Friday, June 26, 2009

The heck with the rabbis - Protect our kids

By now, unless you live in a cave you know about the raging sex abuse scandal in the Orthodox community. Our children are molested in yeshivot, which hush up the incidents and all too often allow the guilty teachers to continue teaching. Victims and their families are intimidated from reporting the crimes to authorities; they fear social ostracism and worse. The few that come forward find that justice is elusive. Perpetrators get off with a slap on the wrist that neither deters future evildoers nor encourages other victims to come forward. Victims are left with no recourse other than street justice. They are scarred for life; understandably, many leave the Orthodox community. Often they cannot come to terms with what happened to them, and do not report the crimes until much later in life. New York has a five-year statute of limitations (five years after the crime or after the victim turns 18, whichever is later), so victims of this horrible crime often are shut out of the justice system.

A bill that would partially remedy this situation, known as the Markey bill, is making its way through the New York legislature. Since New York has the country's largest concentration of Orthodox Jews and yeshivot, what happens here will have a far-reaching effect on our community and our children's well-being. The bill would extend the statute of limitations to ten years, and open a one-year "window" for victims up to age 53 to bring civil suits and/or criminal charges against alleged perpetrators no matter when the crime allegedly occurred. It would apply to public as well as private schools, even though there is little need for it in public schools. Students and families there are not bashful about bringing complaints (indeed, students often get rid, at least temporarily, of teachers they don't like by making false charges of abuse) and teachers are mandated reporters; if they hear of or suspect molestations, they must report it or face losing their jobs. I know; I teach in public school.

The bill is opposed by outfits like Agudat Yisrael and Torah U'Mesorah. One would think that their top priority would be to protect yeshiva children, but instead they are acting as a trade association for criminal rabbis and teachers, protecting them from embarrassment and denying justice to their victims. Contrast this to my own "trade association," the United Federation of Teachers, which is committed to removing child-molesting teachers from the classroom, after due process to be sure. The "religious" groups claim that the bill would allow actions against yeshivot and teachers for incidents that took place long ago, when the institutions might have been under different management, and that hefty judgments might cause those institutions to go bankrupt and shut down. To counter this, and to allay complaints that private schools were being singled out, the age limit was inserted and the bill was extended to cover public as well as private institutions. Nevertheless, Agudat Yisrael and Torah U'meorah remain opposed and enjoy substantial political clout.

Their fears are largely unfounded. Plaintiffs and prosecutors still need to prove their cases. As a judge told us several times when I was serving on a jury, "The people [prosecution] have the entire burden of proof; it never shifts to the defendant." The older a case is, the more likely it is that memories become stale, witnesses die or move away and cannot be reached, or physical evidence deteriorates or simply disappears. An alleged victim's say-so is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is doubtful that even Adolf Eichmann would be convicted if he were brought to trial today. Yeshivot carry liability insurance, and when a yeshiva's management changes its lawyers see that the new administration cannot be held liable for the misdeeds of the old. The only yeshiva I know of whose existence might be threatened by the Markey bill if it becomes law is Torah Temeiah in Brooklyn, also known as Torah Temimah. There, a known child abuser, "Rabbi" Yehuda Kolko, was protected for some 40 years by a principal, Moron Rasha Hayeshiva Lipa Margulies, who remains at the helm of the yeshiva. Even after Kolko's crimes became public knowledge, "Rabbi" Margulies kept him on payroll until a public outcry forced his hand. Incidentally, this thoroughly evil and contemptible man was recruited by his rabbinical colleagues to sign onto their infamous concert ban. Kolko was arrested and allowed to plead guilty to a relatively minor misdemeanor charge. He still lives in our community and does not even have to register as a sex offender. How any parent can send a child to Torah Temeiah knowing these facts is beyond me. If lawsuits force it to shut down, so be it; such a yeshiva does not deserve to exist.

The Orthodox establishment's opposition to the bill is just one more instance where our authority figures show that they are about money and power, not about Torah. They care more for the "good name" of themselves and their yeshivot than about our children. It is time for us to tell them what to do and where to go. The Markey bill was passed by the Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Along with much other urgent public business, it is being held up by the shenanigans in the New York State Senate, itself an outrage but that's another tale. When the politicians decide to desist from their own vainglory and do the job we elected them to do, it is incumbent on us to contact them and tell them in no uncertain terms that we expect them to pass the Markey bill with no further weakening, never mind the Orthodox establishment. It is also incumbent on us to let prosecutors, particularly Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, know that we expect them to get tough on child molesters, no matter their faith and/or connections, when there are victims and families willing to testify, and that we will hold them accountable at the polls if they do not.

Since the Orthodox establishment and yeshiva administrators are unable or unwilling to protect our children, we as parents must teach them to protect themselves. It goes something like this:

No one but a medical professional has a right to touch your body in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. No one but a medical professional (assuming an older child out of diapers) has a right to touch you at all on parts of your body covered by a bathing suit. If a rebbe, teacher or anybody else tries to touch you, or tells you to touch him, in such a manner, leave immediately. Kick the offender in the groin if you have to, but leave the building. Get to a pay phone (or use your cell phone), call the police and call us. Then come home immediately unless the police tell you otherwise. Do not wash any part of your body; you might be destroying evidence. We, Mommy and Daddy, will see to it that So-and-so never hurts you or any kid again. You will not have to set foot in that building until So-and-so is gone. If we have to, we will find another school for you. And then make certain that your children understand.

It is sad that things have come to such a pass in our community. When I was a child I and my friends did not have to worry about such things. If we can change the community mindset to one in which our children's well-being has priority over the image of yeshivot and those who run them, then maybe our grandchildren will not have to worry about such things.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tel Aviv in Central Park

This Sunday, June 21, being Father's Day, Manhattan's Central Park will host our annual Father's Day five-mile race to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research. It is also the day of the summer solstice and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the longest day of the year. May our lives be filled with bright sunshine, literally and figuratively.
After the race and close to the finish (I doubt if it was planned that way but it's beautiful) Tel-Aviv will be holding a beach party (complete with trucked-in sand) to celebrate its centennial. It runs from 11 AM to 6 PM and will feature live music, backgammon, matkot (Israeli paddleball) and other Israeli beach fare. There will be (ssssh) mixed seating, so you can bring/meet a member of the opposite sex. Come and experience life as it was when we were normal, without the crazy rabbis telling us what to do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hit like a Jew hits

Today is Kaf Sivan, little noticed now but a fast day in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe to commemmorate the massacres of 1648-49 in what is now eastern Poland and western Ukraine. That region always was rife with violent Jew hatred. Many Poles and Ukrainians eagerly collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews, and even after the war there was a pogrom in Kielce where over 40 returning Jews were murdered.
Under the Soviets street violence between Ukrainians and Jews was common, but a heartwarming story came out when Jews started leaving for Israel after the Six Day War. When Ukrainians would attack a Jew on the street, onlookers would cheer the Ukrainians to "beat the Jew." After the Six Day War, when two Ukrainian boys got into a fight onlookers would exhort one or the other to "hit like a Jew hits." The two sound more similar in Ukrainian than in English.

What a difference 300 years makes!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Israel Parade

Last week I attended New York's annual Salute to Israel Parade, as I have almost every year since 1967. It went off without a hitch and the weather was perfect. Last year some groups stepped off two hours late and marchers and spectators alike were annoyed with the delays. This time the organizers hired a professional "event manager" and everything was on time - no mean feat for a Jewish function!
My first time at the parade was with Yeshivah of Flatbush as a student, in the tense atmosphere immediately preceding the Six Day War. In the following years I would march with either Yeshivah of Flatbush or Bnei Akiva. Then I marshalled for a few years when the parade was put on by the American Zionist Youth Foundation. Now an "old man," I watch from the sidelines.

As they have for the past several years, the idiotic traitors of Neturei Karta picketed the parade along with their Arab masters and assorted leftists.

"Black" bastards giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Can't you vomit?

Luckily for her and the Neturei Karta traitors, they were protected by a phalanx of New York City police.

The thousands of happy marchers paid little heed to these haters. This year being the centennial of Tel Aviv, many schools marched with banners heralding that milestone, and many floats celebrated it.

"Tel Aviv Green and Clean"

They say the Conservative and Reform movements are dying. Someone forgot to tell these high-spirited kids from Solomon Schechter of Bergen County. Many contingents from the Conservative Solomon Schechter schools marched with pride.

My son's alma mater was one of the few Brooklyn yeshivot participating.

To those who question our spirit, our perseverance and our commitment to Israel:


Labels: , , , ,