By Sonja Sharp (DNAinfo)
July 2, 2012
For Hershy Deutsch, it was a living nightmare.
Thugs allegedly vandalized his business. His Facebook page was flooded with violent threats, including a posted picture of a man in a hospital bed accompanied by a promise that he'd soon resemble the image.
Strangers in the street screamed for his blood, he said.
All this because his teenage girlfriend broke the code of silence in Williamsburg's close-knit Satmar Hasidic community, going to police with accusations that Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, a popular and respected community counselor, had sexually abused her.
"They were screaming after me," Deutsch told DNAinfo.com New York. "They surrounded my car, like 200 people screaming 'come out of the car — we'll kill you.'"
Sources told DNAinfo.com New York that officials were investigating the alleged threats against Deutsch.
Fierce tactics of intimidation and coercion are nothing new for sexual abuse victims who seek justice from inside Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish enclaves. But Deutsch's story is unique in one respect — four men who allegedly approached him to relay an offer of $500,000 in hush money if his girlfriend dropped her case are now facing criminal charges after a first-of-its-kind arrest.
"I feel relief," Deutsch said. "The community needed a wake-up call."
Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger and Abraham Rubin were arrested last month and arraigned in Brooklyn court on charges of bribery, coercion, harassment and criminal mischief.
Prior to their arrests, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes had suffered withering criticism for doing too little to curb that coercion, and in particular for failing to prosecute intimidators.
Though religious opinion is divided on whether sex abuse cases should be handled by rabbinical or secular authorities, many in the borough's Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox enclaves cling to the belief that going to police with any accusation against another Jew is forbidden.
In public, at least, the community rallies around the accused, often with devastating consequences for the victim.
So it went in Williamsburg, where supporters denounced the victim in public and organized a fundraiser to pay for Weberman's defense that drew more than 1,000 people.
"We're told, prosecute the intimidator," Hynes told the crowd at an anti-abuse forum in Crown Heights, just weeks before the arrests in Williamsburg.
"After someone has been so frightened they drop a sex abuse case, how likely is it they'll help prosecute an intimidator?"
When news broke that Rubin and the Berger brothers had been arrested, it sent shockwaves through the community. Some critics told the Jewish Week they believed the arrests were more about political theater than prosecutorial policy.
But Deutsch said he felt nothing but gratitude.
"They did a great job," he said.