007



A friend and reader writes......

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. And I don't want to be accused of practicing any of those fine scientific/medical professions without a license. But in my life experiences, I've noticed something about passionate, vocalized extremism. When someone is expressing very passionate views, and they are doing it loudly or emotionally and it strikes the average person as being "over the top," it usually means one of two things: Either the speaker has "drunk the kool-aid," meaning that they believe what they are saying totally, or they using this intense and extreme expressiveness to cover up their own deficiencies in practice or belief.

Some examples will help explain what I mean. Congressman Mark Foley was passionate and outspoken in his public speeches attacking sexual predators and then it turned out he was a sexual predator preying on underage male Congressional pages. I remember many years ago in my shul, a long-time member got up at a meeting and railed against the shul not being frum enough, not doing enough to make sure the children of the community were frummer, etc. He said things that raised many eyebrows given the fact that he was not that wildly frum himself. Many people could not figure out where this was coming from. Two weeks later, he left his wife and kids and ran off with his non-Jewish black secretary. His actions that day explained a lot about his performance at the meeting two weeks earlier.

I write this because I knew Stefan Colmer, not well and not intimately, but enough to recognize his face and name and to have spoken to him a few times. He was a computer consultant doing occasional work for a firm I was with. I also saw him at a midtown mincha minyan from time to time.

It was at that mincha minyan some time ago that we started talking about water filters and bugs in the water in Flatbush. Because the water panic had come on the heels of the Indian-hair sheitel panic – which, according to most poskim, turned out to be misguided and overblown – I was naturally skeptical of "trafe water." While I was not well-read on the subject, I expressed my opinion that the panic was overblown, and that microscopic particles of whatever in the water cannot be halachically impermissible. He argued passionately that I was factually wrong, (I may have been,) and that these things were visible to the naked eye. He told me he was installing filters and was using bottled water for drinking and cooking until then. He spoke passionately about having to live a proper life of halacha and adhering to all the rules and piskei halacha of our Gedolim.

I have thought back to that conversation many times since the revelations here - and subsequently in the press - of his alleged vile sexual misconduct against yeshiva boys, which was taking place about the time that we had that conversation. Excuse my sarcasm, but I'm so glad that while he was allegedly molesting young yeshiva students, Stefan was not imbibing in bug-laden, trafe water. What a tzaddik!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

UOJ---What should I have done?

Dear UOJ,

Erev Shabbos Nachamu, after several shaggy weeks, I eagerly stepped into the small, crowed barber shop on New Utrecht Ave. in Boro Park . I took my place among the people waiting, some chatting on their cell phones or tapping on their blackberrys, others, reading a magazine or just staring straight ahead as if watching paint dry. Within a minute or two, a short, heavy, unusually dark-skinned chasid in his upper 40s walked in and looked around. I watched him head toward an empty chair at the end of the row, where he sat at down next to the tall, lanky, dark haired “modern chasid” in his 20s. I suddenly froze. The man who just walked in was the same animal who tried to molest me in the bathroom of a Brooklyn yeshiva more than a decade ago.

I was a tall, skinny fourteen-year-old at the time and attended a well-known, and rather large Brooklyn yeshiva. It was a litvishe yeshiva and the foremost of its kind. A typical day in yeshiva often ended at 10pm after a night of mishmar and basketball.

I remember once stopping off at the pay phone at the end of the hall next to the beis medrash to call a friend before heading home for the night. After around ten minutes of talking I was interrupted by a man who asked me where the bathroom was. (Years ago, our yeshiva doors were always unlocked and sometimes, members of the community would walk in to use the beis medrash if the larger one down the block was too crowded. It wasn’t entirely uncommon then, to see complete strangers stroll in and out of our mesivta building. Although when I was in eleventh grade the hanhala started keeping the doors locked at night and the entire student body was provided with a key.)

I pointed the man down the hall and continued chatting with my friend for another ten or fifteen minutes. When I was done, I headed to the bathroom which was adjacent to the stairs leading to the street. I was at the urinal when the door opened and guess who walked in? The short, fat, dark-haired chasid who asked me where the bathroom was at least ten minutes earlier. I thought it was strange that it took him so long to find the bathroom when it wasn’t more than thirty feet away. Where was he during the rest of my phone conversation? The halls were empty and I would have passed him on the way. In retrospect, the only place he could have been was either in the bais medrash, or, standing in the nook where the candy and soda machines were situated. There was a hidden spot next the machines where I often ducked in order to avoid being seen by the menahel, roaming the hallways during class. That candy machine area was right across from the bathroom.

I was hesitant to “go” because of the stranger who took the spot just near the one right next to me. The unspoken bathroom rule in yeshiva was to use the one furthest from anyone already there. I glanced at him with caution and he smiled and I noticed his piercing blue eyes that seemed to look straight through me. He began to talk to me and ask me questions about the yeshiva, like who my rebbi was, how big was the school, did I like my rebbi? I tried to answer with quick “yes and no” answers but them he grew strangely persistent. He stepped back a few feet from the urinal and I noticed he was exposed and was furiously playing with himself. I immediately froze and barely understood what was happening. It seemed as if I were standing there for hours. Without washing my hands, I backed away and reached for the door, as he was headed toward me He seemed upset and told me to stay because he was enjoying the conversation. I was praying for someone else to join us so this would end. It was too late, and I was probably one of the only ones remaining in the building. I said I had to go and I grabbed the door handle and bolted out. I was scared to leave because it was pretty late and dark and who knows? He might follow me. Although I did not look back I imagined that the man must be pursuing me. Instead of leaving the building, I ran upstairs as fast as my quivering legs could take me. He could not know the building as I did. I ran toward the gym on the third floor after I heard the thumping of basketballs, reverberating in the stairwell. Breathless, I headed inside the gym where I saw a classmate of mine along with someone from another grade playing a one-on-one. I remember I was shaking and I did not want to arouse attention so I sat down on a locker-room bench. The next thing I remember, it was nearly midnight and I carefully tiptoed down the stairs and ran home as fast as my legs could carry me.

Back to the barbershop nearly fifteen years later and there is the man, sitting next to the guy in his 20s, having an animated conversation. My thoughts were racing and I noticed the man staring at me a few times. I could never forget those cold blue eyes. I noticed him stare intently at the young guy’s face while speaking to him. It seemed as if he was attempting to make some sort of continual eye contact, ignoring the understood social “rule” of intermittently looking away from your conversation-partner for a brief moment.

I watched as every so often he would deliberately gently tap the young guy’s arm as if it were a subconscious communication component. I had an urge to get up and confront the guy but I didn’t want to look silly. Me, a “modern” young man, “accosting” a middle-age heimishe yid, in Boro Park , would land me on the wrong side of judgment. I thought maybe the young guy, being a somewhat more open-minded, modern chasidishe type would probably have zero tolerance for a complete stranger accused of being a pervert, and would probably identify with me more so than with this fat animal, but still I remained seated.

I waited for a specific barber and soon the fat animal took his place next to mine for a five-minute haircut. He carefully held on to his payos as the Russian barber, with his hair clipper set at “zero” finished the job. When he was done, the young guy said a quick goodbye to him and ascended the chair just occupied by the fat pervert. After the fat pervert paid for his haircut, he returned to the chair and gently placed his hand on the young person’s arm and stared at him for several seconds, saying “goodbye…nice to meet you….” The young guy seemed to have been oblivious that the pervert was being very touchy. I could not believe it as I watched the pervert then make a move to leave the barbershop, when he quickly turned around for another goodbye, smile, and pat on the arm. As I watched the scene play out in the mirror in front of me, this time I sensed just a bit of annoyance on the part of the “prey.”

After the pervert left, I almost started a conversation with the young guy, intending to tell him the story and to warn him to be careful if he ever meets the guy again. I refrained from doing so. I was too enraged and a little shaken up. Besides, the barbershop was crowded by now and I could not face the prospect of someone overhearing me and doubting my veracity.

UOJ--What should I have done?