By Aviva Lori
"I wanted to murder him. Or to kidnap him and beat him to within an inch of his life and then dump him somewhere. Or to drag him to the American embassy and then send him back to the United States." The speaker is T., who says he is one of the victims of Avrohom Mondrowitz, the alleged pedophile from Brooklyn who styles himself a rabbi and psychologist, and whose misdeeds were described recently in these pages ("In the basement, behind a closed door," Haaretz Magazine, November 16). T. says that last year he paid someone who came to Israel to come up with an operative plan to assault Mondrowitz. "I sent someone to Israel. An American guy who came on one of the educational programs for American Jews, someone who is not afraid of anything. He did not work alone. He has connections with a few guys in Israel, who were going to do the actual deed."
Then why didn't it happen?
T.: "Mondrowitz was very careful and never went into the street alone. He knows that someone will finish him off one day. Someone who will decide that he doesn't care if he spends the next 50 years in jail. The person I sent on the mission is still in Israel. He sat for four months, preparing a plan - how and where. We found out everything about him, where he lives and how he behaves, but it is very hard to get close to him without anyone seeing, so after four months the guy said he was giving it up."
Would you really send someone to assassinate him?
"If it could be done without being caught, I would definitely do it. I don't want to, but all I know is this: If the law didn't manage to bring him to justice after so many years, the feeling is that no one cares. He isn't just some crook who robbed a store. He destroyed people's lives. I am still going to therapy twice a month. I have problems. I don't trust anyone, don't believe anyone, I am a very suspicious person. I talk to my children about it every week, and it's very hard to tell children not to be friendly with people. In our synagogue there was someone who went over to children and hugged them. Most people thought he was just being sociable, but I went over to him in the middle of the synagogue and gave him a real beating. I said to everyone, 'I am not going to wait around until he does it to one of my kids.'"
T., now 38 and living in New York, was almost 13 when he first met Mondrowitz. Since then he has been haunted by nightmares. "My life today does not exactly follow some 'golden way,'" he says in the Hebrew he learned during his stay in Israel. "I have no doubt that it started there, in that disastrous meeting with Mondrowitz. For some reason, I never told anyone the whole truth."
T.'s parents, Holocaust survivors, settled in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section. After his bar mitzvah he was to enter the Bais Yisroel yeshiva run by the Gur (Gerer) Hasidic sect in Borough Park, Brooklyn. To prepare him for yeshiva life, his parents sent him to a summer camp run by the Gur Hasidim in the Catskills, where he met Mondrowitz for the first time. "He would show up in his car, an Oldsmobile that was as heavy as a Merkava tank. That summer he started to buy me things. He asked me what I liked. I still have a set of books he bought me. He would take me to a pizzeria. I asked him if that was all right, if I was allowed to leave the camp, and he said, 'Yes, of course, I will get you permission.'"
T. doesn't recall Mondrowitz trying to touch him at camp. But he still remembers vividly what he later saw in the yeshiva. To mark the anniversary of the death of the Admor of Gur (the sect's founder), the students made a torch from wax candles, which they cooked in a large pot in the yeshiva's basement kitchen.
"I went down to the dining room, where the kitchen was," T. relates. "It was a bit dark and no one was there, but suddenly I heard noises. I looked around and then I saw them. A boy from the yeshiva, my age or maybe a year older, was leaning on a table. Mondrowitz was on top of him and both of them had their pants down. I was flabbergasted. It was like a nightmare.
"I ran upstairs, into the classroom, and told the teacher what I saw. Straightaway he went out of the classroom with me, and in the corridor he saw the boy and Mondrowitz coming up the stairs. So he saw that I wasn't talking nonsense." (Years later, T. says, "I found out that the boy never did well in life, that he was mentally ill.") The teacher then took T. to the principal and told him what happened. "I remember the principal shouted at me in Yiddish that I was a boy with a filthy mind. We went back to the classroom as though nothing had happened. At around 4 o'clock, Mondrowitz came and said he wanted to take me to his office, that he had to talk to me. He was an authority figure and I couldn't object. I went to his car, and he stopped at a store on 16th Avenue, took me into the store with him and said that the tzitzit [ritual undergarment worn by Orthodox Jewish males] I was wearing was not Hasidic enough and that I needed a more expensive one, made of wool. My father was poor and bought me a simple tzitzit. Mondrowitz then bought me a Coke and for the first time took me to his home, where he started to explain to me that every person needs a different form of therapy and that some children need to have a good feeling. As he was talking, he stuck one hand into my pants and the other into his pants. If I remember well, his wife was home. I went into shock. He asked me if I felt good. I said no, but he kept on and then he said I was too young, that one day I would find out what was really good for me."
The next day, T. told his teacher what had happened at Mondrowitz's home. The teacher promised to deal with it. "The following day, my father got a letter from the yeshiva saying that I was unsuitable and they should look for a different institution for me."
Before the age of 14, T. was sent to a Gur yeshiva in Israel, but was soon expelled, without any explanation. Maybe because he told his friends what he had seen in Brooklyn: "I discovered that there were six kids in the yeshiva whom Mondrowitz had treated."
After that T. stayed with his sister and with another relative, trying to get accepted to other yeshivas, but to no avail.
T. became a street urchin. He slept in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, sold pictures that he drew, and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. "The Jerusalem bus station was my home. Sometimes I went into a synagogue to sleep. At the age of 21 I was married. I worked for a solar-heating company, rented a place in Ramat Gan and forsook religion.? After 10 years in Israel, T. was divorced. He returned to the United States, found religion again - "I don't believe in religious people, I believe in God" - remarried and raised a new family.
Road to extradition
Avrohom Mondrowitz, 60, a Gur Hasid, was indicted in the United States on charges of sexual abuse, including sodomy, against hundreds of children, mainly Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), in his neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, in the early 1980s. The investigation began in 1984, following an anonymous phone call to Patricia Kehoe, a detective in the Brooklyn police sex crimes unit, about Mondrowitz's behavior. But by the time an arrest warrant was issued, Mondrowitz had disappeared. He and his family settled in Jerusalem. He was indicted in 1985, and Israel was asked to extradite him. This was not possible, because at the time the extradition agreement between the two countries did not define sodomy as a felony that mandated extradition. Mondrowitz lived comfortably in his Jerusalem home in the colorful Nahlaot neighborhood, teaching (until he was fired this year), praying three times a day in a local synagogue and, in his leisure time, apparently collecting and watching pedophilic movies and selling fake academic degrees from various universities to all comers.
Last May, local police raided Mondrowitz's home and found four pedophilic films. Two months ago, he was detained and questioned, but released under restrictive conditions. In September, the United States renewed its extradition request after the agreement with Israel was amended at the beginning of this year, so that sodomy is now an extraditable offense. But nothing happened. The police said they were in the midst of an investigation; the Justice Ministry refused to divulge information about its intentions. Mondrowitz continued with his regular routine.
Two weeks ago, on Friday, the day after the article's publication (on Thursday, in the Hebrew version of the Haaretz Magazine), Mondrowitz was arrested for the purpose of extradition. Three days later, he was brought before the vice president of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, Judge Shimon Fineberg, who extended his remand by a week and wrote that the findings of the investigation "create a reasonable suspicion that [Mondrowitz] is still an active or potential pedophile. The fact that he does not have a police record of sexual abuse in Israel does not render the danger void. It is well known that with offenses such as these, particularly in the Haredi sector, to which the respondent belongs, the victims and their families often do not file complaints with the police owing to their desire to try to solve the problems without involving the police, in order to avert shame in the family. By this I do not find that the respondent committed offenses in Israel, but neither do I find the opposite."
The news of Mondrowitz's arrest was widely reported - more than 70 items appeared all over the world: in The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Pravda, The New York Daily News, the news agencies and, of course, in the Jewish press. The reports prompted more people who said they were Mondrowitz's victims to come forward.
One of them is B., the mother of M., an apparent Mondrowitz victim, who committed suicide last year. B. had long agonized over whether to go public. The latest round of reports gave her the impetus she needed. "Before this I didn't know that he had molested so many pure, innocent children," she says.
An Orthodox Jew, B. believes that God took her son in order to alleviate his unbearable pain, which, she says, was inflicted on him after a year of intensive "treatment" by Mondrowitz. Of B.'s three sons, she says two were victimized by Mondrowitz. They were sent to him for therapy when she and her husband were going through a divorce. M. was then nine and a half; G., his brother, was 11.
G., now 38, also takes part in the conversation. He says he was lucky: "He didn't really manage to hurt me, because I ran away. This was in 1981. My parents had just been divorced, and my mother sent me and my younger brother to him for professional help. I remember him as a very impressive person. He smoked a pipe and had a convertible sports car, which attracted a lot of attention. He was cool, you know. The first time I came to him he sat me on his knees and started to kiss me on the lips and fondle me in all kinds of places. I jumped up in a fright and escaped. He told me that if I told anyone, he would hurt me."
In what way?
G.: "I don't know, but he had a terrible look in his eyes and I was really scared."
Did you understand that what he did was wrong?
"I knew that I had a teacher in school who did [bad] things to me, so I knew it was wrong."
G. did not show up for the next session with Mondrowitz. He walked around the building for an hour, but did not go in. Two weeks later, he informed his mother that he would not go again. "We had a big fight. She wanted to know why. I only told her that I didn't like him. She was deeply involved in the divorce and didn?t press the issue."
His younger brother, M., continued to see Mondrowitz. It was not until 10 years later that he disclosed that the man had abused and raped him.
In 1988, during a visit to Jerusalem, G. and his brother saw Mondrowitz at the Western Wall. "I ran to him and started to hit him," G. recalls. "My brother restrained me and separated us. I shouted that this man is an animal who has to be arrested, but in the meantime he ran off."
G. has the names of eight additional people who say they were victims, who contacted him after the article appeared. They decided to urge the U.S. authorities to pressure Israel to extradite Mondrowitz.
"[My brother] M. married but wasn't able to have sexual relations with his wife," G. says. "He got divorced and became a homosexual."
Because of what Mondrowitz did?
"Obviously. Two weeks before his death, he told my father: 'I am not sure that even if Mondrowitz is brought to trial it will ease my suffering and reduce the pain.' We knew that something was not right with him - he did not behave normally. He became sentimental in his relations with people.
He had a problem with religion: He didn't understand how someone could teach religion and do things like that. He couldn't abide the hypocrisy. He used drugs and sank into even more pain. The drugs helped him cope. One day last year he took pills and didn't wake up again. He died in his sleep."
M. was 35 at the time of his death. His mother cannot forgive herself for having sent him to Mondrowitz.
"He was so popular, everyone recommended him," B. relates. "I heard him on his radio program and was impressed by the advice he gave. I was sure that I was helping my children. You don't expect a rabbi to do things like that. Now it turns out he was not a rabbi at all, that everything he told about himself was untrue. That man persuaded me to leave my children alone with him. That way, he said, he could help them more. But one day M. broke down and told me everything. I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I hugged him and we both sat down and cried and cried without end. I told him, 'Don't ever dare look at that man again, ever. I will see to it that he pays for what he did.' But by the time I figured out what to do, he had already escaped to Israel."
Did you feel that something was amiss with M.?
B.: "I am sure that if I had felt that, I would have done something, but [Mondrowitz] hypnotized him. Afterward I found out that he would convince the children that each of them was unique and special, and that he loved them more than anything in the world, even more than their parents did. He would fill their head with all kinds of crazy things that influence children of that age. He would buy them things and seduce them."
B. says she does not understand why the other rabbis kept silent and did nothing. "It is very hard for me to understand why they protected him. Now I understand that there were too many rabbis who did the same thing. It destroyed the children; even those who remained alive are not really living. It is hard for me to believe that he didn't do it to children in Israel, too, because it's a sickness. Why didn't the police arrest him long ago? Never in my life have I had such a strong urge to kill someone as with this man. The only way to deal with him is by cutting off you know what, and do it very slowly. Let it hurt him, let him suffer like the gentle and pure children whose lives he destroyed. That is the pain I want him to feel."