Last year, some little girls were sexually assaulted in my son’s 2nd grade class. He was their trusted teacher who they called “Rebbe.” He was young, had children of his own, and seemed to be the friendliest, happiest, most smiling face in town.
It is his wife I think of often. When The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” comes on the radio, I cry when the lyrics get to “I’ve lost a friend.” I cry over the shock of losing a friend in such a horrendous, disastrous way. I told her she would have a soft place to land if she chose to leave him. That is where we left it. She didn’t leave him. This is hard to take.
I cry because the danger came too close. Every conversation with my child felt like walking a tightrope, a fishing expedition for the truth, a primal need to protect him. There was no relief in discovering he wasn’t abused. But he knew just enough to testify. Our son had anger issues that took months to heal. For me, the anxiety attacks were awful. Thirty days after the initial accusation, I sat in a support group with other women, including the mothers of the victims, and I had to hold back the tears. When I got in my car afterward, I broke down. I rushed home, ran to my bedroom, and fell into a ball on the floor, unable to breathe through my shock and tears and pain and sadness. “It’s too much,” I repeated over and over again. “It’s just too much.” I found out I wasn’t the only one who broke down that night. “It’s too much” became our shared emotion.
My darling husband took me to see “Iron Man” the next day. To relax me. Then Tony Stark started having panic attacks of his own, and it was all I could do to stay in my seat. I kept telling myself in my head: “It wasn’t my child.” But it didn’t seem to matter. It was my friends’ children, and that’s what mattered. It was just too close. My anxiety attacks couldn’t touch the pain and anger and sadness of my friends for their daughters. There was no solution. No easy fix. This is what justice is for. Right?
Almost a year has passed. He pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and accepted a plea deal wherein he won’t serve jail time but will be a registered sex offender. This is common in this state. It’s how they secure a 90% conviction rate. It does not mean he didn’t do it. The smile on his face in the photo from his sentencing is appalling. I asked my friend–the mother of one of the victims, who never lost her strength and sense of humor through it all–how she was doing (I may have used some choice expletives in our exchange), and she told me she knew God has a “special place” for people like him.
But then I found out that in the community where he lives, he’s told people he’s innocent. He’s told people he made a plea deal to avoid jail time. He’s told people his only mistake was letting students sit in his lap, and nothing more. He’s told people he should have been more of a Rebbe and less of an Abba. That he loved his students too much and they loved him, but he never did anything bad. And the worst part is, because he says it with conviction, because his family defends him, because he got a plea deal, because there are those in his community willing to say out loud that they believe him…children are in danger. And the girls he sexually assaulted? He’s hurting their families, too. He continues to assault them, every time he speaks.
There is a line we do not cross. He crossed that line. If he looked like a homeless man or were covered in tattoos, nobody would cross that line to pity him or trust him. But he looks like a nice Jewish teacher.
Parents, if someone is a convicted sex offender, you do not arrange playdates at their house. You do not say, “Well, maybe he really didn’t do it,” and let him near your children. That is all. It’s still too much.