Victim in New Square sex abuse case testifies

By Jane Lerner (The Journal News)
July 18, 2015

A New Square man recalled in excruciating detail Friday how a neighbor instructed him to take off his pants and began molesting him on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was 8 years old.

The alleged abuse didn’t stop until he moved out of the village more than five years later, the victim, now in his 20s, said as he took the stand for a second day in the trial of Moshe Menachem Taubenfeld, 55, a family friend.

Taubenfeld, also known as Mendel Zarkowsky, is charged with second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a felony. He has denied the charges.

The case is being closely watched in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, which have long struggled with allegations that victims of sexual abuse – often children – are discouraged from reporting the crimes and people who do are treated as outcasts.

“I give the victim a lot of credit for coming forward,” said Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who observed part of Friday’s testimony in Rockland County Court in New City. “It’s a tough thing to do.”

The courtroom was packed with men who were there to show their support for Taubenfeld, a teacher and father of 20 who is well respected within the Skver Hasidic village.

His brother, Herschel Taubenfeld, pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges that he forcibly touched a young boy.

A few people appeared to be there to show support for the victim, including a man who complained to a court officer that another spectator had called him a Yiddish word for “snitch” during a break in the proceedings.

Under questioning from Moshe Taubenfeld’s attorney, Gerard Damiani, the victim said he was playing with friends near his New Square home on Sept. 11, 2001, when he learned about the terrorist attack on New York City.

The news upset him and, several hours later, he went to the nearby home of Taubenfeld, who advised young men on family purity religious laws before their weddings and was known informally as a counselor.

“There is no question in your mind that this happened on Sept. 11, 2001?,” Damiani asked the young man.

The man said that was the day the abuse started, describing several sexual acts in detail.

Damiani asked the victim for other details of the encounter, including the names of Taubenfeld’s children who were home at the time and the layout of Taubenfeld’s house.

Taubenfeld’s supporters grinned when the lawyer pointed out an inconsistency in the victim’s recollection of how many windows were in the study where the abuse occurred.

Damiani also questioned the victim repeatedly about his medical and psychological history. The victim said he first went to a therapist in 2007, where he disclosed the abuse.

It was around that time that the victim left New Square and moved to Brooklyn.

Damiani asked him what prompted him to leave the village where he had spent his entire life.

“It was the fear of living in New Square,” he said.