By Simone Weichselbaum with Tanay Warerkar (NY Daily News)
October 18, 2013
Assemblyman Dov Hikind has quietly steered nearly $1 million in state cash to a little known orthodox Jewish group aiming to combat child abuse throughout Brooklyn’s black hat enclaves.
The controversial pol tapped Project Innocent Heart — a Far Rockaway based organization headed by Rabbi Moshe Bak — to teach Hasidim about keeping kids safe from pedophiles, kidnappers and other criminals, according to a source with knowledge of the deal.
It's been four years since Hikind scored the $950,000 payout from the state’s Office of Family and Children's Services.
The money was first requested to fund Shomrei Yeldainu — Hebrew for “Guardians of our Children” — which nonprofit Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was going to run.
Hikind wouldn’t return calls explaining what happened to Shomrei or why Project Innocent Heart ended up with the dough.
Met Council — whose revered executive director William Rapfogel was arrested last month in an elaborate kickback scheme — said plans were being finalized.
“For now, we are very excited to launch our website and some additional awareness material, including advertisements, to reach the neighborhoods in the Jewish communities that are in need of our services,” said Met Council spokeswoman Rena Resnick.
But the project's website boasts its government backing.
“The dedicated work of many devoted local leaders led by Assemblyman Dov Hikind had finally paid off,” reads the "Our History" section on innocentheart.org.
State officials still need to sign off on Project Innocent Heart's plans which include sending staffers to speak to yeshiva teachers and handing out guides to parents detailing how to spot abuse.
Hikind’s payday was the first time the state funded a child abuse program geared toward helping a specific ethnic group.
Child molestation is problematic throughout orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Victims often report traumas to their rabbis instead of speaking to cops.
“The community needs it,” said Borough Park mental health counselor Motti Solomon. “The rabbis in the community aren’t aware of how sexual abuse affects kids emotionally”
Child safety advocates argued Project Innocent Heart is too small and too new to tackle the multigenerational, deep-rooted fear within Jewish communities involving reporting crimes to police.
“There are reputable established organizations out there,” said Ben Hirsch, a co-founder of Survivors for Justice.
Sex abuse expert Michele Galietta, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argued Project Innocent Heart has already faltured — using “intimate stimulation” instead of “sex” when describing molestation on its website.
“There are a lot of mixed messages,” Galietta said. “It is so vague. It can be problematic.”