Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Will There Be an Apology?

Among those pictured in a 2010 photo are many of BMG's Roshei Yeshiva
The unexpected happened.  Yosef Kolko was on trial for sexually abusing a boy between the ages of 11 and 14 in religious camp where he was a counselor. He changed his plea to guilty.

The fact that he is guilty is not a surprise since he had already admitted it during a session with a therapist. He nonetheless pleaded not guilty at trial. He changed his plea when other victims came forward.

In an earlier post I thought that this event would damage the reputation of BMG’s (Lakewood) rabbinic leaders. That’s because of the emotional torture some of them put the victim’s father through. His father was a respected Talmid Chacham in Lakewood. When he learned that his son had been abused he dutifully went to the rabbis to report it. Those rabbis ordered a psychological evaluation of Kolko. The father decided not to bring this matter to the authorities if Kolko would continue his therapy. But when he found out that Kolko stopped doing that and was  still involved with children in his teaching position, he did the right thing and went to the police.

For that his community ‘thanked’ him by mentally torturing him, calling him Moser (informer) and completely dishonoring him. Some of the more zealous Charedi citizens of Lakewood published all kinds of nasty words about him. And one very prominent Rosh Yeshiva in New York actually wrote a letter implying that the father is a liar and probable sex abuser himself!... and that Kolko was completely innocent… that it was impossible that he would ever do the things he was being accused of! The family was so harassed that they ended up moving to Michigan!

I don’t see how these rabbinic figures can now live with themselves.  Perhaps they can be given a pass before now since they always seem to find it so hard to believe someone like Kolko could ever do the things he was accused of. Perhaps there might be some understanding of such bias- even in the face of a history of sex abuse by such people in their midst. I know it’s hard to believe that about someone who exhibits exemplary religious behavior and is a popular teacher. The passion involved in protecting Kolko, whom they believed to be innocent is understandable. And viewing the accuser as a Moser may be understandable too.

But now that the truth is out, I don’t see how they can claim to have the higher moral ground here. Nor do I see their reputation not being tarnished. Especially since there is hard published evidence of the emotional abuse they inflicted.

Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn put it well on his own blog last week. Lakewood will survive and no one will do anything about it. But their reputation will be tarnished.

Nonetheless, I don’t see how anything less than a full apology and restoration of the father’s reputation and career in Lakewood will suffice. An apology  by all those who so viciously and emotionally abused him and his family. On this day before Shavuos, there is no better time to do so.