Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Marc Gafni: New York Jewish Week - Letters to the Editor

Click here:
for more information on Mordechai Gafni

Letters to The Editor

Gafni Ousted For Sexual Behavior
New York Jewish Week
June 2, 2006

Eating Crow
I remember the abuse Gary Rosenblatt took when he wrote about the New Age rabbi and his conduct [in Sept. 2004]. Now he can open a restaurant and serve large helpings of crow to that whole crew. (“Gafni Ousted For Sexual Behavior,” May 19)

The spice is the self-righteousness that echoes even now. It is another moment of vindication.

Jacob Neusner
Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Too Little Too Late
Shame on you, Gary Rosenblatt, for not coming down on the side of Mordechai Gafni’s victims of sexual abuse in your article “The Re-invented Rabbi” of Sept. 24, 2004. Had you taken a stand back then the recent alleged crimes he committed may not have come about. (“Gafni Ousted For Sexual Behavior,” May 19)

You interviewed the victims back then and were too worried about lashon horah instead of the lives of the women he was to ruin. Now what you wrote is too little to late.

Miryam Kabakov
New Haven, Conn.

Gafni Enablers
So the spiritual and communal leaders who have insistently and vigorously promoted Mordechai Gafni throughout the years now feel “betrayed” and “deceived” by the abusive rabbi (“Gafni Ousted For Sexual Behavior,” May 19). In essence, they feel that they too have been his victims. While admitting errors in judgment, they continue to insist that without concrete, recent evidence of wrongdoing, theirs was the most just path available. Only now— with the pending police investigation — could they cease their aggressive support of him and their adamant dismissal of the persistent accusations they have heard against him.

One has to wonder: Would our leaders apply these same exacting standards if the commodity in question were Jewish money and not Jewish bodies and souls? Would they hire a bookkeeper if they received numerous warnings — from varied, unrelated sources — that, although nothing was ever proven, the bookkeeper left all previous positions abruptly, changing his name and location, always under deep suspicion of embezzlement? Would our Jewish leaders campaign for the hiring of the suspected embezzler, giving him free reign over their hard-earned donations?

No one is asking these leaders to publicly vilify a rabbi who is dogged by persistent reports of sexual impropriety. We are only asking that they exercise the same caution with our spiritually thirsty young women and men that they would with their tax-free dollars. If you don’t have incontrovertible proof, you don’t have to publicly disgrace him. But you don’t have to hire him either, giving him unlimited and unsupervised access to our most precious and vulnerable: our congregants, our students, our children. Not without being absolutely certain that, despite the heavy stench of smoke wherever he goes, there is in fact, no fire.

Mordechai Gafni has, after decades of predatory behavior, finally admitted that he is sick. But you, our spiritual and communal leaders, are not. You ask for an authentically Jewish alternative to giving the suspected abuser the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, that would be the biblical injunction: “You must not stand by as your fellow’s blood is spilled.” Following your lead, the community has stood by as the psychological, emotional and spiritual casualties have risen yet again. You cannot claim to be Gafni’s victims when you have, in fact, been his enablers.

The writer is a bible instructor at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

Judy Klitsner

Age of Concent in the USA and Israel

Age of Consent

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Canada: 14; 18 for anal sex, sex with an authority figure, prostitution or appearing in pornography. A 14 year old may have sex with another who is as young as 12.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Israel: 14, but under 18 legal if age difference is no more than 2 years.

United States of America

See also

New Blog Posting Names of Alleged Abusive Rabbis

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Rebbes and "Mechanchim" who will live in infamy

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rabbi Mordechai Gafni: The New Sabbateans

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Rabbi Marc Gafni / Shabbatai Zevi / Jacob Frank

The New Sabbateans
By Yair Sheleg
May 30, 2006

At first glance, the police complaints lodged against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni constitute one more case of sexual exploitation. Once not so long ago, it was enough for a rabbi to be accused of a fraction of the number of the suspicions raised against Gafni for the walls to tremble. In our present era of progress, statements by two dozen victims can be airily dismissed until the legal system steps in (because a few of the women finally dared to complain) before the community leaders realize that they will not be able to continue enjoying the rabbi's "spiritual abundance."

At first glance this is an individual case, and the fact that a rabbi is involved is merely coincidental. Or not: Gafni has a friend, the co-writer of two of his books, named Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi. Ezrahi is a newly observant Jew who was once secretary to the extreme right-wing Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg. A few years ago he left his previous pursuits and established a commune based on the study of love and sex "in the spirit of the ancient myths" (including kabbala.) And within the rather small community of teachers of "Jewish Renaissance" (the revolution of non-observant Jews studying Judaism) in Israel, there are at least two other prominent teachers who had extensive extramarital relationships that caused a storm in their communities.

But surely each case should be judged on its own merits and is connected to the personality of each teacher. Still, perhaps these coincidences point to a common denominator. It does not take much effort to find one: The aspiration toward spirituality that characterizes the "new religiosity" (in its secular version, too) is a very emotional aspiration that can involve primal instincts and urges, and in any event it automatically rejects "bourgeois" baggage - at first that of halakha and Jewish law, and later those of basic human morality. That is how the New Age version of the "ubermensch" is created, the one who is "above" the common morality of the common man.

Yes, Jewish history has seen this phenomenon before; it is called Sabbateanism. Its prophet, Shabbatai Zevi, believed that spiritual elevation and the desire for redemption released him from the mitzvot, and particularly from the sexual prohibitions. Ohad Ezrahi speaks explicitly about Shabbatai Zevi and his follower Yaacov Frank as a model. But apparently the others are also persuaded to follow this course, even without explicitly championing it. In truth, all those who ignore moral distortion in the name of spiritual exaltation are active partners in this worldview.

In one sense, it is apparently an inseparable part of the affair that Western culture, including Judaism, is having with Eastern religion. The story of Gafni and Ezrahi are very reminiscent of a few prominent Eastern gurus who ran sex communes, and the line of admiring female students in their bedrooms was an integral part of their "spiritual" activities. The conclusion: The romance with the East has some unsavory characteristics. The "liberation" that it provides is too great ? this liberation first brings moral liberation from the need to deal with the material hardships we face, while focusing in a self-centered manner on "spiritual elevation" and then on the "liberation" from moral norms.

Many of us, whose spiritual world is defined by the boundaries of Judaism, occasionally complain about the nature of the bonds of halakha. Now it turns out that even if the very detailed character of the prohibitions is sometimes infuriating, there is deep justice in the principle that seeks to bind life in general, and spiritual ambitions in particular, within the bounds of moral and religious rules. It is precisely because spirituality is so enchanting, so groundbreaking, that great danger can arise if it is not anchored with a few ironclad moral principles. Therefore it is precisely because the "Jewish Renaissance" movement is so important that it must not take on a New Age tone that focuses on emotional spirituality, and it must be clearly identified with moral responsibility toward the surrounding community as well as toward the lifestyle of its leaders.


Breaking News: Case of Cantor Howard Nevison

Breaking News: Case of Cantor Howard Nevision

It appears the criminal sexual abuse case involving one of the most prominent Cantors in the US who worked in the largest reform synagogue in the US has been resolved, with a hearing scheduled June 13, 2006. It is not clear at this time what the agreement is.

for criminal dockets see:
lastname = Nevison
firstname = Howard
County = Montgomery
and click "search"

Docket Number: CP-46-CR-0002927-2002
Court Case
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Howard Nevison

Case Calendar Event Type Schedule Start Date Start Time Room Judge Name ScheduleStatus
Non-Trial Disposition 06/13/2006 9:00 am Scheduled

Name: Risa Vetri Ferman, Esq. District Attorney
Supreme Court No: 065228
Montgomery County District Attorney's Office
Swede & Airy Sts PO Box 311
Norristown PA 19404--0311
Other(610) 278-3090

Pedophiles to launch political party

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Tue May 30, 2006

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch pedophiles are launching a political party to push for a cut in the legal age for sexual relations to 12 from 16 and the legalization of child pornography and sex with animals, sparking widespread outrage.

The Charity, Freedom and Diversity (NVD) party said on its Web site it would be officially registered Wednesday, proclaiming: "We are going to shake The Hague awake!"

The party said it wanted to cut the legal age for sexual relations to 12 and eventually scrap the limit altogether.

"A ban just makes children curious," Ad van den Berg, one of the party's founders, told the Algemeen Dagblad (AD) newspaper.

"We want to make pedophilia the subject of discussion," he said, adding the subject had been a taboo since the 1996 Marc Dutroux child abuse scandal in neighboring Belgium.

"We want to get into parliament so we have a voice. Other politicians only talk about us in a negative sense, as if we were criminals," Van den Berg told Reuters.

The Netherlands, which already has liberal policies on soft drugs, prostitution and gay marriage, was shocked by the plan.

An opinion poll published Tuesday showed that 82 percent wanted the government to do something to stop the new party, while 67 percent said promoting pedophilia should be illegal.

"They make out as if they want more rights for children. But their position that children should be allowed sexual contact from age 12 is of course just in their own interest," anti-pedophile campaigner Ireen van Engelen told the AD daily.

Right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders said he had asked the government to investigate whether a party with such "sick ideas" could really be established, ANP news agency reported.

Kees van deer Staaij, a member of the Christian SGP party, also demanded action: "Pedophilia and child pornography should be taboo in every constitutional state. Breaking that will just create more victims and more serious ones."

The party wants private possession of child pornography to be allowed although it supports the ban on the trade of such materials. It also supports allowing pornography to be broadcast on daytime television, with only violent pornography limited to the late evening.

Toddlers should be given sex education and youths aged 16 and up should be allowed to appear in pornographic films and prostitute themselves. Sex with animals should be allowed although abuse of animals should remain illegal, the NVD said.

The party also said everybody should be allowed to go naked in public and promotes legalizing all soft and hard drugs and free train travel for all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Murdered Beit Shemesh girl was raped

Ramat Beit Shemesh - 34
Jerusalem Post
May 28, 2006

A Palestinian illegal worker, under arrest for the murder of an eight-year-old Beit Shemesh girl, sexually molested and then raped her before strangling her to death, police said Sunday.

The body of the girl, Lipaz Himi, was discovered by a Palestinian laborer near a stairwell at the rear of the Beit Shemesh market early on the morning of May 4.

The murder suspect, Anwar Ahdush, 35, of the West Bank village of Tzurif in the Hebron area, who worked in the market, also allegedly murdered a Beit Shemesh drug dealer the same week.

A court gag order which had been imposed on the police investigation was lifted Sunday.

The murder suspect was one of five Palestinian illegal workers apprehended by police in the market immediately after the girl's murder. The other four men arrested in the case were not connected to the murder, and three of them have since been released without being charged.

The alleged child murderer has confessed to carrying out the murder, and has reenacted the attack, police said Sunday in a summation of the case.

According to police, the Palestinian planned the murder well in advance, and knew his young victim, who liked to stroll in the market near her home.

The day before the murder, the attacker lured the girl with an offer of NIS 2, and then sexually molested her in the market stairwell, where he and his coworkers would sleep, police said.

The next day, the Palestinian noticed the girl strolling through the market in the evening hours with a scooter. This time, he tempted her with NIS 10, led her to the stairwell, raped her and then strangled her to death with her belt, one of her shoelaces, and a chord, the police said.

After the murder, he covered up her body with a blanket, and went up to the roof of the building, where he washed his face and changed his clothes, according to the police reenactment of the crime.

Immediately after the murder, he met another Palestinian illegal laborer, and asked him to leave the area because "police were in the area," police said.

The second Palestinian worker refused, and stumbled on the body. But he returned to his work without reporting the incident, the police said.

At about 10:00 p.m., as the five Palestinian workers assembled for dinner in the market, another one of the laborers came across the body while looking for something to drink. After consulting with his coworkers, they decided to tell a Jewish resident to summon police so that police would not suspect them in the crime, the police said.

The suspect originally told police that the murder was terror-related, but after subsequently confessing to carrying out the rape, he said it was criminally-motivated, the police said.

The suspect is not affiliated with a Palestinian terror organization, and since the girl was raped before being murdered, police are officially classifying the killing as "criminally-motivated."

In an effort to throw police off the case, the suspected child murderer hugged the girl's body in the presence of the Jewish man who was summoned to the scene to "explain" why his fingerprints were all over the girl's body, police said.

DNA tests link the suspect with the rape of the girl.

Shlomo Himi, the uncle of the deceased girl, said Sunday that it was "inconceivable" that the murder was not terror-related.

"Since when are eight-year-old Jewish girls just killed by Palestinians?" he asked.

During the police investigation, it emerged that the murder suspect was also behind the murder of a Beit Shemesh drug dealer, police said.

The drug dealer, David Ben-Hamo, 50, was found dead in his city flat, located just 200 meters from where the girl's body was found.

The Palestinian, who had carried out renovations at the man's apartment, confessed to killing him for selling drugs to Jewish and Arab youths, police said.

On the night of that murder, the Palestinian attacker allegedly beat him in the head with an ax, and then wrapped him in a blanket, before setting the house on fire.

After murdering the drug dealer, the Palestinian apparently said, "Now you can sell drugs to God," police said.

Two Jewish residents of Beit Shemesh had been arrested later in the day on suspicion of involvement in the murder. It later emerged that they had only beaten the man's body after he was already dead, police said.

Meanwhile, the alleged murderer took part in his victim's funeral the next day.

One day later, he allegedly murdered the girl as well.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

An Orthodox rabbi responds to Marc Gafni's confession

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Luke Ford on Marc Gafni
May 28, 2006

An annoymous Orthodox rabbi responds to Marc Gafni's confession
He is getting good at this; while he claims to have taken responsibility – he takes no responsibility – he claims to have an illness, he is sick, illness can be treated he is seeking treatment. The implication is that soon he will be healed and life can go on.

If he is taking responsibility then why doesn’t he get on the next plane and go back to Israel and turn himself in at the closest police station, at least give a statement – see if they wish to press charges, if they do plead guilty to spare these women from testifying, and if the court finds him guilty sit in prison. He writes “I promise you from the bottom of my heart and in the name of everything that is holy, I am taking this crisis with utmost seriousness. I am making healing the number one priority of my life.” That is not called taking responsibility, it is called working on a defense. Curious no mention was made of his previous victims – he is only admitting what the public already knows. He says “I am taking this crisis with utmost seriousness.” Good thing he just got fired and publicly humiliated – imagine if he didn’t take this seriously! Amazing.

The odds of Mordechai getting a paying gig in the foreseeable future is nil – yet he is taking responsibility so he writes “In light of all that has happened I am leaving all of my rabbinic teaching capacities” did he have a choice? Can he continue the charade as rabbi?

Mordechai made a similar statement when he left his second wife to be with a woman he claimed he loved and wanted to spend the rest of his life with – he stood up in a synagogue in Kfar Saba and said that was leaving the rabbinate. Unfortunately he has since pledged his love to numerous women has been engaged numerous times and has promised many people to spend his life with them. Unfortunately he forgot his declaration to leave the rabbinate and snuck back in. Of course by this time nary an orthodox congregation would have him. After his “counseling” a young woman, led to his leaving his wife – her irate father went right to the chief rabbi of Israel. After an investigation, the chief rabbi’s office declared him a “non-rabbi” he would never practice in Israel in an official position.

Mordechai couldn’t stay away, had he stayed a computer software salesmen – he could have been as sleazy as he chose (no offence intended to people in that field of work) and when he got caught in his indiscretions it wouldn’t have caused this public spectacle. But Mordechai in a perverse way is so narcissistic that he is probably enjoying the publicity – the same man who shaved his rabbinic beard and publicly announced that he was leaving the rabbinate 10 years ago stood up again and wrote an apology – because he is taking responsibility. He is getting good at this.

When he could no longer serve in an orthodox congregation on any continent – despite his name change, Mordechai became new-age, he even created a philosophy that could provide his libido with victims. If he is sincere about his taking responsibility, about dealing with his sickness, I would assume that he would move far away from this new-age philosophy. Return to his orthodox roots. Deal with the real sickness – his need for power and publicity. But this won’t happen, Mordechai will not have the guts to take that much responsibility. If he did he would have to apologize to the scores of woman he told he loved, to the scores of woman he forced himself upon.

To all the people he stepped on making his way to the “top”. To all the rabbis he ripped off and claimed their Torah as his own. To the people who wrote his books for him and did his research. To all the people whom he paid off over the years - buying their silence. To all the listeners on radio and television to whom he would have to admit that his programs were bought airtime – in an attempt to satisfy his insatiable need for power fame and recognition.

If Mordechai really takes responsibility for all of this what would be left? Mordechai is a talented orator a charismatic teacher, he is not the great philosophical thinker that some of his fans think he is – can he admit this? Can he move away from the lime-light? Can he lead a life without adulation? Can he stop lying and abusing? Will he seek forgiveness from the victims of his youth – for the abuse and the years of emotional pain that followed? For causing them to lose their faith in Judaism? For destroying their sex lives and future relationships? Will he apologize to Rabbi Yosef Blau who years ago identified Mordechai for what he was - a slick talking dangerous abusive con-artist?

When Mordechai returns to Israel, seeking his penance, when he swears he is leaving the rabbinate and public life forever. When he returns to G-d with sincerity, not to perform a tango with the Schechina - which he deems to be in pain, because of the pagan Eros, which he declared to have been exiled from Judaism. When he leaves his narcissism, his self serving manipulative philosophy and sits in prison I will believe that he has taken responsibility. But I won’t hold my breath.

Helping The Survivors of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni

WARNING to all of the survivors of Gafni.

Don't sign anything without your attorney reviewing the documents!

Be very careful accepting money from any organization. Consult with an attorney first. By accepting money raised you may become ineligible to file a civil suit against them.
From Vicki Polin, Executive Director
The Awareness Center, Inc.

I want publicly state that at this time the Bayit Chadash community and those connected with Jewish Renewal movement have not apologized to the three survivors of Mordechai Winiartz/Gafni who came forward back in 2004.

Various leaders in the Jewish Renewal movement, Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Yosef Telushkin and several other individuals attempted to silence the voices of three women when they attempted to warn everyone that Marc Gafni was a sexual predator.

Can you imagine the psychological damage our community leaders and other members of our communities have caused the three survivors?

These three brave women also NEED and deserve to be financially compensated! Remember their voices have been ignored for over 20 years.


Helping Gafni's Victims

This just in from the Jewish Renewal movement, on how they've set up a fund to help pay for treatment of the victims of abuse at the hands of Rabbi Mordecai Gafni, and an e-mail address to send messages of support to those victims.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Here's a way to actually help.

Dear Friends,
In response to numerous inquiries as to what people can do to help the victims of abuse in the Bayit Chadash community, we contacted the folks over there to find out what is actually needed. The women who came forward to give depositions, and others also hurt by this terrible betrayal, have sustained great economic hardship and are greatly in need of financial assistance.

In response, the ALEPH Board has authorized setting up a "BAYIT CHADASH CHESED FUND." People wishing to contribute to this fund can do so via ALEPH's secure server. Just go to our member/donor page and give by credit card exactly as if you were making a donation to ALEPH, but flagging it for the Bayit Chadash Chesed Fund by putting "Bayit Chadash" in the second address line. If you do not do this, we have no way of knowing your intention and your gift will be automatically processed as a donation to ALEPH's general fund.

Donors will receive a computer generated e-receipt for tax purposes. The receipt will be from ALEPH since we are the legal entity receiving the donation, but the proceeds will go to the Chesed Fund.

Dispersal of funds: The Bayit Chadash leadership in Israel will set up a confidential process whereby therapists treating the victims will apply to a panel on behalf of the clients without revealing their identities, and funds will be dispensed on the basis of need. The panel will report back on the use of the funds for the purpose of accountability, but preserving the privacy of the recipients.

Those wishing to send prayers and messages of support can contact the women directly at This is a special address set up for these women only. It is not a general address for Bayit Chadash or their staff. Please be mindful in your contact with them, allowing them the dignity of their own process at their own pace and respecting what is left of their privacy.

I'm glad ALEPH took this step, glad that they gave the rest of us an opportunity not just to opine but to assist in the very beginning stages of the healing process. I hope they can oversee this fund in a fair and efficient way.

Again, Shabbat shalom.


Survivor Happenings In Baltimore - Be a part of the solution!

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BREAKING THE SILENCE -- There are few events happening in Baltimore for Jewish Survivors of Sexual Violence (survivors of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, clergy abuse (rabbinic sexual misconduct), professional sexual misconduct. These events are open to all Jewish Survivors regardless of your affliation or unaffiliation.

Survivors of Sexual Violence Meeting with Baltimore Rabbis

Tuesday - May 30, 2006 at 5:00 pm

Yacov is organizing a group of survivors to speak to a few orthodox rabbis at a time. The first meeting was attended by 18 survivors, 2 rabbis and 1 educator. The meeting met for 3 hours. Each survivor took a turn sharing their abuse history. No comments were allowed until all eighteen survivors were finished.

A second meeting is set with 3 more rabbis. The meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 30th at 5:00 pm If you are a survivor and interested in participating please contact Yacov, or Vicki Polin at The Awareness Center (443-857-5560).

Jewish Survivors Networking Meeting sponsored by The Awareness Center, Inc.
Monday - June 5, 2006, 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Please share this message with Jewish survivors of sexual violence who live in Baltimore, Washington DC; Silver Springs, MD; Southern Pennsylvania.

The Awareness Center sponsors a self-help/networking group meeting for Jewish survivors of sexual violence on the first Monday of every month in Baltimore, MD. The next meeting will be on Monday, June 5 at Etz Chaim.

The meeting is open to Adult Jewish Survivors of incest, childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, professional sexual misconduct, clergy abuse (rabbinical sexual misconduct The meeting is free, yet a $5.00 donation is requested.

For more information call The Awareness Center at: 443-857-5560

a Campaign Against Edah for Justice for Survivors of Rabbi Mordecai Gafni

Jewish Whistleblower is launching a Campaign Against Edah for Justice for Survivors of Rabbi Mordecai Gafni.

[Rabbi Saul J. Berman]For the past years, Rabbi Saul Berman has proclaimed Rabbi Gafni's innocence, claimed publicly that he conducted an investigation despite refusing to speak to key parties and has attacked publically both the allegations of brave women who came forward and the names of anyone who supported them.

To this day, Rabbi Berman has refused to make any public apology or done anything resembling teshuvah.

As such we call on Edah contributors to pull their financial support for Edah and Edah directors to either demand Berman do public teshuvah or fire him.


2002 contributions

Avi Chai $ 51,299
The Bendheim Foundation 25,000
Sender Cohen 25,000
Mark Galler Research FDN 10,000
Alan Goldberg 125,000
Michael Jesselson FDN 50,000
Howard Jonas 10,000
Keren Keshet 50,000
Morty Landowne 10,000
Murray Laulicht 10,000
Avi Naiman 12,200
Robin Neustein 25,000
Shimon Neustein 25,000
The Adina & Jefferey Rubin FDN 6,250
Eli Salig 35,000
Ron Stern 12,000
Straus Quintas FDN 16,250
Daniel E Straus Family Fdn 6,250
Zah and Nosh J Straus Fam Fdn 6,250

Total identified contributions 510,499
Total contributions 587,632

Board (as per latest public information):
Jack Bendheim
Dr. Giti Bendheim
Daniel Besdin
Michael Feldstein
Allan Galper
Phyllis Getzler
Alan Goldberg
Dr. Robert Goldberg
Rabbi Irving Greenberg
Blu Greenberg
Jan Goveman
Dr. Phyllis Hammer
Rachel Neumark Herlands
David Jacobwitz
Howard Jonas
Dr. Norma Baumel Joseph
Michelle Greenberg Kobrin
Rabbi Simcah Krauss
Charles Kushner
Dr. Gila Leiter
Nathen J. Lindenbaum
Evi Mushner
Shimon Neustein
Bethia Straus Quintas
Joseph R. Rackman
Adina Raskas
Judy Rosenblatt
Dr. Norm Shudofsky
Maurice Spanbock
Michael Stein
Daniel Strauss
Moshael J. Strauss
Mark Charendoff
Sender Cohen
Shelley Cohen
Rella Feldman
Michael Jesselson
Suri Kasirer
Lawrence Korbin
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
Matthew Maryles
Linda Sterling
Linda Levi Tarlow

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Zalman-Schachter Shlomi statement on Mordechai Gafni

Marc Gafni has lost his ordination from both Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Zalman-Schachter Shlomi. Does he have a rabbinic ordination from anyone else? Do we still have to refer to him as "rabbi"?

Jewish Whistleblower :
Zalman-Schachter Shlomi statement on Mordechai Gafni - note no apology, no acceptance of responsibility for treatment of Gafni's survivors
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Rabbi Zalman Schacter-ShalomiRabbi Zalman Schachter Shlomi Speaks on Gafni
May 26th, 2006

Blessings and Shabbat Shalom.
Susan (on behalf of the ALEPH Board)

I’m getting pulled from all sides to make statements that I’m unprepared to make.

What I can say at this time is that I’m in mourning, in some form of Shiv’ah, I’m grieving like one bereaved for an ideal that I held in my mind of a genius, though erratic, but ultimately at the service of the values he claimed for himself. This image has been shattered.

I’m also devastated by what see as my gullibility, to be taken in by a brilliance that had a dark center. And this way I am chiding myself, although that is too mild a word for the feelings that I have, for having been an unwitting accessory to his depredations.

It goes without saying that I withdraw my support of the Smikhah he obtained from me by deceiving me concerning his past unethical behavior. It is null and void.

In searching my conscience I find that I was influenced by the fact that my daughter had attended one of his seminars then called Torah Light or some such name, an event that turned her from a worldly secular person to one who is deeply committed to a beautiful Judaism.

I’m praying for clarity and discernment.

What is yet to happen beyond all the tempests, beyond quarantining him, a surgically separating ourselves from him, is not yet clear to me. So please allow me my process of grieving, praying and learning more about the devastation he caused before you ask me to make any other statement.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Law Suit Pending - Case of Rabbi Gershon Freidlin

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Rabbi Gershon Freidlin pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment , saying he had touched the youth's penis and buttocks while applying tanning lotion on the boy on July 10, 1995 Under the terms of a plea agreement, the rabbi will not be jailed for the crime, but faces up to five years probation..

The plea agreement called for the rabbi to undergo psychotherapy and barred him from contact with children under 16. Under Megan's Law, he also would have to be registered in Pittsburgh, where he now leads The New Light Congregation on Beechwood Boulevard.

Identity Crisis

Dogged by a decade-old scandal, a local rabbi tries to redefine himself

Pittsburgh City Paper
May 11, 2006

Search Google for Pittsburgh rabbi Gershon Freidlin and you’ll have to scroll far down the list for the first mention of his work on Irving Howe’s book,
World of Our Fathers, the classic account of 20th-century Jewish immigrant life. You’ll have to look further still for the Village Voice reviews of his musical appearances or references to his theatrical shows.

And that June 1971 evening, when Freidlin opened for Frank Zappa and John Lennon at the Fillmore East? Keep searching.

But click Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button and you’ll land directly at the first item on the list: The Awareness Center in Baltimore, Md., part of the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault.

This three-year-old group has 10-year-old copies of every article that appeared in
The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., highlighting Freidlin’s 1995 arrest in nearby Colonia for sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

Second and third on Google’s list are similar collections: the newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization for atheists and agnostics that tracks reader-submitted clippings of “black-collar crimes,” and “The Jewish Whistleblower,” a blog that hasn’t been updated in almost a year but which contains a passionate discussion of Freidlin’s plea to the lesser charge, for which he received three years’ probation, a $1,500 fine and mental-health counseling. The judge debated whether to place his name on publicly available Megan’s Law lists, which track convicted sex offenders into the communities where they live, providing neighborhood notification in some cases.

next few links Google generated by his name — until Freidlin got them removed two weeks ago by requesting the action on Google’s customer-services page — were porn sites.

Freidlin, 69, is a small man who still sometimes displays a large vocal presence, a holdover from his days of stage work, perhaps, or from more recent years studying the cantorial arts — Jewish liturgical chanting — in Pittsburgh. If
he came with a button to click, it would probably say “I’m Feeling Defiant.”

In the years following the plea bargain he made to avoid a trial and raise his children, he has kept a low profile. But now, nearly a decade later, he’s facing a civil suit — on essentially the same two original charges. That, along with the Internet vigilantes and porn merchants, has prodded him to action.

Does the nature of sex crimes against children make all efforts to publicize the perpetrators fair — including pornographers’ efforts to cash in? Victims’ rights groups point to the hidden nature of the crime and the recidivism rate among those arrested. One of the largest Department of Justice studies, a 1994 examination of nearly 10,000 male sex offenders (almost half of whom were child molesters) released from jail, found that 5.3 percent were rearrested for another sex crime within three years, and that “compared to non-sex offenders released from state prisons, released sex offenders were four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime.”

Yet Freidlin, who is neither listed on the Megan’s Law list in New Jersey or Pennsylvania nor has any criminal record apart from this plea bargain, finds himself sharing Internet watchdog lists with serial rapists. If he had pled guilty to killing a family while driving drunk, there would not be special Web sites, let alone pornography, carrying his name.

Freidlin’s family disagrees with his new strategy and refuses to get involved, he says, or to speak with
City Paper. But he is willing to risk further notoriety in the hopes of clearing his name.
“I would never have made a plea,” he concludes, “if I would have known [Google] would happen.”

Freidlin, a Scranton, Pa., native, was ordained in 1963 as a Conservative rabbi — the middle of three main Jewish denominations, between the more traditional Orthodox and Reform.

“It wasn’t a career thing,” he says. “It was wanting to study the Talmud and be in the yeshiva world” — the world of Jewish scholarship. “Which by the way is very helpful, now that I have to defend myself.”

By 1971, he was living in Brooklyn, managing a Hyde Park morning newspaper delivery service and trying to make a name for himself as a performer of his own comic songs and chants.

“My first step onto the boards — aged 9 — was covering ‘Mammy,’” Freidlin says. But the ’60s, and their disappearance, were Freidlin’s lasting inspiration. “I saw the ’60s crumbling, the whole social change that I expected … fall apart, and people I admired becoming Weathermen” — a group that used violence rather than street protests.

He had recorded a demo for Columbia Records that nobody knew how to sell, he says. His producer matched him with other acts, including an avant-garde rock outfit, the Hampton Grease Band, out of Atlanta. He joined the Grease Band when they opened for Frank Zappa, who had John Lennon sitting in, during one of the last shows at the famous Fillmore East in New York City’s East Village.

“They put me out on stage there,” he recalls. “They stopped their music — their pieces could take 10, 20 minutes. I did this chant, bare-chested, like a Yiddish theater matinee idol.” The piece was called “Badiyoon.”

What does it mean?

“You’re asking me? I chanted, danced to the ‘Badiyoon’ before 2,500 screaming youths and all these lights. We were the hit of the night.”

“Gershon did indeed perform that night, andwas given a great response by the crowd,” reports Grease Band guitarist Glenn Phillips, whose group is set to reunite for the first time in 33 years. “Bruce [Hampton, vocalist] says he even remembers John Lennon commenting favorably on it.”

Columbia also suggested Freidlin’s music might fly in a theater setting. So he created the Martha Bippus Singers with several other performers and took his brand of absurdist theater around New York and other cities. “It started out as social commentary,” he says. “But it went where it went.” In a recorded performance from 1978, Freidlin introduces the Family Bippus: “Their all-encompassing philosophy calls for the pursuit of embarrassment” in daily life, he narrates, “by veneration of the remains of life, love and dinner.”

“Bippus ended because I felt I was doing too many things,” he adds. “I was the co-author/composer/dancer/actor.”

On the back porch of his Pittsburgh home, Freidlin still offers the show’s fake Latin and fake Yiddish with the convincing rapidity of a Sid Caesar. On an old stool, he lays out the work and the souvenirs of a three-decade career in the arts and scholarship: notices of performances on New York’s WBAI-FM; a mimeographed rave in the
New York Pinewood Folk Music Club Newsletter; a 1993 Hartford Courant account of his use of tap dancing in holiday services while he was a rabbi in Colchester, Conn.; a handbill from the Berkshire Theatre Festival of 1978, listing Freidlin as a Yiddish dialect consultant for a play starring Fyvush Finkel; a gushing recommendation letter from its director.

But the collection also contains copies of books for which Freidlin served as translator (the Holocaust memoir
Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto by Ber Mark, published by Schocken) and editor (What a Life! The Autobiography of Pesach’ke Burstein, Yiddish Matinee Idol, published by Syracuse University Press).

There is also a letter of recommendation from Irving Howe, complete with Freidlin’s name misspelled: “Rabbi Freidlin worked for me as a research assistant in the preparation of my book
World of Our Fathers,” Howe wrote in 1993. “He is a man of wit and kindliness, and should make an excellent moral and religious guide — knowledgeable, tolerant, warm-hearted — where he goes.”

The pile is topped by a March 1995 positive recommendation from an official of the New Jersey temple where he served.

Just months later, the pile of clippings would be joined by a series of newspaper headlines, as Freidlin was arrested and jailed briefly on sexual assault charges.

In July 1995, when Freidlin was alleged to have assaulted a young boy, his sons were 11, 13 and 20. His accuser was 10.

“He was visiting my kid,” Freidlin says today. The boy had arrived without a swimming suit, borrowed one from Freidlin’s youngest son and put it on in their bathroom. “His mother had given word that we should put suntan lotion on him before taking him swimming. I then put suntan lotion on his back and chest and maybe his legs. I put it on my kids too.”

The boy told a different story. According to the
Star-Ledger, the boy said Freidlin had placed suntan lotion on his body, inside his bathing suit, twice inside the Freidlin home and once when he accompanied the Freidlins to another family’s swimming pool. “Prosecutor Julia McClure,” the paper reported, “said that about three weeks after the alleged assaults, the youngster asked his mother ‘if things like this happened and if something was wrong with it.’ It was then that the mother contacted police …”

Freidlin denies ever touching the boy inside his bathing suit or seeing him naked, and pled not guilty when arrested. His defense lawyer, (Name Removed) spent a year wrangling with the prosecution in Middlesex County, N.J., then recommended Freidlin accept a plea deal that would keep him away from unpredictable juries and out of jail. Had Freidlin faced trial on the stronger charge of sexual assault and lost, he would likely have received a sentence that included jail time. (Albin would not comment today about the original criminal case because he sits on the New Jersey Supreme Court.)

The boy’s mother told the court she accepted the plea to save her own child a trial as well. According to a
Star-Ledger account of court proceedings prior to the plea agreement, “The victim’s mother told [the judge] that a trial would likely make little difference, noting her family has already suffered so much since the crime occurred. [...] But the judge told the victim’s family a trial could do more harm than good. He said the boy, who was in the courtroom, would have to testify. It would then be up to a jury to decide if he was telling the truth.”

Although Freidlin says his wife passed through the basement room many times while he and the boy were together, there are no other potential witnesses to any of the incidents save Freidlin and the boy. The civil suit claims one suntan lotion application occurred in a locked room in the Freidlin home and charges false imprisonment, which Freidlin also denies.

On Dec. 13, 1996, Albin and the Superior Court judge led Freidlin through his plea, according to court transcripts, which use the boy’s initials, V.K.:

(Name Removed): Did there come a time when you were in a bathroom with V.K. and V.K. had no clothes on?


(Name Removed): And did you place suntan lotion all over his body including his buttocks and his penis.


Later, the judge asks Freidlin, “Why did you do that?”

THE DEFENDANT: It was a misjudgment. I thought he was supposed to have it all over him. I was in a hurry and, you know, I smeared it and that’s — as I understand now, that certainly is a misjudgment.

His apology at the time of his sentencing — he got three years’ probation — was in similarly careful language, as reported in the
Star-Ledger: “Freidlin said he and his family have suffered and said he has an ‘understanding and great regret for the hurt I’ve caused. I did something very thoughtless.’”

But Freidlin says today that he never did this crime to which he pled guilty under oath — that he had to speak under duress because of the legal requirements of a plea, which include an admission by the defendant. The process is “a legal fiction,” he says. “Otherwise the plea doesn’t get accepted. That’s how you have to talk.

“I was allowed to make clear,” he adds, “that there was no sexual interest or activity. Even in court” — by calling the incident “a misunderstanding” — “[I said] I have never performed any sort of sexual act.”

Even the judge may have been puzzled by the proceedings, as the Sentencing Order concludes: “This court can’t fathom any reason why an adult would put sun tan lotion on the penis of a child who was going to cover it with a bathing suit unless there was a sexual basis.”

As Freidlin’s lawyer told the criminal judge in New Jersey, the rabbi had no criminal record prior to this arrest, and he has none now in Allegheny County. So why not fight the criminal charges?

Because by that point, Freidlin says, he felt as if he’d lost the case before even being tried.

“I took a plea because I wanted to raise my sons in peace,” says Freidlin. “We had already been threatened by these procedures”— because of the prospect of jail time, during which his wife would be left alone to raise their sons. “This was wearing me down and wearing my family down. I saw no good from ongoing litigation. Whatever damages that would come to me had come from the charges — you’re ruined anyway.”

Freidlin’s two-year contract with Temple Ohev Shalom, the Colonia, N.J., synagogue where he’d served as rabbi, expired in August 1995 and was not renewed, but he had already been hired by New Light, a small congregation in Squirrel Hill. Freidlin says the synagogue supported him, displaying a letter from its then president to the congregation, calling for help with his legal expenses.

Even so, Freidlin went bankrupt six months after the plea, on July 25, 1997. He retired from the pulpit, he says, when he left New Light early in 1998. Now he finds ruination threatening on a fresh front.

His accuser, (Name Removed), has filed a civil suit against him in New Jersey Superior Court. King, who is now 21 and still lives at his childhood home in Colonia, alleges that Freidlin committed sexual assault — the very charge Freidlin plea-bargained to avoid a decade ago.

Lawyers and victims’ rights groups note that civil suits are easier to win than criminal prosecutions. The dueling verdicts on O.J. Simpson’s criminal and civil trials is perhaps the most prominent modern example of the phenomenon. As one online group —, Inc. (An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection) — advises, “It is likely that a victim wishing to vindicate his or her rights against a perpetrator or third party will find the civil court to be a much more agreeable forum than the criminal court. … [A] civil court plaintiff needs only to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence; that is to say, he or she needs only to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for the claims set forth in the complaint. This burden is less demanding than the one which must be carried by the criminal prosecutor — the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged.”

The civil suit against Freidlin claims that (Name Removed) has suffered “permanent disability, emotional trauma, diminished childhood, permanent loss of bodily function, and has and will in the future incur expenses for treatment of said injuries and has been disabled, and will in future be disabled, and unable to perform his usual functions and has been caused and, will in the future be caused, great pain and suffering, loss and damages.”

Legal language aside, Freidlin believes the accusation is a bit strong. “Even if I had been guilty, it could never have produced all this damage,” he says.

“Children who experience maltreatment are at increased risk for adverse health effects and behaviors as adults,” says the Center for Disease Control in its general fact sheet on “Child Maltreatment,” “including smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, severe obesity, depression, suicide, sexual promiscuity and certain chronic diseases.” But what could have resulted from the one incident to which Freidlin pled guilty is another question entirely.

Freidlin — representing himself, because he still owes money to his last lawyer, he says — denies the new charges.

(Name Removed's) mother, (Name Removed), who answered their phone, expressed indignation at Freidlin’s claims to innocence.

“He can deny it all he wants …,” she said before refusing to talk further.

(Name Removed) civil lawyer, Mark E. Margiotta of Pollock, Montgomery and Chapin in Bedminster, N.J., admits that it “may actually be the case” that there are no witnesses to these incidents save Freidlin and (Name Removed). So why sue Freidlin a decade after the original, perhaps unprovable, case?

Margiotta won’t say. But revelations in the past decade about pedophile priests and the ongoing lawsuits may have something to do with the case’s timing.

The crime to which Freidlin pled, and the vocation he chose, have attracted a huge amount of notice in recent years, as a slew of once-hidden allegations surfaced against religious authorities — most prominently in the Catholic Church. Revelations of years of complicity on the part of some religious groups has resulted in lawsuits and outrage — correctly so. Religious figures, once venerated, are now suspect.

A civil suit can’t put Freidlin in jail, but it
can extract monetary damages from him — and from the synagogue where he once worked, even though King is neither Jewish nor was ever a congregant.

Two groups have already been dropped from the suit: the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which promotes the denomination, and the denomination’s Rabbinical Assembly. Still listed as defendants are Temple Ohev Shalom, where Freidlin worked at the time of the incident, and the Metuchen, N.J., synagogue into which it has since merged, called Temple Neve Shalom. Ohev Shalom owned the Freidlins’ house, where his accuser says part of the abuse happened. The suit alleges that numerous unnamed individuals and groups at both institutions, “negligently failed to investigate the background, history and prior conduct” of Freidlin before hiring him, and “knew or should have known” of unspecified “inappropriate” conduct by Freidlin with unspecified individuals. If the plaintiff’s side of the case is aware of actual incidents of such conduct, the suit makes no mention of them. Neve Shalom’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

As Freidlin’s legal motions make clear, he hopes to prove that
(Name Removed)’s problems are not the result of anything that happened in July 1995. Freidlin is seeking another pile of papers: (Name Removed)’s medical history and any cases from the state’s child-welfare agency involving (Name Removed), if such cases exist. Freidlin has already received some of (Name Removed)’s medical records, and the judge has agreed to examine any records found in New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services before turning anything relevant over to Freidlin.

“Medical reports already sent me by [
(Name Removed)’s] attorney,” reads one Freidlin motion, show signs of “a youth who has not reached his potential and who has turned violent towards both his family and towards himself. … It is crucial to my defense that I also know and can document the mental/physical state of said youth before Summer, 1995.To wit, if he was already damaged by the time of his allegations, he has no basis coming to me for redress — or, for very little redress.”

“Even were I to have caused [
(Name Removed)] damage — I did not — how damaged was he already both before and after his allegations,” asks another Freidlin motion. “When almost a decade ago … I entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge, the judge urged acceptance of the plea by all parties. Litigation would damage all of us, esp. (Name Removed) [the judge said]. By his or his mother’s not heeding the words of [the] Judge …, by presenting himself as a wreck and expecting someone to pay him for it, he perpetuates his status as wreck.”

Whatever harm has actually occurred to King, from whatever cause, has so far played out far from public attention. Freidlin hasn’t been so lucky.

While Freidlin has been spared the state-sanctioned humiliation of a Megan’s Law listing,
other Internet sites have made certain he will be unable to plug the gaping hole in his reputation any time soon.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, edits the group’s newspaper,
Freethought Today, which comes out 10 times a year with a two-page “Black Collar Crimes” roundup.

“We don’t put ours online,” Gaylor says, “and that is for legal reasons — because we don’t know the follow-up” — whether some of those arrested were later convicted or acquitted, for instance.

Online, of course, is exactly where Freidlin’s first case can still be found in
Freethought Today’s 1997 editions.

“There may be some back issues still up,” Gaylor allows.

What legal issues is she concerned about? The Supreme Court has already ruled that Megan’s Law, in using publicly available information, does not violate anyone’s right to privacy.

“I don’t really want to go into that,” Gaylor says. “We have to rely on our readers for reports or updates. I’m not sure I always see the updates. We run everything we get.”

The Awareness Center, whose Web site also features Freidlin’s case, was founded in 2003 to provide sexual-abuse victim resources to Jews — and incidentally to publicize Jewish perpetrators, says Executive Director Vicki Polin. The help offered by earlier groups was often Christian-based, she explains. And more insular, traditional segments of the Jewish community might shy from seeking help from secular authorities, or even reporting sexual abuse, she adds.

While the Center’s Web site reproduces news accounts of any Jew accused of sexual offenses involving children, rabbis are, of course, the easiest to identify.

“We’ve taken some cases down,” she reports. “We try our best ... we’re so shorthanded. If somebody sends [an article] to us, we definitely put it [up].” Whatever the outcome of Freidlin’s civil suit, he is destined to be on endless public probation for his criminal offense, even though his actual probation ended in 2000.

Unfamiliar with the Freidlin case on her own site, she takes a moment to review the old clippings: “If he pled guilty, he’s going to stay on our Web site,” Polin concludes. “An offender who molests children will molest 117 times before it’s brought to the attention” of police, she adds, citing an unknown source. “That’s what our fear is.”

The author of “The Jewish Whistleblower” blog, who would not identify himself or be questioned via phone, echoes Polin in an e-mail: “The unfortunate problem in my community, is that by the time sexual predators are subject to Megan’s Law they have caused decades of damage. My blog was designed to break the silence and make it tougher for the predators. I believe in that respect that my efforts have fostered others who have joined the blogosphere with their own blogs. There are now dozens of blogs that do what I once did alone.”

This blogger claims he helped to reveal the identity of a molesting rabbi. Polin says her site has brought together a rabbi’s victims, so they could support each other. But it’s unclear who is being protected from Gershon Freidlin at this point. Court documents accepting Freidlin’s plea state, “In helping the court make its determination, defendant was examined by an independent expert in the area of treatment of sex offender’s [sic]. The expert felt defendant was not what otherwise would be considered repetitive and compulsive.”

Those aren’t the sorts of documents a blogger is ever likely to see. Or publish online.

In 10-year-old court transcripts, the judge seems to anticipate Freidlin’s current regret: “You understand once you plead guilty I’m not going to let you take your plea back except for unusual circumstances …,” he said.

Freidlin’s attorney then asked that “the plea not be admissible in any civil proceeding.”

“I really never do that,” the judge responded. “The application is denied.”

Instead of singing the Jewish liturgy in a synagogue as an active rabbi, Freidlin is left distributing tapes of his cantorial performances. On the back of the Martha Bippus Singers sample cassette is Freidlin’s clear tenor chanting the “Kol Nidre,” one of the signature moments of the Yom Kippur service — the Jewish Day of Atonement. This particular prayer is concerned with the way in which man views the making of oaths to God. Some believe it is intended to clear the petitioner of promises made under pressure.

“While reciting the prayer I often thought of the plea,” Freidlin says in an e-mail, the worlds of the stage and the pulpit still evident in his words. “As to whether or not “Kol Nidre” absolves one of an oath taken under duress is a moot question here. Let it be known: Notwithstanding what my family and I have been through, I yet respect generally both the courts and police, guided as I am by theTalmudic maxim that, were it not for the State, ‘humans would swallow one another alive.’”

Also see the case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni

Thread #6 - Shmuel Juravel's Trial set to start on July 10, 2006

Samuel Zev Juravel has plead not guilty. His next court date is July 10, 2006.

Agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI arrested Shmuel Juravel (Feb. 21, 2005) at a Birmingham hotel after he arranged to have sex with a minor.

Juravel is grew up in Baltimore, MD. Around fifteen years ago the first allegations were made against Shmuel of child sexual molestation. According to statements made on the various threads relating to this case on this blog, the survivors and their parents sought help from Rabbi Moshe Heinemann who said he would take care of things. Needless to say, nothing happened.

Shmuel is the son of Rabbi Moshe and Shulamis Juravel of Baltimore, MD. Rabbi Juravel is employeed as a teacher at the Torah Institute of Baltimore.

Juravel will be going before a Judge in Federal court at a hearing on Thursday, May 25, 2006 in Birmingham, AL.

Shmuel Juravel's case will go to trial sometime in early June. He faces 70 years in Federal prison without parole plus a $750,000.00 fine.

Due to the number of postings on Thread #5, the discussion of Shmuel Juravel will continue here on Thread #6.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

New Hempstead News - No Merger between shuls

The following is an update on Kehillat New Hempstead

New Hempstead News
After a quiet meeting last night, members of Ohaiv Shalom on 18 Bridle, voted not to merge.

Many felt that even if a merger was practical idea, there would still have to be a minyan in the Bridle area for all those who refuse to "shlep" up the hill.

KNH can now move forward, knowing that the "merger" idea is off the table.

Rabbi Marc Gafni - Announcement from Chair of Elat Chayyim Board

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From: Chaia Lehrer, Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center
Sent: Thursday, May 25, 2006 5:29 PM
Subject: Announcement from Chair of Elat Chayyim Board

Dear members of the Elat Chayyim community

I am very saddened to share with you a situation about which I have recently learned. Mordechai Gafni, a talented rabbi who has taught at Elat Chayyim and in many other places, has been accused of sexual misconduct by women within his spiritual community in Israel, several of whom have filed complaints with the police. He has not denied the allegations. These are serious offenses because although these relationships were apparently consensual, there is no place for relations like this between a rabbi and his students or between an employer and his employees.

Some of you may have studied with Mordechai Gafni, or participated in other events with him. For others he might be a complete stranger, and this letter may be irrelevant.
I am writing to you because experts who deal with abuse of power indicate that the first thing that must happen after the revelation of sexual abuse and/or abuse of power by clergy is full and honest disclosure to the community of the facts, as accurately as they are known.

It is in this spirit that I am passing on to you the information that I received from Israel, and informing you that Mordechai Gafni will no longer teach at Elat Chayyim. Those who have registered for his classes have been notified, and may either choose another workshop or receive a refund.

The Program Committee of Elat Chayyim had, in anticipation of our move to Isabella Freedman, begun to review our Code of Ethics, which all teachers are required to abide by. This unfortunate incident has strengthened our determination to maintain our high standards and continue to create an environment that is safe and heartfelt for all our guests.
The Committee continues to work in this regard.

This situation is only beginning to unfold. As always, at moments like this, there is a tendency to want to share and speak about what has happened. I urge all of us to do so with the highest awareness of what our tradition teaches about lashon harah, negative speech. We have both the obligation to know and to teach about abuse of power, and the obligation to strive to refrain from gossip -- and any harm that we may cause others by our speech.

This is also a moment to send our love and support to those women who have been harmed, and to acknowledge their courage in coming forth.

May we each send forth our blessings for healing, for all those who are involved in this situation and for each of us as we face our own shadows in the journey through our lives,

Lynne Iser
Chairperson, Board of Directors
Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center

Quotes For Today

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  1. The only goal of any political party should be to make things better.
  2. The more knowledge circulates, the more it increases.
  3. Holding on to fears gives them power.
  4. Visualize your goals in ourder to achive them.
  5. Cure grief with action.
  6. The longer you stay in one place, the greater your chances of disillusionment.
  7. Let memories stregthen you.
  8. You may house your children's bodies but their souls are their own.
  9. It is not selfish to love yourself.
  10. Remember that you become what you practice most.
  11. A person's true character comes out in an argument.
  12. Knowledge can take you further than anything else.

Gary Rosenblatt's Promotion of Rabbi Mark Dratch

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Gary Rosenblatt / Rabbi Mark Dratch / Rabbi Saul Berman

Quotes from Rabbi Mark Dratch
by Luke Ford
November 11, 2004

What's your role with The Awareness Center?

"I am not officially connected to them."

What do you think of what they're doing?

"The website and its discussion groups are an invaluable resource for many people. I had been involved at supporting them at one point in time. Vicki Polin has done tremendous work. We had a disagreement about a year ago over some of the articles published on there with regard to accusations made against individuals. Her feeling is that as long as there is an article out there it should always be public. I disagree with that. If there is no substantiation of the allegations after a period of time and the person may be innocent, those articles should not be there. As a result of that, we have parted ways. She remains an important resource for me and I imagine I am an important resource for her."

Steven I. Weiss writes:

"Luke - Dratch's argument against Polin, that she should remove old stories that have not been substantiated, comes in pretty neatly with the Michael Ozair story. Remember that in that case, only allegations against him had been printed, and the fact that he pleaded no contest in 2001 would have made the allegations three years old with no follow-up. It was precisely because his file was maintained on The Awareness Center's Website that we matched him up as Michael Ezra of, and that we did further inquiry into the matter, reporting his plea for the first time."
Are Blogs Kosher?
By Rabbi Mark Dratch
New York Jewish Week
May 25, 2006

Free-wheeling blogs — unrestricted news, opinion, and discussion Web sites that break, make and spin the latest on any number of topics — have been proliferating for years. Now there are a number of Jewish sites that scrutinize everything from Israeli politics to shul gossip.

They’re the new “Bubbie Hotline.”

Several of them have recently brought to light a number of rabbinic abuse cases and have succeeded in generating community interest and outrage, forcing a few rabbis from their positions, and casting aspersions on the characters of others.

To some, these sites are cesspools of unfettered, unaccountable tripe and vilifying slander that malign individuals and besmirch the community. To others, they are the Hyde Parks of protest and free speech, a place where victims can finally speak without fear of counter attack, and interested parties can press for justice by doing end-runs around denial and cover-up.

So are these blogs kosher — are they the right place for discriminating Jews to “chew the fat?”

There are serious issues to contemplate. Consider lashon hara, defined as reckless and harmful speech. The Torah prohibits it. Morally sensitive people are appalled by it. And the blogs seem to be full of it. Because there is no accountability, especially from those who leave anonymous comments on the threads of others’ sites, anybody can say anything about anyone. And sometimes they do. With the peck of a few letters on a keyboard, information is posted that anyone with a computer and Internet access can read, and lives and reputations can be destroyed. All of this with no due process or accountability and with no real chance of rebuttal. On some blogs you can find “dirt” that even some of the less reputable newspapers wouldn’t publish. And consider Chillul Hashem, the concern of scandal and communal disrepute. What will others say about the Jews and the Jewish community?

These concerns are serious ones and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. They deal with fundamental precepts of Jewish law and the very bases of moral decency.

But denial and cover-up and dismissal of complaints and victimization of vulnerable children and adults are also serious and cannot be easily dismissed or pushed aside. Too many innocents have felt unheard, ignored, rejected, and sacrificed on the altar of public and private reputations. They have been silenced in order to protect the image of a community whose perfection exists only in their imaginations.

Too many times Jewish law and Jewish values are misapplied, misinterpreted and misappropriated in order to achieve these reprehensible ends.

There are reasons that victims, along with their supporters and advocates, have turned to the blogs, Web sites, newspapers and magazines. And that’s because too many times they first turned to rabbis and Jewish institutional leaders to complain about the abuse and violation they suffered — and they were abused again.

Can these blogs be more responsible? Yes, and they need to exercise much greater care in upholding standards of decency, fairness and justice because they, too, can be responsible for harming innocents. And Web surfers should not necessarily believe what they read on them. In fact, they should take much of what they see on these sites with less than a grain of salt.

But the blogs are here and, for now, supply a valuable service. In a community that was responsive and accountable the excesses on the blogs would be unnecessary. At the moment, there are those who feel that they have no other choice. Innocents — victims and potential victims of abuse and the values and reputation of a compassionate and valuable community — are being hurt by a community that could and should do better.

All is not bad in our community, not by a long stretch. In the past decade scores of social service programs have been started that support and advocate for victims of abuse. The Rabbinical Council of America passed new guidelines for dealing with allegations against its members and has stood strong against harsh and unfair criticism. Some rabbinical schools are focusing a bit on issues of abuse and rabbinic boundaries. And JSafe was established to create a mechanism for accountability and responsibility and to provide education and support for victims, rabbis and institutions. But there is still too much denial and obfuscation

The rabbinic bon mot, “All Jews are responsible one for another,” is more than just a nice slogan; it is a religious obligation. Judaism holds all of its adherents — clergy and laity without distinction — accountable for the spiritual and physical well-being of others. This is most certainly true when it comes to our children. They depend on us to care for them, to protect them and to nurture them. Not only do we have an obligation to them as humans deserving safe and secure lives, but as Jews in whose hands lay the destiny of our people. Safety? Security? We owe our people and future no less. We owe each and every son and daughter no less—and much, much more.