Monday, July 29, 2013


Avrohom Mondrowitz, a notorious fake rabbi and child psychologist who fled US arrest warrants for child molestation in 1984, was attacked and beaten by an unknown vigilante assailant last week in Jerusalem, according to cellphone video footage of the incident released.

“Isaac,” a 22-year old American studying in Jerusalem who recorded the scene, asked that his full name not be used and that his voice be altered in the footage.

Isaac, who recognized Mondrowitz from a newspaper report last year in which he was labeled the “Bin Laden of pedophiles,” said he first called out to him by name. “He stopped, turned around and responded ‘yes’ with a heavy New York accent,” Isaac said.

The video begins shortly thereafter with Issac following from a distance, then, loudly, calling Mondrowitz a “molester,” and telling passersby that Mondrowitz ”molested 100 kids in New York.” At that point, an unknown vigilante, who appears to be at least six feet tall and well-built, also apparently recognizing Mondrowitz, grabbed the hat from the fake shrink’s head, beat him with it, then let him escape, briefly, before racing after him, catching up to him, and throwing Mondrowitz to the ground.

The cameraman said he did not know the identity of the assailant nor was he, personally, someone who typically resorted to violence, but the frustrating circumstances surrounding Mondrowitz’s continued freedom from hundreds of accusers made this an occasion where “vigilante justice could be justified.”

Isaac, originally from the New York area, said that he was neither a victim of child abuse nor an activist, but knew many people who had suffered abuse and felt “someone has to do something,” and that he had to “speak up.”

“It’s really upsetting to see this man living freely and openly in this community of Nachlaot, a tight-knit neighborhood, with children everywhere, and apparently he goes to a synagogue, where people need to know who he is and what he’s done,” Isaac said. “It’s just outrageous that someone wanted for these crimes in the US, accused of raping and sodomizing hundreds of kids, has the opportunity to offend again, to commit these heinous acts here, in Israel. I’m a non-confrontational kind of person, but I couldn’t just do nothing, I couldn’t just continue walking. Someone has to do something. I had to speak up.”

“My hope is that by calling him out, by identifying him in the neighborhood, by releasing this video, that people here won’t believe that he’s repented, that he’s been cleared of these accusations. No, his neighbors deserve to know the truth about this evil man, this pedophile, living in their midst,” Isaac said.

Mondrowitz has been living in Israel since skipping out on the New York warrants almost thirty years ago. Twelve hours after he left on a plane for Chicago, then to Canada, then to Israel, NYPD officers entered his Borough Park, Brooklyn, home, after following up on an anonymous tip. They found child pornography and lists of hundreds of names of local boys, many referred to him by Jewish families and children’s services agencies for counseling, the New York Post reported. E-mails on his computer turned over to the FBI also showed that Mondrowitz trolled child-pornography Web sites. “Moshe Rosenbaum, one of the activists who first aired concerns about Mondrowitz in the late 1980s, estimates the number to be 300,” reported Tablet magazine in 2011.

In 1985, Mondrowitz was indicted, in absentia, on four counts of sodomy and eight counts of sexual abuse in the first degree against four Italian-American boys, ages 11 to 16, who also lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood and had agreed to press charges and testify. The same year, the US federal government sought his extradition from Israel, but the treaty between the countries at the time did not cover his crimes. In 1993, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes dropped the deportation effort.

In 2007, the treaty was revised, and Mondrowitz became eligible for extradition. A search of his home in Israel found four child-pornography films, and he was arrested and jailed. But in 2010, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Mondrowitz was grandfathered and exempt from the revised treaty, and set him free.

At the time, The Jewish Week published selections from a 2006 document allegedly found on Mondrowitz’s computer, which indicates that he was still a threat in Israel, again, posing as a psychologist. In the document he provides a mental health evaluation of a 15-year-old boy, based on in-person interviews, and notes the “hormonal and physical changes in his body.” “Mondrowitz’s name appears at the end of the assessment, followed by the credentials “Ph.D., L.N.H.A.” (Licensed Nursing Home Administrator)” reported The Jewish Week further. On a resume obtained by the paper Mondrowitz claimed to have received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1977 from “Teachers College, Colombia [sic] University,” but a NYPD detective told Israeli daily Haaretz in 2007 that all of his diplomas, including his rabbinic ordination, were “fakes.”

Last year, the New York Post published a photo of Mondrowitz, dressed similarly to how he appears in the new video, wearing religious garb, as well as tefilin, a tallis and carrying his fedora, near his apartment on Yizreel Street, in Nachlaot. The photo sparked outrage as proof that the alleged child molester was living freely in Israel, while many young men who claimed to be his victims still suffered many years later from harrowing physical and mental abuse.

Mark Appel, Director of Voice of Justice, a non-profit that works with child abuse victims in the Orthodox community and lobbies for their rights, said the Mondrowitz case was “truly sickening” and one of the reasons he became involved in the field.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of victims, Jews and non-Jews alike,” Appel told The Algemeiner. “This was the case that really opened up the wounds of society, a major case that energized the movement to get justice for these kids.”

“In the Chasidic community, Mondrowitz was very high-profile; a rabbi, a psychologist, with his own radio show, a very prominent person, who, because of the high esteem everyone had for him, was getting lots of referrals to evaluate even more kids in trouble,” Appel said. “This was in the early 1980s, and I had just begun working with at-risk youth and on early intervention programs, and there was just this very high percentage of kids coming forward; it was as if every second kid were telling us they had been abused. It just didn’t register, until the pieces came together; Mondrowitz was a monster.”

Mark Weiss, at 13 years old, was molested by Mondrowitz. “I would love to see the guy run over by Egged’s finest,” Weiss told The Algemeiner, referring to the drivers of Israel’s largest bus company. “But I just think that even more than seeing Mondrowitz get beaten up, I’d rather see his whole support system, what allowed him to continue for so long, be ‘hit over the head.’ The mentality of irresponsible people that led to his continued ability to roam free is what needs to be assaulted.”

“This is something that we’ve been working very hard on as advocates, and cases are bearing fruit,” Weiss said, adding that “the Charedi (Orthodox) community has been slowly learning to no longer tolerate this, and education has been key.”

“Symbolically, I think the assailant is representative of a bigger thing happening, that this is a form of people showing outrage. Mondrowitz will one day get what’s coming to him, and I’m certainly not in control of that. The random guy getting pissed off and going ahead, assaulting Mondrowitz, that’s good to see, the outrage is starting to show. But Mondrowitz is just symbolic of the problem. We’ve reached a certain critical point where parents are talking to their kids, parents today check the right box, and say the right things to them; we’re not going to tolerate this c*** anymore.”

Jerry Schmetterer, Director of Public Information for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, told The Algemeiner simply, “If Mondrowitz came back to the US, we would arrest him.”


When a beloved rabbi is also a child abuser!

Denial is often the Jewish Orthodox community’s first impulse when we hear about abuse committed by rabbis. Why abuse cover-ups happen– and how we can work to prevent them in the future.

A few years ago, I worked with an adolescent boy who had been sexually abused as a child. As part of his therapy and to help him work through the immense shame, self-blame, rage and confusion he felt, we wrote down together his story - what had happened. As we were finishing I asked, “Do you have any questions for me about what happened to you?” He said, “Yes. Why did this happen to me?” I was at a loss for words.

As a psychotherapist who works with traumatized children, I feel profoundly powerless and sad every time I sit with a child who has to face the story of his/her betrayal. How do you explain to a child the depth of the pathology of the perpetrators who shattered his childhood? Or help him believe that not all adults in his life will fail him and that intimacy with the right people is worthwhile?

Yet I know that, in some ways, this was a lucky child, one whose parents heard him and got him help. Many were not so lucky. At Yeshiva University, the adults who failed the children in their care were teachers, rabbis. A lawsuit and complaint filed last week by victims of abuse at YU’s Manhattan High School for Boys, alleges that trusted YU leaders covered up, and thus enabled, horrific abuse for decades, despite repeated requests for help and protection by victims and their families.

Growing up in the Orthodox Jewish community, having attended YU, embracing its values and practicing as a psychotherapist in the Orthodox community, I have struggled to grasp why cover-ups happen and, particularly, how people can stand by and allow abuse to flourish. I believe the answer lies in understanding how people cope in the face of shocking, traumatic information.

When we hear that a child has been abused - especially when the accused is a respected rabbi—our first impulse is often denial. This defense mechanism, identified by Anna Freud, protects us from feeling powerlessness and distress in the face of overwhelmingly painful information. Even parents of victims may initially have this urge to deny a child’s abuse, to avoid devastation and self-blame.

Consider this: How might it feel for you to learn that a close friend was accused of sex crimes against a child? You would be shocked and might have an inclination to defend him/her, at least initially. But then what? Would you ignore the information about his harm to children? If so, what might motivate you to do so? What would it take for you to open your heart and imagine an adolescent boy being brutalized by a trusted adult? Would it have to happen to your child in order for you to connect with the abject terror of this act to a child?

Rabbis and administrators at YU may have felt an impulse to deny allegations against abusers who were also their colleagues. But, as spiritual leaders and educators, they had a moral obligation to investigate reports, which victims allege they repeatedly ignored. Their persistent denial turned innocent boys with great potential into deeply wounded men; this resulted in some leaving their faith, others attempting suicide and/or requiring lifelong psychiatric care. This obligation to acknowledge abuse includes current YU leaders who were approached by victims in recent years and not only did not act until their hand was forced by the Forward’s breaking story, but repeatedly ignored victims’ requests for a response.

Denial is a normal process that evolves through childhood as we mature and learn to make sense of reality. But when a child’s wellbeing is at stake and adults deny and obstruct truth, the impact on children is devastating. We put the rabbi and the institution before the child. We put our own discomfort or agendas ahead of the destruction of a child's whole world. We use arguments such as: “You have to understand, they didn’t know much in those days.” or “Well, it was only wrestling,” or: “It was in the past. Why should that be the current YU administration's issue now?” Our minds create one excuse after another, or blame the victim, in an effort to preserve the goodness in a respected person or institution - or as we have been seeing lately with members of the Orthodox Rabbinate, to preserve their established network of friends.

What motivates the denial? Some leaders have a dangerous inability to differentiate between compassion for a perpetrator’s struggles and excusing their criminal behaviors. Others deny allegations because they deny their own abuse histories or fear that their own indiscretions, sexual or otherwise, could be revealed. For instance, there have been suggestions that several rabbis who still defend a convicted Orthodox child abuser and rabbi were themselves abused by him. Many are protecting their friends and their networks or an institution. Regardless of the reasons, all of these motivations reflect profoundly disturbing gaps in empathy and leadership.

When the story of alleged abuse at YU broke, the Chancellor, Dr. Norman Lamm excused his failures to report allegations by saying, “It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry.” Not destroying a rabbi’s reputation trumped saving hundreds of children from harm.

In Judeo-Christian communities, an important factor to consider is the desperation many of us feel to be “good” and do the “right thing” in “God’s eyes” and in the eyes of others. This urgency can lead to a phobia of anything deemed “bad,” leading us to exclude anything that threatens the image we wish to hold for ourselves or our people. Our compassion for our children gets lost if we act from the fear about how things might “look” and a desire to preserve reputations.

Ironically, by denying our darker sides, we actually become our fears and avoid facing all of who we are: imperfect beings. Trying to live within rigid parameters such as, “I am only a good person or “Rabbis are above reproach!” forces what Carl Jung called “the shadow” and what the Kabbalah calls “Sitra Achra”—the other side— to always backfire on us.

How can we heal our community? By heightening awareness of how denial works and learning to slow down and listen with the most open of hearts when there are allegations. This means we commit to allowing all that we experience within ourselves and towards others when we hear shocking news, possibly noting an initial impulse to deny, even intense discomfort and confusion, but always prioritizing our responsibility to the innocent children entrusted to our care.

We can also heal by accepting that everyone, ourselves included, falls into the grey zone of having both good and bad traits. (This can be particularly challenging in religious communities if members believe that God, too, only sees in black and white.) Someone can be a beloved rabbi and a child molester. Someone can be a respected leader who errs in his choices and requires pressure from his community to do the right thing. We have a difficult time grasping the “and” because it leaves us unable to resolve our wish to put people neatly into categories of “good” or “bad.” We have to instead, hold the space for our discomfort while maintaining the need for accountability for those who have may have committed crimes.

Lastly, for the sake of our beloved children, we must demand more of our future leaders - that they have the capacity for self- reflection, humility and compassion first and foremost for the terror of the sexually abused child.

Stacey Klein, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan specializing in the treatment of anxiety, OCD and child trauma, and she blogs at "Is There Life After Therapy?" Follow her on Twitter @StaceyKleinLCSW

Stacey Klein, LCSW
Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychotherapy
(646) 326-5187