Tough Call For A Tough Group

By Adam Dickter (The Jewish Week)
April 21, 2010

Early in my career at The Jewish Week, I had a chance to ride with Chaim Deutsch through the streets of Flatbush in his Shomrim Patrol car as he searched for car thieves, drug dealers and other wrongdoers in the mostly tranquil, heavily Orthodox neighborhood.

It was an uneventful night, as is often the case, but the Shomrim, working closely with the police, have taken their share of miscreants off the streets.

Except for his chain-smoking, Deutsch, a lanky, good-natured young man who is always dressed in immaculate yeshiva world garb of suits and white shirts, doesn't look the part of a tough-guy crimebuster. But area residents who have called on him and the precinct commanders he works with know he can be as formidable as the circumstances warrant. That means making tough choices, because very much like Jewish journalists, Deutsch and his 40 volunteers come into contact with the dirty underside of their own community. Just as Jewish-media reporters may be forced to cover institutions they may belong to or respect in a way that hurts that institution, or present facts that are damaging to individuals they may know, the Shomrim face the daily possibility of having to turn someone to whom they may have close ties over to the cops.

While there are similarities, there is no parallel. A harsh article hurts reputations. An arrest ruins lives. In both cases there is the risk of harming someone innocent. But there should never be a question that the overriding loyalty is to the public. The final judgment will be made by others.

As repoted in my cover story this week, the Shomrim have taken the unprecedented step of publicly urging the Orthodox community to call 911 when they have knowledge of sexual abuse, a step some seem to believe can and should be avoided. As more complaints of abuse -- recent and past --surface those voices seem increasingly isolated as halachic figures, like the Jerusalem sage Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyakim, have come out in favor of police intervention as not only permissable but mandatory.

But it's not halacha that makes policing Orthodox pedophiles thorny for people like Deutsch and his patrol. It is the realization that there is no stereotype of an abuser that marks him or her on sight like a car thief surveying a parking lot. They lead tortured double lives and can be respected rabbis, businessmen or the person next door you thought you knew. Even knowing how harmful the consequences of their actions may be to themselves and those around them, they are often unable to control their compulsion, and some simply don't want to. That means the Shomrim may face the father or uncle of a friend, the friend himself, a neighbor or former classmate, and endure desperate protestations of innocence or desperate pleas for mercy bundled with promises to quietly get help.

The rabbis who have come out in favor of police intervention, most of them apparently doing so quietly, evidently realize the stakes. It is not inconceivable that a child or teen who has been molested can commit suicide, especially when he or she feels there is no place to turn. That makes this issue literally one of life or death. Just as no murderer can be given a second chance to quietly shape up, neither can a compulsive sexual abuser who insists he'll get help, as if his problem is as simple as fear or flying.

Locking up pedophiles and other kinds of abusers once their actions become known, so that even when they are released their actions and whereabouts can be monitored, is the only option. Carrying it out and calling on the public for help is a tough job. But Chaim Deutsch and his Shomrim Patrol are just the guys to do it.