8 Dec 2010

Child protection policies improving in some Orthodox Jewish communities, but not in ultra-Orthodox ones

FindLaw - April 29, 2010

How Other Religious Organizations Echo the Roman Catholic Church's Rule Against Scandal, A Precept that Entrenches and Perpetuates Cycles of Child Sex Abuse: Orthodox Judaism, Part Two in a Two-Part Series [Part One]


In the past two weeks, there have been yet more revelations about the Catholic Church's mishandling of child sex abuse, with, for example, European bishops forced to resign. In my last column, I described, based on church documents and case law, some of the pitfalls in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' approach to child sex abuse within the organization. In this column, I will address the struggles of institutions within the Orthodox Jewish community on these issues.

Like Other Faiths, Orthodox Judaism Is Wary of Secular Authority – But There Are Exceptions

Like the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews have certain beliefs that tend to create a separate world from which child sex abuse victims cannot escape. The key question with respect to every religious organization that is dealing with hidden, ongoing, or persistent child sex abuse is this one: What will it take to liberate the victims? External pressures from sources such as the media and the legal system can make a difference, but it may also take some re-examination and soul-searching with respect to some of the institution's religiously motivated practices. The Orthodox Jews are making steady and promising progress in this arena. The ultra-Orthodox Jews, unfortunately, are not.

The Jewish law of "Chilul HaShem," which means literally "a desecration of God's name," warns believers not to bring shame on the community. This is the closest analogue in the Jewish tradition to the Catholic rule against scandal. And, there is the Jewish law against "mesira," or informing on another Jew to the authorities. Roughly translated, according to Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University (my home institution), it means "Don't go to secular authorities," and thus can be used as a reason not to report child sex abuse to police or civil authorities. The law against arka'ot, or proceeding in secular courts, also has presented barriers.

As with all important Jewish concepts, the meaning of each these precepts lies in particular interpretations. According to Rabbi Blau, the prohibition against mesira, though widely honored, may not be relevant in democratic societies. The purpose of the law was to protect Jews from tyrannical governments, such as Nazi Germany's. Thus, the prohibition was created to protect Jews from the government. The same reasoning does not apply in a legitimate democracy.

Moreover, there are exceptions to mesira – for instance, when circumstances are such that the religion's internal mechanisms cannot deal with an internal problem. And a perfect example, according to Blau, is child sex abuse. But observant Jews may not be willing to act in contravention of a law like the prohibition against mesira without first consulting a rabbi on whether the exception actually holds in the particular case, which can delay, if not forestall, reporting.

Yet, the Rabbinical Council of America at its Convention this week issued a resolution that would seem to open the door to reporting abuse:
[The RCA] reaffirms its unqualified condemnation of all forms of child abuse.
It reaffirms its halakhic position that the prohibitions of mesirah and arka'ot do not apply in cases of abuse.
It will regularly issue on its website and to the media appropriate statements of condemnation when public attention is drawn to a case in which Jews are either victims or perpetrators of abuse.
It will regularly evaluate the competence of its members in understanding and responding to issues of child abuse and initiate training and continuing educational opportunities for all of its members in this area every year.
The members of the RCA address the issues of child abuse in their communities in at least one sermon, lecture or article within the next twelve months, and that contact information for local abuse services be displayed in a public place in all synagogues, schools, and Jewish community institutions serviced by its members.

Other Aspects of Jewish Law May Also Make It More Difficult for Child Sex Abuse Victims to Find Justice

Unfortunately, the prohibition against mesira is not the only precept of Jewish law that has made it difficult for child sex abuse victims to get help. There is also the prohibition of "lashon hara," which means "evil tongue," and forbids speaking badly of others. It creates an impediment to survivors even telling members of their own communities about the abuse, let alone the civil authorities. Some supporters of adults who have been accused of abuse also have invoked lashon hara to prohibit others from telling outsiders.

There are also cultural elements at play. "Shidduch" means "finding a spouse," and in some circles, the drive to find a marriage partner is a very powerful force. For the most part, religious Jews enter into arranged marriages in which one's lineage and family reputation determine desirability on the marriage market. Making a good match, or "Shidduch," is of paramount importance within these communities. The stigma of being a victim of abuse can deter marriage partners. Therefore, there is strong incentive for the entire family to stay mum about the issue, and for the victim himself, or herself, never to mention it.

In addition, there has been strong communal pressure in Orthodox communities to keep the problem internal. This element has decreased in the Orthodox community, which is divided among diverse synagogues and congregations, but it remains a force in the ultra-Orthodox community, as I will discuss below.

Finally, there has been the problem of denial. Of course, we see denial in many child sex abuse situations, whether the context is religious or secular. The difference here is that, in the Jewish community, denial regarding clergy child sex abuse has been worsened by the belief that one should keep the halakh (Jewish law), which plays an important role in creating a self-identity for the Jewish communities. Living an observant life is transformative. An Orthodox Jew believes he or she will become a better person by keeping the laws, and that belief can translate, for some, into a decision generally to ignore modern studies or media on any issue, because the modern information could have the capacity to call into question their entire lifestyle. When the issue is child abuse, the consequences of that belief can be tragic.

In sum, within Orthodox Judaism, some adhere to a set of internal rules the effect of which is to prevent child sex abuse victims from speaking about their abuse, getting help, or filing criminal charges against perpetrators. Fortunately, however, secular law has provided some of the pressure that is needed to establish a pathway out for the victims. The recent scandals (and convictions) involving Rabbi Yehuda Kolko and Rabbi Baruch Lebovits were a result of the victims bravely coming forward even despite community pressure, and they are surely an indication that the tide has been turning.

Orthodox Jews Should Be Praised for Openly Debating What Should Be Done About Clergy Child Sex Abuse – and Acknowledging that It Occurs

Moreover, there has been a healthy and open debate among Orthodox Jews regarding what to do about this very serious problem. The Flatbush Shomrim announced this last week that child sex abusers should be prosecuted, and advised fellow Jews to report sex abuse directly to the authorities. Ben Hirsch, the President of Survivors for Justice – the first organization of its kind in the Jewish community – praised this move in an op-ed for the Jewish Star.

As with the Catholic survivors' movement, Hirsch explained that secrecy has been in the leaders' interest, not the children's:

"[O]ne does not have to be a cynic to conclude that the rabbinic establishment has a vested interest in keeping reports of abuse within the community. For leaders who could be facing criminal and civil liability, invoking concepts like mesira and chilul Hashem to stop people from reporting is little more than a form of self-protection. Self-protection that, as the past 40 years have shown, has come at the expense of the protection of our community's children."

Hirsh then likened the Jewish situation to that of the Catholics:

"[T]he cover-ups have resulted in hundreds of victims whose abuse could have been prevented. Dealing with reports of sexual abuse internally covers-up the crime, usually with catastrophic results when the pedophile strikes again–something we are hearing about daily in reports about the Catholic Church and frighteningly in our own community as well.

The Torah teaches us to avoid offering counsel in situations where we may be a nogea b'dovor (an interested party). This applies equally to rabbis, whom the Torah nowhere exempts from this rule. As such, because of their inherent conflicts of interest in this issue, I respectfully suggest that rabbis be precluded from being involved in this issue except in very limited ways–namely, encouraging people publicly and in private to go directly to the authorities and supporting them practically, emotionally and socially in that process."

Hirsh offers persuasive arguments, and remarkable conclusions, that bode well for child sex abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the ultra-Orthodox, or Chasidic, Jewish community, which as of now is far from being able to aid the victims within the community. A recent announcement in New Square reiterated the principle that abuse should not be reported to the authorities, although it did at least establish a path for reporting the abuse to an internal committee.

As we know from the other universes within which child sex abuse has been a problem, keeping the issue internal is never the best – or even a good, or acceptable – path for the victims. In addition, there is another impediment to justice in this community: Rabbi Blau noted that Chasidic community members defer to the Jewish Laws of Tzniut, which command modesty in both dress and speech and in turn forestall discussion regarding private body parts and improper touch. Victims therefore may lack even the basic vocabulary to report the abuse. And the community is so closed off that communal pressure to keep the issue secret is extraordinary, with few, if any, openings for outside forces such as police, prosecutors, or the media to bring the victims some relief.

Still, there are glimmers of hope from within even the ultra-Orthodox community. Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv has ruled that the Jewish law not only does not bar reporting, but rather "one should report (an abuser) to the secular government authorities [police, etc.]; and in this there is benefit to society . . ." Thus, the exception to the law against reporting is actually quite strong. That means the barriers to reporting in the ultra-Orthodox universe are more cultural than legal.

Of all of the religious organizations facing these issues, the Orthodox Jews appear to be moving most quickly to the position that the child victim's needs must trump the organization's preferences, even when it means re-examining common interpretations of certain religious prohibitions. For that, the community deserves praise.

Marci Hamilton, a FindLaw columnist, is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of  Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on this site on June 25, 2008. Her previous book is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), now available in paperback. Her email is hamilton02@aol.com.

This article was found at:



Abuse Scandal Plagues Hasidic Jews In Brooklyn

Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom

Ban of Orthodox blog by rabbis could change views on handling sex abuse

New York Catholic Conference and Orthodox Jewish officials lobby against proposed Child Victims Act

Fundamentalist interpretation of Jewish law in orthodox communities stops many from reporting rabbinical sex abuse to secular authorities

Concealing sex abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities from secular authorities through intimidation

'Orthodox child abuse' claim by Reform rabbi

Child sex abuse claims divide Orthodox community

Expose child sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community

Exposing child molestation in Jewish Orthodox communities no longer a quiet process

N.Y. Judge criticises Jewish Orthodox community for protecting pedophiles but blaming & punishing victims

NY Rabbi who abused boys and told them to lie to police gets light sentence in plea deal

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York increasingly turning to secular courts for justice in child sexual abuse cases

Ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel wary of authorities hide child abuse from social workers

Israel's ultra-Orthodox cults indoctrinate and intellectually abuse children, and shun those who manage to escape

Investigation of famous Israeli rabbi for sex abuse reveals power of charismatic clerics over vulnerable young people

Simmering sex abuse scandals in Orthodox communities heats up with allegations against high profile Israeli rabbi


"Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom"


  1. The Orthodox Sex Abuse Crackdown That Wasn’t

    Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson ran on the promise that he’d clean up the office’s problems with prosecuting ultra-Orthodox sex offenders who preyed on children—but so far he appears just as lax as his predecessor.

    by Emily Shire, The Daily Beast October 7, 2014

    After initially facing up to 32 years in prison for eight counts of child sexual abuse, Baruch Lebovits walked out of Riker's Island last week a free man. He had served just under 16 months of total prison time.

    That Lebovits, a cantor from the ultra-Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was even convicted is seen as a victory considering the difficulty of prosecuting abuse in that community. However, his release is disappointing, if not surprising, for those who hoped Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth Thompson would be the man to end decades of ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cover-ups.

    Thompson beat out Charles Hynes for Brooklyn DA, ending a reign that last more than 23 years. Towards the end of his time as DA, Hynes was scrutinized for his perceived unwillingness to prosecute crimes against the ultra-Orthodox, especially in regards to sexual abuse. At best, his administration appeared exceptionally lax, and at worst, it willfully obstructed justice. He was famously reluctant to release the names of convicted sex abusers in the Orthodox community. His office let Rabbi Yehuda Kolko get away without jail time or registering as a sex offender. Instead, Kolko received a plea deal that allowed him to plea guilty to child endangerment. The DA claimed the alleged victims—first graders in Kolko’s class—were unwilling to testify, but chief of the Kings County sex crimes division, Rhonnie Jaus, publicly said that their parents had been willing to put the kids on the stand. It was one of many cases that raised questions about Hynes' willingness to prosecute ultra-Orthodox sex abuse.

    Many critics of abuse and corruption in the ultra-Orthodox community hoped and believed Thompson would bring justice to Brooklyn. For his part, Thompson openly criticized Hynes’ record on crimes committed by the ultra-Orthodox. “Every community in Brooklyn has to be treated the same,” he said during a 2013 interview. “When I become Brooklyn DA, I’ll make sure there’s equal justice for everyone, under the law.”

    In fact, days after Thompson was elected last November, he requested that Hynes freeze any new ruling on the Lebovits case. Thompson said he wanted to ensure a “full opportunity to review the Lebovits matter and participate in the decision to take the case to trial or dispose of it by way of a guilty plea.” The Jewish Week reported that sources said Hynes was expected to dispose of the case with a lenient plea deal. Ultimately, Thompson did the same, if not worse.

    According to a transcript of the plea deal hearing from May 16, 2014 reviewed by The Daily Beast, Lebovits served even less time than was proposed during negotiations. Judge Mark Dwyer told Lebovits:

    I am also asking that you waive early release. Our understanding is that you normally would be released after 16 months. The waiver of early release we think might have the effect of keeping you in some months more, not more than 24, but some more months than 16.

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  2. And yet Lebovits served barely 16 months—13 less than his original conviction. He re-entered jail on July 9 and was released the night of September 29.

    “My client is not surprised,” said Niall MacGiollabhui, the lawyer for Samuel Kellner, whose son was allegedly abused by Lebovits. “This is what he's gotten all along from that [the Brooklyn DA’s] office, but certainly we thought once Thompson came in, it would be different. It’s business as usual in Brooklyn.”

    Kellner himself was indicted by the Brooklyn DA’s office under Hynes. The charges against him are a window into a case as complex as it is disturbing.

    Lebovits was convicted of eight counts sexually abusing a child in 2010, but the case against him first emerged in 2008 when Kellner’s son said Lebovits had fondled him. Kellner says he was told by officials that Lebovits was unlikely to serve jail time as a man with a clean record, or even be prosecuted by the DA's office, according to the Jewish Week. He became determined to locate other victims who would testify to abuses that could put Lebovits behind bars. He found one man, who testified in court that Lebovits had performed oral sex on him multiple times as a teenager. The man’s testimony helped lead to Lebovits’s 2010 conviction and an initial sentence of 10-2/3 to 32 years behind bars.

    However, Lebovits’ conviction would ultimately be overturned—though he wasn’t acquitted outright—in 2012. His defense team (led by none other than Alan Dershowitz) convinced an appeals court that the trial had been prejudiced by the prosecution’s failure to share a police detective’s note about one of the witnesses expected to be called by the defense. While the court said Lebovits was denied his right to a fair trial, it also noted that there was sufficient evidence to prove he was guilty of the same crimes.

    Meanwhile, the DA’s office indicted Kellner for supposedly bribing a different alleged victim—who testified before a grand jury but not in the trial that lead to Lebovits's conviction–who later claimed Kellner had paid him $10,000 to speak out against Lebovits. Kellner was also charged with attempting to extort the Lebovits family. The alleged evidence against Kellner was gathered by Lebovits supporters and family members. The alleged victim who recanted was deemed “wildly inconsistent” by the assistant district attorney, Kevin O’Donnell. Days before the trial against Kellner was supposed to begin the prosecution discovered that the witness had only recanted after accepting financial support from Lebovits’ supporters.

    In fact, Hella Winston at the Jewish Week reported that the Sex Crimes Unit had evidence the alleged victim had been intimidated into recanting and turning against Kellner. Winston had a native Yiddish speaker listen to the Yiddish audio recordings brought to the DA as supposed evidence that Kellner was trying to extort the Lebovits family. That speaker concluded that the audio just showed “Kellner's desire to see Baruch Lebovits plead guilty” and “determined that many of the exchanges critical to the overall meaning of the conversation were distorted in the translation.” Ultra-Orthodox insiders argued that Lebovits’ family had falsified or misrepresented the evidence.

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  3. Thompson himself slammed the charges against Kellner during his campaign for the Democratic DA nomination, attending a rally in support of dropping the charges. But after he won the nomination, he refused to comment on the case.

    Thompson dropped the charges against Kellner in early 2014, which was a victory of sorts for advocates against ultra-Orthodox sex abuse. However, critics still argue that Thompson let Lebovits’ supporters off easy by failing to probe the fraud and intimidation allegations.

    “As bad as Hynes was and as bad as that office was, they were making some attempts to investigate what happened,” Kellner’s lawyer, Niall MacGiollabhui, tells The Daily Beast. “Once Thompson came in, the idea of investigating what led to my client's arrest ended, even though they admitted criminal behavior led to my client being framed. This DA is doing nothing to investigate and prosecute those who blatantly obstructed justice and intimidated victims.” When asked about the knowledge of Kellner being framed, the Brooklyn DA told The Daily Beast it is the “policy of the District Attorney’s office not to confirm or deny investigations.”

    For activists, the alleged failure to investigate the evidence presented against Kellner perpetuates the dangerous message in the ultra-Orthodox community that whistleblowers will be severely punished. “How do you count against fabricated evidence being given to law enforcement and the DA to destroy someone's life? That's not a minor offense,” says Shmarya Rosenberg, the man behind the blog Failed Messiah, which exposes corruption and abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community. “Thompson will say 'we're investigating'. Fuck you! You have all the information. It's out there. There's no question what happened. The only question is, why is Thompson taking so long? Why is there no prosecution?”

    Thompson’s problems with the ultra-Orthodox community go beyond the prosecution of sex abuse. In April, the DA sparked local outrage when his office gave another lenient plea deal to a man who threw bleach in the eyes of Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an activist against sex abuse in the Satmar sect of the ultra-Orthodox community. The suspect in the attack, Mellech Schnitzler, got off without any prison time. He plead guilty in a plea deal and was punished only with five years of probation. "We changed the DA but we didn't change any behavior in the DA's office," Rosenberg told the New York Daily News. "Where is our protection?"

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  4. Part of the reason activists have hoped for major change under Thompson is because he didn't rely as heavily on ultra-Orthodox support to secure his position. Thompson won the Democratic primary, which effectively killed Hynes' campaign, without support from the vast majority of Brooklyn Orthodox leaders.

    To a certain degree, Thompson made up for what was perceived as his predecessor's tacit protection of sex abusers in the community. He released the names of defendants in Orthodox sex abuse cases, which Hynes had refused to share with the public.

    Even Thompson's critics admit Thompson isn't necessarily going after any group in Brooklyn, but that lax attitude perverts his “equal justice for everyone” vow. For example, with the case of Schnitzler throwing bleach in the rabbi's eyes, it is Thompson's office’s position that “a felony conviction with a no prison deal is worth it,” says Rosenberg (of Failed Messiah), even with “cases that have nothing to do with Orthodox community.”

    Still, Rosenberg faults Thompson for not taking a stronger stand to fix perceived past errors, when he appeared to promise to do so in his campaign. “He was clever because his words were meaningless. There's no barometer. All cases are treated the same way, all badly mind you. But he did treat them all equal,” says Rosenberg. “That he did it wrong and did it in a horrible way is a different story.”

    Unwillingness to change the status quo in Brooklyn may be Thompson’s bigger fault. MacGiollabhui doesn't suspect any underhanded favors stopped a probe into Lebovits' supporters’ alleged efforts to frame Kellner; he just thinks the DA's office doesn't care. “They couldn't give a shit about kids from that community,” he says. “There's a certain attitude of leaving people in that community to their own devices. [The DA's office] couldn't care less.”

    Still, others say the DA’s prosecutions will do little to stop the problem of sex abuse in the insular community. Michael Lesher, a lawyer who has been investigating sex abuse in the Orthodox community for decades, doesn't believe the DA makes a critical difference. “The real problems facing sex abuse prosecution is systemic. It doesn't depend crucially on who the DA is. It's still a message of if you're going to come forward and accuse people of sexual abuse, you're still taking a risk. The community will find ways if they can to tarnish your reputation and get you prosecuted,” he said, though he added, “It seemed to a surprising extent in this case is the DA is willing to get along with it.”

    Thompson may be no worse than Hynes, but his first year has been frustrating for advocates who once had high hopes for his tenure. “I don't think Thompson is an inherently bad guy,” says Rosenberg. “But he's an extreme disappointment.”

    To read the numerous links embedded in this article go to:


  5. NOTE: The following article concerns the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor. There are dozens of previous related articles on this group that are posted in the comments section on the following page "Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom" http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/03/children-in-londons-ultra-orthodox.html Also see the hyperlink list at the end of the main article above.

    Lev Tahor children's best interests not respected by public system: report


    It took youth protection officials far too long to intervene in the case of 127 children who were part of the Lev Tahor community living in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, a report from the Quebec human-rights commission concluded.

    In November 2013, about 250 members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect fled the Laurentians town to avoid a hearing in youth court. The group was facing allegations of child abuse and neglect from Quebec’s youth-protection department — such as corporal punishment in school, underage marriage, sexual abuse of minors and squalid living conditions.

    The commission made public a report into the case on Thursday morning, which noted several failures in how the system handled the case.
    Camil Picard, the vice president of youth issues for the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, said the delays in this case were “incomprehensible,” considering the fact it took 17 months for youth protection officials to move to seize the children after the problem was first identified.

    It also took school board officials 15 months to move to get proper schooling for the children in the community. The children were receiving a strictly religious education, and spoke neither English nor French. Picard said children have the right to receive a proper education, and if they don’t get that, youth officials must intervene.

    “In this situation, it’s clear that the (actors) systematically failed in their role to protect the children, including health services, the education department and youth protection,” Picard said.

    Jacques Frémont, the president of the Quebec human-rights commission added that the youth protection department should have been much more proactive, and sharply criticized a decision to delay its intervention by three months at the request of the Sûreté du Québec.

    “It was the prerogative of the department to refuse the delay,” Frémont said. “It could have given the SQ a couple of days (to collect more information on a criminal investigation), and it could have said, ‘no way, will I accept a delay of three months.’ During these three months, the kids in question suffered, and their rights were violated every day by the community.”

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  6. He said perhaps in this case child authorities should have seized the children immediately at the first sign of trouble, and then investigate whether they could be returned to the community.

    “Of course, it’s not a decision taken lightly; it’s difficult, and after the fact it’s easy to say they should have been taken away,” Frémont said.

    He admitted, however that even if child protection authorities had acted more quickly, they still might not have been able to prevent the group’s flight. He said the community acted fast — moving out three days after it became clear the children might be removed.

    The Lev Tahor members left for Chatham-Kent. There, Ontario courts ruled against a Quebec court order to place 14 of the children in foster care. Child services in Chatham-Kent also refused an order to remove all 127 children from the community.

    The report recommended Quebec act swiftly to come to an agreement with Ontario so youth court cases can be applied in that province as well. Currently, Quebec has similar agreements with all eight other provinces. Picard said it’s possible the children would have been immediately returned to Quebec if they had fled to any other province.

    The report also recommended that the province develop a guide on best clinical and administrative practices for youth protection interventions within sects or “closed communities,” and that the guide be widely distributed to all actors.

    It recommended better co-ordination between youth protection officials, the courts, and other authorities to act when children are threatened.
    “This must not happen again,” Frémont said. “Our role is to provide Quebec with a wakeup call, and that’s what we’re doing. We dearly hope this will not happen again.”


  7. Ontario weakest link in Lev Tahor case says Quebec human rights commission

    Ontario was the “weakest link” in a child-welfare saga involving the Jewish sect Lev Tahor that fled Quebec in 2013, according to the head of Quebec’s human rights commission.

    By Allan Woods Quebec Bureau, Toronto Star July 09 2015

    MONTREAL—Ontario was the “weakest link” in a child-welfare saga involving the Jewish sect Lev Tahor that fled Quebec in 2013 because the province has no way to enforce protection orders issued outside its borders, according to the head of Quebec’s human rights commission.

    Jacques Fremont released a sweeping review of the years-long case that resulted in 200 people from 40 families who were members of the isolated group ultimately fleeing to Guatemala from Canada and the scrutiny of police, education and child welfare officials.

    The conclusion is that the competing mandates and priorities of Quebec’s director of youth protection, which wanted to take children into its custody, and the Sûreté du Québec, which wanted to gather evidence for its criminal investigation, meant the Quebec government was unable to ensure the protection of some 134 underage, at-risk children.

    After numerous isolated investigations of Lev Tahor in Quebec stretching back to 2006, including allegations of inadequate school conditions, suicide attempts, unsanitary living conditions and sexual abuse, the Lev Tahor probe had to re-start from scratch in for Chatham-Kent, Ont., when the group fled Quebec on the night of Nov. 18, 2013.

    “A chain is the weakest at its weakest link,” Fremont said. “Ontario was the weakest link and that’s where (Lev Tahor) went. Was it by chance or deliberately? I don’t know.”

    The review recommends that the Quebec government urge Ontario to change the laws so that court orders issued by judges outside of the province can be executed in Ontario.

    “If (such measures) had been in place, it’s possible that in the days following their escape, the children — if not the rest of the community — would have come back to Quebec,” said Camil Picard, vice-president of the human rights commission responsible for youth.

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  8. Instead child welfare investigators in Chatham Kent received a crash course from their Quebec counterparts in the history of a reclusive group, which is labelled by some as a cult. The group aspires to live according to a literal reading of the Jewish law as dictated by its leader, Shlomo Helbrans.

    In practice, that means extreme dietary restrictions, long hours of prayer and isolation from the wider community in which they live. Ex-members speak of corporal punishment, children forcibly removed from their parents and Helbrans himself diagnosing wayward souls with psychiatric conditions.

    The group has denied doing anything wrong and says it has been persecuted.

    Upon Lev Tahor’s arrival in Chatham-Kent, social workers began monitoring and rebuilding the child welfare case against Lev Tahor families.

    Quebec’s child-protection authorities began showing their frustration when the crackdown took too long to materialize. When Ontario officials showed signs they were ready to move from study into action, and when border and passport officials started poking around for visa violations or denying the group travel documents, members fled once again, this time for Guatemala.

    The conclusion of the review is damning. From the beginning of the case until the end, said Picard, “we lost sight of the interest of the child.”
    The review is particularly harsh on the different organizations in Quebec that had a hand in the case, noting that it took 17 months before the province’s director of youth protection first began investigating and the time it was ready to take action to protect 134 Lev Tahor children deemed to be at risk.

    The findings regarding the 134 children came after an August 2013 raid of the community, which rented houses in a town north of Montreal. Despite long-standing suspicions, the raid itself was delayed by four months when police investigators lobbied for more time to conduct their criminal probe.

    While court documents have revealed police were investigating suspicions that Lev Tahor leaders were involved in human trafficking and forgery, no criminal charges have ever been laid.


  9. Canada Didnt Want Them

    Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Sect Vows Never to Return As Abuse Allegations Linger

    By Rachel Browne, VICE News July 13, 2015

    Members of Lev Tahor are used to running away from trouble.

    The small ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect settled in northern Quebec in 2003, after its founder Shlomo Helbrans, a self-proclaimed rabbi, fled Israel and successfully claimed refugee status there on the grounds he would be persecuted back home for his anti-Zionist views. In the mid-1990s, he had been deported back to Israel after serving jail time in New York for kidnapping one of his students.

    The insular group of about 200 people — sometimes dubbed "The Jewish Taliban" because women have to wear black garments that cover them from head to toe — follow a fundamentalist interpretation of Judaism and believe in traditional roles for men and women.

    They lived a quiet existence in a small town in northern Quebec until 2012, when allegations of child abuse and neglect intensified and Quebec law enforcement and child protection services launched an investigation.

    No criminal charges have been laid. Lev Tahor leaders have long maintained they do not abuse their children and say the government is going after them for their religious beliefs.

    They were back in the news last week, with the publication of a new report from the Quebec human rights commission that slams police and government officials in Quebec and Ontario for failing the Lev Tahor children by not intervening sooner.

    But it's too late now anyway, since the group plans to never return from Guatemala, in spite of ongoing immigration and child protection cases.

    According to police documents disclosed in 2014 and testimony from ex-members, Lev Tahor leaders subjected children to physical and sexual abuse, including forcing young girls to marry older men, confining them to squalid basements, and beating them when they misbehaved. Quebec officials also say the children were not provided a proper education, and the children could not speak English or French.

    At the time, Quebec was ruled by the staunchly secular Parti Quebecois, which commissioned the report and was pushing its controversial Charter of Values bill that would have forbid government employees from wearing "conspicuous" religious symbols.

    In 2013, the entire group escaped in the night to Ontario a few days after Quebec law enforcement and youth protection services threatened to put some of the children into foster care. Since Ontario is not obligated to enforce child welfare decisions from outside the province, members of Lev Tahor could breathe a sigh of relief. But when Ontario child protection officials started pursuing its own protection orders against the children in 2014, they fled to Guatemala, far out of reach.

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  10. But according to the new human rights report, youth protection agencies did not react quickly enough to the child abuse claims — letting 17 months go by from when they learned about the case to when it conducted an investigation. And legal red tape and competing mandates among agencies Ontario and Quebec made it easier for the children to fall through the cracks.

    "It appears that other considerations affected the interventions, taking more time, and losing track of the best interest of these children. Freedom of religion cannot - in any circumstances - be used as a pretext for abuse and neglect," the commission's president, Jacques Frémont, said at a press conference in Montreal.

    Denis Baraby, head of youth protection for the region in Quebec where Lev Tahor members lived, told reporters that even if authorities had acted quicker, the outcome might not have been different. "I don't know if we could have succeeded in preventing them from leaving." Baraby said.

    The report makes several recommendations to agencies in Quebec and Ontario, including that they agree to uphold each other's child protection orders, but Lev Tahor's legal representative in Toronto, Guidy Mamann, told VICE News the report just further proves the group's claims that they do not abuse their children. The reason it took so long for police and child protection to respond, he said, is there was nothing for them to go on in the first place.

    "The findings are remarkable because the commission acknowledged that [child protection services] was involved in investigating the Lev Tahor community for 17 months and they still found no evidence they considered actionable. They also confirmed that the police conducted a criminal investigation and the criminal investigation came up empty," he said. According to Mamann, the commission did not contact him or anyone from Lev Tahor for the report.

    "That points to the fact that they're not looking for answers. They're looking for someone to blame," he said."They seem determined to continue in this theory that they were being abused, when this is nothing but hocus pocus."

    There are currently no members of Lev Tahor left in Canada, he said. Most of them now live in Guatemala.

    When they first moved to San Juan La Laguna, a small beach town in Guatemala, last year, Lev Tahor members clashed with the locals over cultural and religious differences. Seeing men and women dressed in all black and speaking Yiddish was a new and confusing sight.

    Mamann, who says he is in touch with the group regularly, said things are better for them now; they are fitting in and want to live a quiet life free from government interference.

    "Certainly their children are no longer under attack like they were in Quebec. Now, nobody is telling them that their education system is inadequate or inappropriate," he said. "You cannot compare Guatemala to Canada, a first-world country, but Canada didn't want them."


  11. Stamford Hill rabbis back fund-raiser for ‘child abuse’ group

    By Josh Jackman, Jewish Chronicle July 14, 2015

    Leading Charedi rabbis have supported a fundraising event for Shlomo Helbrans, whose strictly Orthodox group has previously been investigated for child abuse.

    Helbrans is a convicted kidnapper who heads Lev Tahor, a cult of around 50 families which settled in Canada in 2003. The entire group emigrated to Guatemala last year to evade an investigation by child protection services.

    The event in Stamford Hill, north London, on Monday night was aimed at raising money to support Helbrans’s group, and was backed by Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC).

    In a flyer which was distributed in synagogues throughout the Stamford Hill area, Rabbi Padwa told community members to donate to the group.

    He wrote: “The congregation ‘Lev Tahor’, whose dwelling was in the land of Canada, and suddenly the anger of the local government fell upon them, with the aid of informers ("mosrim"), and they began to interfere and make decrees, and to interfere with matters of educating boys and girls, so that they were forced to uproot from their dwelling and they went to the state of Guatemala, fleeing.

    “And there in their new place they are in a dire situation and have almost nothing.”

    The other leading rabbis who made appeals on behalf of Lev Tahor - which means ‘pure heart’ in Hebrew - were Elyokim Schlesinger, Yochanan Wosner, Yosef Binyomin Wosner, Eliezer Dovid Freidman, Azriel Schechter and Dovid Halpern.

    Known as ‘The Jewish Taliban’ because of the head-to-toe black garments its women wear, Lev Tahor allegedly forced children into marriages and trapped them in basements, beating them when they misbehaved.

    Chanoch Kesselman, UOHC executive coordinator, said he had no knowledge of the event. He added: “I am unable to comment.”

    Another UOHC senior figure, who asked not to be named, said: “The Union have not made any stance. The Union has no comment on it. Rabbi Padwa has endorsed it.”

    He said the fundraising campaign was the responsibility of Rabbi Padwa, but was separate from the organisation.

    “It wasn’t discussed by the Union. He’s not required to get executive permission for something like this from the Union. The feeling in the Union is that you can’t let people starve. Some of them know about the cult, and in no way does the union endorse the activities.

    “People don’t always do due diligence themselves and will rely on whoever else has endorsed it. The people who’ve endorsed it are respected rabbis.”


  12. Report on Lev Tahor

    Info-Cult Press Release July 13, 2015

    The recommendations in the report on how youth protection handled the case against Lev Tahor indicate government awareness of the necessity and urgency to act in this area. Info-Cult is the only organization of its kind in Quebec that provides information, analysis and assistance concerning high control and extremist groups and related subjects. In its 35 years of operation it, has dealt with similar problems where the well being of children were involved. Carolle Tremblay, Info-Cult's president and a lawyer in family law, has in her legal career dealt with families with children in high-control groups including Lev Tahor. She had this to say, "Lev Tahor is not the first group nor sadly will it be the last where children will suffer at the hands of an authoritarian leadership and who will see their fundamental human rights ignored or denied. It is time now to implement the recommendations in this report and to do it in a comprehensive manner that includes all relevant expertise from those in diverse fields”.

    Mike Kropveld, the founder and executive director of Info-Cult and court recognized expert, acknowledges that "cultic phenomena is ever-changing and it is not realistic nor reasonable to assume that those in youth protection and other related agencies will be at the forefront of knowledge in that area. Youth protection workers are experts in the area of child abuse and how to intervene when situations of that nature occur”. The cult phenomenon is where Info-Cult has developed a unique expertise and has proven its vital role as a resource to all sectors of our society. Info-Cult has garnered a world-wide reputation and possesses the most recent knowledge in this field. Info-Cult is committed to take an active role in working collaboratively to prevent future human tragedies

    SOURCE Info-Cult

    Information: Carolle Tremblay, President, Info-Cult, 514-871-2800, www.infosecte.org / www.infocult.org; Mike Kropveld, Executive Director, Info-Cult, 514-274-2333

    English version of Info-Cult press release http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1569599/rapport-sur-lev-tahor

    Original version in French can be found here: http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/1569599/rapport-sur-lev-tahor

  13. Former Hasidic Jewish Woman Jumped to Her Death After Being Shunned by Parents: 'She Was Never Good Enough in Their Eyes'

    BY CAITLIN KEATING, People Magazine July 22, 2015

    Not even an hour before Faigy Mayer jumped to her death from a rooftop bar in New York City, she shared a photo album of old family pictures on Facebook.

    "My family refuses to allow me to have my baby pictures so finding these pics were cool!" the caption read.

    Witnesses recalled seeing the 29-year-old jump 20 floors to her death from the top of 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar on Monday evening.

    "There was a big corporate party up there and she kind of ran through them and jumped," witness Becky Whittemore told the New York Post.

    Another witness, Dale Martin, told the newspaper that he was walking across the street when he saw her falling.

    "You can tell it was a lady. She had on shoes and a dress," he said.

    Wanting to Be Free

    Mayer walked away from her ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community five years ago, numerous friends of the young woman tell PEOPLE. For that reason, her family refused to let her back into her childhood home in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

    Mayer's close friend, Pinny Gold, who said Mayer had been hospitalized three times in the past for depression, bumped into her on the train just two weeks ago.

    "She was going to her parents' house to pick up her Apple Watch that she had shipped there because she didn't trust her roommates," Gold, 30, tells PEOPLE. "She put on a dress over her pants, covered her arms with a sweater – so she wasn't showing skin – and even then her mother wouldn't let her into her house."

    Mayer had to wait outside to get her package.

    "This was just one thing she was dealing with. She was never good enough in their eyes," Gold says. "She had a lot of struggles."

    "I'm hoping this is the last suicide in our community, but I sadly know it won't be," he adds.

    On April 10, Gold went to visit Mayer at the psychiatric unit of Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

    "She really wanted people to come visit her," he says. "And she wanted me to bring her chips and tea. I was also helping her with housing issues because her roommates were trying to get her evicted."

    Mayer had also reached out to a group of people she knew from Footsteps, an organization that helps former members of the ultra-Orthodox community transition to secular life.

    "She was very open about her mental health issues," Ari Mendel, 32, who also left the Hasidic community, tells PEOPLE. "She wrote from the hospital on this Google document that we are part of that she really wanted people to visit her and would like a home-cooked meal."

    continued below

  14. Search for Happiness

    On June 19, Mayer joined her friend Libelle Polaki at the Swedish Midsummer Festival in Battery Park.

    Polaki went to high school with Mayer, but it wasn't until 2011 that they became friends.

    "We both broke free from our community," Polaki, 27, tells PEOPLE. "So we suddenly had a lot in common. We supported each other. No one outside of our community understands what it's like to leave."

    At the event, Mayer seemed happy and went out of her way to meet new people.

    "We joked about our current lifestyles and how we were dating guys who weren't Jewish," Polaki says. "That's the worst thing you could do where we are from."

    They also talked about Mayer's passion for coding and creating apps. She had been working on an app that would help former Hasids navigate life in New York City.

    "She just wanted to pursue her own passions and be free," Polaki says. "But finding work for people like us is hard. We didn't get credit for going to high school that we could use for college. We never learned math or simple algebra. We had to start all over again when we left."

    Trying to Cope

    At Mayer's funeral on Tuesday, her father cried, apologized to the English speakers in attendance for mainly speaking Yiddish and said, "We tried our best."

    But her close friend Chaim Levin says her family tried to keep her friends out of the service.

    "They wouldn't tell us what time the funeral was. They said noon, then they said it was 2 p.m.," he tells PEOPLE. "When we got there, the family said they wanted a private service, but there were so many of us that we just piled in."

    According to Levin, Mayer always tried to be positive.

    "She would post on Facebook about some sushi event or wanting to bring people together," he says. "She wasn't going to settle with being sad."

    On July 12, Mayer, who went to an all-girls Hasidic Jewish school, sent Levin an essay about her upbringing that she wanted to publish.

    "I didn't even know that leaving the faith was an option until the age of 23," she wrote.

    She also wrote about her three nephews and how "it isn't fair to them that they have to live the lives they do. The most fun they have is to color with crayons. Even if I was allowed to be in their lives, they would not be allowed to play games on my iPhone."

    And when she watched Roger Federer play at Wimbledon, she wrote about asking her friend questions about the rules, while thinking that her nephews would never see the sport being played.

    "Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions is something new to me and something I still struggle with five years after leaving," she wrote.

    Polaki says that Mayer and those with similar backgrounds spend their entire lives trying to catch up academically and socially.

    "She held out for as long as she could," she says. "I think that if she didn't have such great friends, she would have jumped sooner. She tried to cope the best she could, but it was just too much for her."

    Polaki also feels guilty that she hadn't seen Mayer since their afternoon together in Battery Park.

    "You don't think that someone you care about will disappear," she says. "I know I was a good friend, but she really just wanted her family. We all want to be close to our family, and when she left them it was like she landed on another planet."


  15. Ex Hasid’s death bares anguish of leaving ultra-Orthodox sect

    By Maureen Callahan New York Post July 26, 2015

    On July 12, Faigy Mayer, a 30-year-old New Yorker who left Hasidic Judaism five years ago, sent one of her last messages to a close friend. She tried to explain how foreign the world was to her — even though she grew up in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

    “I feel as though Hasidic Judaism shouldn’t exist at all,” Mayer wrote.

    She went on to detail things about the ultra-Orthodox that most secular people know — “arranged marriages, strict segregation of the genders, the wife shaving her head, the couple having sex with the wife wearing a bra in the complete dark (hole in the sheet, anyone) but still producing thirteen children generally throughout her lifetime, working for cash only so that Uncle Sam can help with food stamps, Section 8 and Medicaid.”

    Then there are things the secular world doesn’t know, things that make leaving seem insurmountable. Imagine not knowing that the sun is a star, or that there’s a solar system. Imagine not knowing what a human cell is, or what menstruation is, or, until you’re 18 and three weeks away from your arranged marriage, what sex is and how it works. Imagine never asking for a puppy growing up, because dogs bark, and that means they are beasts and demons. Imagine you have been told for your entire life that in the secular world, people mainly rape, pillage and murder, that it’s all a lawless meaningless free-for-all, and you are safe only in your little enclave, where these things do not happen.

    You do not have an iPad, a TV, a battery-powered radio, because all secular culture is forbidden.

    Now you have a sliver of a sense of what it is to leave — to become “OTD,” initials for “off the path” in Yiddish, or “XO,” for ex-Orthodox.

    “Thinking analytically when it comes to basic life decisions,” Mayer wrote, “is something new to me and something I still struggle with, five years after leaving.”
    She also wrote that she didn’t know leaving was even an option until she was 23, “when a secular relative told me I could.”

    Last Monday, Mayer went to the rooftop bar at 230 Fifth Ave. It was about 6:45 p.m. She had just posted childhood photos to Facebook. “My family refuses to allow me to have my baby pictures,” she wrote, “so finding these pics were cool!”

    Minutes later, Mayer jumped to her death. A source close to her family says Mayer suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but several OTD members tell The Post the community commonly makes such claims about those who leave. Whether Mayer did have a mental illness, it’s clear from her writings — and from others who have left ultra-Orthodox Judaism — that the consequences of renunciation can be dire.

    “Faigy was very independent from the time she was a child,” says Pearl Reich, who left her ultra-Orthodox sect years ago and knew Mayer through Footsteps, a group that helps those who leave. “That kind of child is a threat, and the parents treat them differently — I heard that from her. She comes from a very, very fanatical group. I am extremely upset that the media is saying she died from a mental illness. This is a cult.”

    The largest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States lives the New York metro area. According to a 2011 study by the UJA Federation of New York, upward of 400,000 are ultra-Orthodox.

    To most secular New Yorkers, it seems incomprehensible that even the most devout, observant ultra-Orthodox Jews would be so cut off from the modern world — after all, they walk the streets of New York, are exposed to advertising and storefronts, to the subways and roads, to the shared outside stimuli.

    continued below

  16. Yet the ultra Orthodox do all they can to insulate themselves. Most do not have secular jobs. They are married at 18 years of age, arranged marriages all — falling in love is a sin. Women are expected to have at least six children, preferably 12.

    Children don’t go to secular schools: Boys study only religious texts, while girls, at least, get the rudiments of math. Many don’t finish high school, and those who do have no transcripts. College is forbidden, and so there are no ultra-Orthodox doctors.

    “One of my first transgressions, when I was 24 or 25 and got my first car, was to take a drive to the local public library,” says Shulem Deen, who chronicled his excommunication from the Hasidic community in his recent memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return.”

    “I accidentally wandered into the children’s section and discovered the World Book Encyclopedia. Those books seemed to contain all the information the world could ever need. I’d be sitting there next to a little boy reading the Berenstain Bears, going back and back to the encyclopedia.”

    At the time, Deen was married to a Hasidic woman. They had three children and lived in a Hasidic community in Rockland County, but the more curious Deen became about the outside world, the more the marriage foundered. Deen’s spiritual drift played out over years, each transgression a brief portal into an unknown world.

    “Next, we had a Panasonic cassette player with a radio attached,” he says. “Radio is forbidden. If you bought that kind of cassette player, you were supposed to break off the antenna, put masking tape over the channel indicators, and Krazy Glue the play button.”

    Deen had never disabled the radio, and one night, while his family was sleeping, he surreptitiously plugged in a pair of headphones. “My mind was blown,” he says. “There was a whole world out there — a blowout mattress sale in Paramus! Traffic backed up on the BQE! All these mundane things — they were very seductive to me.”

    After the radio came the computer — a Hebrew-language word processor that happened to come with a three-month AOL trial. “Suddenly, there’s this world of shopping and movies and chat rooms,” Deen says. “And the chat rooms were amazing. The idea that I could sit in my little Hasidic village and talk to people I’d never ever meet who have different religions and world views . . . I kept going to the library.”

    Once Deen graduated to the adult section and discovered comparative religion, he was done. His wife left him, and he was summoned to a rabbinic tribunal. “I wasn’t just told to give up my synagogue membership,” he says. “It’s, ‘Pack up your things and sell the house.’ The community came together and raised a ton of money for my wife. They made a case that because I wasn’t dressing the way I used to, it was confusing and damaging to the children. I grew very depressed. I was hospitalized for a time. For the 14 years up to that, fatherhood was my primary identity.”

    Today, he is 41 and still feels alone. His two oldest children will not speak to him.

    Mayer, too, had been hospitalized at least twice since leaving, most recently in April. Just a few weeks ago, she told a friend she needed to find a job and was about to be evicted from her apartment. Her family wanted nothing to do with her, and she was sick with worry over a sister who had also left the religion.

    “There is a stigma that if you leave, you’ll never succeed,” says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps. “ ‘You’ll become a bum.’ That’s what they’re told. And not knowing general life skills: How to order off a menu.

    continued below

  17. The people who decide to leave are bright curious about the world and largely self-determined. But they are immigrants to a country they already belong to.”
    Author Judy Brown was excommunicated in 2010, after the publication of her young-adult novel, “Hush,” which dealt with the sexual abuse of children in the ultra-Orthodox world. (Her memoir, “This is Not a Love Story,” is out this week.) “I always say it’s not like moving countries,” she says. “It’s like moving to a different planet — like you literally walked off the edge of Earth and into space.”

    Growing up, Brown had a couple of friends who were sexually abused and who were told it was all their fault.

    “The painful, painful betrayal of sexual abuse was a knife in my heart,” Brown says. “Two years ago, I was meeting with young men who were going to the fourth and fifth funerals of friends who had ‘overdosed’ — which has become the euphemism for suicide of a sexual-abuse victim.”

    Once she left, Brown began writing articles for the Jewish daily The Forward describing her struggles with the secular world: the day that, as a 25-year-old mother, she watched “Sesame Street” for the first time and was scandalized by a woman dancing. “My past teachers’ warnings flashed through my mind,” she wrote. “ ‘It begins with children’s movies, and ends in porn.’ ”

    Brown writes of a clueless adolescence in which girls are never taught the word “breasts.” Instead, they are “mounds” or “lumps” — inconvenient growths to be endured, used only for nursing. When a female rabbi explained sex to her three weeks before her wedding, “it was quite the shock,” she says. Until that moment, young people are taught that sex is something only amoral gentiles do and enjoy.

    As a young wife (she is now divorced), Brown was scolded by her husband and rabbi after a male neighbor saw her in her backyard, in the summer, with her feet in the kiddie pool. Word had spread that Brown wasn’t wearing pantyhose — she was, but no matter.
    In the ultra-Orthodox world, pantyhose isn’t just pantyhose.

    “If you don’t want to wear stockings,” says ex-member Pearl Reich, “you’re told, ‘Oh, that’s immodest. You’re turning men on. You’re bad.’ And that, you internalize.”

    Faigy’s family held her funeral on Tuesday. It was a traditional Orthodox service, and of the hundreds of mourners, at least 150 had left the community. Asked for comment by reporters, Faigy’s mother said: “I don’t want to say anything. What am I supposed to say — that she’s a wonderful person? No, we don’t want to comment.”

    There’s no data available on the number of ex-ultra-Orthodox in the metro area. Santo, the director of Footsteps, says her organization keeps the specific location of its lower-Manhattan office secret; the wrath of the community can be devastating. “Leaving is very risky,” Santo says. “If they haven’t told their families, if they have children, the social and emotional consequences can lead to economic ones.”

    In the days since Faigy’s suicide, there’s been much debate in and outside the community: Was she really mentally ill? Was she suffering from loneliness, guilt, an inability to survive in the secular world? Could it have been both? And if so, will the ultra-Orthodox community re-evaluate the way it treats those who leave?

    Brown, for one, doesn’t see that happening — with any form of fundamentalist belief, Christian or Muslim or Jewish. “Short of Earth becoming paradise, denial will remain an incredibly powerful force,” she says. “Because that’s what religions need to thrive. It’s universal — the basic human operating system.”
    Faigy said as much in her last note.



  18. Hasidic to heretic leaving the ultra-Orthodox community

    by Rachael Kohn ABC Online July 27, 2015

    The tragic death of Faigy Meyer, a former Hasidic Jew who plunged to her death last week in New York, has shed light on the difficulty faced by many Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews who try to leave their tight-knit communities.

    The tragic death of Faigy Meyer, a former Hasidic Jew who plunged to her death in Manhattan last week, is not the norm for people who leave the tightly controlled life of New York’s Hasidim. But feelings of alienation and despair are often difficult to handle for those who leave, and making it on your own is not easy without a great deal of support.

    ‘I now have to make choices every single day,’ Meyer told a National Geographic documentary. ‘I know that sounds liberating. And it is. But at the same time it is also very scary.

    ‘It was so challenging, like emotionally, the whole transition. And my parents they were, like, point blank, you have to get out of here, we’re just cutting you off: “We’re not supporting you because you’re not religious.”’

    Shulem Deen is on the board of Footsteps, an organisation based in New York that helps ex-Hasidic and ex-ultra-Orthodox Jews adjust to life in mainstream society. From group therapy to college scholarships, it has provided a range of services to more than a thousand people who have sought its assistance.

    Deen knows firsthand how challenging the transition to normal life can be.

    ‘Coming from an environment like this requires a real deep taking stock of what you believe in,’ he says.

    Raised in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Brooklyn and educated and married at 18 in New Square, a Hasidic village 30 miles north of New York City where only Yiddish is spoken, Deen was judged a heretic at age 30 and forced to leave his wife and five children behind.

    His unacceptable behaviour involved listening to the radio, watching TV and using the internet. He secretly topped-up his woeful secular education, which amounted to grade five maths and spelling in the community’s yeshiva, by secretly visiting a library and reading a children’s encyclopaedia.

    When he gave encouragement to a young Hasidic man from the village who sought his advice about leaving the community to pursue a college education, Deen was brought in for questioning as a destabilising element.

    continued below

  19. It is not that the Skver Hasidic community, one of the many Hasidic sects, did not have its attractions to Deen. As a young man, the communal experience of prayers and celebrations often late into the night had an ecstatic quality that forged deep bonds between the young men.

    ‘There is something very dramatic about the visuals of it,’ he says. ‘There is singing and there is stomping on the floor and dancing along with it.

    ‘It is a very sensory experience, you hear and you feel … and you are completely enveloped in the that whole experience … that was something that was very transformative as a young teenager.’

    The sensuality of the all male celebrations, called ‘the Rebbe’s Tish’ (the spiritual leader’s table) were in high contrast to the sexual repression practised when it came to girls and women, with whom all contact is forbidden. Averting one’s eyes from any girl over the age of 13 was mandatory, even if she was a neighbour you grew up with. Boys were not allowed to walk down the New Square street on which the girls’ school was located.

    Sexual repression went hand-in-hand with early arranged marriages. Deen describes the shidduch or arranged meeting with his proposed bride as being the most awkward experience imaginable. After no more than seven minutes of excruciating shyness, the two were pronounced a good match, and the spiritual leader’s blessing was sought.

    But nothing—not even the groom instruction session that he was hastily given prior to the wedding—prepared Deen and his bride for the duties of the marriage bed. A midnight phone call to the rabbi instructor was required. Eventually they would have five children in quick succession.

    For Deen, the most painful part of leaving the community has been the loss of his children, who were initially allowed to see him as arranged by him and his estranged wife, but were later turned against him by a community that saw him as a corrupting influence rather than as their father.

    Deen has no contact with them, was not invited to his two sons’ bar mitzvahs or to his oldest daughter’s wedding two years ago. It is at this point that our conversation slows to a deeply emotional pause.

    ‘I do have to think what effect this will have on him, and to what degree I was responsible for it, and so I do have a measure of guilt,’ he says.

    Shulem Deen is the author of All Who Go Do Not Return, a community activist, a board member of Footsteps, and has a blog,unpious.

    Hasidic to heretic

    Listen to this episode of The Spirit of Things to hear Shulem Deen speaking about growing up Hasidic in New York State and and being cut off from the world.
    The Spirit of Things explores contemporary values and beliefs as expressed through ritual, art, music and sacred texts, and focusing on the nature of spiritual meaning in our lives.


  20. Hasidic Village Makes Parents Choose: Smartphone or Children’s Education


    Most schools forbid the use of cellphones by students during class, but in the Hasidic Jewish village of Kiryas Joel, New York, it’s the parents who are being required to power down.

    At the end of July, a notice was sent to families in the haredi Orthodox community about 50-miles northwest of New York City detailing strict parental prohibitions on smartphone use as a pre-requisite for their children’s enrollment at the yeshiva.

    “Make sure to put your devices in order and send in the filled out rules form for both parents (enclosed) before the above date, in order to avoid inconveniences,” read the announcement, unearthed by Shmarya Rosenberg on his Failed Messiah blog. “Remember: we will not provide acceptance cards if you are not in order with the technological rules.”

    The notice went on to list several digital commandments: Men may use a smartphone if deemed essential to business and, in that case, only with an approved filter; women may not use a smartphone, only a basic cellphone. Home computers may not be connected to the Internet. All members of the community must have a stamp of approval from religious leaders on their devices, even “kosher cellphones” that have been inspected by rabbis and whose web browsers have been deactivated.

    After detailing the exact devices that each person in the household possesses, and the level of restriction (email only, basic apps, browsing with filter), the parents are required to sign the following affidavit:

    “We the parents are confirming in writing that our cellphones/smartphones are in accordance to the rules of the community and yeshiva, according to the guidance of our holy grand rabbi and the judge. We also confirm that we do not possess in our home another cellphone/smartphone except for the ones mentioned above.”

    Kiryas Joel was established in the 1970s by members of the haredi Orthodox Satmar Hasidic community who had moved to the region from Brooklyn. The insular village of approximately 22,000 residents has faced numerous legal battles with its neighbors over the years, one making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994 over the question of whether district boundaries had been unfairly drawn to accommodate a religious population.

    In the 2010 census, Kiryas Joel was named the poorest city in the United States, with nearly 70 percent of its population living below the poverty line.

    Founded in Romania at the start of the 20th century, the Satmar are considered among the most religiously stringent of the Hasidic sects. They are also one of the fastest growing, with over 100,000 adherents and counting. Committed anti-Zionists, they reject the political state of Israel because it was not established by the messiah.

    In creating a self-sufficient and isolated community, the Satmar Hasidim of Kiryas Joel and similar enclaves manage to operate in a world largely untouched by modern temptations. They see technology as a potential puncture to their carefully constructed bubble — the recently released school mandate referred to smartphones as “extremely dangerous.”

    Even for a community heavily regulated by religious decrees, the school’s smartphone requirements are notable for threatening punishment of the children (non-enrollment) for the sins of the parents. For those whose parents comply, the new school year begins on August 16.


  21. The Plight of Children at Risk in the Ultra Orthodox Jewish Communities and the Failure of Government and Pandering Politicians to Protect Them

    by MARCI A. HAMILTON, Justia Verdict SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

    Children in the United States are routinely sacrificed on the pyre of their parents’ faith by pandering politicians without a moral compass. Children don’t vote but insular religious communities often vote as a bloc mandated by the male officials at the top, and that fact is not lost on power-hungry politicians like those in Utah who let the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) patriarchs marry off girls and abandon boys so that the men will have a better place in heaven. The same relationship between elected officials and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities exists: there are known risks to children but these politicians look the other way as they are feted by the rabbis and a community that keeps children at risk.

    It is the time of year when Jews observe a series of important religious holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I submit this column as a subject to be pondered in the midst of celebration and reflection.

    As with the FLDS, the ultra-Orthodox communities have put children at risk due to inadequate medical treatment, educational neglect, and mostly undeterred child sex abuse. In an interesting twist, the gender most severely affected in this community is male. Boys are at risk of herpes infection from metzitzah b’peh, or MBP and boys are less educated than girls because their education is focused on the Torah rather than secular subjects. Both, however, are at risk of sexual abuse. As in every community, that risk is significantly higher for the girls than the boys. Therefore, boys and girls in this community need prompt attention from the authorities, and politicians pandering for bloc votes need a conscience check.

    MBP Rule Repeal: Leaving Mohels to Use Oral Suction Following Circumcision

    Last year, I wrote here about the risk posed to male infants in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who are subjected to the religious practice of MBP: the practice of following circumcision by a mohel with the mohel engaging in oral suction on the wound. The practice creates a foreseeable risk that the infant will contract herpes, which at such a tender age can be deadly or cause permanent disability. At the time, the New York Health Department had issued the weakest of prevention strategies by requiring mohels to produce an informed consent form to the parents as a prerequisite to doing the procedure. It was a typical political grandstand by which Mayor DiBlasio and his Health Department were saying they intended to protect these children at risk while they created an unenforceable and toothless policy they knew the community would ignore.

    In fact, some in the community did pay attention and filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of religious liberty. The Second Circuit mistakenly agreed in Central Rabbinical Congress v. New York City Dept of Health & Mental Hygiene, because the policy was specific to one faith. So the Department went back to the drawing board for the protection of this voting bloc and not infants, and simply repealed the MBP informed consent rule.

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  22. There is no reason to expect the Health Department to do anything else for these at-risk infants. They have sailed to the bottom of the slippery slope of unaccountability. Therefore, prevention seems out of the question.

    The only hope for these children is if doctors report such infections in young infants recently circumcised to the authorities and then the authorities choose to investigate and prosecute when a child dies or is permanently disabled. Former Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes made noise about such an investigation but he never pursued it, which brings his treatment of this issue into line with his studious refusal to prosecute child sex abuse perpetrators in the community. The other possibility is a serious public information campaign, but that is hampered by the next problem.

    Educational Neglect: Failure to Teach English and Other Secular Subjects

    The reporter who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering risks to children in the ultra-Orthodox communities, Hella Winston, recently released her in-depth reportage on the failure of the ultra-Orthodox to educate their children in secular subjects, including English. She tells the story of boys who can’t speak English, do simple math, or know any history or science, because they spend the vast majority of their school day studying Torah, or religious texts, instead of even the basics in secular subjects.

    The result is that children are deeply disabled from being able to function in the larger community, and have virtually no chance of ever making their own decisions regarding faith or community.

    The failure of most New York and New Jersey officials to ensure that these children are educated is attributable in part to the wrongheaded free exercise decision at the US Supreme Court, Wisconsin v. Yoder. As I have discussed in God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and elsewhere, this is the only decision in which the Supreme Court applied strict scrutiny to a neutral and generally applicable law (Wisconsin’s compulsory education law).

    The result is that the Supreme Court cleared the Amish to take their children out of school after eighth grade and to move them into an agrarian life. The decision is based on unrealistic and foolish assumptions about the unfailing goodness of the Amish (which is not to criticize the Amish per se but rather to point out they are human). Unfortunately, all religious parents gained a toehold on refusals to adequately educate and a route to incapacitating their children. Children in these communities are virtually walled off from the outside world, and the ones who do choose to leave suffer dearly for their lack of education.

    Yoder, however, does not stand for the proposition that children have no rights. Prince v. Massachusetts before it stated baldly that parents may not make “martyrs” of their children. Elected officials have an obligation to ensure that they do not.

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  23. Much of the educational neglect in this community has occurred with federal, state, and local officials fully aware of what is happening. Finally, New York City is looking into the issue. For the sake of the children and our future as a society, may New York do significantly more for these children than it has on the MBP issue.

    Sex Abuse: Weak District Attorneys Put Children at Risk

    Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes was widely criticized for his failure to prosecute child sex abusers in the ultra-Orthodox communities for political reasons. It was a primary reason he lost to Kenneth Thompson, the current Brooklyn D.A. Last month, 107 rabbis signed a public statement agreeing to report child sex abuse directly to the authorities, with some arguably part of the ultra-Orthodox community.

    Agudath Israel, however, is notably silent on the issue. The community also has engaged in extreme practices to persuade those that do come forward to be quiet as I discuss here. Thompson has cut some sweetheart deals with defendants from the community that led many who had championed his cause to wonder if he will make a difference for the children being sexually abused in the faith, for good reason.

    For example, witness-tampering is usually deeply disfavored by prosecutors, and Thompson did initiate an investigation into it in the Lebovits sex abuse trial in April 2015. Yet, the investigation was closed without prosecution. The victims of child sex abuse in this community desperately need a champion in law enforcement.

    When a faith community follows a path that endangers children, those children have few if any defenses. Only other adults can help them. When their faith-filled parents can or will not protect them, in the United States they become the responsibility of the government and elected officials. When the government and vote-pandering politicians turn the other way, these children suffer.

    The time has come to rip off the rose-colored glasses and to treat children in every setting as humans with rights—even if religion is in the picture. Their suffering and disabilities are our problem.

    Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Libertyand Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.


  24. A Tale of the Pure at Heart

    By MAYA KROTH, Foreign Policy January 25, 2016

    In 2014, Lev Tahor arrived in Guatemala, the latest stop in a 20-year international journey. The ultra-conservative Jewish sect cries that it is escaping religious persecution. But to those left behind — in Israel, New York, and Canada — the group is a dangerous cult ducking accusations of brainwashing, abuse, and child marriage.

    Uriel Goldman’s bushy eyebrows knit together in dismay when he sees a cockroach skittering across the tiled floor near the entrance of his cramped Guatemala City apartment. Despite the warm spring weather, he is dressed in a heavy calf-length coat, velvet wide-brimmed hat, and bulky shoes with stockings — all black. He maneuvers his broad frame into the next room to grab a broom, careful to avoid a gantlet of obstacles scattered around the awkward space: a mini-fridge, a folded-up mattress, a basket of laundry, a bag of groceries. He gently sweeps the bug out the door and into an equally cluttered stairwell.

    Goldman, who is in his mid-40s, sits down in a blue plastic chair and sighs. “It’s the seventh month,” he says, “that we are in this terrible situation.” Seven months of pretending that a run-down office building that once housed Guatemala’s immigration directorate is a suitable place for 14 families to live, sleeping six or more people to a room. Seven months of dealing with scores of restless kids who are tired of being cooped up indoors because their parents think the city’s Zona 9 neighborhood, thick with traffic and peppered with sporadic crime, is no place for children to play.

    But they’re here, Goldman says of his family and friends, because they have no other choice.

    Goldman is a member of and spokesman for Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart” in Hebrew), an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect that has been bouncing around the Western Hemisphere for the better part of two decades. Before winding up in Guatemala City, Lev Tahor lived for several months in San Juan La Laguna, a small Mayan village about 100 miles west of the capital. In August 2014, however, village leaders ordered the group to leave. They cited irreconcilable differences: Locals had complained that Lev Tahor’s men refused to touch the hands of female shopkeepers and that sect members bathed nude in the lake. According to Goldman, authorities threatened to cut off electricity and water if Lev Tahor didn’t go. So it did, with followers’ earthly belongings strapped to the roof of one of Guatemala’s iconic Technicolor “chicken buses.”

    Goldman insists that persecution has prompted all of Lev Tahor’s peregrinations — from Israel, where the group formed, to the United States, then to Canada, San Juan La Laguna, and finally Guatemala City. “It’s political,” he says. “It’s because of our political religious ideas.” The sect’s principles are controversial. On a philosophical level, it believes Israel should not exist because only God can proclaim a Jewish state, and only after the Messiah’s return. Lev Tahor is also deeply conservative. Its women cover their bodies and hair at all times (they wear burqa-like shrouds beginning at age 3), and all followers, of which there are about 200, limit contact with the outside world. Children are home-schooled, and the group’s leadership arranges marriages.

    But there is a different, more nefarious version of this narrative, one in which Lev Tahor’s moves have not been escapes from discrimination, but flights from justice. The group’s critics, including former converts, estranged families of followers, religious scholars, and law enforcement officials, say Lev Tahor is dangerous.

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  25. They describe sadistic behavior that goes on behind closed doors, including child abuse, brainwashing, drug use, and forced marriages of teenage girls to men as many as 20 years their senior. “It’s definitely a cult,” says David Ouellette of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian advocacy group that fights anti-Semitism and promotes Jewish interests. “There’s no question about it.”

    Government agencies around the globe, from Jerusalem to Quebec, have investigated Lev Tahor. At almost every turn, however, detectives and prosecutors have struggled to collect evidence from an insular group that rarely speaks with secular authorities. Competing agendas and a lack of coordination between police and child-welfare agencies, particularly across borders, have also slowed inquiries, in some cases giving Lev Tahor enough of a window to relocate before a solid case can be built. The exception to this pattern was the 1994 conviction of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, Lev Tahor’s charismatic founder, for kidnapping a teenage boy. Yet after serving a two-year prison term in New York, the rabbi continued leading the group. He remains in charge today. (Despite five requests, through his lawyer and Goldman, Helbrans did not make himself available for an interview.)

    Lev Tahor’s members, Goldman says in accented English, pray to HaShem (a Hebrew name for God) that Guatemala will be their final stop. He vehemently denies accusations of wrongdoing. “We don’t force anybody” to marry, he says. “Abusing people?... Tell me one name, let’s go to the family, let’s see!”

    With its competing claims of prejudice and criminality, the story of Lev Tahor reveals how the complexities of religious freedom can make it tricky to distinguish between radical devotion and dangerous extremism. Given religion’s important role in societies, “there’s a tendency in Western culture to overly defer to religious entities … and to assume that nothing will go wrong,” says Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University law professor who has followed Lev Tahor’s trajectory.

    However, the case also shows that even when the line between faith and transgression is clear, red tape can make it difficult — even impossible — for legal systems to protect people. “There’s no religious defense of violence,” Hamilton says. “The problem is that you have social, cultural, political, and constitutional factors that weigh in.”

    “‘Extreme’ is too mild of a word” for Lev Tahor, she adds. “They are their own universe.”

    Orthodox Judaism, which contains many subsects, is characterized by a strict adherence to guiding religious texts. Yet even within those devout strictures, Lev Tahor’s austere brand of faith is at the very conservative end of the spectrum, combining an obsession with spiritual purity with a virulent — and, in Judaism, rare — opposition to Israel.

    Helbrans explained the origins of the group to a reporter who writes for Haaretz, Shay Fogelman, in a 2012 interview. Born to secular parents in Jerusalem in 1962, Helbrans said he was attracted to religion from an early age: As a young man, he ran a yeshiva and was mentored by Eliezer Shlomo Schick, a rabbi and prolific religious writer who was once investigated for officiating underage marriages. (Schick died in early 2015.) Helbrans founded the Lev Tahor yeshiva in the mid-1980s, espousing a belief that modernity corrupts the spirit. He designed strict rules, many of which hold fast today. Members must engage in several hours of intense prayer each day. Boys study the Torah, while girls’ education is limited. Dietary restrictions prohibit the consumption of chickens and their eggs (said to be genetically modified and therefore not kosher), leafy green vegetables (which might be contaminated by bugs), and milk from any cow that followers have not milked themselves. Speaking Hebrew, the Zionists’ tongue, is often eschewed in favor of Yiddish.

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  26. Helbrans started small. “He had not more than 12 followers at the time,” Fogelman wrote in an email, describing Lev Tahor’s early days. But operating out of a tiny space in Jerusalem’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood, Helbrans sought more converts by giving lectures and simply stopping people on the street; he bragged that he once persuaded a secular Israeli soldier to return to religion after meeting the man at a bus stop. “Every time I got on a bus, I looked for a ‘victim,’” Helbrans told Fogelman.

    Goldman claims he joined Lev Tahor in a particularly unusual way: As a young member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), he was sent to spy on Helbrans’s lectures and gather intelligence. “I could have gone [on to a] very successful career in the army,” Goldman says. Instead, he found Helbrans’s teachings persuasive and decided to “go all the way” with his newfound faith. He has been in Lev Tahor ever since; he and his wife have 10 children.

    An IDF spokesman wrote in an email that he could locate no records that would confirm or deny Goldman’s claims of spying. An anonymous source cited in Fogelman’s Haaretz article said Lev Tahor aroused government suspicions, specifically those of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, after it tried to make contact with radical Islamists. Helbrans told Fogelman that he had merely reached out to Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who at the time was mayor of the city of Umm al-Fahm but who would be convicted years later of funding Hamas. The rabbi insisted he wanted the mayor’s help in stopping the Transport Ministry from paving over ancient Jewish graves. (In a book he later wrote called Derekh Hatzala, or Path of Salvation, Helbrans states, “The Jews and Muslims are natural allies! Both are interested in maintaining the special and ancient character of their peoples.”)

    Fogelman believes Helbrans exploited the situation to advance a narrative of persecution. “As far as I know, [the Shin Bet] … were curious to understand his connections with radical Islamists, and not more than that,” he says. “They didn’t put any effort [into] monitoring his activities or following his people.”

    Helbrans soon decided his group needed to leave Israel, citing Torah prophecies that the territory would be “turned to desert and desolation.” By 1991, he had packed up and taken his flock to New York. The New York Times reported after the move, which landed Lev Tahor in the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, that some community leaders believed the new arrivals had come “in part because of continued pressure by the Israeli Government over its extreme anti-Zionist views.”

    Whether probes, substantial or not, into Lev Tahor’s activities played a role in the group’s departure is uncertain. But its troubles were just beginning. Helbrans would soon become entwined in a controversy that would seize the attention of New York’s media and roil the city’s insular Orthodox community.

    Hana Fhima walked into New York’s 66th police precinct in April 1992, apoplectic over the disappearance of her 13-year-old son, Shai. His abductor, she claimed, was none other than Helbrans.

    Fhima insisted that Shai had been a regular New Jersey kid who liked girls, video games, and going to the mall. That is, until Helbrans, whom Fhima had sought out to prepare Shai for his bar mitzvah on the advice of an Orthodox aunt, turned the seventh-grader practically overnight into a budding Hasid, complete with shorn hair and nascent payot (side curls). Soon after his ceremony, Shai went to a study session with one of Helbrans’s other mentees. He never came home.

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  27. Four days after Fhima went to the police, Helbrans was arrested. Within hours, however, the district attorney dropped the charges, citing a lack of evidence. (Some observers, including reporters, later wondered whether this was because he was running for state’s attorney and counted many Hasidic Jews among his voting base; the district attorney’s office publicly denied any political influence.) Helbrans repudiated being involved in the disappearance, telling the Times that the accusation was “Mickey Mouse information.” The rabbi, who claimed he had no idea where the boy was, said Shai must have run away from home.

    Fhima isn’t the only person over the years to describe Helbrans’s powers of persuasion as both extraordinary and dangerous. Oded Twik, a 41-year-old Israeli from the town of Rishon LeZion, says his sister was raised in a secular household but, to his surprise, married a Lev Tahor adherent she met while working as an au pair in Brooklyn. Although she eventually parted ways with the group after 20 years, her brother tried to bring her home well before then. At one point, she told him that if she left, Helbrans would never let her come back. (She declined to comment for this article; Twik says his sister wants a quiet start to her new life.) Twik knows of many families with similar stories. “As far as I’m concerned,” he says, “[Helbrans] is running a terror organization.”

    Some families are frightened to come forward, worried that their loved ones in the group will be punished in retaliation. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Israeli man recounted how his 18-year-old son ran away to join Lev Tahor more than two decades ago, largely cutting off verbal contact several years later after his father criticized Helbrans’s religious views. “[The rabbi] could sit and talk to someone for 12 hours until he convinces them, and after that they’ll be his slave,” the man says. “He hypnotizes people.”

    Helbrans also struck a bad chord with U.S. federal investigators, who picked up Shai’s case in mid-1992. After an extensive, months-long inquiry and with Shai still missing, Helbrans was again charged with kidnapping; this time, he was brought to trial. The prosecution presented evidence that Helbrans had told Shai’s biological father, who lived in Israel, that he would pay for the father’s airfare to come see Shai, indicating he knew where the boy was. Lawyers also argued that Helbrans, “with the assistance of his followers, arranged to have two sets of letters emanate from Shai”; among other things, the letters informed the boy’s mother that he was living happily among Brooklyn Hasidim (though not specifically with Lev Tahor). The goal of the missives, according to the prosecution, was to discourage Hana Fhima and the police from searching for Shai.

    During the proceedings, in 1994, Shai suddenly materialized at a sheriff’s office in Rockland County, New York. He had shown up at the home of an Orthodox rabbi unaffiliated with Lev Tahor named Aryeh Zaks a few weeks prior. Zaks told authorities that Shai would not divulge where he had been for the past two years — only that he had left home voluntarily and had not been living with Helbrans’s sect. Shai testified in court that his mother had beaten him, and he spoke in support of Helbrans. “I never had a chance to know what a normal family was [until] I came to Rabbi Helbrans,” Shai said, according to the New York Times. “Once you see a normal life it’s hard to go to an unnormal life.”

    Nonetheless, Helbrans was found guilty of kidnapping and was sentenced to prison. He was released on parole in 1996 and returned to live among his followers. Despite several legal appeals, he was deported to Israel in 2000 due to his felony conviction. Helbrans didn’t stay long, however. Six weeks later, he flew to yet another potential home: Canada, where he claimed to be a refugee escaping persecution by Israeli authorities.

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  28. A Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) investigation has since reported that Helbrans “may have used misleading or false evidence,” including Goldman’s unconfirmed claim that the IDF tasked him with spying on the rabbi and a video recording of Shai denying his kidnapping. In a separate interview with CBC reporters, Shai recanted his long-standing defense of Helbrans, saying he had in fact been abducted and that Lev Tahor had paid him $5,000 to make the video shown to Canadian authorities. (Shai has not spoken to the media in several years; contacted via Facebook, he declined to comment for this article or to confirm his whereabouts.)

    However shaky its foundation, Helbrans’s case flew under the radar; no one challenged it before Canada’s refugee commission, so he was granted asylum. His followers joined him in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts (Ste.-Agathe for short), a small village near Montreal. They again sequestered themselves, living quietly for the better part of a decade — until accusations of abuse started seeping out of Lev Tahor’s normally airtight ranks.

    In 2011, two Israeli sisters, ages 13 and 15, whose parents had sent them to join Lev Tahor in Ste.-Agathe were stopped by Canadian immigration authorities and put on a plane back home. According to the Globe and Mail, the girls’ great-uncle had gotten an Israeli court to order their return, fearing they would be harmed. Of particular concern was that they would be forced to marry. Helbrans responded to the accusation in a sit-down interview with the Canadian newspaper; though girls in Lev Tahor did marry as teenagers, he said, partners were only “suggested.” He added, “The women here choose of their own will.”

    Yet the threads of that statement soon unraveled. In 2011, Quebec authorities noted that Lev Tahor wasn’t educating its school-age children, of which there were about 50, according to the provincial curriculum. (For instance, many couldn’t speak either French or English, Quebec’s official languages.) This sparked a visit to the group’s compound by child-welfare and education officials, who found the quarters to be dilapidated and cold.

    In May 2012, child-welfare officers reported having spoken with a girl from Lev Tahor who claimed she had been promised in marriage to an older man; soon after, authorities decided to remove her from the community. (She was eventually sent to live with an aunt in the United States.) That December, a 17-year-old pregnant girl from the sect allegedly told staff at a local hospital that she’d been beaten by her brother, sexually abused by her father, and married at 15 to a 30-year-old man. Authorities petitioned for the girl’s removal from her home, but the case had to be closed when she turned 18 just a few months later.

    Then, there was the account of a former Lev Tahor male devotee who joined the group in 2009 and, at age 25, married a 15-year-old girl. Because he spoke English and was Internet savvy, he spent time online doing research to help refute accusations that Lev Tahor is a cult. “I started having more and more questions … about the righteousness of what was going on,” he would later state in sworn testimony. He presented documents to the police that accused leaders of locking disobedient young girls in basements and drugging members to exert psychological control. (Lev Tahor’s alleged transgressions extended into other realms as well. While in Canada, the sect is believed to have accrued some $6 million in assets, including international donations collected by two charities affiliated with the group. Both charities have since lost their tax-exempt status and reportedly owe the Canada Revenue Agency more than $3.5 million in back taxes.)

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  29. Based on evidence of abuse, authorities raided the Lev Tahor compound in August 2013 to take reports on the health and safety of the group’s children. Social services had five kids removed and placed with a foster family. (Due to privacy concerns, Quebec agencies would not confirm whether these children remain in state care or have since been released.) During subsequent visits to Ste.-Agathe, officials identified another 14 children from two families as being in need of intervention. In November 2013, a summons was issued for the parents to appear in court.

    When authorities arrived at the compound with the summons, however, they found the place deserted and in disarray; a coffee pot had even been left on. Lev Tahor had fled in the middle of the night on chartered buses. With warrants, officers seized laptops, hard drives, bottles of prescription drugs, credit cards, and documents, including bank statements and wedding licenses from Missouri, where the legal age of marriage (with parental consent) is just 15. At a hearing in late November, a judge ordered the removal of the 14 children from their homes — but that would prove more difficult than expected.

    The same month, Lev Tahor came under scrutiny before another government body 6,000 miles away: the Israeli Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child. Israeli authorities, it turns out, had also been collecting testimonies of abuse, but no charges had been brought. Knesset members and families of Lev Tahor followers decried the sluggish progress: “Every day that goes by is a horrendous crime,” one lawmaker said at a hearing. In response, the deputy state prosecutor cited the challenges of gathering evidence from a secretive sect and of prosecuting crimes allegedly committed abroad. Were the case based in Israel, local police would have had jurisdiction to investigate and collect evidence. In Canada, its hands were tied.

    Similar complaints arose when Lev Tahor resurfaced in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, a small town nearly 600 miles away from Ste.-Agathe near the U.S.-Canada border. With no jurisdiction in another province, Quebec authorities had to wait for an Ontario court to decide whether it would honor the earlier ruling and put the 14 at-risk children into custody — a process that dragged on for more than two months. “In Canada, each province is provincially responsible for child welfare,” explains Stephen Doig, executive director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services (CKCS), “so the reciprocal agreements between the two provinces around court orders is really gray, to say the least.”

    In February 2014, a judge finally ruled that CKCS could remove the children from their homes. Lev Tahor had 30 days to appeal. In the meantime, however, the 14 minors fled. Two of them were detained at a Calgary airport, while immigration authorities in Trinidad and Tobago flagged and deported another six; all were placed in foster care. The remaining children, as well as three adults, disembarked safely in Guatemala, where Goldman says Lev Tahor had friends in a budding Orthodox community.

    In Guatemala, yet another legal debate emerged: A spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Newsweek, “Until … abuse is proven in Guatemala, Canada cannot proceed to take them back,” and a local judge ordered that the children could stay. International law couldn’t force a change: As Martha Bailey, a Queen’s University law professor, has pointed out in a journal article on the Lev Tahor case, neither Guatemala nor Canada has acceded to a 1996 treaty on parental responsibility and the protection of minors that might have compelled the children’s return.

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  30. The law continued to work in Lev Tahors favor. As it began to set up shop in Central America, the group won its appeal in Ontario. Provincial authorities had no grounds on which to hold them, so six of the children in custody were released to their parents, while two more, both teenage girls with U.S. passports, left their foster home and crossed the border to be with family still in New York. “Although we had closer eyes on those two … we really don’t have the authority to physically detain them,” Doig explains. U.S. authorities subsequently determined that, as American citizens, the girls could stay put.

    In the end, then, all the legal wrangling added up to very little. A scathing follow-up report by Quebec’s Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission blasted all parties involved in Canada for their lack of coordination. Camil Picard, the commission’s vice president for youth affairs, called the legal process “incomprehensible.” Not mincing words, he said at a press conference, “It’s clear that the [agencies] systematically failed in their role to protect the children.”

    As government departments licked their wounds, Lev Tahor relocated most followers to Guatemala over the summer of 2014. As for why that country was chosen as a new haven, Doig has a theory that’s a far cry from Goldman’s explanation: Doig says Guatemala’s child-welfare agency is badly understaffed and that, at the time of the move, the legal age of marriage was 14, with parental consent. (Last November, new legislation raised it to 18.)

    “It’d be fair to say,” Doig guesses, “they didn’t go to Guatemala by accident.”

    A tattered curtain bisects the lobby of the building where Lev Tahor lives. The drab divider, in shades of white and gray, extends up the building’s stairwell, past empty 5-gallon water jugs, broken toys, and cinched-up bags of trash littering the halls. It ensures the strict separation of genders, one of the most essential rules in the Lev Tahor playbook. In the lobby, on one side of the curtain, girls dressed head to toe in black busily sort a huge pile of vegetables on the dirt-streaked floor. Upstairs, boys are scattered into two makeshift classrooms, some learning math as others read prayer books and chant loudly in Yiddish.

    Goldman receives me warmly with a plate of tropical fruit, but he explains that because I am a woman, he can’t shake my hand. After pausing to bless the fruit, he grows heated recounting what happened in Canada. “They wanted to change our religion,” Goldman says of Quebec authorities, his tightly wound side curls bobbing like springs as he becomes animated. “It’s so unfair what they’ve done to us … an investigation of two years without finding anything wrong.” He dismisses former members who’ve spoken about abuse in Lev Tahor as lying publicity-seekers.

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  31. While life hasnt been easy in Central America, from being kicked out of San Juan La Laguna to being squeezed into tight quarters in the capital, Lev Tahor is relatively free from scrutiny. Legal proceedings against it appear stalled. According to Caitlin Workman, a spokesperson for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, “Canadian officials are engaging with the relevant authorities in … Guatemala” — but it’s unclear to what extent those authorities are pursuing any sort of case against Lev Tahor. (Representatives for Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and immigration directorate did not respond to requests for comment.)

    Nothing has yet come of Israeli investigations into Lev Tahor, and Hamilton, of Yeshiva University, says global agencies that seem equipped to help are actually limited in their reach. “An international human rights force,” such as a body at the United Nations or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, could intervene, but “Guatemala is not a country where it’s easy for Western authorities to get cooperation on the ground. A combination of corruption and a lack of effective law enforcement against violent crime generally puts a strain on resources…. The level of crime, the level of poverty, and the level of corruption make it less likely that the government is going to focus on a small group like Lev Tahor, even if it is engaging in serial child abuse.”

    Meanwhile, Lev Tahor’s leaders want to build a forever home in Guatemala: They have their eye on some land in the country’s Santa Rosa department, near the border with El Salvador. Right now, it’s covered by mango trees, but they envision a compound complete with schools, a synagogue, and at least 40 houses — one for each family. “We are planning to do the whole place like a pueblo,” Goldman says. If getting there requires living with cockroaches for a while, it’s worth it. “I’m happy that I can educate my children,” Goldman says. “My children are the most important thing that I have.”

    Helbrans is not in the building; Lev Tahor is busy preparing for Passover, and the rabbi, Goldman explains, has gone away to a mikvah, a bath used for a purification ritual. But as I descend the stairs to leave, another of the group’s adherents pulls me into a two-room apartment. The 30-something woman, in a voice that’s barely more than a whisper, introduces herself as Udel and says she has been in Lev Tahor since she was 3 years old. Neither she nor her nine children — a handful of whom play at her skirts — have ever known life outside the sect. She too is looking forward to the new compound in the mango grove, a place where her children can play.

    “The rabbi never forced people to stay here against our will,” she says, unprompted. “Whoever wants to come here is welcome, and you want to go, you go.”

    When asked whether she has ever considered going, she smiles and shakes her head.

    “This is my life,” Udel says softly. “This is what God wants.”

    Maya Kroth (@theemaya) is a freelance journalist based in the United States and Mexico. Hannah Katsman in Israel contributed reporting. This article originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of FP.


  32. Can Montreal Hasidic School Pupils Be Jolted Into Modernity

    by Julie Masis, Forward February 25, 2016

    At five o’clock in the afternoon, the lights are still on at an elementary school in Montreal. The school looks like any other school. It is a four-story red-brick building with a playground in the front and a parking lot in the back. A curtain in a third-floor window moves aside, and a little boy with sidelocks gazes out at this journalist pacing on the sidewalk and freezing in the February wind (school officials have turned down her request to come inside). Soon two boys appear at the window, then five, then 10. They wave and tap on the glass. When the journalist tries to snap a photo, they hide behind the curtain. As soon as she puts her camera in her purse, they tap on the glass and motion for her to try and take their picture again.

    This is Yeshiva Toras Moshe, an ultra-Orthodox school for Satmar boys. Until 2014, it was regarded as “illegal” by the provincial government of Quebec because it doesn’t teach subjects — including the French language — that the Ministry of Education requires. Last fall, the government implemented a new system it had mandated a year earlier: The yeshiva still has no permit, but the 238 boys from grades one to six are required to participate in a homeschooling program supervised by the school board. They have to pass evaluations across all mandatory homeschooling subjects throughout the year.

    “We had a few [homeschooled children before], about 20 — it wasn’t anything like we have now,” said Angela Mancini, the president of the English Montreal school board that oversees the homeschooled boys from Yeshiva Toras Moshe, since the parents are English-speakers.

    The children from the yeshiva are now technically studying at home the same subjects as are required in all schools in the province, including subjects such as geography, science, history and French, Mancini said. Their education is based on an individualized plan designed by their parents and approved by the school board, and their progress is evaluated using a portfolio of work.

    “Some students are doing very well, but they need to catch up,” Mancini said.

    Yeshiva Toras Moshe refused to provide any information to the Forward, but former teacher Yohanan Lowen (who has since left the Hasidic community), said that until now the children there received only the total of an hour of math and English a day — and did not learn any other secular subjects. The school board would not comment on what the children were learning prior to the homeschooling mandate.

    “Maybe it’s an hour a day — but that hour, it’s not a requirement to come,” Lowen said, explaining that even the classes provided were limited. “It’s not taken seriously. The children are tired already and the children are taught that it’s not important.”

    The rest of the day is devoted to religious studies — in Yiddish and Aramaic. Children do not even learn Modern Hebrew, Lowen said, as the Satmars consider it a forbidden language of the Zionists.

    This struggle between the Montreal Hasidic community and the provincial government of Quebec is the latest example of the conflict between religious educational priorities and legal requirements for secular studies. In New York State Naftuli Moster and his organization Yaffed has stung the Department of Education into an investigation of taxpayer dollars funding schools that he alleges do not meet minimum educational requirements. And in Israel Bar Von Mayer and 52 others are suing the state for not ensuring that their ultra-Orthodox state schools gave them adequate schooling.

    Until now, secular education in the Montreal community stopped after the boys’ bar mitzvah at the age of 13, according to Lowen. After that, the Satmar boys continue learning only religious studies, he said.

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  33. The yeshiva would not answer any questions. According to the school board, the homeschooling program is administered on a year by year basis, and it is up to the parents to sign their children up. Education is mandatory in Quebec until the age of 16.

    Yeshiva Toras Moshe was not the only illegal Jewish school in the province. The nearby Satmar girls’ school, Beth Esther, which used to be accredited, lost its permit recently. The school did not respond to calls from the Forward. (Even its Yiddish answering-machine message does not comply with government regulations, according to which messages must be in French and English.)

    In 2014, Quebec’s Minister of Education called for illegal schools in the province to close. The Ministry would not provide information on how many illegal Jewish schools are within its jurisdiction — and whether the homeschooling model might be applied to the students of other illegal schools in the future. “We don’t know the exact number of illegal schools because they’re illegal, so they’re not registered anywhere,” said Bryan Saint-Louis, a spokesman for Quebec’s Ministry of Education.

    Some Hasidic schools that have government permits still cut corners when it comes to secular subjects. In some Chabad-Lubavitch schools in Montreal, for example, boys are not introduced to the English alphabet until they are nine — well after the legal requirement to start in first grade — and many stop studying secular subjects after their bar mitzvahs, said Peisach Sperlin, a Chabad rabbi in Montreal who has sons at one of the elementary schools. Despite mandatory science and technology requirements from the third grade onwards, the schools do not teach physics, chemistry, or biology he said. There just “isn’t enough time in the day, so they choose the most important subjects,” he added.

    The Rabbinical College of Canada — the elementary school (“college” in French is a form of grade school) his sons attend — confirmed that it does not offer any biology, chemistry or physics classes. There is no Chabad high school in Montreal. Children from Chabad families travel elsewhere to continue their education.

    “If they want to learn [science], they can learn it on their own,” said Sperlin.

    Hasidic girls receive more hours of secular instruction than boys, because according to Hasidic tradition, boys concentrate on religious texts.

    In the Satmar community, the issue seems to be the subject matter itself rather than the number of hours of study. “You don’t really need all the science. Biology and ecology definitely not,” said Alex Werzberger, a member of the Montreal Satmar community whose grandchildren attend Yeshiva Toras Moshe. “Especially when you take a small child and you tell them that what they learn in the Bible is not the real thing. So what do you do to that child? You confuse him.”

    Werzberger said that the fact that most Satmar people are successful in life proves that secular education is useless. In Montreal, members of the community are known for going into real estate.

    “You don’t see many Jews on welfare or on unemployment,” Werzberger said. “We live very nicely and we’ve done very nicely for ourselves. The government is trying to force people to learn something that is against their basic beliefs.”

    But Lowen — who could read only in Yiddish and Aramaic until he taught himself to read in English when he was 29 — said that for him, the lack of education has been detrimental.

    “It basically stole my youth. It ruined my life forever,” he said. “People are telling me [if you had had an education], you could have been a judge, a researcher, a professor. I don’t know what I could have been.”




    Mint-colored city buses and sherbet mid-rise apartment complexes with undulating facades. Women in polka-dot bikinis and men in wide-lapelled shirts unbuttoned halfway down their chests. Postcard-perfect white sand beaches and cocaine-addled nights that throbbed to a mix of brassy disco and tropical Cuban beats. It was 1981, and the 19-square-mile barrier island known as Miami Beach was on the verge of bursting into one of the most hedonistic scenes committed to the history books.

    Somehow, in the midst of this Caribbean decadence, a very different community also thrived. Just a few blocks from the scantily dressed beachgoers and the drug lords in Armani silk were men in ill-fitting black suits and heavy beards, and women in thick wigs and long woolen skirts all year long, even as the wet heat of the Atlantic swept across the peninsula. The ranks of Miami’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, Hasidim, were swelling. They were insular and defiantly anti-secular, clinging to traditions that may have protected their community in a medieval world but in modern America would lead to tragic consequences for many of their youngest, most vulnerable members.

    Twelve-year-old Ozer Simon hadn’t grown up Hasidic, but after his parents divorced, his mom became a baal teshuva, a secular Jew who has “returned” to religious ways, and enrolled him at a yeshiva. He immediately fell behind because the other kids had been studying Hebrew since they were toddlers, so when Rabbi Joseph Reizes, a new teacher recently arrived from Brooklyn, offered to tutor the child, his mother jumped at the opportunity.

    But when she asked Simon how his first lesson went, she could tell “something was really wrong.” Simon told her the rabbi hadn’t taught him anything; instead, he’d asked the boy to lie down and take a nap. When he did, the older man lay down on top of him.
    The next school day, Simon’s mother went to Rabbi Avrohom Korf, principal of the boy’s school, and told him what had happened. “I said to him, ‘If Reizes continues to teach here, I’m going to go to the newspaper. Or whatever it takes,’” she recalls. “The next thing I know, the guy is gone.”

    Korf says he confronted Reizes with Simon’s mother’s complaint and that the teacher fled back to Brooklyn of his own volition. Soon after, Reizes was hired to teach elementary school at Oholei Torah, a yeshiva in Crown Heights. No official complaint against him was ever filed in Miami, and Simon’s school never alerted Oholei Torah about the incident that had prompted Reizes’s quick return to Brooklyn.

    Fifteen years later, Reizes was fired from Oholei Torah after allegations of sexual abuse arose yet again. A parent “informed a principal that his son was inappropriately touched during a private tutoring session with Reices [sic], after school hours and off school premises,” Oholei Torah’s director, Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld, tells Newsweek via email.

    Reizes was allowed to finish the school year, but Rosenfeld insists he was kept under “constant monitoring” for those three weeks.
    (Oholei Torah denied Newsweek many requests to speak to someone about this issue and stopped responding to email questions after an initial exchange. Through its lawyer, the school sent a note stating that to answer more questions would “compromise its legal and religious obligations.” Reizes did not respond to requests for comment.)

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  35. When contacted by Newsweek, the child whose parents brought the complaint to the school in 1996 didn’t want to speak about it publicly, but other students from that class say Reizes long had a reputation for inappropriate behavior. Bibi Morozow, 31 years old and now living in Florida, says a relative was molested by Reizes while attending Oholei Torah in the 1990s. (When reached byNewsweek on the phone, the relative declined to be interviewed.) “Reizes was always touchy; he’d put kids in his lap,” says one student who asked to remain anonymous because he feared being shunned by his community.

    But no complaints were ever registered about the rabbi, nor were any criminal charges filed—in fact, a Freedom of Information Act request to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office turned up no evidence of his name ever appearing in its records. By now, the statute of limitations for most, if not all, of Reizes’s alleged crimes has expired, and the survivors are grown men, some with young boys in the Hasidic school system. Most are afraid to go public because they fear ruining the lives of their children.
    Reizes, now retired and in his 60s, lives across the street from the school where he used to teach.

    While there is no evidence that child abuse is any more likely to occur in ultra-Orthodox schools than in public or secular institutions, stories like Reizes’s—an alleged abuser sheltered and victims unwilling to talk for fear of losing the only way of life they know—are common in the Hasidic school system. The many former students, advocates, sociologists, social workers and survivors interviewed by Newsweek, along with recordings, documents, public filings and personal emails that Newsweek obtained, place the blame on a confluence of factors: widespread sexual repression, a strong resistance to the secular world, and, most important, a power structure designed to keep people from speaking up about abuse.

    Introduced to Forbidden Knowledge

    Set on a leafy stretch of Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Oholei Torah is one of the most important institutions in the Chabad movement’s global yeshiva network and one of the largest of the dozens of Chabad schools in Brooklyn, with nearly 2,000 students at any given time. But stop any middle-school-age kid in the school’s hallways, and he—there are no female students—will likely know nothing of world history, won’t be able to do long division and will speak only rudimentary English—even though he’s growing up in the biggest city in the United States.

    Oholei Torah conducts its seven-plus daily hours of religious lessons mostly in Yiddish. According to more than a dozen former students across three decades, it provides almost no lessons in science, math, English grammar or history. (The school did not respond to queries about its curriculum.) Many of these students go home to an apartment with no television, no Internet, no newspapers and no books except religious texts. Many will not gain the basic knowledge of how to navigate the world until they are married off around age 18, like how to write a check, how to order General Tso’s chicken or even what sex is. When you’re a child in this environment, you don’t question the fact that you can’t identify your own state on a map. And when you are molested, you don’t ask questions about that either.

    In the ultra-Orthodox world, sexuality is simultaneously denied and monitored to the point of obsession. Starting in childhood, boys and girls are separated; the opposite gender remains a mystery until it’s time to marry, usually in an arranged pairing. Boys are taught to avoid looking at girls, while girls are taught that they are a source of sex and transgression, say former members of the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish, community.

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  36. If children arent taught by their parents and teachers about appropriate sexual behavior, they have no way to sense when touching turns into something that is wrong. “You don’t even know what your body is,” says Lynn Davidman, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Kansas who grew up in a religious Jewish family. “And you are not supposed to touch or know, and then all of a sudden you are introduced to forbidden knowledge in a most abusive way.” The abused have no way to make sense of what’s going on, to stop it or to tell anybody about it.

    When Manny Vogel was in seventh grade at Oholei Torah, a student a few years older, high school age, wouldn’t let him alone—he’d follow Vogel in the hallways, into study halls and in the lunchroom. Then, Vogel recalls, the boy asked for a favor. “He claimed he wanted to try karate moves on me.” But karate was simply a pretense to touch the younger boy in ways he would later come to recognize as inappropriate. One time, Vogel says, the classmate paid him $5 to let him touch Vogel’s genitals over his pants.
    Vogel never said anything to his teachers, principal or parents. “He took advantage of me. I didn’t know any better.”

    According to Vogel and other students, this older student had a reputation for touching younger kids—and teachers and administrators knew it. There were rumors he offered a classmate $175 for a “karate practice session.” Students believed the kid used the money he raised from selling bagels—eaten at school, after morning prayers—to fund his perversion.

    Eventually, Vogel says, school administrators prohibited the student from selling bagels. (The school denies any knowledge of this. The student could not be reached for comment.) But the boy wasn’t punished, much less formally charged with any crime, and fellow students say the abuse continued until he graduated. Recently, the alleged abuser, now grown, was invited back to Oholei
    Torah to be a shaliach —Hebrew for “messenger,” a sort of missionary in Chabad who mentors the young and newly arrived to the community—and he remains a fixture in the Haredi community. Not long ago, Vogel’s brother got married; the alleged abuser, Vogel says, showed up at the ceremony. “We were dancing, in a circle, and he was just staring and staring at me,” says Vogel. “I was traumatized.”

    After graduating from Oholei Torah, Vogel went to study at Yeshiva Brunoy, a prominent Chabad school in the suburbs of Paris. There, he was befriended by a shaliach, a man in his early 20s who would take Vogel into a private room and get him drunk. That wasn’t unusual; it was a custom at the school for older mentors to farbreng with younger students—sit together and discuss Hasidism while drinking hard liquor deep into the night. But unlike the other farbrengen, these didn’t take place on the first-floor classrooms and were not open to others.

    One hazy, liquored-up evening, the shaliach allegedly kissed and groped Vogel. When he sobered up the next day, Vogel was distraught. For days, the memory ate at him as he struggled with the decision to tell or not. Finally, he called his stepfather in Brooklyn, who in turn called several senior educators and administrators at the school. The rabbis batted around the problem—no one wanted this toxic ball in his court. A week later, Vogel says, Rabbi Zalman Segal, director of the school’s Higher Section for the oldest students, told him they would send the alleged abuser away to a yeshiva in another country.

    Angry and confused, Vogel returned to New York. Not long after, he got a conciliatory email from the alleged abuser—and the numbers for two debit cards, with a dollar amount for each: $2,000 and $3,000. “He said, ‘This is all the money I have. Take it and do what you want with it. But do me a favor, do not say anything—not for my sake, but for my family’s sake.” Vogel didn't take the money but decided to say nothing.

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  37. Two years later I spoke to Vogel on a rainy summer evening in a Crown Heights bar not far from where he grew up. Just a few days before, he says, he had seen something that had shaken him: Segal and the man Vogel says had sexually abused him strolling together, chatting amiably. “They gave me such terrible flashbacks,” Vogel says. Later, he found out that his alleged abuser had spent only a few weeks outside of France and was allowed back into Yeshiva Brunoy once Vogel was gone. And this past summer, he says, the man found work at a Chabad summer camp, where he was responsible for the welfare of 300 kids and teenagers.

    The school insists it responded adequately to Vogel’s complaint: An email signed “Yeshiva Administration” says, “No sexual abuse was reported at the time of the incident, yet we took the concern of such or any abuse very seriously and sought professional guidance.” The email adds that the school has worked closely with mental health professionals since then but can’t share any details about what that entails.

    Newsweek’s direct inquiries to Segal were ignored. Vogel asked that Newsweek not contact or name the older student because, he says, the fault really lies with Brunoy for “mishandling the situation”—for allowing his alleged abuser to return to a mentorship role at the yeshiva.

    “I think there is little doubt that the extent and seriousness of abuse in society at large was underappreciated for decades until relatively recently,” says Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization that provides leadership to Haredi communities. “Unfortunately, the Orthodox community was likewise unaware of the degree and severity of the problem in its own midst. That, though, has changed.”

    Oholei Torah’s Rosenfeld tells Newsweek much the same, via email, adding, “I am proud to say that our school’s guidelines have often been ahead of the law’s mandates.”

    Medieval Laws in America

    There are many institutional barriers to stopping child abuse in the Haredi world. For example, there’s widespread belief that reporting abuse to secular authorities constitutes heresy. Traditional religious law prohibits mesirah, or “handing over”—a Jew may not snitch on another Jew to a secular government. Mesirah arose in the Middle Ages, when a European Jew charged with a crime would not get a fair trial—it was a prohibition designed, essentially, to protect against institutionalized anti-Semitism.

    Today, in North American Haredi communities, there is debate over how the mesirah prohibition should be applied. In 2011, the Crown Heights Beis Din (the rabbinical court that handles internal religious disputes) ruled that mesirah “do[es] not apply in cases where there is evidence of abuse” and that “one is forbidden to remain silent in such situations.” And earlier this year, 107 Hasidic rabbis signed a kol koreh, or “public pronouncement,” stating that there is a religious obligation to notify secular law enforcement when it knows of child abuse.

    However, “knowing” is a murky term here. In 2012, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, said mesirah meant community members should turn to rabbinical authorities to “ascertain that the suspicion meets a certain threshold of credibility” before reporting child abuse to the authorities. Scroll through the comments section of any of the muckraking websites that track abuses in the Haredi world—Unorthodox-Jew, FailedMessiah.com—and it quickly becomes clear how deferential this community is to religious authority. At the bottom of news coverage of sexual abuse trials are seething comments claiming the reporters are acting above their pay grade. “Stop speaking loshon harah and chillul Hashem ”—evil speech and the desecration of God’s name—“and let the Rabbis sort it out,” they have written.

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  38. The problem though is that this puts the decision to report on individuals who are usually not qualified to recognize signs of abuse—and wo, many say, have a vested interest in keeping secular eyes away. Furthermore, while New York state law says all school officials are required to disclose any child abuse, physical or sexual, they see or hear about to Child Protective Services—religious clergy are not. And when school officials are also religious officials—all yeshiva teachers are rabbis—there are dangerous legal loopholes.

    Chaim Levin, who grew up in Crown Heights and went to Oholei Torah, says his older cousin, Sholom Eichler, sexually molested him throughout his childhood. “I was a 9-year-old boy, and he sodomized me with a pen,” says Levin. “That’s not two kids playing around.” He didn’t tell anyone for years, but in 2003, when Levin was 14, he finally confided in a former counselor at summer camp, who consulted with his father-in-law, Rabbi Hershel Lustig, and then told Levin he should talk to the rabbi.

    Lustig has worked for Oholei Torah for over 40 years. He’s an impeccably dressed, well-spoken man deeply beloved by the community. In 2003, he was the dean of Oholei Torah’s elementary school, a position he still holds.

    Levin met with Lustig and told him about the abuse. The rabbi tried to be comforting: He told Levin not to worry, that he would still be considered a virgin and that his chances of successfulshidduch, matchmaking, hadn’t been harmed. He also offered to tell Levin’s parents, but added, “We shouldn’t tell your parents who did it. It’s not relevant.”

    For years, the abuse stayed buried, and everyone acted like nothing had happened: There is no public record that Lustig reported the incident to the police or to Child Protective Services. Lustig did not respond to Newsweek’s queries about the episode.

    In 2007, Eichler worked at Gan Israel Montreal, a religious summer camp where he was responsible for the well-being of children all day and all night. A few years later, when Eichler got married, Levin’s family went to the wedding, but he stayed home.
    Finally, in 2012, he decided to speak out—one of the first and still one of the few members of the Brooklyn Hasidic community to go public about sexual abuse. He knew it was too late to press criminal charges, but he could still take Eichler to civil court, so Levin sued his cousin for damages. When Levin tried to get Lustig to sign a declaration saying Levin had told the rabbi about the abuse a decade earlier, Lustig refused, saying it was against religious law.

    Even without that evidence, the court ordered Eichler to pay Levin $3.5 million. Levin has yet to collect, however. He says his cousin left the country soon after the court’s decision and is in Israel, outside the reach of extradition. “It started with what the trusted religious adviser, who lives down the street, told my parents to do,” Levin says. “And my abuser got away with it.”

    ‘He Started Working Me’

    After his distressing experience with Reizes in Miami Beach, Ozer Simon was sent to a boarding school in Brooklyn in 1983. Chanoch Lena’ar, he says, was a “dumping ground” for kids having problems in religious school—a place for all the misfits. Simon was flailing in school when the principal, Rabbi Jacob Bryski, offered to help with his studies. “Come by my office after lights out,” he told the 14-year-old.

    At first, Simon sat across the table from the principal during tutoring sessions, but when Bryski asked him to come closer, to sit next to him, Simon did. Then “he got his hands in my pants. I didn’t say anything.” That was just the first step. “He would take me to his house, to his basement, for a ‘sleepover,’” says Simon. “He would feed me dinner, a good meal—I’m in a dorm with crappy food, and I had no money.” After dinner, Simon says, Bryski would sexually molest him. “Whatever your mind can think of,” he says of what was done to him. “It was a nightmare.”

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  39. But Simon never told anybody. Bryski came from a highly respected and influential Hasidic family; one of his brothers is a multimillionaire in New York, and another is an important rabbi in California. Their father, Mordechai Meir Bryski, was a rabbi and real estate mogul, and a key figure in the establishment of the Hasidic school system in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s.
    Simon, meanwhile, was a troubled out-of-towner who wasn’t even born Hasidic. Who would believe his word against Bryski’s? After all, as Mordy Gluckowsky, an Oholei student in the 1990s, says, “when we tell the parents or the teachers [about abuse], they say, ‘Nobody did anything.’ They say, ‘What did you do to make him touch you?’”

    About a decade later, in 1993, Simon filed a verified civil complaint against Bryski and Chanoch Lena’ar in Brooklyn, asking for $50 million in damages for the abuse he allegedly suffered. Simon claimed in his suit that Bryski, “at frequent times beginning in 1983 and ending in/or about 1985,” engaged in “forcible sexual contact” with Simon and “otherwise assaulted” him at Bryski’s residence and the yeshiva. Bryski denied these claims in his publicly filed response and submitted a counterclaim, arguing that Simon had falsely defamed his good name and asking for $10 million in damages. Five years later, the case was dismissed; the abuse Simon had alleged was no longer within the statute of limitations.

    Bryski acknowledges, both in court documents obtained by Newsweek and today, that he let Simon stay at his house—because the child “had chicken pox for a few days, and it was catchy.” He also says he never molested the boy. “He got kicked out of the school, so because of that he spread this libel against me. This is totally slander. I’m a father of 10 children. I am a respected person in the community.”

    By the 2010s, Simon was back in Miami, with a wife, young kids and a good job. He was in Chicago on business, driving through the city, when he got a call from a close friend. “Pull over,” the friend said, then told Simon to bring up a website on his phone. When Simon called up JewishCommunityWatch.org, he was shocked to see a photo of Bryski on the site’s “Wall of Shame” of alleged child abusers. JCW is a grass-roots organization dedicated to exposing child predators and educating the public on how to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The “Wall of Shame” is purportedly based on investigations, performed by the local nonprofit, of individuals who may not have been previously arrested, charged or convicted of any wrongdoing. Through JCW, Simon soon met another Bryski survivor, 12 years his junior.

    Schneur Borenstein was 13 when he moved into Bryski’s home in 2000. He had run away from his home in upstate New York and was living more or less on the streets of Brooklyn until a friend introduced him to Bryski. “He started working me,” Borenstein tells Newsweek. “I was 13 and didn't have a place to stay. He took me into his home and provided me shelter and food. He gave me money to buy cigarettes.” Even though the boy was unnerved by the fact that the grown man would creep into his bedroom at night and touch his penis, he kept his mouth shut. But after six months of abuse, Borenstein finally left.

    Bryski says he kicked Borenstein out: “He drove us crazy in this house. In the end, I had no choice but to throw him out of the house. He got angry with me, [and afterward] he spread lies about me.”

    “Bryski picked his targets,” says Simon, explaining that each school year, the principal would choose one student from his gang of misfits and prey on him. “I was an outcast,” says Borenstein. “I was at a weak point in my life.”

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  40. Its widely accepted by child abuse experts and advocates that some kids are particularly vulnerable. Usually, they are disadvantaged in some way—family problems, rejection by their peer group—that perpetrators can exploit, particularly if they are teachers who also happen to be religious authorities.

    Many years after fleeing Bryski’s home, Borenstein moved to Florida, where, with the encouragement of people like former Miami prosecutor Sara Shulevitz and Mark Meyer Appel, founder of Voice of Justice, a child advocacy group, he began to speak out.
    Borenstein published his story on a personal blog and talked to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office about his legal options.
    But according to a district attorney’s memorandum (which also provided Borenstein’s account of Bryski’s alleged abuse), prosecutors decided the statute of limitations had run out and chose not to pursue the case.

    So Borenstein and his father, along with an attorney, traveled to Brooklyn and arranged a meeting with Bryski. During that conversation, which they taped, Bryski confessed to the sexual abuse, and they cut a deal. The Borensteins said they’d keep quiet about it under three conditions: Bryski would pay for Schneur Borenstein’s therapy, get professional help and—most important—stay away from children.

    At first, Bryski stuck to the agreement. Chanoch Lena’ar didn’t reopen the next school year. But in 2012, Crown Heights community blogs began reporting Bryski was opening up a new school, in the same location, under a different name. Despite Bryski’s prominence, Borenstein and Simon—now working together—were undaunted. They tracked down a list of the new school’s board of directors. Simon’s mother started making calls, alerting them to the allegations. The school never reopened.

    Bryski says he shut down the school after the New York City Department of Buildings said “he had some problems because a lot of work was done in the building without permits. [The inspector] must have been an anti-Semitic guy; he wrote up violations like crazy.” (Bryski did send Newsweeka sample of violation notices from 2011 to 2013.)

    Bryski still lives in Crown Heights, and though he has never been charged with or convicted of a crime, he is no longer a prominent community figure—after years of running widely respected schools, his career in education appears to be over. He says Simon and Borenstein ruined him: “Two people and that’s the end of my life. They took what I worked for for 35 years. My family suffered for no reason. I have seven married children and five I have to marry off.”

    ‘I’m Supposed to Call the Police’

    Like many grade-school kids, Mendy Raymond acted up every now and then and occasionally got detention. When he was in fourth grade at Oholei Torah, for example, he was teasing a classmate. Normal kid stuff. His teacher told him to stop, but he didn’t. He says the teacher, infuriated, charged the desk and him so hard that he fell to the ground and “nearly fractured” his arm. He was then sent to the detention teacher, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Zalmanov, who locked away Raymond’s coat and bag and told him to sit down.

    Now in his 20s, Raymond doesn’t remember what he did that set off Zalmanov—though he does remember being upset about his throbbing arm—but the next thing he knew, the teacher had hit him across the face so hard that he went flying into a closet, slamming his head into the hardwood. As the young child held his head in his hands, Zalmanov pulled him up by his shirt and threw him out of the class, closing the door behind him. Raymond ran out of the building, down the street and then home in the dead of winter, with no coat.

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  41. When his mother returned home that evening, the baby sitter was distraught. When Raymond had walked in the door, “he was shivering so uncontrollable it took a half-hour with blankets and hot drinks to warm him up,” the baby sitter told his mother. Raymond’s parents took their son to the family physician, a religious man respected in the community who, when he heard the story, called Lustig. He was blunt: “I have to stop seeing these kids with bruises coming from your school. You need to get a grip on what’s happening.” Lustig agreed to meet with Raymond, his father, mother and Zalmanov later that week. Meanwhile, Raymond would be suspended from the school, Lustig said.

    “It was supposed to be a meeting where they would apologize to us,” says Raymond’s mother. “We got there expecting remorse and contrition, and it turned into a farce. They badmouthed Mendy and said he got what he deserved. I was in tears when they left.”
    When they asked Zalmanov about his behavior, he was blunt, according to Raymond’s mother: “For chutzpah [impudence], I patsh[smack].”

    This wasn’t the first time Zalmanov had allegedly harmed a student. Raymond’s older brother Nachum says he’s seen Zalmanov slap kids and even beat them up. “He was a known abuser,” says Mendy Alexander, a former Oholei Torah student, now a 25-year-old studying pre-med at Brooklyn College. “I’ve seen him hit kids multiple times.”

    At the close of that meeting, Raymond’s mother says, Lustig “seemed quite appalled.” But when she and her husband asked Lustig to transfer Raymond to another teacher’s class, the principal said there was no room for him. And neither Raymond’s teacher nor Zalmanov was ever disciplined.

    There was little the family could do. “It was traumatic,” Raymond’s mother says. “You feel helpless. You open up your mouth, and you get ostracized.”

    It was widely known that if you ratted out someone in the community for abuse, the community would turn its back on you. Gena Diacomanolis is the senior director of Safe Horizon’s Jane Barker Brooklyn Child Advocacy Center, where, over the past decade, she says, they have made tremendous strides in the Haredi communities. But the biggest barrier remains the pressure the community puts on individuals who want to come forward with stories of abuse.

    “I can tell you tons of stories where they were so fearful of going forward,” she says. “I had one dad who said his son was sexually abused at school.” He decided not to press charges, Diacomanolis recalls. “He said, ‘I don't want you to think I don't love my child, but if I go forward, I won't find a marriage for my daughter.’”

    Diacomanolis also says families are often harassed when they come forward. One client who charged her husband with abusing their child “left her house, and the whole block was papered with things saying terrible things about her.”

    One mother who found out her son had been sexually abused by a teacher at United Lubavitcher Yeshiva Ocean Parkway (another Hasidic school in Brooklyn) says when she complained to the yeshiva’s principal, she was shunned. “I got thrown out of the community,” she says. “You can’t imagine what was said to me. The phone calls I got. I was an outcast. I was threatened.”
    Eventually, she left Crown Heights and then the state—yet she still insists on anonymity for fear of retribution from the community. (The current principal of ULYOP, Moshe Leiblich says he brought in a whole new staff when he started working there 11 years ago. “We definitely do not condone those kinds of behaviors,” he says. “We have video cameras up in the rooms and take all measures. We are very careful.”)

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  42. Raymonds parents transferred him and his brothers out of Oholei Torah at the end of that school year. The authorities were never brought in, and Zalmanov, who was never charged with a crime, is still employed at Oholei Torah as a teacher’s assistant; he did not respond to Newsweek’s requests for comment. “This is the kind of thing where people pick up the phone and go to The New York
    Times or call the cops,” says Raymond’s mother. “But nothing happened to those teachers.”

    While sex abuse grabs all the headlines, experts say physical abuse is far more pervasive and has a similarly insidious and long-lasting impact on victims. And condoning a light tap on the wrist (as most ultra-Orthodox yeshivas do) can sometimes provide teachers a margin of safety to dole out much more violent penalties—which is why corporal punishment is illegal in New York public schools.

    However, there are no such restrictions in private schools (although, according to Rosenfeld, Oholei Torah has a “no corporal punishment rule”) and little motivation for them to change, unless there’s a very public scandal. “Catholic schools used to use a lot of corporal punishment too,” says David Finkelhor, head of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. “They’ve stopped, and I don’t think it was because they got convinced it wasn’t something they wanted to do.”

    Protecting the Predators

    Chabad has a global network of synagogues, schools and other facilities that is often used to shelter abusers on the run. When rumors of abuse begin to bubble up, teachers are shuttled from school to school, city to city—like Reizes, shipped from Brooklyn to Miami and then back. In March 2008, eight students accused Malka Leifer, principal of the Adass Israel school for girls in Elsternwick, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, of sexual abuse. Just days later, she hopped on a plane and fled to Israel. In September 2015, Australia’s Supreme Court awarded over $1 million in compensation to a 28-year-old abused by Leifer from 2003 to 2006.

    According to court documents, it was discovered during the course of the trial that there was a concerted effort by the community to protect Leifer: The school’s president at the time, Yitzhok Benedikt, and board member Mark Ernst played key roles in arranging her escape to Israel. The two men are facing criminal charges; Leifer was arrested in Israel last year and is now fighting extradition to Australia.

    In recent years, Australia has emerged as the country most willing to confront child abuse in the Hasidic world. In 2013, the government formed the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and in early 2015 it began a large investigation into the Hasidic community. Weeks of hearings led to a report detailing alleged abuses—and how yeshivas and rabbinical leadership cover up that abuse and systematically ostracize survivors and their families.

    Back in the U.S., in 2013, two days before Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year on the Jewish calendar, a 7-year-old boy came home from school seriously injured. “He was traumatized—he couldn’t speak,” says “Shmuel,” an adult family member who asked that Newsweek not print his name or that of anyone in his family. Eventually, the child told his parents the injury was caused by his teacher, Rabbi Velvel Karp, an Oholei Torah veteran.

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  43. Karp’s name came up constantly during Newsweek ’s conversations with former students, with stories dating back to the 1990s. Five young men said they witnessed him routinely hit students hard across the face and, as a way to scare them into submission, hang children by their shirt out an open window of his fourth-floor classroom—until the school moved him to a basement room. “I know personally of one kid that he hung out the window,” says former student Mendy Alexander. “He’s a friend of mine. He’s still under community pressure and doesn’t want to speak. But there were 28 students in the class, and everyone saw what happened. It’s not a secret.”

    “The guy was completely abusive,” says Mendy Pape, another former Oholei Torah student, now in his 20s. “When you walked into his classroom, children were afraid to move.”

    As their neighbors were preparing for the holiday, the child’s family took him to the doctor, where they say he was diagnosed with a concussion. “Karp lifted him in the air and tossed him into a glass door or window—we’re not sure,” says Shmuel. The following week, the family told the school what had happened. Karp soon paid a visit to the family and begged for forgiveness, according to Shmuel, and a week later the school moved the child out of Karp’s class. Meanwhile, the child’s mother “begged the school to transfer Karp to an administration job,” Shmuel says. “The school said they’d call her back, and they never did. That was two years ago.”

    Rumors reached the Brooklyn district attorney and were in turn passed along to a local detective who had been working the precinct. The detective investigated, despite the fact that there was no complainant. “No one wanted to cooperate,” says the detective, who is retired now and asked to remain anonymous to protect her post-retirement livelihood. Oholei Torah, on the other hand, wrote in an email that it cooperated fully with the investigation and that both the police and the district attorney’s office cleared Karp of any wrongdoing.

    The detective confirms that nothing indicating criminality was uncovered during the course of the investigation: “After conducting a thorough investigation, I had no basis to proceed. An extensive investigation was conducted, but no one wanted to talk.” Karp, who was never charged with or convicted of a crime, did not respond to Newsweek’s requests for comment.

    Shmuel says there’s a good reason the police investigation died: The child’s family “didn’t want to talk because they’re scared. [His mom] is afraid they’ll get kicked out of the school.” Others who know the family say they’ve been able to send their kids to Oholei Torah only with the help of scholarships and reduced tuition that they now fear losing.

    Oholei Torah, after all, is one of the most prestigious Chabad schools in Brooklyn. It has been praised by national luminaries like Joe Lieberman, the former U.S. senator from Connecticut, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. And it continues to have widespread support. On December 30, 2015, Oholei Torah launched a 24-hour crowdfunding campaign on Charidy.com, with the goal of raising $2 million, in honor of its 60th anniversary. The school blew by the target, reaching $2.7 million by day’s end.
    Knowing You Are Sick

    Despite all the physical, sexual and emotional abuse they have witnessed or endured, most of the former Hasidic yeshiva students Newsweek spoke to insist that what people outside their community really need to be alarmed about is the dismal education offered by these schools. They are angry that when they reached 18 and finally moved out of their parents’ home, they realized for the first time that they hadn’t been given the tools needed to navigate the real world. (The New York City Department of Education is investigating at least three dozen yeshivas to determine if they are providing adequate secular education.)

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  44. Perhaps this issue drives survivors because it is the one thing they can fix. After leaving the Orthodox world, many spend their early 20s regaining control of their lives and getting a real education. It’s preposterously difficult for them because they are so far behind, but some do it. They earn GEDs, go to community college and then become doctors, artists, businessmen and social justice advocates. They focus on the future—because their efforts to stop the predators have been futile.

    In New York, survivors of most cases of child molestation have five years after they turn 18 to get the district attorney to prosecute. (In cases of sexual misconduct, legal proceedings must begin within two years after the offense was committed, regardless of the child’s age at the time of the alleged crime.) Many child abuse experts say that window is not nearly big enough for young men just starting to understand what happened to them. It’s no surprise that most of the abuseNewsweek uncovered happened long ago—no 10-year-old has the wherewithal to talk to the press about his abusive teacher. It takes a 25-year-old who has finally received a proper education to understand what was done to him 15 years ago.

    For almost a decade, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, from Queens, has been trying to pass a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil cases of sex crimes against children. But she has faced fierce opposition from two political powerhouses: the New York State Catholic Conference and Agudath Israel of America.

    The Hasidic world is starting to take allegations of abuse more seriously, and many of the individuals who talked on the record with Newsweek for this story say they finally feel comfortable speaking publicly about their personal histories with abuse because of the community support that has emerged in recent years. Schneur Borenstein’s parents, for example, are prominent members of the Hasidic community of Poughkeepsie, New York, where his father is the rabbi of the local Chabad synagogue, and they say the Hasidic public has been fully on their side.

    There are also organizations like Jewish Community Watch punching holes in a formerly impenetrable wall. Though JCW has faced criticism for a lack of transparency on the process it uses to obtain confessions and the evidence used to determine who ends up on its “Wall of Shame,” the organization has never been sued for libel or defamation, and it has published a clear process on its website. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has praised JCW and given it an award for “exposing child predators” and “creating change in the tight-knit Hasidic community in Brooklyn.”

    JCW’s focus, it says, is to work with the community to improve transparency and protect children from abuse. “It is our sincere hope that the rebbe's institutions will follow [his] guidance by fostering openness and accountability,” a JCW spokesperson says.
    “If wrongdoing has occurred, it should not be covered up but rather exposed and dealt with immediately. The foundation of our mission is to protect children. This can only happen when leadership is open and honest. Transparency leads to the protection of our children.”

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  45. But others say that despite the lip service paid to cleaning up the Hasidic school system, nothing has changed. In 2015, Manny Waks, one of the key whistleblowers in the Australian royal commission inquiry, visited Crown Heights as part of an ABC television special. Chabad’s international leadership “rolled out the red carpet,” Waks says, even inviting him to meet with Rabbi Mendy Sharfstein, Chabad director of operations, to discuss ways to improve the community’s response to abuse allegations.

    Waks left the meeting feeling they had listened and were genuinely considering his proposals. However, in the months following, they went radio silent, ignoring his emails and calls. The meeting, Waks says, “was all smoke and mirrors. It was a PR exercise.”

    Consider the high-profile case of Sam Kellner, who took allegations of his son’s sexual abuse to the police in 2008 and worked with authorities to gather enough evidence to help convict Baruch Lebovits of child abuse in 2010. Lebovits was imprisoned and began to serve what was meant to be a sentence of 10 and a half to 32 years—until the conviction was overturned on appeal in 2012, on the basis of a prosecutorial error, and Lebovits was released.

    Meanwhile, in 2011, Kellner was indicted on charges of bribing a man to falsely testify against Lebovits in order to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Lebovits family. Those charges against Kellner were dropped in 2014 because the witnesses— members of the Lebovits family, as well as their friends and employees— “lacked credibility to such a degree that their testimony cannot be trusted,” according to Kevin O’Donnell, an assistant district attorney at the time. The key witness—the man supposedly bribed by Kellner—was found to have been paid off by Lebovits’s associate. At that point, in June 2014, Lebovits took a plea deal for two years. But because he had already served 13 months prior to his successful 2012 appeal, and thanks to a reduced sentence for good behavior, he was released in September 2014.

    Meanwhile, Kellner nearly lost everything, and the community turned him into a pariah. Almost every other member of the Hasidic community who has come forward with allegations of abuse has suffered a similar fate; when Chaim Levin accused his cousin of molesting him, he was publicly called a liar over and over. “I was the villain for ‘misleading’ the public,” Levin says. “From the age of 14, I was bounced around from yeshiva to yeshiva and was treated like a criminal because I had the audacity to speak up.”

    There were also dozens of additional stories of abuse Newsweek was unable to print because the victims could not give their names or corroborating evidence for fear of losing their homes, families and livelihoods. The reality is that before the community learns to trust victims and consider alleged abusers—even rabbis—with skepticism, there will be many more Chaim Levins, and many more Sam Kellners, Ozer Simons, Manny Vogels and Schneur Borensteins.

    “I’m very proud of Schneur,” says his mother, Hindy. “I am very proud that these things were not swept under the rug and were dealt with openly.” She prays that her family’s story will set an example for not only its community but also others around the world. “In Judaism,” she says, “we have an expression: Yediat machala, chetzi refuah—Knowing that you are sick is half the cure.”


  46. In Israel a new generation of ultra Orthodox Jews seek integration

    Young Haredim increasingly want to have it all: a religious lifestyle and community, together with the benefits of modernity and work

    BY ARON HELLER The Times of Israel March 20, 2016

    AP — A quiet revolution is arising inside the insular world of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — chipping away at the ghetto walls its leaders have erected to protect against what they see as the dangers of secularism. More and more, young ultra-Orthodox insist they can continue to lead pious lives while also embracing technology, the modern workplace and their fellow Israelis.

    Experts have long warned that Israel faces long-term economic ruin if its fastest growing sector, known as the Haredim, continues to reject the mainstream education system, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions, raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts and devote themselves almost entirely to their cloistered world of scripture and study.

    The current call for reform, however, is coming from within a community long resistant to outside pressures to change.

    Some are leaving ultra-Orthodoxy entirely — one in 10 is moving on to more moderate Judaism or secular life. But others like Avigdor Rabinovitch, a single, 25-year-old political science student at The Open University, are building a grassroots movement that strives to transcend a life of poverty and isolation, and to redefine what it means to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Israel.

    “It’s a new identity that I call ‘Israeli Haredim,'” said Rabinovitch, who organizes events for like-minded reformers. “We’re not trying to be like anyone else. We want to be ourselves but to open up to new worlds as well. We want to be involved and not just watch from the side.”

    After generations have shunned military service, more young Haredim are looking to improve their future job prospects by joining combat and intelligence units that have been set up for them. According to the military, some 2,300 enlisted during the last draft year, up from 288 in 2007. Far more are enrolling in higher education as well.

    Where only a third of Haredi males had jobs as recently as 2003, the employment rate for Haredi males has now passed the 50 percent mark, according to Gilad Malach, a researcher from the Israel Democracy Institute who specializes in the community. Haredi women have traditionally been the primary breadwinners, and their employment rates are close to 75 percent, he said.

    “I think it is a historic change,” Malach said. “In the past, in times of crisis, the Haredi world would deal by closing ranks and tightening the ghetto. But they realize that this just doesn’t work anymore — socially, culturally and financially.”

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  47. The Haredim — Hebrew for those who fear God — make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8.5 million residents. Many rabbis fear immersion in mainstream society will expose them to secularism and cut into the prayer and study. Leaders speak proudly of centuries-old traditions of learning that they believe have allowed the Jewish people to survive the Spanish Inquisition, European pogroms, the Holocaust and other tragedies. Study in Yeshiva seminaries, they say, is no less important than military strength in protecting the country from modern threats and no less valuable than advanced academic degrees.

    For decades, a string of secular-led Israeli governments have maintained the status quo, either because of their dependence on ultra-Orthodox political kingmakers or out of fear of an angry backlash from a sector that hasn’t hesitated to block roads, clash with police or send tens of thousands of activists into the streets when ordered by their rabbis. Efforts to force them into the army and workplace have generally failed.

    Menachem Eliezer Moses, a Haredi lawmaker, said that, as individuals, ultra-Orthodox men can appeal to their rabbis for approval for military service, university studies and greater integration. But citing an ancient proverb, he said that as a rule religious study will always take precedence.

    “Studying Torah is a goal unto itself,” he said. “You take an 18-year-old boy who has yet to fill himself with knowledge and transfer him to another entity — that is a problem.”

    But reform advocates say such extreme exclusion is a relatively new phenomenon that has only taken hold in Israel, harming the community and pushing observant Jews away. Their brethren in the diaspora typically work for a living and do commerce with non-Jews.

    “According to tradition, the ultra-Orthodox worked and we need to get back to that,” said Moshe Friedman, a co-founder of KamaTech, a nonprofit that focuses on Haredi integration into Israel’s booming high-tech industry. “The grassroots movement is ahead of the politicians on this but they will slowly catch up.”

    High-tech is one of the areas where Haredim have thrived most. Their intense, methodical study of ancient religious texts has proven oddly applicable to computer programming.

    Friedman, 37, has fielded more than 5,000 Haredi requests for assistance and he’s helped launch more than 220 Haredi-led startups. He comes from a long line of distinguished rabbis and was educated in the community’s most prestigious yeshivas. While some in his circle have been baffled by his career path, he said his lineage and the fact he has maintained a strict Haredi lifestyle has given his cause credibility.

    “They know I am not out to destroy the Haredi world but to help it by providing people employment,” Friedman said. “The main challenge is proving that you can do this and stay Haredi. If we can show that someone can go work at Google and stay Haredi, others will come.”

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  48. According to a recent survey of Israeli society large gaps remain between the priorities of the ultra-Orthodox and others. The Pew Research Center found Haredim to be far less likely than others to value career goals. Some 68 percent of Haredim said being successful in a high-paying career was important to them, compared to roughly 90 percent of all other groups.

    Employment, though, is a far easier sell than military service or education reform.

    Draft exemptions go back to Israel’s establishment in 1948, when the government allowed several hundred gifted students to pursue exclusive religious studies to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed in the Holocaust. As ultra-Orthodox parties became power brokers, the numbers mounted, with thousands of young religious men evading the draft to pursue seminary studies while most other Jewish men are conscripted for three years of mandatory service. The exemptions have caused widespread resentment toward the ultra-Orthodox. Those who have joined still often face harassment, derision and insults from their own community.

    The current government has rolled back legislation that aimed to gradually incorporate the ultra-Orthodox into the military.

    Many see education reform as the toughest hurdle. Because of their high birth rates, more than a quarter of all Israeli first-graders are Haredim who study in independent school systems that focus primarily on religion while barely teaching math, science or English. The result: Graduates go on to shun the work world and collect welfare to help raise large families in poverty.

    Betzalel Cohen is the Haredi principal of Jerusalem’s “Chachme Lev,” one of just a handful of new “Yeshiva high schools” that combine religious study with a secular education that prepares students for the nationwide matriculation exams. He said not all Haredi youths will grow up to become rabbinic prodigies and the high percentage of dropouts from traditional Yeshivas requires the community to find a proper framework that prepares them for life and the workforce.

    “It’s like sending everyone to medical school and saying all we need is doctors. All you will get is too many mediocre doctors and not enough jobs for them,” he said. “I really think the future of the Haredi community depends on what we are doing … I’m the biggest threat to the establishment because I am saying ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and I’m offering an alternative.”



    By Ron Csillag, Canadian Jewish News April 1, 2016

    Jews must put aside fear of shaming their community, their families and themselves, as well as perceived prohibitions of turning to secular authorities, to fight a growing wave of child sexual abuse, speakers told an audience at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation.

    Speakers addressing a packed sanctuary on March 31 made blunt, often harrowing assessments of childhood sexual abuse in Jewish communities, saying the problem is rampant and is too often ignored or denied outright.

    There was a large Orthodox contingent in attendance, and speakers stressed that Orthodox and chassidic communities offer much resistance to dealing with the sexual abuse of children. It is time to end the silence, they said.

    MC Benny Forer, a graduate of Ner Israel Yeshiva north of Toronto, and now a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles, recounted how his best friend had been sexually abused and killed himself on Yom Kippur in 1993.

    There is an “astonishing” amount of sexual abuse in Jewish circles, Forer said. “We have to stand up and say this is unacceptable.”

    The session was organized by Jewish Community Watch (JCW), a five-year-old New York-based group that raises awareness of child sexual abuse, exposes abusers, and offers programs, referrals and services for victims and their families.

    The organization gained recognition “throughout many Orthodox Jewish communities all over the world,” it states on its website. “The team has championed, through the backlash and resistance of a grandfather culture concerned more for the image of the community than the lives of the victims, to ensure that every Jewish victim of [abuse] has a place to be heard and to be validated.”

    Orthodox Jews must not allow halachic terms to cover their unwillingness to face up to the issue, said Rabbi Yosef Blau, a mashgiach ruchani (spiritual adviser) at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

    The term mesira, one who hands over a Jew to outside authorities and “is understood to describe a terrible individual, is misused,” Rabbi Blau said.

    There are also “important exceptions” to lashon hara (hateful speech), he added.

    “The Halachah indicates very clearly that [if] there is a danger to the community caused by the action of someone, and [that] the internal mechanism of the community cannot protect [it] from that individual without being permitted or obligated to utilize the secular authorities to ensure that people are protected,” Rabbi Blau said.

    “We can’t allow justifications and rationalizations to get in the way.”

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  50. If a school where an abuser has taught or a parent with knowledge of an abusive teacher does not pass along information about him, “each one of those bears responsibility for the abuse that’s going to follow,” Rabbi Blau said.

    Det.-Const. Joel Manherz of the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit’s Child Exploitation Section took the audience through the mechanics of laying a police complaint.

    Manherz is assigned to the case of Stephen Joseph Schacter, a former teacher at two Toronto-area Jewish day schools, who is facing several sex crime charges involving minors, based on witnesses having come forward.

    “Finding the courage to come forward doesn’t mean finding the fortitude to call police,” Manherz said. “It means being resolute in your actions and words. It means being prepared for the possibility that people may know you have come forward with the intention of making your community a better and safer place to live.”

    When it comes to giving evidence, “you are in control.”

    He said that under Canadian law, there is no statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes involving children, and that teachers and clergy may be prosecuted themselves for failing to report such actions.

    The evening also heard from the Orthodox father of a child who had been abused by his counsellor at a Jewish summer camp in New York state. The child came forward with the allegations three years after they happened, following bouts of depression and rebellious behaviour.

    The effect on families of abused children can be devastating, the father said. “We need to be better educated,” he said. “We cannot rely on anyone else.”

    In a stirring address, Meyer Seewald, who co-founded JCW with his brother Shneur in 2011, said the only way to combat child sexual abuse is first to admit it happens in the Jewish community.

    Despite “much opposition” from rabbis, Seewald, himself a survivor of sexual abuse, said he can “almost guarantee” that every rabbi knows of at least one case of abuse. Sexual abuse “is our dark little secret. It’s only a matter of time before it explodes in our face.”

    Statistics show that between one in three and one in five girls, and one in five and one in six boys are victimized by sexual abuse, Seewald noted, and the most common form is incest.

    JCW now has 12 full-time employees and spends up to $40,000 a month defraying the cost of therapy for victims.

    “We have a huge problem,” he said. “A day does not go by that I am not personally contacted by a victim.”

    But, “we will find you and you will be exposed,” he pledged to abusers, “and that goes for those covering up the abuse.”

    To applause and cheers, he said the previous administration at Toronto’s Eitz Chaim Schools, where Schacter once taught, should be held accountable for his actions.


  51. FBI raids of Hasidic Kiryas Joel part of sex abuse probe

    Child abuse investigation said to stem from 2 videos in which a yeshiva principal intimately touches two young boys

    The Times of Israel, May 13, 2016

    NEW YORK (JTA) — FBI raids in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel are reportedly part of a child abuse investigation stemming from two recently released videos in which a yeshiva principal intimately touches two young boys.

    The Journal News reported Friday that an unidentified law enforcement source said Thursday’s raids, targeting the United Talmudical Academy and the town’s public safety building, were investigating abuse allegations.

    Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York, is an almost exclusively Hasidic community, with the majority of its residents part of a branch of the Satmar sect.

    In a separate development, the leader of the Kiryas Joel Satmar, Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, recently spoke out against a bill proposed earlier this month in the New York State Assembly that would give regulators new tools to enforce laws requiring religious schools to teach secular subjects.

    Activists have recently pressed for greater enforcement, saying that inadequate secular education at some Hasidic schools makes it all but impossible for students to find jobs and support themselves as adults.

    The Forward reported Thursday that Teitelbaum, in a Yiddish speech widely circulated on social media, claimed that enactment of the bill would destroy New York’s yeshivas.
    “We should pray every day that these evil doers should not lay their hands on the Jewish children here in America,” Teitelbaum said, according to the Forward.

    The FBI has not made public the reasons for Thursday’s raids in Kiryas Joel, although there had been widespread speculation that it was related to the videos of the 67-year-old principal at United Talmudical Academy kissing and touching two young boys.

    In March, the FBI raided the village in an apparent investigation of potentially fraudulent use of the federal government’s E-rate program, which funds the purchase of technology equipment and Internet service by schools and libraries. A separate raid in March, in the Satmar community of Brooklyn, reportedly was over potentially fraudulent use of the federal government’s school lunch program.

    The Journal News reported that FBI agents spent approximately four hours at each location it raided Thursday, leaving with boxes of documents and equipment.

    The videos of the principal were reportedly taken several months ago using a ceiling camera hidden in his office. It is not clear who hid the camera and leaked the videos. According to The Journal News, the Satmar school’s board of directors issued a statement Tuesday defending the principal.

    “While this type of restraint may be unacceptable to some viewers, it in no way rises to the level of a criminal assault,” the statement said.

    The village of Kiryas Joel issued a statement Thursday saying officials there had “fully cooperated” with law enforcement officials while they were “onsite” at the public safety building, The Journal News reported.


  52. Siege Mentality Grows in Hasidic Kiryas Joel as Corruption and Sex Probes Loom

    by Uriel Heilman, Forward May 18, 2016

    (JTA) — Even before FBI investigators descended last week on the Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, there was a growing sense in this insular community that it and its unique way of life were under attack.

    Two months earlier, the FBI had been in the village investigating alleged fraud of a government program, and community leaders also have been facing a mounting campaign by dissidents to increase state oversight of yeshiva curricula.

    “We need to know what kind of danger we’re in,” the Satmar rebbe in Kiryas Joel, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, said in a widely publicized May 4 speech about the threat of closer state supervision of yeshiva curricula. “These are bad times for us Jews, terrible. We need to pray to God that they should not interfere with the upbringing of our children.”

    In last week’s FBI raid, investigators confiscated computer equipment and boxes of documents from the village’s Department of Public Safety and its main yeshiva, United Talmudical Academy. An unnamed law enforcement source interviewed by a local newspaper, the Journal News, said the raid was related to the publication on social media two weeks ago of a leaked hidden-camera video that appeared to show a principal of the yeshiva kissing and grasping young boys in his office. Some 6,000 students are enrolled in the school.

    Publication of the video, which generated a firestorm in Orthodox circles, came the same week that a New York State legislator, Ellen Jaffee, introduced a bill that would bring better enforcement of state rules that require non-public schools, including yeshivas, to ensure they are providing education that is “substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools. Yeshivas like those in Kiryas Joel, located about an hour north of Manhattan in New York’s Orange County, long have flouted state standards on secular subjects, foregoing even basic subjects like English and math in upper grades.

    For a long time, Teitelbaum said in his speech, there’s been an implicit understanding between state authorities and the leadership of Hasidic communities like Kiryas Joel that the state wouldn’t interfere in communal affairs.

    But that implicit agreement may be breaking down as it becomes more difficult for authorities to ignore abuses – sexual, educational or financial – allegedly taking place within these closed communities. The prospect of outside interference threatens one of Kiryas Joel’s raisons d’etre: Hasidic control of the community’s affairs.

    “Until now there were also strict laws, but because we live in a kingdom of benevolence [a reference to government authorities] to put it bluntly they simply turned a blind eye to what’s going on by the Jewish children,” Teitelbaum said in his speech, which was delivered in Yiddish and then translated into English for widespread dissemination. “They didn’t want to look, the benevolent kingdom. Now, too, they’d continue doing that, the government would have continued, they’re happy not to look and not to know. But these worthless people are stirring up in various ways and are demanding in court, forcing the government that they should take a stance.”

    The newfound scrutiny is being pushed largely by dissidents, in some cases ex-Hasidim, who say they are acting in the best interests of the community – whether to protect children from sexual abusers or to give them the basic educational skills necessary to succeed in life.

    “I’ve been to those yeshivas, I know exactly what the effects are,” said Naftuli Moster, executive director of Yaffed, an organization he founded that lobbies lawmakers to force Orthodox yeshivas to offer quality secular studies in addition to Torah studies.

    “You’re not gaining anything by depriving people of an education.

    continued below

  53. "The very Satmar rabbi that made that speech also encourages people to earn a living, to his credit, but at the same time he’s the one who has jurisdiction over the yeshivas that are depriving Hasidim of the very tools necessary to earn that living,” Moster told JTA. “So what do people end up doing? Oftentimes they resort to criminal activity and other shenanigans to earn that living.”

    Two months ago, FBI investigators were in Kiryas Joel, nearby Rockland County and Brooklyn investigating alleged fraud by Hasidic institutions in the federal government’s E-rate program, which funds the purchase of technology equipment and internet service by schools and libraries. Authorities reportedly are looking into whether the yeshivas actually spent the money they obtained from the federal government for technology in the schools.

    The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community. (Uriel Heilman) The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community. (Uriel Heilman) Adding to the pressure, on Tuesday, the New York Daily News and WNYC public radio published and broadcast a joint investigative story scrutinizing the outsized number of low-income, Section 8 housing vouchers that have gone to the Hasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn – a Satmar neighborhood with close ties to Kiryas Joel.

    The WNYC story attributed the voucher aberration to Hasidic “self-dealing that’s impenetrable to outsiders” and cited lawsuits arguing that the Hasidim obtain housing vouchers through unfair or unlawful means. The story also noted that Hasidim are taking the vouchers with them to places outside the city, like Kiryas Joel.

    This perfect storm of scrutiny has community leaders on edge. In his speech, Teitelbaum expressed fury that fellow Jews are the source of much of the pressure.

    “Due to our many sins, it’s very painful to talk about it, there stood up several worthless people from our own who have studied in Hasidic yeshivas, and sadly they arrived I don’t want to say where. They decided to wage war against the whole ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of New York,” the rebbe said. “They went and snitched to the governments of New York City and New York State with complaints that the students of the yeshivas, of all yeshivas (elementary and middle school) are not learning enough general studies as required by law.”

    Yaffed’s Moster is a Brooklyn native who grew up in Hasidic institutions. The sex abuse video presumably was recorded by an insider at United Talmudical Academy and was posted on Facebook by Boorey Deutsch, an Orthodox activist against sex abuse in the community. The alleged E-rate fraud was the subject of investigative stories in 2013 by the New York Jewish Week and the Forward.

    Joseph Waldman, a longtime Kiryas Joel community leader who heads a local welfare organization, said the unprecedented assault on the Hasidic community stems from local non-Jews’ fear of its rapid growth – just as the biblical Egyptians feared the rapid growth of the Israelites in Moses’ time.

    “That’s the reason they were trying to make the trouble for the Jews in Egypt: The first thing they were afraid was the Jewish families growing so rapidly,” Waldman told JTA. “Here, they are fearful that they’re going to be overwhelmed either by the growth of the environment or by political clout through the bloc votes.”

    “They want to stop the community from growing,” he said. “That’s the reason for all the problems.”


  54. Why Do Jewish Leaders Keep Ignoring Ultra-Orthodox Education Crisis?

    by Seth Kaplan and Naftuli Moster, FORWARD May 25, 2016

    The New York State Legislature is currently considering two bills, one introduced by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee in early May , the other by Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski in January , to strengthen existing legislation requiring nonpublic schools to meet the state’s minimum education standards.
    But Jewish leaders and groups who are usually very vocal on issues that directly affect the community’s wellbeing are staying silent, possibly because they fear a backlash from the Haredi groups that oppose the legislation. This inaction threatens the bills’ future, and could, in time, have severe consequences for the community as a whole.

    Although the American Jewish community is well known for its educational achievements, philanthropy and investments in communal organizations and services, it has mysteriously allowed a significant portion of its own community to grow up undereducated, without the skills to earn a basic living. Why?

    Jewish elites and organizations in the United States have long worried about demographics. Intermarriage, assimilation and low birthrates may do what centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution have not: threaten the community’s survival. As such, leaders repeatedly express concern over how to reverse the tide — how to reach out to those unaffiliated with Jewish institutions and how to inspire strong Jewish identity in a country so full of equality, acceptance and material comfort. And yet, in the meantime, another challenge has gone unnoticed or ignored: the education of what will become the majority of the community in a couple of generations.

    The growing assimilation and shrinking numbers of secular American Jewry have been accompanied by the immense growth of the Orthodox population , especially the Hasidim, who have higher birth rates, lower intermarriage rates and little assimilation. Data from the Pew Research Center show that as of 2013, 10% of American Jews identify as Orthodox, including 6% who belong to ultra-Orthodox groups. This population is on a rapidly rising trajectory. The Pew data also show that over a quarter of American Jews under the age of 18 live in Orthodox households . According to a 2011 UJA-Federation of New York study, almost two-fifths of all Jewish children in New York City are Hasidic .

    Many youth in this community, especially the Hasidim, are ill prepared for employment and likely to struggle with poverty. The problem is most acute among boys, because they receive less secular education than girls. On average, Hasidic boys receive only 90 minutes of instruction in English and math four days a week, until the age of 13. After 13 they receive no secular education at all, because they focus on Judaic studies for as many as 14 hours a day. As a result, these students can be well educated in religious studies but unprepared to find jobs in the workforce. They often do not even speak proper English because of their lack of exposure to it (Yiddish predominates within the community). While students finish the equivalent of high school, few have gained enough secular knowledge to pass state exams, which they don’t usually take.

    continued below

  55. Hasidic leaders have long resisted any change to this regime, because they fear greater exposure to the world. Yet, Jewish teaching is clear on the need for every adult to work. As the medieval sage Maimonides warns: “All Torah that is not accompanied by work will eventually be negated and lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others.” The marked growth of a Haredi community in which students lack basic work skills will mean that within about two generations, a significant portion of the Jewish population — maybe even a third or more — will be unable to earn a decent living, unable to contribute financially or practically to Jewish institutions, and unable to partake in American life as ordinary citizens. The poverty rate will be higher than anytime since the middle of the 20th century; studies commissioned by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and the UJA-Federation of New York already show a rising proportion dating back to at least the 1970s. A significant and growing factor in this upward movement is the fact that a remarkable three-fifths of Hasidic households in the New York City area are poor or near poor.

    Major Jewish leaders and organizations should prioritize opportunities for Haredim — especially the Hasidic — to learn English and gain work skills. This means investing in the community’s primary and secondary schools and lobbying for change. Practical steps could include subsidizing secular teachers, upgrading facilities and setting aside more time for math, science and language. Leaders should press politicians to enforce state laws on the minimum standards required of primary and secondary schools. New programs could help students apply to college after studying in yeshivas, or provide trade skills in a dedicated facility that allows them to maintain their current lifestyles.

    The Haredi lifestyle and religious observance must be respected. These Jews are carrying on a long tradition, living lives with much to admire, and staying firm in their beliefs. The growth of the community is a real blessing; it will help ensure that the American Jewish Diaspora continues to be relevant in the face of demographic changes elsewhere. But their continued vitality requires the skills to earn their keep, so that these children do not grow up to depend on the state or on the rest of the community for handouts.

    Seth Kaplan, a professorial lecturer at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, sits on the board of Yaffed, an organization dedicated to improving the education opportunities for Haredim. Naftuli Moster is the executive director of Yaffed.


  56. Illegal Hasidic school targeted in youth protection raid

    Raid comes as representatives from Batshaw youth services seek access to school

    CBC News June 01, 2016

    An illegal school in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough was the target of a youth protection operation on Wednesday, led by Batshaw Youth and Family Centres with the help of the Montreal police.

    The school is operated by the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, and it's suspected of operating without an Education Ministry permit.

    About 60 students attend the school, a three-storey brick building featuring a storefront with covered windows on Parc Avenue at the corner of Beaubien Street.

    There was a heavy police presence at the school on Wednesday.

    Dozens of Hasidic boys were seen exiting the school, using their hats to cover their faces.

    Earlier, police escorted a group of a dozen women out of the school and to their cars. Some of them were holding folders, but neither they nor police would confirm if they were teachers in the school.

    Negotiations for access to school

    Youth protection officials had been attempting to arrange a visit to the school to assess the children and came with police Wednesday to gain access.

    Officials from the school says they had been in negotiations with Batshaw about scheduling that visit when the raid occurred.

    A community spokesperson told CBC the school never refused access to youth protection officials, but could not say how long those negotiations had been going on.

    Claire Roy, a spokeswoman for CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal – the regional health and social services agency under which Batshaw falls – would not comment about the nature of the operation, citing the restrictions in Quebec's Youth Protection Act.

    Police also would not comment.

    Education Minister Sébastien Proulx would only say he is "aware of the raid," while a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said there isn't a registered school at the location.

    Debate over religious accommodation

    Montreal's Hasidic population is situated mostly in nearby Mile End and in Outremont.

    Schools in the tight-knit religious community have come under increased scrutiny for failing to comply with Education Ministry requirements.

    The community has also occasionally been the target of municipal bylaws and a focal point in the province's debate over religious accommodation.

    On Monday, Outremont's borough council moved ahead with a controversial bylaw that would ban the establishment of new places of worship, including synagogues, on two main thoroughfares.

    The raid comes a day after a report from Radio-Canada about an illegal Hasidic school in Outremont, Beth Esther Academy.

    In the report, the all-girls school showed how it was attempting to comply with provincial law by meeting the requirements for home-schooled children.


  57. Illegal Hasidic school targeted in youth protection raid

    Raid comes as representatives from Batshaw youth services seek access to school

    CBC News June 01, 2016

    An illegal school in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough was the target of a youth protection operation on Wednesday, led by Batshaw Youth and Family Centres with the help of the Montreal police.

    The school is operated by the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, and it's suspected of operating without an Education Ministry permit.

    About 60 students attend the school, a three-storey brick building featuring a storefront with covered windows on Parc Avenue at the corner of Beaubien Street.

    There was a heavy police presence at the school on Wednesday.

    Dozens of Hasidic boys were seen exiting the school, using their hats to cover their faces.

    Earlier, police escorted a group of a dozen women out of the school and to their cars. Some of them were holding folders, but neither they nor police would confirm if they were teachers in the school.

    Negotiations for access to school

    Youth protection officials had been attempting to arrange a visit to the school to assess the children and came with police Wednesday to gain access.

    Officials from the school says they had been in negotiations with Batshaw about scheduling that visit when the raid occurred.

    A community spokesperson told CBC the school never refused access to youth protection officials, but could not say how long those negotiations had been going on.

    Claire Roy, a spokeswoman for CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal – the regional health and social services agency under which Batshaw falls – would not comment about the nature of the operation, citing the restrictions in Quebec's Youth Protection Act.

    Police also would not comment.

    Education Minister Sébastien Proulx would only say he is "aware of the raid," while a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said there isn't a registered school at the location.

    Debate over religious accommodation

    Montreal's Hasidic population is situated mostly in nearby Mile End and in Outremont.

    Schools in the tight-knit religious community have come under increased scrutiny for failing to comply with Education Ministry requirements.

    The community has also occasionally been the target of municipal bylaws and a focal point in the province's debate over religious accommodation.

    On Monday, Outremont's borough council moved ahead with a controversial bylaw that would ban the establishment of new places of worship, including synagogues, on two main thoroughfares.

    The raid comes a day after a report from Radio-Canada about an illegal Hasidic school in Outremont, Beth Esther Academy.

    In the report, the all-girls school showed how it was attempting to comply with provincial law by meeting the requirements for home-schooled children.



    By Janice Arnold, Canadian Jewish News Staff Reporter June 2, 2016

    MONTREAL – Spokespeople for the chassidic community say a June 1 intervention by the Youth Protection Department (YPD), accompanied by police, at a school suspected of operating without a government permit was unnecessary and excessive.

    During the school day, about a dozen social workers from Batshaw Youth and Family Centres – apparently unannounced – came to the boys school, located in a commercial building at 6355 Park Ave. When they were refused entry, the police were called, according to reports.

    The YPD has not made public why it took the action, citing confidentiality, but the education ministry confirmed that it has issued no permit for a school at that address.

    “This was really overkill,” said Alex Werzberger, head of the Coalition of Outremont Chassidic Organization. “If you want to use a stronger word: terrorism.”

    He said there were maybe 30 police on the scene, and the approximately 60 elementary age students were in “lockdown” for hours, “traumatizing” them. “It looked like a drug raid,” he said.

    Werzberger said the school is affiliated with the Vishnitzer community and was established last year.

    Although the YPD was involved, there are no allegations of abuse. It is the role of the YPD to make inquiries on behalf of the education department when students are to be interviewed.

    Hershber Hirsch, a school board member, told the media the intervention was an unpleasant surprise because the school, which he did not name, had been in talks with the YPD about scheduling a visit.

    On the advice of its lawyers, the school has decided to fully co-operate with the YPD’s continuing inquiry over the coming weeks, he said.

    Other chassidic and haredi schools are also under the scrutiny of the education department for not complying with law, notably for failing to teach the mandatory curriculum and having unqualified teachers, but Werzberger said this is the first time an operation like this has occurred.

    These schools have been under investigation by the government for at least a decade, and successive education ministers have tried to work with them to achieve compliance.

    With intense coverage in the French-language media of these “illegal” schools, the Liberal government has been under pressure from the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec to act.

    Pierre Lacerte, an Outremont resident who for many years has drawn attention to alleged violations of the law by Chassidim, told the Journal de Montréal that he notified the police about the existence of this Park Avenue “clandestine” school in April 2015.

    continued below

  59. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CIJA which has not publicly been involved in this issue, issued a statement in the name of Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko.

    “It is our understanding that the school in question is operating without a Ministry of Education permit and that this operation was in full compliance with the Quebec Youth Protection Act. We are confident that there are measures in place that ensure that the welfare of the children is the foremost priority.”

    It continues: “CIJA-Quebec believes that every child should have access to an education in line with the ministry’s requirements. Indeed, all schools affiliated with the organized Jewish community respect and fully comply with the requirements and curriculum established by the Ministry of Education.”

    This is a reference to the Association of Jewish Day Schools, a Federation CJA agency. The schools in the education ministry’s sights are not members.

    Asked by The CJN for comment, D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, a parliamentary assistant to the education minister, emailed: “This matter is now in the hands of police and youth protection services. The concern we all share is for the health and welfare of the children concerned. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make any further comment at this point.”

    It is not only the government that’s challenging the way these schools operate. Two former students of schools in the Tasher community in Boisbriand, north of Montreal, have launched a lawsuit against them.

    A couple in their 30s who left Tash in 2010, Yohanon and Shifra Lowen, are suing the Quebec government, the Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Milles-Îles and those responsible for the schools they attended.

    They say their right to an adequate education was violated because they received virtually no secular instruction.

    Some schools in Montreal are trying to comply with the law – at least up to a point that does not compromise religious beliefs – and change is taking place.

    This school year, for example, a Satmar boys school, Yeshiva Toras Moshe, is participating in a homeschooling pilot project, proposed by the education ministry in an out-of-court settlement that averted the school’s closure.

    The students continue to attend the school during the day, where they receive mostly religious instruction. Under the supervision of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), they are homeschooled by their parents in the mandatory subjects.

    A similar program is being discussed for the Satmar girls’ school, Beth Esther Academy. That school had its permit revoked in 2012, but continues to operate at the behest of Education Minister Sébastien Proulx, who is willing to give the school more time to conform to the law.


  60. Hasidic school raid puts spotlight on conundrum facing Education Ministry

    Illegal school among those in ultra-Orthodox community working to comply with provincial law, rabbi says

    By Benjamin Shingler, CBC News June 05, 2016

    Each morning, an untold number of children in Montreal's Hasidic community set off for schools that don't follow the province's curriculum and aren't recognized by Quebec's Education Ministry.

    The Quebec government has been trying quietly to deal with the issue for years, engaging in negotiations with non-conforming schools in an attempt to find solutions.

    But a raid this week on a school in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie operating without a ministry permit thrust the problem back into the spotlight and renewed questions about how to balance religious and personal freedoms, the rights of the child and the role of education.

    On Wednesday, Montreal police officers accompanied officials from the agency charged with youth protection in English Montreal, Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, when they descended on the school – a nondescript building on Parc Avenue at Beaubien Street.

    About a dozen women and about 60 male students, most of them of elementary-school age, along with some adolescents, were escorted from the premises.

    Raid described as 'overkill'

    Alex Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations, described the raid as "overkill."

    In an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Werzberger said the school is working to adapt to the province's requirements, either through home-schooling or additional tutoring.

    "This is a very new school, and they're working on it," he said. "They're not saying no."

    No one from the school nor its board could be reached for comment on Friday.

    Hershber Hirsch, a member of the school's board, said earlier this week the school will "continue to co-operate" with the Education Ministry.

    "We are certainly not very happy with the trauma caused to the kids, which was not in any way necessary given our co-operation with the [youth services] up until now," he said.

    Home-schooling as compromise?

    Radio-Canada recently profiled another school, Outremont's Beth Esther Academy, attempting to comply with provincial law by meeting the requirements through home-schooling.

    Only two people on the staff, however, had the qualifications to be teaching in the school, and there was no science equipment inside.

    As well, the English Montreal School Board signed a home-schooling contract with each of 236 parents from the Yeshivas Torah Moshe community in Outremont last fall, EMSB spokesman Mike Cohen said in an email.

    "This is our only arrangement so far," he said.

    "We are certainly open to talk with the Education Ministry anytime if they wish to arrange for additional home-schooling students."

    continued below

  61. Non-certified schools an exception

    In the aftermath of the raids, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a local advocacy group, has taken pains to stress that the majority of Montreal's Jewish schools meet the provincial requirements.

    "There are over 20 schools in Montreal as part of the Jewish community, none of which, by the way, would be described as secular," said Reuben Poupko, the organization's co-chair and a rabbi at Beth Israel Beth Aaron in Côte St-Luc.

    'The idea that this institution represents the kind of threat that would necessitate that intervention is a little out of whack.'- Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs
    "All of them are religious to one extent or another, and they all conform, even the Hasidic schools, conform to Quebec curriculum."

    "The community that I represent believes that all schools should be in conformity with Quebec law and Quebec curriculum," he said.

    Poupko added, however, that while "the law on the books makes sense, obviously, the idea that this institution represents the kind of threat that would necessitate that intervention is a little out of whack."

    "These kids are in school all day, no one is in the streets, there's no history or record of delinquency, and these are kids who spend their whole day studying in a very serious way," he said.

    He added that he's hopeful the school becomes "compliant with Quebec curriculum."

    Proulx wants new regulations

    It's unclear how many Hasidic schools currently don't conform with provincial requirements.

    Education Minister Sébastien Proulx acknowledged it's difficult to keep track since the schools aren't registered, and some of the children don't have a provincial permanent code.

    Proulx said he wants to introduce new regulations to make sure children don't fall through the cracks of the education system.

    The province has previously been the target of legal action froma former member of Boisbriand's Hasidic community, who argued it didn't do enough to ensure he received a proper education.

    "I hope that as a society we will be able to intervene more easily. I want us to be able to have a communication with communities," Proulx said.

    with files from Daybreak and Canadian Press