By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)
July 31, 2013
AMSTERDAM (JTA) — More than a year after his alleged molestation by a male teacher, 6-year-old Ehud (not his real name) still won’t tell everything he knows about the sex scandal rocking Amsterdam’s Cheider, the Dutch capital’s only Orthodox Jewish school.
Ehud says the teacher, identified by Dutch media only as 25-year-old Ephraim S., used to touch him in a corner of the classroom known as “the dark room,” according to written testimony obtained by JTA. The teacher’s lawyer has declined to comment on the specific allegation but has denied any wrongdoing by his client.
Last month, after the Dutch media reported on a different abuse case at Cheider allegedly involving Ephraim S., Ehud asked his father whether the police would confront the teacher about “all the dirty things he did.” Ehud would not elaborate, but a child psychiatrist later determined he had undergone non-genital molestation — and perhaps worse.
Ehud is one of at least three boys from Cheider whose parents say were molested in the past two years by Ephraim S., who left for Israel shortly after the accusations were first made. Dutch police were informed of the complaints soon after they were made and have opened an investigation.
“Of course we went to police straight away,” said Binyomin Jacobs, a senior Dutch rabbi and spokesman for the school. “Not doing so would have endangered the children.”
At a time when Jewish schools in New York, Paris and Melbourne are facing scrutiny over their handling of sex abuse allegations, the Cheider scandal appears to be a rare case in which Jewish school administrators promptly turned the matter over to law enforcement authorities.
At Yeshiva University in New York, administrators have been slapped with a $380 million federal lawsuit for allegedly failing to respond to claims over many years of improper sexual contact between faculty and students at its high school for boys. In February, the principal of the Beth Hanna elementary school for boys in Paris was indicted for failing to report sexual abuse by a teacher.
But the Dutch school appears to have gone by the book: The matter was quickly reported to police. Some attribute the reaction to a growing awareness that sex abuses charges are not to be swept under the carpet.
“This is most definitely an example of how recent scandals had an impact on religious communities,” said Robert Chesal, a Netherlands-based American Jewish journalist who has written extensively about sexual abuse in religious communities.
Chesal cites sexual abuse accusations against Catholic priests in Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in 2010 as watershed events that led to far greater openness on abuse cases in religious communities in Europe. The revelations, he said, “generated an awakening to the terrible effects of sexual abuse and lack of accountability, which spread across religions.”
“Maybe these people are very responsible and would have responded so quickly and effectively anyway,” Chesal said of Cheider’s administrators. “But after what has happened for the last 2 1/2 years in this country, I’m certain it has heightened the awareness and had an impact on the time of reaction.”
In Holland, the Catholic scandal led to the first publication, in 2012, of how Abraham Rijxman, a former rector at Amsterdam’s Maimonides High School, was forced to resign in 1971 due to allegations of molestation. Soon after, the Jewish community’s welfare institution set up a hot-line for reporting sexual abuse.
After the Paris indictment, the Council of European Rabbis, in which Jacobs plays a prominent role, issued a strongly worded statement instructing Jewish schools to “stop covering up sexual abuses and go to police immediately.” The statement was seen as rejecting the applicability to sex abuse cases of the religious concept of mesirah, a traditional prohibition on reporting fellow Jews to secular authorities.
The first serious complaint against Ephraim S. came in June 2012 and alleged that the teacher had unspecified sexual contact with a 16-year-old student, according to Holland’s Telegraaf daily. A few days later, parents of two additional students reported alleged abuse to the school.
All three cases were reported to Dutch police. Ehud’s parents also filed a separate complaint against Ephraim S.
Forensic child psychologists from the University of Amsterdam who examined Ehud in December concluded he fell prey to “grooming” — a professional term for an act of pedophilia that does not involve penetration or genital contact. But more serious molestation also may have occurred, the psychiatrists wrote.
“Sometimes he rubbed my neck and it hurt,” Ehud told the psychologists, according to a copy of the report obtained by JTA. “He always massaged my neck and it hurt a lot.”
Ehud, who is described in one report as handsome, articulate and affectionate, has refused to answer further questions about the dark room.
Despite Cheider’s quick reporting of the charges, some parents still have questioned the school’s handling of the affair. Ehud’s father says he wants to know why the teacher was allowed to massage pupils on a regular basis without the school putting a stop to it, while others have claimed the school was not fully forthcoming to parents, saying in an email only that an unnamed teacher had been suspended for “inappropriate behavior.”
They also have questioned why Ephraim S. was permitted to leave the Netherlands for Israel last November when he was already the target of a police investigation.
A spokesman for the Dutch Justice Ministry told JTA that while Ephraim S. was suspected of sexual abuse, no travel injunction had been imposed on him. The spokesman added that Dutch police were in contact with Israeli authorities but would not elaborate. Israel Police declined a request for comment.
According to the Telegraaf, Ephraim S. was offering private lessons in Israel through an online education portal. Several of his acquaintances in Israel told JTA he wants to clear his name in the Netherlands but is busy preparing to enter the Israel Defense Forces.
Back in Amsterdam, the families of the alleged victims are dealing with the psychological fallout from the alleged abuse. Ehud’s father says he hopes in time his son will reveal more about what happened in the dark room during lessons with Ephraim S.
“I hope there was no penetration, but clearly Ehud just isn’t ready yet to speak about it,” the father said. “I hope he will be ready to work through it soon, to minimize the damage done.”
Cnaan Liphshiz is JTA's news and features correspondent in Europe. Based in the Netherlands, he covers the mosaic of cultures, languages and traditions that is European Jewry. Born in Israel, he used to work as foireign news editor for Ma'ariv and as a reporter for Haaretz.