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Jewish Journal

Sexual abuse plagues Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 6, 2009 | 1:52 pm

In February, I mentioned a report from NPR about sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s hasidic community. Yesterday ABC News followed up on the story about what Joel Engelman and Tamir Weissberg said happened to them as young Orthodox Jews.

The parallel themes between abuse in the Orthodox world and that which plagued Catholic communities are striking, particularly the code of silence brought on by either shame, fear of the abuser or a misplaced fear of God.

From ABC News:

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which last month announced a hotline for alleged Orthodox sex abuse victims, says it has 19 active cases of alleged sex abuse in the borough’s Orthodox Jewish community. And advocates say the problem extends beyond Brooklyn.

“If you’re a pedophile, just go to one of the orthodox communities. You’re probably safest there,” said New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, himself an Orthodox Jew. “It’s sad for me to say that, but it’s true.”

When Hikind broached the subject of sexual abuse on his weekly radio show last year, he said he was “inundated” with calls from alleged victims from the United States, Israel and parts of Europe.

ABC News has spoken to Orthodox Jews who claim they were victims of abusers in New York, Baltimore and Illinois, who shared stories of alleged molestation followed by what they described as hostility from community leaders when they sought help.

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“They are willing to protect the community at the expense of the children,” said a woman who claims she was abused by her father, a rabbi, and who asked to be identified only by her first name, Nanette. The woman’s father did not return repeated messages seeking comment.

She said that when she began discussing the accusations against her father, her rabbi said if she continued to speak about it publicly, no other Orthodox Jews would be willing to marry any of her siblings. She says her family refused to speak with her.

“My sister told me until I stop the slander, she can’t be my sister,” she said.

“One of the things they say is when people speak out like this it causes desecration of God’s name,” she said. “But the real desecration to God is that they are willing to protect the community at the expense of the children.”

For more on this two-year-old Jewish Journal cover story (pictured) about abuse in shuls across the country.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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