Friday, March 27, 2009

Sex Abuse, Satmar, and Ger

I have had many things to say about the community of Satmar over the years. Some of them very flattering. Some of them - well – not quite so flattering. But in the face of what has to be one of the sorriest episodes in their history - I am virtually speechless.

Those reading this post may remember a story about Rabbi Avrohom Reichman. He was the former principal and is a current teacher at the United Talmudical Academy. I believe this is the flagship elementary and high school of Satmar. It is located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Williamsburg is the center of Satmar Chasidus. Rabbi Reichman was accused by a former student - Joel Engelman - of molesting him. If I recall correctly Reichman was at first fired - and then immediately rehired.

Apparently the parent body of Satmar does not care that he is still teaching there. Or they are completely clueless. It is as though nothing ever happened. How can this be? How can a school continue to harbor a criminal like this and not inform their parent body about it? And how can any parent with the slightest inkling of it - send their children to that school? I am at a loss.

The following is an excerpt from a Forward article:

(Dov Hikind) told the Forward that his confrontation with Satmar leaders has been “a rather huge learning experience for me.”

Hikind stated that he has “been extremely clear publicly that I believe Rabbi Reichman has done some terrible things, and he should be out. We tried a lot of things behind the scenes to get [Satmar leaders and school officials] to remove this guy, but at the end of the day, for whatever reason — and I think it has something to do with his family being very prominent and having a lot of money — they were not going to remove this guy willingly. Period. End of story.”

Pearl Engelman, Joel’s mother, has lashed out at Hikind in the past. But at a recent public forum on child sexual abuse, she seemed more sad than angry with Hikind — though still furious at her son’s alleged molester. “The school is stronger than Dov Hikind,” she said quietly. She said people often ask her why Reichman is still teaching children.

“Honestly, I have no answer, and it needs to be asked of the community and the school that is harboring him,” she said, adding that many UTA parents don’t even know about the abuse allegations, despite widespread publicity. “Our community is so secluded that people actually don’t know the news.”

In Assemblyman Hikind’s defense it should be noted that Elliot Pasik, the attorney handling Engelman’s lawsuit - and president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children has said the following about the approach of Dov Hikind:

“People need to recognize that the sex abuse problem has been brewing in the Orthodox community for 30 years, and an overnight solution is simply not feasible,” …“I understand there are advocates clamoring for Mr. Hikind to publicly release the names of the alleged molesters, but we shouldn’t pursue vigilantism…. There is a validity to the path Mr. Hikind has pursued.”

Can Dov Hikind be right? Is it even conceivable that a child molester is allowed to teach young children in a school because his family is very prominent and has a lot of money?! Whether that is true or not - Satmar leadership has dropped the ball here. Big time!

I don’t know how many young people will end up suffering because of this – whether they are past victims or – God forbid - future ones. But the buck does not stop at the school. It stops with the Satmar Rebbe himself. I’m not sure which of the two heirs of the late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum - Rabbi Aaron (pictured above) or Rabbi Zalmen - are in charge. But whoever it is - the buck stops with him. The Satmar Rebbe has the power to make things happen. That makes him an enabler!

And then there’s Ger.

This is a tough one for me. I have had nothing but positive experiences with Ger Chasidus. I had the privilege of meeting with the Beis Yisroel who was Gerer Rebbe in 1974. He was very impressive. That Rebbe has passed away. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter is the current Rebbe. I know nothing about him except that some of his political polices in Israel have been very controversial in Charedi circles.

One of the finest people I know is a Gerrer Chasid. I say that without any hesitation. He has done more personal Chasodim - kindnesses - for my family and Jewish people of all stripes than just about anyone I know.

But the current Rebbe of Ger has dropped the ball on this issue as well. Notorious child molester Avreimal Mondrowitz is a Gerrer Chasid and it is Gerrer Chasidm that are blocking his extradition to the United States to face trial for his sex crimes. This cannot happen without the knowledge and approval of the Gerrer Rebbe.

How low these two great Chasidic movements have sunk if they can stoop to protecting and enabling child molesters like Reichman and Mondrowitz!