By Michael Orbach (The Jewish Star)
Issue of Nov. 21, 2008 / 23 Cheshvan 5769
Assemblyman Dov Hikind's quest to end sexual abuse in the Orthodox community has taken a strange twist: he is refusing to cooperate with a subpoena served by an attorney on behalf of victims of abuse in a Brooklyn yeshiva.
Michael Dowd represents two men who believe that Yeshiva Torah Temimah, run by Lipa Margolis, knew that their alleged abuser, Yehuda Kolko, was a serial child molester but chose to not fire him. They have subpoenaed Hikind for information about the case that may be contained in the massive dossier he claims he has compiled about hundred of cases of abuse.
In response, Hikind said he would go to jail before revealing the names of victims who have revealed themselves to him or his staff. Testifying against Kolko and Torah Temimah would also pit Hikind squarely against a powerful institution in his own district.
The subpoena has been referred to an attorney for the New York State Assembly, said Hikind. He called it "irrelevant" to what he trying to accomplish: a plan to deal with the problem of abuse in the Orthodox community that he hopes to present to rabbinical leaders as soon as January.
Revealing names of victims would violate his principles, said Hikind. "A number of victims have called my office terrified that I might reveal this information. It can never happen and I don't think it has to happen."
Dowd said he would follow the common procedure of not publicizing the names of victims, and said sees himself on common ground with the assemblyman.
"We're both pointed in the same direction," Dowd said. "Hikind sees this as a serious problem in the community and I see this as a serious problem in society."
Hikind has repeatedly asserted that he attempts to get victims to press charges but most are unwilling to do so.
"My position is that I wish more people would go to the authorities but the reality is that you can't force a victim to go," he said. "I wish the shame and concern about shidduchim would dissipative in some way, but the Moshiach will come first."
Hikind's actions have caused outrage in certain circles, specifically his claim that his office has met with a serial molester and sent him to a therapist, Ohel's Barry Horowitz. Horowitz, who practices in the Five Towns, declined to confirm that he is treating a pedophile referred to him by Hikind's office.
"I think what he's doing is indefensible," said Marci Hamilton, author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children, and the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
"Once he knew that one of the perpetrators abused a child two months ago, he should've gone to the authorities. He clearly cares more about the reputation of a religious community than he does about children."
Hikind stressed that he didn't think that the man posed an immediate danger.
Perhaps the strongest criticism leveled against Hikind has come from Pearl Engelman, whose son, Joel, was allegedly abused by Avrohom Reichman, a teacher in the United Talmudic Academy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Joel, who is represented by Elliot Pasik, an attorney in the Five Towns, is suing Reichman, as well as the school, and a Satmar bungalow colony that he claims knew what Reichman was up to, yet failed to act.
On the first of Hikind's call-in radio programs dealing with sexual molestation, Pearl, under the pseudonym Miriam, spoke about the abuse her son had suffered at his teacher's hands and the response of the United Talmudic Academy. Hikind promised to take action and ensure that by September the teacher would not be at the school. Since then Hikind met with David Niederman, a Satmar community leader, and administrators of the United Talmudic Academy, but Reichman is still teaching at the school.
"What interfered here was Hikind's own political survival," Pearl Engelman told The Jewish Star. "When he came up against a powerful entity, Satmar, UTA, and his political survival was in question, he chose his own political survival. Normally, I'd say 'may the best man win,' but in this case he's jeopardizing the lives of children and he's compromising his public persona by not coming out to the parents."
Simply put, according to Pearl, "Hikind folded. He completely sold out."
Hikind said that he is still working on getting Reichman removed from the school. "The Reichman family is a very powerful family," he said. Getting Reichman out," doesn't happen immediately."
On his most recent Saturday night radio program, Hikind specifically named Reichman for the first time and warned parents about him.
"She [Pearl] wants me to go to war with Satmar and I gotta tell you, there may come a time when I have to do that," Hikind explained to The Jewish Star. "Right now, I do not want to go to war with anyone. It's not about one particular person, it's about truly making a difference."
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose office came under fire from the Jewish Week for allowing a plea bargain for Yehuda Kolko, defended his record on prosecuting child molestation in the Orthodox community.
Speaking at a panel discussion on religious tolerance, Hynes said "there are a great many allegations from Assemblyman Dov Hikind about this kind of activity and yet he has refused to bring any information to the sex crimes bureau."
Later, Hynes said that he had no immediate plans to empanel a grand jury to force Hikind to disclose information. "Obviously, if I thought there was a basis on which to get those records, then I'd empanel a grand jury."
Hikind professes to be grateful for the extra attention that the subpoena brought and believes that he's already accomplished something.
"Look it's not a perfect world out there. Let's go back 11 or 12 weeks, as far as someone addressing the issue [of abuse] in the Chareidi community. It wasn't on anyone's agenda," said Hikind. "I'm involved now. I'm doing something. I'm trying. Give me a chance."
Pearl Engelman remains doubtful.
"I have faith in Hashem," she said, "Pirkei Avot says, 'Do not have faith in nobles.'"