By Kathleen Hopkins (Asbury Park Press)
May 10, 2013
The father of a former Lakewood boy who accused his camp counselor of sexual abuse wanted to handle the matter discreetly, within the Orthodox Jewish religious community, he testified in court on Thursday.
The man, formerly a prominent rabbi in Lakewood’s Orthodox community, said he just wanted to be sure the counselor, Yosef Kolko, quit working with children, sought therapy and stayed away from his son, the man told a jury.
But when months had already passed after he had brought the matter to the attention of a respected rabbi who promised to handle it discreetly, and learning that Kolko was still working at the summer camp where his son was molested, the father said he broke with Jewish tradition and sought justice with secular authorities.
The breaking point was when he confronted Kolko months after first learning of the abuse and demanding that he quit his jobs, at Yachad, the summer camp run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School on Swarthmore Avenue in Lakewood, and at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, where he was a teacher, the father testified.
Kolko told him he was thinking of leaving the Yachad, but only to get a job as a counselor at a sleep-away camp, the father testified. Then he told the boy’s father not to contact him anymore, the man told the jury.
“I said, “A sleep-away camp! What are you nuts?’’ the man testified.
Soon afterward, the man went with his wife and son to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to report the molestation, but only after the owner of the summer camp told him to be patient, “to give him (Kolko) another chance to get back on board,” the father testified.
“Going to law enforcement is not at this time common within the Orthodox Jewish community,” the father explained to the jury. “Even when it’s necessary, it’s considered unusual. People who might believe that the alleged molester is innocent would give the person going to law enforcement a very hard time.’’
The testimony came during the second day of Kolko’s trial before Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson.
The Asbury Park Press is not identifying the father to protect the identity of the victim, now 16.
Kolko, 39, of Geffen Drive, Lakewood is accused of sexually abusing the boy in 2008 and 2009, when the child was 11 and 12.
As reluctant as the boy’s father was to go to law-enforcement with the child-abuse allegations, so was his son to expose his counselor, whom he had considered his best friend, the father testified.
The boy made the revelation to his father when the father picked him up from a session with a school therapist in February of 2009, he said.
“He said that his counselor, Yosef Kolko, sexually abused him,” the father testified of his conversation with his son that day.
“What was his demeanor?” asked Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Laura Pierro.
“He really didn’t want to disclose it,’’ the father replied. “There was a big sense of loyalty.”
After making the disclosure to his father, “”He asked me not to tell anyone, and I told him I couldn’t do that,” the father testified.
The next morning, the father called Kolko and arranged to meet with him on a Lakewood street, he said. He brought along a digital recorder that he kept in the pocket of his overcoat to tape his conversation with Kolko.
The father said Kolko was “nervous and contrit” when he confronted him about molesting his son.
“I told him (my son) informed me of abuse and molestation, and he asked me what I wanted to do about it,” the father testified.
The father responded that he wanted to take the matter to a group of rabbis who deal with such issues. Kolko agreed to go with him that day to see one of the rabbis, Shmuel Blech, the father said.
“I told him, if he was compliant, it would most probably not be publicized,” the father testified. “I told him I wanted (him to have) absolutely no more contact with my son. I said, it’s obvious he has to give up his job with the school and the camp.”
The father testified he never would have gone to the police if Kolko had complied with his wishes., He said he had reassured Kolko, “If you deal with it correctly, everything will be alright.”
Defense attorney Michael F. Bachner suggested that the father may have purposely decided not to record portions of his conversation with Kolko, or that portions of the conversation may have been erased. But the father insisted that Kolko never denied the accusations.
He said he even gave Kolko an opportunity to deny the allegations before going to talk to Blech.
“I told him, if that’s what he wanted, he could speak to me,” the father told the jury. “He said, ‘Then there’s nothing to say.”’
When the father told Blech about the accusations, Kolko “”was closed to tears,’’ he testified. “He was embarrassed and remorseful.’’
The father learned months later that Kolko wasn’t going to therapy, he testified.
“I was more concerned that he was still at his job, and I felt that children were in danger,’’ he testified.
He went to the prosecutor’s office with the allegations in July of 2009.
Earlier at the trial on Thursday, the boy’s school therapist testified he told her that Kolko was his best friend, but she encouraged him to make friends his own age.
“Nobody else will ever understand me,’” Tzipora Koslowitz testified the boy had told her.
He later told her he had a secret to reveal, and she encouraged him to tell the secret to his father, she said.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday.