Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Family in Kolko civil suit subjected to psychological pressure to drop abuse case against Flatbush yeshiva.

 As Pressure On Hynes Builds, New Revelations Of Rabbis’ Intimidation

 by Hella Winston Special To The Jewish Week

The already distraught mother had reached the end of her rope.

She and her husband, parents of a now 13-year-old boy who they allege was sexually molested by his Brooklyn yeshiva teacher, were doing the unthinkable in the borough’s ultra-Orthodox community: bucking a system stacked heavily against them and pursuing a civil lawsuit against the Flatbush school that employed the teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko.

The system was pushing back, with a vengeance.

A prominent Brooklyn rabbi and Yaakov Applegrad, an administrator at Yeshiva Torah Temimah, the school parents were suing, asked the parents to a meeting — without their lawyer. After pleading with the couple to drop the suit, Applegrad and the rabbi turned up the heat and played the card they hoped would resonate powerfully with religious Jews: they compared the parents to Nazis for attempting to “bankrupt” the yeshiva. The Nazis, they said, destroyed the yeshiva in Europe built before the war by the father of Rabbi Lipa Margulies, Torah Temimah’s founder and dean. Now, the two suggested, the parents were doing the same with their lawsuit. (It is not clear that Rabbi Margulies’ father actually had a yeshiva in Europe).

The tactic worked. At a second meeting five days later, the husband, feeling “agitated … outnumbered and overwhelmed with terrible emotions,” and with his wife in tears, signed “under great duress” a document to end the lawsuit.

The couple quickly withdrew their agreement, and their lawsuit is going forward. But this episode — and others described by a second family suing the same yeshiva — highlights the particular perils facing haredi families who would attempt to hold yeshivas or other institutions civilly responsible for child molestation.

These revelations, recounted in a sworn affidavit submitted last year to the Brooklyn district attorney, come amid growing public pressure on the DA, Charles Hynes, to crack down on the intimidation of sex abuse victims by rabbis and other, often powerful, members of the community. A New York Times editorial Sunday chastised Hynes for helping to perpetuate a culture that protects abusers, not victims.

And the revelations come as calls mount from politicians, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Ed Koch, for Hynes to end his special treatment of Orthodox sex offenders and to prosecute rabbis who obstruct justice. Koch, in an opinion piece he wrote on Newsmax.com, went so far as to call on the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to handle these cases if Hynes fails to change his approach. Hynes, who refuses to make public the names of indicted or convicted Orthodox molesters, has argued that releasing these names could potentially identify abuse victims because of what he has characterized as the “unique” nature of the “tight-knit” Orthodox community.

The DA did not file any charges regarding the pressure on the family — something the family’s attorney at the time, Michael Dowd, acknowledged would have been unlikely, given that these actions, within the context of a civil suit, do not rise to the level of a crime. However, the DA was given this information, according to Dowd, “to just show the kind of atmosphere in the community that makes it so difficult for [haredi abuse victims and their families]” to seek justice and redress for their children.

Fordham law professor James A. Cohen, an expert in witness tampering, agrees with Dowd in this case, noting, however, that if there were any actual threats made to the family, the conduct would have been criminal. Nonetheless, Cohen added, “I think it’s inexcusable that Jews behave like this.”

In 2008, Rabbi Kolko, who was facing felony charges of touching two first graders in their genital areas, was allowed to plead to the reduced charges of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Rabbi Kolko was sentenced to three years’ probation. The two families who brought the criminal charges are suing Yeshiva Torah Temimah, where the abuse allegedly occurred.

To date, these have been the only viable civil suits brought by members of the haredi community in connection with child sexual abuse allegations. Ultimately, the father in the above case rejected the yeshiva’s settlement offer — the terms of which are not disclosed in the affidavit — because he “believed [the school] had knowingly allowed a dangerous pedophile to teach little children for decades and … had caused irreparable harm to my son.” He thus wanted to “take this case to trial and let the court decide what was right.”

The Jewish Week’s calls to Torah Temimah’s Applegrad and the other rabbi involved were not returned.

Allegations of abuse have dogged Rabbi Kolko for decades, and a letter issued in 2006 by the late Rabbi Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg and posted exclusively in March on the blog FailedMessiah.com, indicates that Rabbi Kolko was investigated for these allegations by rabbis in 1985 and found innocent. At least four other alleged victims of Rabbi Kolko have come forward since 2005, but their alleged abuse took place after both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations had passed.

The two intense meetings described above were not the only instances in which the families of these boys, and those connected to them, have been subjected to psychological pressure, intimidation and threats.

As the New York Post first reported in February, the DA was also made aware that members of the other family suing Torah Temimah had been plagued by threatening anonymous phones calls urging them to drop the suit.

In an affidavit provided to the DA, the father of this victim recounts receiving a phone call in which “an unidentified male voice said, ‘You better back off or you’ll suffer the consequences.’” When he checked the Caller ID on his phone and called the number, a “phone system answered the call automatically and identified the location as Yeshivah Torah Temimah.”

The father also describes a “barrage of harassing and threatening phone calls” by unidentified callers “requesting that I drop this lawsuit” and threatening to “publicly humiliate and name” his son and shun him at his “neighborhood’s synagogues.”

The father also writes that the lawyer for Torah Temimah, Avi Moskowitz, asked his son’s therapist to persuade him and his wife to “drop this case” so as not to bankrupt the yeshiva. The details of this are recounted in a separate affidavit signed by the therapist......


Yeshiva Torah Temimah - Brooklyn, New York

Child Abuse in the Jewish Community & the D.A.'s Office

 by Ed Koch - Former Mayor of New York

The crime of sexually abusing a child, including adolescents and teens, is so heinous that the public is immediately shocked and angered. For a number of years, we have read of sex acts involving Catholic clergy with adolescents and seminarians taking place in a number of countries, including the U.S. The New York Times, to its credit, has been relentless in keeping this situation under examination by its reporters over the years with front page stories devoted to exposing the abuses.

The Times is now examining the sexual abuses taking place in the Jewish ultra-orthodox Hasidic community, primarily in Brooklyn, and the response of the Brooklyn District Attorney, Joe Hynes. The Hasidim started in eastern Europe several hundred years ago. Each Hasidic sect often takes the name of the village where their rabbi once lived. The Hasidic community is close knit, somewhat like the Amish. It maintains a lot of control over its members, with its rabbis and religious courts often being the arbiters of disputes. The Hassids, as they are known, prefer not to use secular governmental institutions, such as the police and courts. Those not abiding by community rules are often shunned and sometimes even assaulted.

In Brooklyn, the major communities where Hasidic groups live — the largest being Satmar and Lubavitch — are Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Flatbush and Borough Park. Different Hasidic groups contend with one another and other ethnic communities for space – their housing needs are enormous because they typically have very large families of eight or more children – and occasionally philosophical differences have led to physical attacks. In Brooklyn, many Hasidic groups have been very supportive of the Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes, who is Irish and Catholic. The Times articles provide us with one major reason why the support. He apparently has treated them preferentially, particularly in child abuse cases.

The ultra-orthodox Jewish community, like all other communities, is ashamed of the fact that child sexual molestation exists in their community. However, the Hasidic community was apparently outraged when one of their members reported to civil authorities that his son had been sexually molested in a ritual bathhouse. As reported in a May 11 New York Times article authored by Sharon Otterman and Ray Rivera: “The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested. Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. And, he said, the mother of a child in a wheelchair confronted Mr. Jungreis’s mother-in-law, saying the same man had molested her son, and she ‘did not report this crime, so why did your son-in-law have to?’”

The Times article of May 11 also reported the statement of one of the most influential of all of the ultra-orthodox Agudath Israel, stating, “‘You can destroy a person’s life with a false report,’ said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization, which last year said that observant Jews should not report allegations to the police unless permitted to do so by a rabbi. Rabbinic authorities ‘recommend you speak it over with a rabbi before coming to any definitive conclusion in your own mind,’ Rabbi Zwiebel said.”

The Times article cites a number of cases of sexual abuse of children and the threats parents received from rabbis and others in the community if they alerted the police. The article reported on the shunning by the community of a rabbi who urged victims of sexual molestation to call the police, reporting, “Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg of Williamsburg, for example, has been shunned by communal authorities because he maintains a telephone number that features his impassioned lectures in Yiddish, Hebrew and English imploring victims to call 911 and accusing rabbis of silencing cases. He also shows up at court hearings and provides victims’ families with advice. His call-in line gets nearly 3,000 listeners a day. In 2008, fliers were posted around Williamsburg denouncing him. One depicted a coiled snake, with Mr. Rosenberg’s face superimposed on its head. ‘Nuchem Snake Rosenberg: Leave Tainted One!’ it said in Hebrew. The local Satmar Hasidic authorities banned him from their synagogues, and a wider group of 32 prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis and religious judges signed an order, published in a community newspaper, formally ostracizing him.”

Times writers Ray Rivera and Sharon Otterman reported in their article of May 10, “An influential rabbi came last summer to the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, with a message: his ultra-Orthodox advocacy group was instructing adherent Jews that they could report allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys or the police only if a rabbi first determined  that the suspicions were credible. The pronouncement was a blunt challenge to Mr. Hynes’s authority. But the district attorney ‘expressed no opposition or objection,’ the rabbi, Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, recalled.”

If in fact, Hynes assented to this procedure, in my opinion, he was blessing the obstruction of justice. The law requires certain categories of employees, e.g., teachers, social workers, etc., to immediately report to the government any information they gain concerning a case of child abuse.

 For a rabbi to counsel otherwise, I believe, is a criminal act to be pursued by the District Attorney rather than countenanced.

To the credit of the Lubavitch community, the article reports, “In Crown Heights, where the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement has its headquarters, there has been more significant change. In July 2011, a religious court declared that the traditional prohibition against mesirah [being an informer against a fellow Jew] did not apply in cases with evidence of abuse. ‘One is forbidden to remain silent in such situations,’ said the ruling, signed by two of the court’s three judges.”

District Attorney Hynes is also accused of, and admits to, the charge that he has “taken the highly unusual step of declining to publicize the names of defendants prosecuted under the program [protecting ultra-orthodox Jews for engaging in sexual abuse of children]— even those convicted. At the same time, he continues to publicize allegations of child sexual abuse against defendants who are not ultra-Orthodox Jews.”

Last week I was asked by Azi Paybarah of Capital New York for my views on this aspect of Hynes’ official acts. My response, quoted on the Capital New York blog published on May 11, was as follows: “This community does not deserve to have any preferential treatment” and “he should treat them exactly as he would anyone else.” Koch, who is Jewish, said Hynes should prosecute the rabbis who interfered with victims reporting accusations of abuse. ‘We’re all equal under the law and they have to subscribe to the law without getting preferential treatment,‘ Koch said. ‘It’s just dead wrong. And there’s no explanation to make it right in any way.’”

At this point, unless District Attorney Hynes announces that he will release the names of all defendants, including those of ultra orthodox Jews charged with child abuse, sexual or otherwise, and will pursue criminally anyone who engages in obstruction of justice, advising someone not to assist the police in their investigation of a child abuse incident, the Governor should supersede him in these cases and appoint a special prosecutor to handle them.