By Kathleen Hopkins (Asbury Park Press)
May 9, 2013
The boy at the center of a sexual abuse case within Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community had no friends in fifth and sixth grade and none in the summer camp he attended those years, he shyly testified on Wednesday.
So when camp counselor Yosef Kolko let the boy sing solos with the camp choir and gave him the lead role in the play the summer after fifth grade, in 2007, that made the boy feel “awesome,” he told a jury of nine men and seven women.
“I respected him,” the boy, now 16, said of Kolko. “He was one of the cool counselors.”
The following August, the boy returned to Yachad, the summer camp that is run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School on Swarthmore Avenue in Lakewood. He and some other boys in his class told the head counselor they wouldn’t return to camp unless Kolko was their counselor, he said.
“I looked up to him,” the boy told the jury. “I tried to develop a personal relationship, because there was an inkling to be close to the counselor, and because I didn’t have any friends.”
And Kolko seemed to single out the boy, according to the boy’s testimony.
The counselor took the boy alone to an empty classroom at the camp on one occasion during the summer of 2008, and to a storage room at the camp that was off-limits to everyone else, the boy said.
“It was a little exciting because no one was allowed to be up there,” the boy said.
During those encounters, Kolko asked the boy to “lean my body against him,” he said.
The first time, it seemed to the boy that Kolko had an erection, the boy testified.
The next time, “I believe again he had an erection. He put his arms over me and his hands in my crotch area.”
The encounters continued that year and into the beginning of the 2009, in a wooded area, in Kolko’s car on the outskirts of Lakewood, and even in the basement of a synagogue, the boy told the jury.
Kolko would pick up the boy for their secret meetings in his car, near his house but not in front of it, he testified.
The boy described a series of molestation and oral sex the two engaged in, at Kolko’s behest, that made the boy feel uncomfortable, the boy testified.
He told the jury that on one occasion, Kolko made him lie face down in the rear seat of his car, with his pants down, and attempted to have anal sex with the him, but the boy resisted.
Despite feeling uncomfortable about the encounters, “I wanted to keep meeting him, because I wanted to make a relationship or keep a relationship with him,” the boy told the jury.
“Why?” asked Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Laura Pierro.
“Because I didn’t have any friends at this time,” the boy said. “Even though it was strange, I still considered him a friend.”
The boy was 11 years old at the time and teased by his classmates because of a medical condition. Kolko was in his mid-30s.
Kolko, now 39, of Geffen Drive, Lakewood is on trial before state Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson in a case that is being closely watched by Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Kolko, who was a counselor at Yachad as well as a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, is charged with aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment.
The case highlights how the Orthodox community sought to resolve the issue internally, without notifying secular authorities, and it spotlights the courage of a young boy and his family who had the fortitude to go outside their religious community to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to seek justice, Pierro said in her opening argument to the jury.
The family, ostracized by their community, has moved out of Lakewood, and the boy’s father, a prominent rabbi, resigned his prestigious teaching position, Pierro said. The boy said his family moved to Michigan, where he plays in a band and has a job selling suits.
Kolko’s defense attorney, Michael F. Bachner, told the jury in his opening statement that the child lied about the abuse. In cross-examining the boy, Bachner insinuated that he made up stories about molestation because Kolko accused him of stealing and being a delinquent. The boy replied that wasn’t true.
During most of the boy’s testimony, Kolko sat at the defense table, dressed in a pin-striped suit, one arm slung back over his chair and his other elbow leaning on the table. The boy, tall, lanky and rosy-cheeked, looked straight ahead, keeping his composure throughout about 2½ hours of testimony.
At one point, the boy related conversations in which Kolko said he was seeking help. In one such conversation, the counselor told the boy he had a dream in which a boy in his class touched another boy, “and he felt uncomfortable to stop him because he doesn’t do it himself,” the boy testified.
“He said that he was going for help,” the boy said. “It made me feel there was no reason to say something to authorities, because he was already getting help. He said that if I tell people, it would ruin his career, and he wouldn’t be able to get married.”
The boy explained that getting married is an expected and important part of Jewish life.
“It made me feel like I didn’t want to ruin his chances to get married,’’ the boy said.
But early in 2009, when he told his therapist about his friendship with Kolko, the therapist discouraged it, and the boy decided to tell his father.
When he did tell his father, “I was actually nervous for (Kolko),” the boy testified. “I didn’t want him to get in trouble because at that point, I was still under the impression that he was a friend.”
Pierro asked him if he was embarrassed when the word got out about his sexual abuse.
“No, not embarrassed,” the boy replied. “Upset, because I feel that I deserve better.”
The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m. today.