By Rukhl Schaechter (Yiddish Forward)
July 2, 2010
Listening to the popular New York Jewish radio program, "The Zev Brenner Show," one suddenly heard the following commercial narrated by a woman speaking in authentic Hasidic Yiddish:
"I am the mother of Yoeli Engelman. Yoeli is a survivor of sexual molestation. 15 years ago, when he was a child in cheder (elementary school), he was molested by his principal. This very principal today teaches in the same cheder, and the administration unashamedly defends him. This terrible crime and severe chilul Hashem (desecration of God's name) can only be dealt with by the Child Victims Act, which will force the administration to protect the innocent children instead of the guilty teacher. Fathers and mothers, Remember! Our children need us! Thank you."
This commercial, aired by the SFJ (Survivors for Justice) -- an organization that combats sexual abuse in the orthodox world, mentions only one example of a serious problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world: Countless numbers of children, specifically boys, are sexually molested by their teachers, rabbis and other authority figures in the community, but little is being done to punish the perpetrators.
"Not only are they not punished; Often, the leadership does everything in its power to silence the issue," says Ben Hirsch, the director of SFJ (www.sfjny.org).
In an exclusive interview with the Yiddish Forward, Hirsch acknowledged for the first time that he was the author of an anonymous letter on the internet four years ago, which harshly criticized Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, the spiritual leader of "Bais Medrash Govoha" in Lakewood-- the largest Yeshiva in the world-- for his speech at the annual convention of Agudas Yisroel of America. The open letter, which stirred up a lively discussion on the internet, can be read at rabbimatisyahusalomon.blogspot.com.
In his speech, Rabbi Solomon had acknowledged that there are in fact, a small number of rabbis and teachers who have harmed children, but he saved his sharpest criticism for the bloggers on the internet, calling them "a dangerous...poison that comes into our homes..." Certain cases of sexual abuse, he said, are "better swept under the rug, in the name of kavod habriyos (protecting human dignity)..."
In a biting response to Rabbi Solomon, Hirsch asked: "Whose dignity are you referring to? The dignity of those few victims courageous enough to step forward and confront these powerful monsters, or the dignity of these monsters and their poor families? I respectfully suggest that by concerning yourself with the dignity of the pedophile and sweeping his heinous acts under the carpet, you subject his victims to another round of abuse at the hands of the community while enabling the predator to continue his reign of terror on unsuspecting victims."
Further in his letter, Hirsch provides a detailed report about the actions of one such person, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who for 38 years, taught in the esteemed "Yeshiva Torah Temimah" in Flatbush, Brooklyn. During this time he was time and again accused of sexually abusing the children -- not only in Torah Temimah, but also in "Yeshiva Karlin Stolin" (Where he was later fired from his position, after a number of students and parents accused him of abuse), in "Camp Agudah" (The summer camp under the hashgakha (auspices) of Agudas Yisroel of America) and in another camp, which R' Kolko founded, "Camp Ma-Na-Vu."
Hirsch does not merely accuse Kolko himself, but also all of his loyal defenders; specifically, the founder and director of Torah Temima, Rabbi Lipa Margulies. In 1984, after a group of students from Yeshiva Torah Temima and Camp Ma-Na-Vu brought accusations against Rabbi Kolko, several businessmen made an unusual offer to Rabbi Lipa Margulies. They were willing to pay for a pension for Rabbi Kolko on the condition that he leave the yeshiva and seek a job that does not involve children. Rabbi Lipa Margulies rejected their offer and explained that whichever parents disagree with his decision should take their kids out of Torah Temima.
Hirsch writes further that in 1981, Rabbi Kolko sexually molested a 12 year old student, who later vandalized Rabbi Kolko's house and car. Rabbi Margulies warned the boy's father, that if his son doesn't desist from such actions, his siblings would be expelled from the yeshiva, and he, Rabbi Margulies would not be able to guarantee the family's safety. In an ironic twist of fate, the boy was shortly sent to therapy with rabbi and psychologist Avrohom Mondrovitz, who was later also accused of molesting boys. (After the police began an investigation of Rabbi Mondrovitz, he and his family escaped to Jerusalem, where he can be found until today.)
Hirsch also recounts a number of other incidents: after a group of rabbis decided in 1985 to summon a Bais-Din (religious tribunal) in Boro Park (an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn) about the accusations against Rabbi Kolko, the idea was suddenly abandoned after only one day. In Hirsch's account, one of the rabbis admitted that Lipa Margulies confronted him and this led to the dissolution of the Beis Din.
Shortly thereafter, Lipa Margulies requested that Rabbi Pincas Scheinberg call a second Bais Din in order to clear the name of Rabbi Kolko. Prior to the Bais Din, says Hirsch, Rabbi Scheinberg spoke with several of Rabbi Kolko's victims and asked them to describe what Rabbi Kolko had done to them. Having heard the accusations, he informed the boys, that halakhically,(pursuant to Jewish law) these actions did not constitute molestation.
With regard to all of these incidents, Rabbi Lipa Margulies told the Yiddish Forward that per his lawyer's recommendation, he cannot comment. "Your readers will certainly not be interested in these issues, and your writing about this will not be helpful," he said.
Rabbi Margulies' attitude is common in the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) world. Until recently, the Charedi leaders denied that there was a problem at all. Today, a small number of them have begun to recognize the problem, and several have even suggested that people should consider informing the police if they suspect someone in the community of sexual abuse. Most of them, however, continue to silence the issue.
"We are taught chochmah b'goyim, taamin," (accept that there is wisdom found in the secular world) writes Hirsch. "Medical statistics tell us that a treated pedophile has a sixty percent rate of recidivism. This places the pedophile squarely in the category of a rodeph (a clear and present danger to society) and as such we have a duty to our community to expose him so that potential victims are aware of this clear and present danger. Sex Offender Registries exist for a reason. Namely, the law and medical science recognize that these people are incapable of controlling themselves."
"Thus, the only way to protect the community is to call the police," Hirsch explained. "The frum (ultra-Orthodox) institutions such as Ohel worsen the problem because they do not let the police know that someone is a sex offender."
The problem is that a person who was molested as a child can only go to the police or press charges in court before his 23rd birthday. Because of this, victims' advocates are working to get the law changed.
One of Rabbi Kolko's victims, who suffered at the rabbi's hands years ago, is Dovid Framowitz, a former student in Torah Temima 9then known as Yeshiva Torah Vodaas of Flatbush).
In May 2006, Dovid Framowitz sued Kolko for 10 million dollars for having molested him a least 15 times when he was 12 years old in the years 1969-1971. Kolko attacked him in his car; in the yeshiva; and in Camp Agudah. Framowitz' entire story was recounted in detail on May 14, 2006 in New York Magazine, which has a readership of 3 million people. Several days after the article was published, after 38 long years, Rabbi Margulies finally officially fired Rabbi Kolko from Yeshiva Torah Temimah, but as of last year, still on the payroll of the yeshiva.
In December of 2006, Kolko was arrested after a long police investigation, for having molested a first grade boy during the 2002-2003 school year. But in April 2008, after Kolko pled guilty, he was released on probation and sent to therapy. In contrast to the secular world, where the perpetrator would likely be sent to prison, and his name added to the official list of sex offenders, Kolko did not go to prison, and his name was not added to the list.
In September 2007, Kolko was again arrested on Erev Rosh Hashana (the eve of the Jewish new year) because of a new accusation, that he molested a child in Torah Temimah. According to an article in the Daily News, the judge set bail for $50,000; $25,000 if paid in cash. Kolko's wife managed to get the money, and he was released.
Today, Kolko organizes water park activities for children several times each summer in Connecticut (at Lake Compounce, a children's water park); In other words, he still has access to children...
Sadly, Rabbi Kolko is far from the only rabbi who has been molesting children for years. The boy spoken about on the radio commercial, Yoeli Engelman, was 8 years old when he was molested, and the perpetrator was none other than the principal of the large Satmar Yeshiva in Williamsburgh, Yeshiva Torah Veyir'a-- Rabbi Avrohom Reichman. His case has been written about in the Jewish Week and reported on NPR.
During an interview with the Yiddish Forward, Engelman recounted in Yiddish, how it happened: "He called me to his office and told me to sit on his lap. I complied, because I was afraid. He was very strict, and used to hit us children, just as all rebbes (teachers)did in those days, but he was even stricter than most.
"His chair had wheels. He used to spin the chair around, and speak to me differently than usual, like a grandfather to his grandchild. It was very weird for me. While he was speaking, he began to touch my back, and then he touched my genitals. This went on for three months about three times a week."
When Engelman turned 18, he finally told his mother. "She was shocked. The next day, my father approached me and said: 'I'm sorry'. After our conversation, we didn't speak of it, I myself didn't want to talk about it."
Several years later, after Engelman heard other reports about children that Rabbi Reichman attacked, he says :"I knew that I had to do something so that more kids would be safe." Together with his parents, he wrote a letter to Reichman, saying, that if he doesn't resign from his position in the yeshiva, they would go to the media, to other rabbis and even to the police.
The Yeshiva did in fact, fire Rabbi Reichman, but after Engelman reached his 23rd birthday--the principal was back at his job...