By Joshua Levitt (The Algemeiner)
July 30, 2013
Child abuse survivor Mark Weiss, 46, was one of the last people to see Avrohom Mondrowitz, on US soil.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Weiss recalled the encounter as his “Forrest Gump” moment, referring to the Tom Hanks movie where his character wanders casually into history-making scenes.
The meeting took place in 1984 during the brief span when Mondrowitz fled Borough Park, Brooklyn, to his original home in Chicago, where he had molested Weiss as a 13-year old. Shortly after their meeting, at their local shul, Mondrowitz fled to Canada, and then to Israel, where he’s been living, out of reach of the law, for nearly 30 years.
Weiss said, at 18, he had been studying in Israel, and came home to Chicago for Sukkot. “At shul, before Maariv [the evening section of the prayer book], I saw Mondrowitz there, and I started to walk over to say hello, when it all just came flooding back to me. I ran out of the shul and went straight home and confessed all that had happened to my parents, old-fashioned, simple, humble teachers, one at a yeshiva, and the other at a kindergarten, and they just looked at me as if I told them Martians had landed a spacecraft in the yard.”
“It was over the Sukkot holiday, so I spent the next few days alone, really thinking about all that had happened, remembering all the details from that time. I remember walking over to West Rogers Park to tell my best friend, who just couldn’t believe it, ‘Was I sure?’ This was just so far away from what we knew back then,” Weiss recalled.
“A week later, I got a call to see a Rosh Yeshiva (one of the two deans of the school) where my father taught, and I had no idea what he wanted. He asked me how I was, then asked if I would trust my kids with Mondrowitz? Absolutely not, I answered, and he started asking me why, and I told him the whole story.”
“Years later, I was being interviewed on [ABC Television's] Nightline, and was asked why the Rosh Yeshiva didn’t just ask me straight out, and we came to the conclusion that, it was his modest way of asking the question if I had been molested. People don’t understand, talking about these things in the Jewish community directly was not znius, not modest, and the entire rabbinical system of being subservient to the Torah, and to the Rabbis above you in the community, didn’t really provide any space for what I was saying.”
“When the Jews received the Torah, we said, ‘We will do, and we will hear’ — ‘we’re going to do it unquestionably, then we can understand later.’ But that was between man and G-d, not uttered between man and man. It’s like the old fashioned expression, ‘in G-d we trust, all others pay cash.’”
“What the Mondrowitz case showed, like Bernie Madoff, too, is that when someone is perceived to be a community leader, people tend not to dig deeper, not to look closely at what’s really happening. When one of these people knows how to work the system in their favor, to harm others or take advantage of others, the community is rendered defenseless, like a deer in the headlights, wondering what happened, how did it all go wrong? People are too busy, and no one asks hard questions, then people who might be willing to speak up are afraid to make the first accusation even when certain something is wrong.”
Weiss said he was pleased to learn of The Algemeiner’s report yesterday that a vigilante in Jerusalem had taken it upon himself to throw Mondrowitz to the ground upon encountering him in Jerusalem, but he thought that the footage of the incident spoke less about any one man’s anger and frustration, and more to the wider feelings against child abuse in today’s society, as compared to 30 years ago.
“Symbolically, I think the unknown assailant is representative of a more important thing happening, that people now are showing their outrage,” Weiss said. “Mondrowitz will one day get what’s coming to him, and I’m certainly not in control of that. One guy who’s heard about Mondrowitz, and now getting angry and assaulting him, that’s good to see, the outrage is really starting to show. But Mondrowitz is just symbolic of the problem. We’ve reached a certain critical point where more parents are talking to their kids; parents today know to check the right boxes, and say the right things to them. They’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”
Within some elements of the Charedi community, particularly Chabad, new programs in childhood education are being implemented to teach children what is appropriate, and what’s not.
“The children are now taught that if someone is doing something inappropriate to you, you have the ABC’s,” Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, a senior Chabad rabbi based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said in an interview recorded for NBC television last month. ”And I was so pleased with my six year old daughter tells me, “Daddy, the ‘D’ of the ABC’s, do tell. Someone does something inappropriate I’m gonna tell.”
“These deviants must be punished and they now know, because of the awareness that’s happening, they now know that they cannot continue to commit these crimes. They know that they’ll be caught,” Berkowitz said.
“And I must say as a parent it’s the number one thing that I worry about in our camps, in our schools, what are you teaching your staff, our teachers to make sure that our children are protected. And I’m very pleased that the new programs that the Chasidic schools are teaching within our, with their sensitivities, to teach our children about the differences.”
In Berkowitz’s case, however, only parts of his NBC interview were broadcast, leaving many viewers with the false impression that Chabad leadership tries to keep these cases away from the police, something that the audio recording he made of the interview refutes. Much of the greater Jewish community’s continued outcry over the Mondrowitz case, nearly 30 years after charges were first brought also appears to indicate that attitudes are shifting.
While attitudes in society have become more accepting of victims and their stories of abuse, the law still remains behind the times. This month, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes released the names of 45 men and one woman convicted of child abuse in the Orthodox community, but advocates say the DA’s hasn’t gone far enough to protect children.
Weiss supports Voice of Justice, a rights advocacy group led by Mark Appel, who has lobbied the DA’s office to also publish the names of known molestation suspects, but the DA blocked his moves, citing the rights of the accused.
“Sure, the names of the convicted we know, but what we fear is that victims, whose identities end up known to the community anyway, are still at risk, because their assailants might remain in the community for years before ever going to trial,” Appel said.
Appel has also tried to change the statute of limitations in New York for childhood sex crimes, increasing to 10 years from five years after a victim turns 18 to be able to file a case, but attempts were blocked by Republicans in the state assembly. He noted that laws in California, Guam, Hawaii and Minnesota have been adopted to allow childhood abuse victims to file cases as much older adults, and he was hopeful that New York state law would one day reflect the trend in favor of victims’ rights.
“We’ve had conversations at very high levels to begin to change attitudes around this subject,” Appel said. “Whether the law is five years or 10 years after a child survivor turns 18, it really doesn’t begin to do justice in these cases.”
While the statute of limitations never runs out on murder, even though the victim is long dead, in child abuse cases, the victim is the survivor who has to live with trauma for the rest of his life because of what has happened.
“It doesn’t matter 5, 10, or 30 years. Some of these kids take longer to come to terms with what happened, and to come out publicly, so why should the law make it even more difficult?” Appel asks. “Politicians and our district attorneys need to send a message that pedophiles will not be tolerated in our society, and every weapon we have to protect our children and to prosecute perpetrators must be put to use.”