Issue of July 31, 2009 / 10 Av 5769
In April 2007, the Baltimore Jewish Times published the accounts of three victims of Ephraim Shapiro, a former congregational rabbi and principal of the Talmudic Academy in Baltimore. Their accounts of sexual abuse at Shapiro’s hands were harrowing. Shapiro, a revered member of the community, had unsupervised access to hundreds of children.
By the time the article ran, Shapiro had been dead for over seventeen years — he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1989. Phil Jacobs, executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, characterized it correctly: Shapiro’s memory “remains ‘alive’ in the memories of so many. His collateral damage is everywhere.”
The Baltimore Jewish Times was heavily criticized for publishing the story. Two prominent rabbonim had asked that Shapiro’s name be kept out of print; Rabbi Moshe Heinemann demanded that his community prohibit the Baltimore Jewish Times in their homes. Jacobs, a survivor of sexual abuse himself, was ostracized.
“I was running into nuances wherever I went. I got emails. I never had my life threatened but I was asked to leave town. It impacted my family; it impacted my participation in the Jewish community as a practicing Jew. It hurt a lot and it still does.”
Later, more victims came forward to report sexual abuse they suffered at Shapiro’s hands. The exact number of children molested by Shapiro remains unclear.
Yosef Kolko was arrested two weeks ago on charges of sexually assaulting a minor at a day camp in Lakewood, New Jersey. One source involved in the arrest suspected that Yosef had been abused by his uncle, Yehuda Kolko, who is thought to be guilty of widespread sexual abuse.
Michael Sabo, whose case we detailed last week, attended Yeshiva Torah Temimah where Kolko taught, and a sleepaway camp where Kolko once worked. Asked if he was one of Kolko’s victims, Sabo told the Jewish Star that while he did not remember being abused and did not think he was abused, his therapist told him the abuse was “repressed.” By the time you read this, Tisha B’av may have ended. The month of Elul, and the Yamim Noraim, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are just ahead. We will again pray to be forgiven for our sins. This year, perhaps, we have new sins to add to our list — sins of negligence and ignorance, and through our negligence and ignorance, a new
If there is anything we, as a community, can learn from these horrific events, is that wounds still bleed. They not only scar, but fester. Sexual abuse does not go away. Most of the victims of Kolko, Mondrowitz, and Shapiro will lead happy meaningful lives, carrying their tragedies like unwanted baggage. Some will become outspoken heroes who seek to prevent sexual abuse like Phil Jacobs and Joseph, the father of Sabo’s alleged victim. Still others will remain silent and keep their sorrow to themselves. And some may never find solace and may be accused of molestation themselves, creating still more
victims in a truly vicious cycle.
There is no moral to this story, nor is there a happy ending. There is only vigilance and caution. As a community, we have sinned. Our fathers have sinned. As last week’s Parsha states: “I, the Lord thy G-d, am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.”
We have only repentance left.