The Awareness Center
Case of Rabbi Yaakov Weiner
Camp Mogen Avraham
(Grandson of Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Scheinberg, who is a decendent of the Chofetz Chaim)
Camp and State Health Department records filed in court indicate that the parents were not told of the alleged abuse until nearly 48 hours after the boy spoke of it, while the 36-year-old Weiner's father, a rabbi well-known in the Queens Orthodox community, was notified sooner. --- "We believe that there was pressure placed on the victim and children's families to get them not to testify," said Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen in a recent telephone interview. "There was a child who could have substantiated what was said, and that family would not cooperate. --- The entire matter left Sullivan County Judge Frank Labuda confused. --- "It is clear in the evening hours of August 8 and the morning of August 9, two years ago, something happened at bunk 3 Gimel bunk... " he said in his January 2000 ruling. But Labuda concluded that trial testimony "does not create a clear picture for this court of exactly what happened in Gimel bunk nor who did it."
He found Weiner not guilty.-- Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse
Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.
Table of Contents:
Camp Mogen Avraham - Incident Report (10/30/1998)
Victims Statement (12/30/1998)
Allegations of Camper Abuse - Camp Mogen Avraham (04/02/1999)
Rabbi Charged In Sex Abuse (02/20/1999)
Last in a Series: `Conspiracy of silence' fuels rabbis' sexual misdeeds (11/01/1999)
SUPREME COURT - STATE OF NEW YORK (03/26/2003)
Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse (05/27/2003)
Rabbi Yaakov Weiner Family History
Offenders: Problems Our Parents Wouldn't Speak Of
Rabbis, Cantors, and Other Trusted Officials
Recidivism of Sex Offenders (U.S. Department of Justice: Center for Sex Offender Management)
When Melodies, Torah Scholars, and Abuse Collide
Please note that the alleged victim's name and the name of the two minor witnesses have been removed from this report.
Defense Exhibit G
Camp Mogen Avraham - Incident Report re: Alleged Victim
October 30, 1998
Sunday, August 9, 1998 At approximately 9:15 P.M. the Junior D. H. (Mendel Zlotnick) reported that a child (Alleged Victim) in bunk gimel was upset and had told a Staff asst. that a staff member had sexually harassed him. I told the D.H. to send the child to me and that I would deal with the situation.
I interviewed the child. He stated that a person had come into the bunk last night (Saturday night) very late and had come over to his bed. He (Alleged Victim) was lying on his stomach and made like he was sleeping. According to Alleged Victim, the person put a blunt metallic-like object on his buttocks, tore the seam on his pajama bottoms and kissed him there. The person did not exert force to hurt him nor did he hit him in any way. The individual then got up, went to the sink in the bathroom which was located right near Alleged Victim's bed, washed his hands and left the bunk. The entire incident lasted less than a minute and no words at all were exchanged. When I asked if he saw who it was or the person's back or any part of him, he said "no". He said that he remained on his stomach because he was afraid, making believe he was sleeping thought the incident. He then said that there were other boys who were up who saw what was going on and had told him they thought it was R' Yaakov Weiner. I asked for their names and he told me "Witness 1" and "Witness 2". I requested that Alleged Victim bring me the pajama bottoms. As I recall they were shorts and the seam in the back was open about three inches. I then asked Alleged Victim if he had told his parents about what had occurred as it had been visiting day, that same day. He responded saying that he had not discussed the incident with his parents when they visited him that day because he was afraid.
I met with each one of the boys separately. They both are from (name of town withheld). Both boys stated that someone came into the bunk. They also had made believe that they were sleeping. The person went over to Alleged Victims bed. They heard some noise but saw nothing that was going on. They also both said that they did not see the person's face at all, but from the back of his head, when he went into the bathroom, it looked like Yaakov Weiner's wavy hair.
I sent people to find Yaakov Weiner but was told that he had left camp to go to a concert. I waited up until after 12:15 AM (Camp Time) and when he still hadn't returned, I went to sleep, leaving a message the I wanted to speak to him.
Monday, August 10 I informed Rabbi Kaminetsky about the reported incident and we agreed that I would speak with Yaakov Weiner.
The two other boys came to me in the early morning before I spoke to Yaakov Weiner saying that they think they made a mistake. I asked them why they changed their minds and they said "it couldn't be Rabbi Weiner, he wouldn't do such a thing". In my mind I discounted this as merely their feeling guilty of accusing Rabbi Weiner of such behavior, and told them not to worry about it, we were taking care of it.
I met with Yaakov after breakfast for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Despite much pressure, he maintained that he didn't know what I was talking about and when told of the accusation (but not the name of the accuser), he denied it completely. After seeing that he would not admit to anything, I suggested that he call and inform his father, which he did. I then also spoke to his father. I expressed my concerns that although there were no eyewitnesses that positively identified Yaakov, there were two boys who believed it was him (again, no names were mentioned), and that I had enough suspicion and concern that I felt Yaakov should leave camp immediately, even if he were innocent. Yaakov's father agreed that despite his believe that Yaakov was totally innocent, it would be best for all that he leave. Rabbi Weiner (sr.) stressed that by no means should his leaving be viewed as an admission of guilt, but rather as away to get Yaakov out of a situation of being accused and the issue festering and possibly becoming public. Rabbi Weiner stated that he will be on top of the situation and be in touch. Yaakov left right after lunch. To my knowledge he never had an opportunity to speak to any of the boys at any time before he left nor was he informed as to who were his accusers.
I reported all of this to Rabbi Kaminetsky who in turn said that he would call Alleged Victim's parents. I also informed Alleged Victim that Yaakov Weiner was no longer in camp. He seemed relieved by that. I spent some time counseling him, My general sense of Alleged Victim was that although initially upset, he was handling the situation well and not showing any adverse effects.
Tuesday, August 11? Rabbi Kaminetsky informed me that Alleged Victims parents would be coming up to camp to evaluate the situation in person and they would want to speak with me. When the Alleged Victim's Parents came, they met with their son and I spoke to them for about 10 minutes. Despite being obviously upset by the incident, they expressed gratitude for our professional handling of the situation and felt reassured that it was wise for the Alleged Victim to remain in camp. We discussed camp not reporting the incident based on the lack of positive identification and evidence, my having informed Yaakov Weiner's father, and the relatively low level of the alleged abuse. We all concurred that considering the above factors and the trauma that would possibly result from further action, it would be best not to take any additional action. The Alleged Victim's parents were very agreeable to this approach. I also stated that we would watch Alleged Victim closely to make sure that he was not being adversely affected, that he would call them before Shabbos, and that I would counsel him if needed.
Thursday, August 13? Alleged Victim's Mother called and felt that the shorts that Alleged Victim had been wearing that night should be thrown out as it might be upsetting him. I relayed the message to Alleged Victim.
Throughout the rest of the trip I kept a close watch on Alleged Victim and asked his D.H. to regularly report to me as to how he was doing. These reports, observations and my brief encounters with Alleged Victim yielded only the most positive results. Alleged Victim was fully involved, enjoying all camp activities and functioning well.
Tuesday, August 25 A day after returned from Camp Rabbi Weiner (Sr.) called saying that Yaakov was still distraught over the allegations and wanted to clear his name. He would like to take a lie detector test. Rabbi Weiner asked if I would be involved. I responded, "Let me look into it". Upon doing some research, I sent Rabbi Weiner a letter stating my opinion, based on research and an article written by William Safire, which I enclosed. I stated that I would not be convinced of Yaakov's innocence even if the polygraph was negative, and once again urged him to seek professional help for Yaakov
October, 30, 1998
County of Nassau - Town of Hempstead - State of New York
Defendants Exhibit F - 06/05/00 (initials mp)
(Please note that the names of the alleged victim and family members have been removed)
I (alleged victim) am 10 years old and I live at (victims address withheld), New York. I am giving this statement to Investigator Geoffrey Cabrera of the New York State Police about what Yaakov Weiner did to me this past summer when I was at summer camp in -Sullivan County, New York. I (alleged victim) know the difference between the truth and a lie and I know that the private parts of the body are the wiener and the buns and the anus.
I went to Camp Mogan Avrahom in the end of July 1998. I slept in bunk gimel. Yaakov Weiner slept in the bottom bunk of next to mine. The first week or two of Camp went fine. I had a good time at camp until the day before visiting day which was August 9, 1998. That night, August 8th, was shabbos. It was easy day I did pretty much what ever I want. That night, after shabbos I know I woke up because someone ripped the back of my shorts open. I was sleeping on my stomach but I turned my head and took a glimpse at who was doing this. I saw Yaakov Weiner there. The bathroom light was on and I knew him clearly. I was scared to death because I saw that he had something in his hand as I pretended to be asleep. I was just wishing that he would go away. Then he covered me with a blanket and he went by his bed for a few minutes. He came back over to my bed and uncovered me. There he took his finger and stuck it in my crack and inside my anus. He did that for a few minutes and then he put his mouth on my buns and kissed me there. Then he got up and went to the bathroom and washed his hands then he came back undressed and layed across me and started rubbing his wiener on my buns. He did that for a few minutes and then he got up and went away. He came back again a few minutes ------ and did it again rubbing his wiener on my buns. He put his wiener close to my crack but not inside or against my anus. Then he throw a pillow on the floor and sat on the pillow. Then he started touching my buns with his hands. After that he went away and went to his bed and went to sleep. I didn't want to stay in the bunk anymore so I changed my shorts and got a blanket. I went out on the porch and stayed there sitting awake. The next day was visiting day and my ------ came to visit but I didn't tell them what happened because I was scared. That night I told a staff assistant Yimmy Tannebaum what Yaakov Weiner did to me.
I, (alleged victim) have read this statement and I know that it is all true to the best of my knowledge.
Dated: December 30, 1998
At Woodmere, New York
Signed by Victim and his parent
Allegations of Camper Abuse
CAMP MOGEN AVRAHAM
Report Prepared by: Timothy Shay R.
April 2, 1999
(Please note that the names of the alleged victim and family members have been removed)
A) Notification / Verification:
On October 23, 1998, the Monticello District Office (MDO) was notified by Mr. Brian Devine Senior Sanitarian with the Bureau of Community Sanitation & Food Protection (BCSFP), of an allegation of camper sexual abuse involving a child who attended Camp Mogen Avraham, a children's overnight camp (T. Bethel) in Sullivan County. BCSFP staff were alerted to the allegation by the NYS Child Protective Agency which had been informed of the August 8, 1998 incident through a mandated reporter, from the Peninsula counseling Center in Woodmere, NY, who was counseling the victim.
Mr. Timothy Shay, Senior Sanitarian, verified the allegation through a telephone call to the counseling center that same day.
The victim, then year old (alleged victim), alleged that on August 8, 1998 while sleeping in his bunk, he was awaken when Rabbi Yaakov Weiner, a religious instructor at camp, ripped a hole in the rear of his shorts and touched and kissed his buttocks and anus. (alleged victim), also alleged that Rabbi Weiner laid on top of him and rubbed his genitals against him. The abuses occurred during a brief period in which the camp's O.D. (on duty) system was being implemented. The Rabbi reportedly moved about the bunk between (alleged victim), bed, his own bed and the bathroom during the incident.
(Alleged victim), stated that he knew who his attacker was because he was able to see Rabbi Weiner in the light of the bathroom and because the Rabbi returned to his own bed in the bunk after the assault. Two campers in the bunk witnessed the incident.
(Alleged victim), reported the incident to camp staff following evening. The specifics of (alleged victim), allegations were obtained through an interview of his mother, (name withheld).
1. Camp's Response:
Rabbi Label Steinhardt, the camp's program director, investigated the incident by conducting interviews on Sunday evening, August 9, 1998 with alleged victim and the two campers who witnessed the incident and by questioning the alleged perpetrator the following day (see Appendix #1).
Rabbi Steinhardt's investigation confirmed the nature and time of the allegation, but by his accounts, the identity of the attacker was unclear. Rabbi Steinhart reported that alleged victim did not positively identify the attacker and that the perpetrator left the bunk house after conducting a brief assault.
Rabbi Steinhardt stated that the two witnesses did not see the perpetrators face but thought Rabbi Weiner because of his "wavy hair".
Rabbi Weiner's sleeping accommodations were in bunk 3. His bed was next to Alleged Victim's and within the same room as the other 8 campers and staff. All 8 of the campers in the room at the time of the alleged abuse, where as, all of the staff were reported to be at the hall for a staff party. The dinning hall is located several hundred yards from the bunks.
Rabbi Steinhardt was not able to question Rabbi Weiner about the allegation until Monday, August 10, 1998, because Rabbi Weiner was out of camp until late Sunday evening. Despite the allegation against him, Rabbi Weiner was allowed to sleep in bunk 3 with alleged victim and the campers when he returned to camp late Sunday night. Rabbi Steinhardt stated that Rabbi Weiner was not prevented from sleeping in the bunk because he was not convinced that Rabbi Weiner was the perpetrator. When questioned on Monday, Rabbi Weiner adamantly denied involvement but left camp that day based on Rabbi Steinhart's suggestions.
(Parents names withheld) were notified about the incident by Rabbi Kaminetsky, the camp's Director. Tuesday evening, August 11, 1998. They came to the camp on Wednesday to discuss the incident and evaluate alleged victims condition.
On August 11, 1998, after speaking with Rabbi Steinhard and (alleged victim the parents) decided ((alleged victim) was handling the situation well and would stay in camp. They also agreed that "authorities" would not be contacted due to the lack of positive identification of the perpetrator. (Alleged victim's parent), subsequently informed Mr. Shay that she felt pressured into not reporting the incident to "authorities".
At the time of the incident, the camp was implementing an "on-duty" (O.D.) system of supervision. This system which was employed each night between 10:00pm and 12:00 am after the campers were settled in bed allowed one counselor to supervise 6 to 8 bunks while the bunks primary counselor was off duty. (Each bunk has 8 to 9 campers and there are two bunks per building). The system required the O.D. counselor "make rounds" to ensure there are no problems and check in with division head twice during his shift. Due to the late reporting of this allegation, the identity of the on duty counselor for (alleged victim's) bunk on the night of the incident could not established. Consequently, the actions and observations of that individual are unknown.
3. Safety Plan:
Camp Mogen Avraham's written safety plan was last approved by the MDO on June 3, 1993. This plan was revised and updated on February 13, 1997 in accordance with the 1996 children's camp code revisions and the department's safety plan guidelines. On March 17, 1997, the updated written plan was reviewed by MDO staff and the operator was informed that it contained insufficient detail to be accepted. On May 8, 1997, a revised plan was submitted by the camp but it was not reviewed by MDO staff until November 18, 1998 (as part of this investigation) due to a lack of available staff resources.
The November 18, 1998 review found that although the revised plan contained much of the previously requested information, it still lacked sufficient and accurate details to be accepted. ------ plan's deficiencies include and unacceptable O.D. system which had an unspecified by apparently inadequate staff to camper supervision ratio permitted intermittent visual and/or veri------- communication capability between camper and staff between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 am. The plan also contained a policy system which required only allegations of abuse, which the camp determined to be true to be reported to the Health Department.
The previously submitted safety plans (1993 and February 13, 1997) contained neither sufficient detail to identify the deficiencies of the O.D. system nor the erroneous statement pertaining to abuse reporting
4. Alleged Perpetrator:
Yaakov Weiner is 36 years old and unmarried. He was hired in a teaching position, which commonly referred to as a "learning Rabbi", for the camp's second session which began July 1998. He had been employed at the camp for approximately ten summers and occupied several positions including bunk counselor and rotation counselor in 1994 and 1995. Evaluations of performance from these periods showed Rabbi Weiner to be a less than ideal candidate for rehiring as a bunk or rotation counselor (see Appendix #2). Rabbi Steinhardt stated it w as for this reason he was given the more structured position of a Learning Rabbi. Neither of the job performance evaluations showed that Rabbi Weiner had a history of abuse or inappropriate contact with campers. Records for the 1996-1998, including job performance evaluations, staff employment application, training records, were not provided to the MDO when requested. Rabbi Weiner is not believed to have attended the camp's 1998 pre-camp staff training because he was not at camp for that session. Rabbi Weiner's job duties were to provide religious instructions to campers. Rabbi Steinhardt stated that Rabbi Weiner had no supervisonal responsibilities in the bunk. He was assigned to sleep in Bunk #3 because there was an available bed.
5. Other Agencies Involvement:
An Investigation by the NYS (New York State) Police in Liberty, NY has resulted in Rabbi Weiner being arrested on February 11, 1999 and charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, State Police Investigators reported that Alleged Victim was very credible and that the testimony of the campers who had witnessed the incident was similar to the account provided by Rabbi Steinhardt it appeared they had been influenced by someone.
D. Analysis and Conclusions:
Alleged Victim's disclosure camp staff of his experience the night of August 8, 1998 constituted allegations of abuse which warranted notification by the camp to DOH and other investigative agencies. Conclusion is reached regardless of which version of the incident is more accurate (the camp's or alleged victim's). As such, the camp's failure to report to the MDO within 24 hours an allegation of camper abuse is a violation of Section 7-2.8(d) of Subpart 7-2 of the NYS Sanitary Code and will be the subject administrative enforcement action against the camp. It is not believed that the camp's failure to report due to improper information in their written safety plan, which stated that only allegations which determined to be true would be reported. In this case, the allegations was believed to be true, It was only the identity of the perpetrator that was in question.
The camp's failure to prevent Rabbi Weiner from sleeping in a camper bunk the night of the alleged abuse disclosure was inappropriate and placed the camper, especially alleged victim at unreasonable risk to their health and safety including physical and sexual abuse. This unreasonable risk to camper's health and safety is a violation of Section 7-2.5(n)(1) of Subpart 702 and will also be part of administrative enforcement action against the camp. The camp should have placed the well being of the campers above any concern that Rabbi Weiner was being falsely accused and as such, required him to sleep separate from campers until the matter could be thoroughly investigated by the appropriate authorities. Especially assuming that Alleged Victim did not identify his attacker to camp staff. Camp administrative staff should have realized that allowing Rabbi Weiner to sleep in the same quarters as Alleged Victim placed additional avoidable mental anguish on the child who believed that Rabbi Weiner had accosted him based on eyewitness accounts of the two other campers.
The camp's O.D. System as described in their May 8, 1997 written safety plan is not acceptable because it does not provide for continuous visual and/or verbal communication capabilities between campers and staff because the staff to camper ratio (as low as 1:72) is unacceptable to handle emergencies during sleep/resting periods and the camp was not informed that their O.D. System was unacceptable camp implemented it as written during the 1997-1998 seasons. As a result, no administrative enforcement action will be taken for this deficiency.
The camp's policy of housing staff who are not directly responsible for camper supervision in camp bunks is inappropriate. Although addiction staff in the bunks would increase the staff to camper ratio, the benefit of the additional staff is questionable without the staff having specific supervisory responsibilities and training. In fact, this policy allows an opportunistic individual legitimate access to campers on their bunks that might otherwise not be available. Providing a designated staff bunk is the resolution to this problem: however if it is not possible, employing a camp policy which requires two staff be present at all times camper and staff are together would greatly enhance camper safety.
The lack or unavailability of a current employment application (with references) and the alleged perpetrator's failure to attend pre-camp training are both technical violations of Subpart 7-2. How neither is believed to have contributed to the incident because it is assumed that the camp's knowledge and Rabbi Weiner's background and acceptability would surpass that of any reference he may have supplied that he would have gained sufficient knowledge from previous experience at camp to fulfill his job duties as a teacher.
The camp's written policy for reporting allegations of abuse must be modified to indicate all allegations of abuse will be reported to the MDO within 24 hours. Additionally, the written safety plan and staff training must identify indicators of abuse, the camp policy handling an allegation and designate the person(s) responsible for reporting to the MDO.
The camp must revamp its O.D. System for supervision campers to provide continuous and/or verbal communication capabilities between campers and staff, and a higher staff camp ratio to deal with emergencies. Additionally, consideration should be given to mandating "two deep" staff supervision at all times including O.D. to lesson future abuse.
The camp shoujld consider separate housing for staff not assigned specific bunk supervision duties.
Rabbi Charged In Sex Abuse
by Caren Halbfinger
Journal News (Westchester County, NY) - February 20, 1999 Saturday - NEWS; Pg. 1B
YONKERS - A city yeshiva teacher has been charged with sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy last summer at a Sullivan County camp.
Rabbi Yaakov Weiner, who teaches kindergartners and first-graders at Stein Yeshiva of Lincoln Park in Yonkers, is accused of sexually touching a 10-year-old boy in a cabin at Camp Mogen Avraham in Bethel in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, state police investigator Geoffrey Cabrera said yesterday.
There were other boys in the cabin at the time, Cabrera said. Weiner taught Judaic studies at the camp. Weiner is to appear March 4 in Thompson Town Court on charges of first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. Weiner, 36, of Forest Hills, Queens, was charged Feb. 11 and was released Feb. 12 after posting $25,000 bail.
Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen said yesterday that he was continuing to investigate the case and that he expected to present it to a grand jury within the next few weeks.
Cabrera said he called the principal at Stein Yeshiva, an Orthodox religious school, to verify Weiner's employment on Monday and found school officials caught off-guard about the investigation.
'' They hadn't been informed by (Weiner), and they were pretty mortified, '' Cabrera said. '' They said they had never dealt with anything like this in the past. ''
School officials refused to answer questions yesterday and told parents not to speak to a reporter. But from the shocked reaction of one mother, it appeared the school had told parents little about the charge against Weiner.
The 10-year-old boy, who lives in Nassau County, reported the incident to camp officials immediately, Cabrera said.
But, Lungen said, camp officials never reported the incident to police.
School officials, doctors and child-care workers are required by state law to report suspected incidents of abuse.
The camp's Manhattan office was closed yesterday.
The child's parents told Nassau County police about the alleged abuse in late October. Nassau County police immediately passed the information to state police in Liberty, N.Y., Cabrera said, but Lungen said his office wasn't notified until a week ago.
'' We're trying to figure out what happened, '' Lungen said. '' We're looking into what caused the delay. It appears the original officer who got the case got transferred and never followed it up. Unfortunately, those things do happen, and that's the way it appears. ''
Cabrera said he was assigned to the case on Dec. 10, after being transferred to the Liberty State Police Barracks from Orange County, where he had spent the past six years investigating child abuse cases. He would not comment on what happened to the case before he started to work on it.
SHORT FORM ORDER
SUPREME COURT - STATE OF NEW YORK
Present: HON. ROBERT ROBERTO, JR.
Please Note: The fact that the Camp settled is very significant. The timing also indicates that this may have been done to quiet the victim's family and prevent disclosure in the newspaper. This settlement occurred during the time that Newday journalist, Stephanie Saul was working on her article Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse. --Name withheld upon request --
TRIAL/IAS PART 2
SPECIAL TERM PART II
Index No. 14030/99
Court's Mtn: 3/26/03
CHILD VICTIM'S NAME WITHHELD, an infant under the age of 14, by his m/n/g, CHILD VICTIM'S PARENT'S NAMES WITHHELD, individually,
CAMPS MOGEN AVRAHAM, HELLER, STERNBERG, INC. and YAAKOV WEINER,
Infant's compromise order, with supporting papers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .X
Upon the foregoing papers it is ordered that this court file is sealed.
The Clerk is directed to mark the file "sealed" and not to provide access thereto except to the parties or their counsel, upon appropriate identification, or upon further order of this Court.
Date: March 26, 2003 Robert Roberto, JR., J.S.C.
Entered: April 3, 2003 - Nassau County County Clerk's Office
Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse
By Stephanie Saul - Staff Writer
Newsday - May 26, 2003, 8:10 PM EDT
This is the first in a three-part series.
It was the sound of ripping cloth, they said, that woke them up.
On an August night in the Catskills, with summer camp almost over, the boys had fallen asleep in their bunkhouse, exhausted from play and religious study. Only minutes later, they would later testify in court, the noise awakened them. Then came mysterious movements in the dark cabin. The campers lay still. Why was a human figure hovering over the bed of a 10-year-old Woodmere boy?
The terrified boy blurted out his allegation to a camp counselor almost a day later: Someone, he said, had torn open the seat of his pajamas and sexually abused him.
The boy's parents were called to camp more than a day later, but police were not notified.
"We all concurred that considering the trauma that would possibly result from further action, it would be best not to take any additional action," according to the camp's notes, later filed in court in a civil suit. A state Department of Health sanitarian later found that the camp violated state regulations by not reporting the accusation.
Police learned of the allegations two months later, alerted by a psychologist who was treating the boy. The boy's mother later told a state official she felt pressured to remain silent, according to state health department records. After all, the alleged abuser and the camp officials were revered religious leaders.
The accused was eventually acquitted by a judge, who said "contradictory and sometimes retracting statements" left him unclear about what happened. The camp suggests that the alleged incident was fabricated.
After more than a year of charges and disclosures concerning sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests, the story may sound familiar. But the camp, Mogen Avraham, is a popular summer retreat in Bethel for Orthodox Jewish children. And the accused was not a priest, but a teaching rabbi from Forest Hills.
The alleged 1998 incident at Camp Mogen Avraham is just one in a growing dossier of allegations that rabbis, cantors and other Jewish religious leaders have abused children and teenagers in their care, a Newsday investigation has found.
In sheer numbers, the problem is unlikely to rival the Catholic Church's, since priests outnumber rabbis by roughly nine to one. While there is no data on the number of clergy with sexual disorders, experts say that, anecdotally, the problem does not seem as severe in the rabbinate as in the priesthood, even in relative terms.
Even so, some rabbis call the sexual abuse allegations a "crisis," and religious organizations are grappling with ways to handle it.
"We have a huge problem on our hands, a problem that is just beginning to be addressed in religious circles," Vicki Polin, a psychotherapist, said in recent testimony to the Maryland legislature.
Polin, who is Jewish and calls herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, runs The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based clearinghouse that tracks sexual abuse allegations against Jewish religious leaders. The center's Web site lists about 40 alleged cases of abuse involving rabbis and cantors. As with the Catholic scandals, Jewish victims say they still struggle years, even decades, later with this betrayal of trust.
"I can honestly say that he ruined not only my Bas-Mitzvah, but my faith in Judaism," wrote one woman, now 30, referring to Rabbi Sidney Goldenberg. In a letter to California prosecutors, the woman said Goldenberg, then a cantor, made lewd comments and rubbed her thigh in her parents' home in Seaford in 1985. At the time, he was supposed to be helping her prepare for her bat mitzvah, the joyous and solemn religious celebration when a Jewish girl turns 13.
Goldenberg was convicted in 1997 of abusing a 12-year-old California bat mitzvah student, after investigators uncovered a 27-year trail of complaints by girls against him. He served three years and is now living on Coney Island, according to police.
Like the Goldenberg case, the abuse allegations tend to have common elements, including some familiar from the Catholic scandals:
Children and in some cases parents are reluctant to accuse respected clergymen. When they do, they are often disbelieved, dismissed, even derided.
"You have to understand the extent to which the guys in the school looked up to [the rabbi]," says one man, now 38, who says he was abused as a teenager by a rabbi now teaching in Israel. "He was beyond question."
And another rabbi recalls dismissing several girls' complaints against Goldenberg as "some giggly thing."
Religious authorities fail to report abuse charges to the police. Among strictly observant Orthodox Jews, this tendency is bolstered by the ancient doctrine of mesira, which prohibits Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities, a legacy of centuries of oppression of Jews in many countries.
When religious leaders try to investigate cases and prevent abusers from having contact with children, their efforts often fail. "Few rabbis have any training in recognizing abuse, and the rabbinical courts have no investigative arm," says Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual counselor to students at Yeshiva University.
Alleged abusers continue to operate freely by moving among congregations, states, even countries. Avrohom Mondrowitz, a self-styled rabbi who once had a popular radio show in Brooklyn, is living openly and teaching in a Jerusalem college although he is wanted on charges of sexually abusing four Brooklyn boys, aged 10 to 16. If he ever returns to the United States, he will be arrested, according to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
Many of the alleged abusers were popular, even charismatic leaders, who were thought to be particularly good in relating to young people. Rabbi Baruch Lanner, convicted last year of endangering the welfare of two girls at a New Jersey yeshiva, sidestepped abuse allegations for years, in part because of his reputation as a dynamic figure in an Orthodox youth program.
Unlike the Catholic Church, Jewish authority is not centralized, but various groups within the branches of Judaism have begun to strengthen anti-abuse policies for their members.
At its annual meeting, which starts today in Rye, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, features programs on curbing abuse, including one entitled "Rabbinic Behavior: Confronting a Crisis of Accountability."
"We're trying to establish that inappropriate behavior is inexcusable," said Rabbi Hershel Billet, president of the organization and rabbi at Young Israel of Woodmere.
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a psychotherapist who is also the Orthodox Union's executive vice president, said he hopes the rabbinical council will make a firm commitment during the meeting "to develop a real, real tight program" combating sexual abuse.
The rabbinical council is expected to discuss ways to adjudicate abuse allegations against its members, with penalties that include ouster.
Sources within the organization say that the impetus for the panel's work includes old abuse allegations against Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Kew Gardens Hills, which he has repeatedly denied, and the recent arrest of Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum of Highland Park, N.J.
Kestenbaum, a chaplaincy leader for the New York Board of Rabbis, was charged in February with endangering the welfare of a minor after allegedly discussing sex with an undercover police officer posing as a teenage girl in a chat room called "I Love Older Men." Kestenbaum has pleaded not guilty.
Rabbis concerned about sex abuse say accusations against a rabbi are often handled quietly, or not at all. Accused rabbis go on hiatus briefly, then revive their ministries in other congregations, even other countries in the far-flung Diaspora.
One of those was Rabbi Matis Weinberg. Accused of sexually abusing students at his California yeshiva two decades ago, he is said to have agreed to leave teaching. But Weinberg resurrected his teaching career in Israel. When Yeshiva University in Manhattan recently unearthed the allegations against Weinberg, the New York school severed its ties to the Jerusalem college where Weinberg had lectured until recently.
Weinberg has never been charged with a crime and has denied the former students' allegations. Through a friend, he declined to discuss the charges with Newsday.
The allegations against Weinberg have been widely reported in the Jewish press and have helped bring the issue to the fore in recent months.
Like the Orthodox rabbis' council, representatives of other branches of Judaism say they are taking steps to combat sexual abuse.
"I would rather this not become an epidemic and I think what we need to do is take affirmative steps to guide people before they make mistakes," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the lay arm of the Conservative movement. Epstein said the group's committee on congregational standards is currently working on a "best practices" document.
Rabbi Steven Rosenberg of McAllen, Texas, formerly the leader of the Jewish Center of Bay Shore, said his Conservative congregation already has adopted such rules.
"If I have a bat mitzvah in my office, the door is never closed," said Rosenberg, who also tells his 23 religion school teachers "they are not allowed to touch students, not a pat, not a hug."
"It is very important for me for my congregants to know: That kind of behavior -- we will not tolerate it," said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg was sensitized by the case against Sidney Goldenberg, the former cantor, who had worked at the Bay Shore synagogue before moving to California.
Many rabbis say their groups would always notify police about abuse although their rules usually do not spell this out. Such notification was one of the remedies embraced by Roman Catholic bishops in the priest abuse scandal. And Reform rabbis are in the process of revising their ethics code to include such a requirement, according to Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
The National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox group, does have a policy requiring that police be notified, an outgrowth of its scandal involving Lanner, a longtime youth leader with the group.
In that case, a religious court called a bet din concluded in 1989 that the most serious charges against Lanner were unfounded, clearing the way for his continued youth work. Last year, more than a dozen years later, he was convicted in New Jersey on abuse-related charges.
Orthodox Jews frequently rely on the batei din, but Blau, a member of the Lanner bet din, has become an outspoken critic of the religious court system.
For one thing, he said, judges in the religious courts often know the accused, making fair decisions difficult. In addition, he said that perjury before a bet din is rarely punished.
Appearing in February before dozens of students in the main study hall at Yeshiva University, Blau and the two other members of the Lanner bet din issued an extraordinary public apology for their role in allowing Lanner to continue unchecked for so many years.
"We must do everything in our power to protect potential victims from abuse," the apology said. "This includes reporting accusations of abuse to Jewish and, at times, to secular authorities."
Such a secular-reporting requirement is controversial among some Orthodox groups, partly because it appears to run counter to the doctrine called mesira.
In ancient times, one who violated the doctrine and reported a fellow Jew to secular authorities could be killed on sight. Today, the punishment is generally ostracism in the community.
The vast majority of rabbis agree that mesira is overridden when there is imminent danger to possible future victims, but Blau says the taboo remains, particularly among the most traditional Orthodox.
Civil authorities who seek to act against rabbinic abuse often become frustrated by the reluctance of witnesses to testify.
Prosecutors in Sullivan County complained during the case that their witnesses faced pressure when they tried to prosecute Yaakov Weiner, the teaching rabbi acquitted in the Mogen Avraham case.
"It was a bitter pill for me," remembers Tom Cawley, the former Sullivan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the Mogen Avraham case. "They sent their kid to camp up here in Bethel and thought he'd be taken care of. Someone was taken care of, all right, but it wasn't him."
Weiner, who has taught in several yeshivas throughout the metropolitan area, consistently denied the charges. Attempts to reach him through one of his lawyers were unsuccessful.
The boy's mother and father, a rabbi himself, would not discuss the case with Newsday. But camp and State Health Department records filed in court indicate that the parents were not told of the alleged abuse until nearly 48 hours after the boy spoke of it, while the 36-year-old Weiner's father, a rabbi well-known in the Queens Orthodox community, was notified sooner.
Contacted recently, the camp's current executive director, Moshe Wein, defended the camp's handling of the accusation, saying, "There's no evidence to indicate that an incident took place." He added, "This may be one of those cases in which a child lied."
Lawyers for Weiner at his bench trial made much of contradictions in the boy's statements. But the most confusing testimony came from the alleged victim's bunkmates.
One of the boys reversed his story between the time he spoke to police and the trial several months later, Cawley said in court.
"We believe that there was pressure placed on the victim and children's families to get them not to testify," said Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen in a recent telephone interview. "There was a child who could have substantiated what was said, and that family would not cooperate."
The entire matter left Sullivan County Judge Frank Labuda confused.
"It is clear in the evening hours of August 8 and the morning of August 9, two years ago, something happened at bunk 3 Gimel bunk... " he said in his January 2000 ruling. But Labuda concluded that trial testimony "does not create a clear picture for this court of exactly what happened in Gimel bunk nor who did it."
He found Weiner not guilty.
FAIR USE NOTICE
Some of the information on The Awareness Center's web pages may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.
We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml . If you wish to use copyrighted material from this update for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.