Monday, February 25, 2008

Sexual Abuse and The Vaad of Baltimore - By Vicki Polin

Vicki Polin / Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer

The Awareness Center, Inc.

(the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

P.O. Box 65273, Baltimore, MD 21209


Sexual Abuse and The Vaad of Baltimore

(© 2008) by Vicki Polin, MA, NCC, LCPC ATR-BC

At the urging of several friends I attended the event last week on child sexual abuse that was organized by the Vaad of Baltimore (Jewish Religious Court), The Sidran Foundation and the Shofar Coalition -- which has strong ties to Jewish Family Services of Baltimore.

I have to admit that I struggled a great deal with the fact that I did not want to attend. I was sure that Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer and David Mandel would go on and on about not reporting sex crimes to law enforcement, that the rabbis of Baltimore could deal with the cases on their own. I did not want to sit in a room filled with community members listening to their rationalization as to why the Vaad has notoriously ignored those who have been sexually victimized. I also could not bear listing to Rabbi Hopfer's speech considering his take on many cases in the community, especially the case of Rabbi
Eliezer Eisgrau, Rabbi Moshe Eisemann and Rabbi Yaakov Menken.

What shocks me the most about the program though, was the fact that it was sponsored by the Sidran Foundation, the Shofar Coalition (Jewish Family Services) and promoted by Phil Jacobs of the Baltimore Jewish Times on his blog.

One would think that a program like this would be informative and helpful. It would teach attendees how to make a hotline report and also encourage people in the community to work with the police when a crime has been committed. Especially a crime committed against our children.

The program was structured such that no direct questions were allowed. Instead attendees were given index cards in which they could write down their questions and Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb chose which ones were asked. I am aware that several people wrote questions regarding the cases of Rabbi Eisgrau, Eisemann and Menken, yet these questions were never posed to the speakers.

Toward the end of the presentation after Dr. Pelcovitz left, David Mandel got up to the podium and stated that sex crimes against children should be reported to the rabbonim. There were over 100 people in the room and no one was saying a thing. I kept hearing people gasping their breath. I finally raised my hand knowing I would not be called on. I could not sit back and be quiet. I had to ask the question "what about reporting allegations and suspicions to child protection services or calling the police". Mr. Mandel looked at me, turned his head and went on talking about using the rabbonim.

I have to ask the question, how can there be a room filled with people and not one person, other than me have the courage to ask that vitally important question? What was it that they were fearing? I know I wasn't the only one wanting Mr. Mandel or Rabbi Hopfer to respond.

It is a noble gesture on the part of Sidran and Project Shield that they are attempting to "educate" a group of people who have a vested interest in protecting their images and assets. The Vaad has no need to make changes in the way they operate until survivors of sex crimes have the courage to start taking these criminals to court both criminally and civilly. Unfortunately, we have learned from the Catholic church that without filing civil suits against those who cover up sex crimes (against both children and adults) nothing will ever change. How many years have to go by before the Baltimore community will face these facts? How many more children will have to be sexually victimized. Each day that goes by we are at risk of having another child live their lives as a rape victim.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks for posting it. I was wondering if David Mandel would have gone on like he did at the end if Dr. Pelcovitz would have been able to stay longer?

I just thought it was interesting that he waited until Pelcovitz left.

February 25, 2008 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about the case of Shmuel Juravel? Did Hopfer and his friends cover that case up too?

Think about how many children could have been spared becoming victimized by Shmuel and the rest of the Juravel family if the Vaad would have done the right thing and allow law enforcement investigate the allegations.

February 25, 2008 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vicki is absolutely right. I should have stood up and said something. I was outraged at what Mandel was saying. Next time I won't keep quiet.

February 25, 2008 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enough already with the Rabbi bashing. these blogs all have the same whining complaints. yes there is a problem, and yes its probably been addressed incorrectly. however, the rabbonim in Baltimore, and in particular Rabbi Hopfer, are well meaning and kind people.

February 25, 2008 3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see this as rabbi bashing at all. I see this as exposing the truth. Giving people who have been harmed a voice.

I might feel differently about rabbi hopfer if he would allow the Eisgrau daughter contact with her siblings. By not doing so he is showing his ignorance and arrogance, which I personally find repulsive.

I think about what Hopfer knows about Yaakov Menken and how he has done nothing to protect unsuspecting young women from being the next victim.

What about the Eisemann survivors who went to Hopfer? He heard what they had to say and then had rav Moshe Eisemann retire, yet did nothing to ensure no more bar mitzva students went near him, nor did he do anything to prevent children on the campus of Ner Israel from being harmed.

I also can't stop thinking about all of the Juravel survivors and their family members who went to Hopfer for help and guidance over the last fifteen years. All he did was shun them and help Shmuel move out of town.

Sorry, this is not rabbi bashing, this is called exposing the truth, the facts and asking for our rabbis to do the right thing. . . they need to stop trying to investigate these crimes on their own. They need to automatically call law enforcement and report the allegations immediately upon hearing about them.

February 25, 2008 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course it bashing. vp can't post a story without diving straight into the negativity of the rabbis in baltimore. go to the press, talk on tv, hand out flyers. the story here is not how the rabbis have covered up the crimes, the story is the crime itself.

February 25, 2008 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah. Way to go Vicki.

It takes courage to stand up in the face of the enemy.


February 25, 2008 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're absolutely correct. The original story is about the sex crime committed against our children. It's a story that definitely needs to be told. The problem is that story changes very quickly when those with power and authority use their influence to cover up the crimes.

I do not believe that anyone is rabbi bashing here. I'm sure the same would be said if it was a teacher or school covering up a crime; or if it was a mental health professional, hospital or any other institution.

We cannot ignore the fact that our rabbonim have been those with power, control and influence. Unfortunately, they have done the unthinkable.

Our rabbonim have been doing what they can to protect the few sexual predators who live in our community, at the expense of our children who have been sexually victimized and also these children's family members.

Each time a family is forced to move away from Baltimore to protect their children or have been shamed and blamed for speaking what our rabbonim want to call "lashon hara" -- both our rabbis and are community members are allowing more neshema's to be destroy.

One of the biggest problems Jewish communities have to face is the rate of assimilation of our young people. According to statistics 1/4 of all adults were sexually abused as children. Many of those who are Jewish who have been abused (and or their family members) are no longer keeping kosher or shabbos. The reason that is often given is because of the way our rabbonim have been conducting themselves.

Who is responsible for allowing survivors of child sexual abuse neshema's (Jewish souls) to decay? I definitely do not believe it is the fault of those who have been victimized. I personally put the blame on anyone who shames or blames a victim, especially our rabbonim and also many of our community members.

The issue is not only that our children are being molested by a few sexual predators within the eruv of Baltimore, the issue is that those with power and control have been allowing it to happen.

Think about this, if our beloved rabbonim would have reported Shmuel Juravel to the police the first time there were allegations made against him -- instead of handling things on their own, many innocent children could have been spared a life of depression, low self-esteem, addictions and also suicide attempts.

Similar things could be said about the case rav Eliezer Eisgrau. Can you imagine how different the life of his daughter would have been if the community would have worked with law enforcement several years ago when they tried to investigate the allegations?

Instead we are all at fault for allowing the message to be sent out to the Eisgrau daughter that she was a liar, not trustworthy and or that she was deranged, young woman. The message we should have been sending was that she was loved and cared for. I'm saying this even if the allegations were not true. The most important message was that she was crying out for help. She needed unconditional love, something was wrong and most people in the community turned their backs on her.

What ended up happening was that the Eisgrau daughter was forced to leave the only community she knew. She had to choose to between keeping quiet and possibly ending up committing suicide . . . or speaking the truth about what happened to her.

B'H' the Eisgrau daughter chose life!

The sickening and sad part has to do with the decree bestowed upon her by rav Hopfer. Because of him we have all lost a great deal. None of us have gotten the opportunity to meet her husband, or their children. The grandchildren of rav Eisgrau are also being harmed by rav Hopfer.

The president of the Baltimore Vaad took away the opportunity of the Eisgrau children being surrounded by their aunts, uncles and cousins. These children are missing out in getting to know all of us.

This is a curse put on them by rav Hopfer, a man who knows very little about sexual abuse. I find it outrageous that someone who is the president of our Vaad would do something like this to a young woman who was struggling to stay alive. I'll be honest with you, it's extremely difficult for me to respect a man who could do all of this.

I often wonder if Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer actions could have been a blessing in disguise? Maybe his actions spared the young lives of the Eisgrau survivors from becoming sexually victimized by their maternal grandfather?

We also have to take a hard look those who were allegedly sexually terrorized by harav Moshe Eisemann.

Does anyone really know how many of them are really out there?

Imagine that Eisemann molested one boy per month (x) forty years. That would mean he would have molested at least 480 boys. But what if that estimate was too low. What if the reality is that harav Eisemann molested one boy per week (x) 40 years. That would mean he molested at least 2080 boys.

We also have to remember that Rav Eisemann traveled the world, between England, Germany and Kishnev, Russia, so we really need to try to figure out how many different countries could he have allegedly left boys he sexually victimized? Don't forget on average someone who had been sexually victimized as a child never come forward, and those that do so often don't even begin to share their experiences until they are in their forties or fifties.

February 25, 2008 11:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the last comment. I agree completely. The conspiracy of silence and cover up is much worse then the original crime. I also think that Dr. Aviva Weisbord's role in this needs to be addressed and publicized. Isn't she the director of the Big Brother Big Sister program at JFS? What if one of the children in her program discloses that he was molested by Eisgrau? Would she report it? She treated Eisgrau's daughter years ago and has told Hopfer that nothing happened to her. Hopfer is trusting her word which is why he is protecting Eisgrau. She told Hopfer as well as others that she does not believe the allegations. Never mind that R' Eisgrau is a friend of hers and that she was seeing his daughter as a favor to him! She thinks nothing of breaking confidentiality and telling people that Eisgrau's daughter is "crazy." A very professional diagnosis from a psychologist.(sarcasm intended.) I would love to see Eisgrau's daughter take her to civil court for her unethical and immoral behavior toward her. Let's ask Weisbord why she won't she make a public comment against her brother Matis's molesting behavior? Is she protecting him too? The Baltimore community functions in many ways like one big dysfunctional family.

February 26, 2008 7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aviva Weisbord has another brother besides Matis who had allegations made against him. Don't forget about his younger brother Simcha Weinberg.

Years ago allegations were made against Simcha of clergy sexual abuse / professional sexual misconduct. He was allegedly luring in adult women he was providing spiritual counseling to, and having sexual relations with them. Simcha's behavior ended in the divorce of his first wife, who is one of the daughter of rav Norman Lamm. This also started the battle between Ner Israel and YU.

The rumors that have been floating around for years is that Matis Weinberg molested Simcha. Matis was about sixteen at the time. Does anyone know if Matis also molested some of his other siblings too?

The status quo in Baltimore of how to deal with cases of sexual abuse or sexual assault has been to cover up the crimes. Protect those who offend at the expense of the children and or young adults who have been victimized.

The first case of covering up sex crimes that I know of in Baltimore was that of Matis Weinberg, who is the son of the past rosh yeshiva. That first case occurred at close to fifty years ago. But then again the case of rav Ephraim Shapiro started many years prior to that. So maybe it's been around 60 or 70's years of cover-ups in Baltimore? That trend has gone on for way to many years.

February 26, 2008 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's links to some of the cases that are brought up on the comment section for those of you who don't know them.

February 26, 2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the estimates of the number of boys that rav Eisemann could have abused is a bit extreme, but then I started thinking about Shlomo Carlebach and the number of women he allegedly molested.

So how many boys do you think Matis Weinberg molested over his life time?

February 26, 2008 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters is a dangerous place to have your children connected. If Weisbord is connected your children can not be safe. How do we warn the community of this? The kids who get involved with BB/BS are kids who are at the greatest risk of harm. These are the children in which there is often only one parent in the home, or there is some sort of illness or crisis going on in the family. To have a sex offender enabler being the head, how can we be assured the adults who take kids out are actually safe?

February 26, 2008 3:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its the same old same old. the same repeat stories about the same people. how is that supposed to help the current victims? stop obssessing over past events and past cover ups, and do something here and now to prevent future tragedies from happening.

February 26, 2008 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally think it's great they are talking about the "same old, same old". If we weren't there would be no discussion about sexual abuse in the charedi world. B'H' for those who keep talking about those who committed crimes in the past and those who keep covering them up.

Bravo to all of you who do!

February 26, 2008 7:40 PM  
Anonymous One in the know said...

Someone wrote:
"Imagine that Eisemann molested one boy per month (x) forty years. That would mean he would have molested at least 480 boys. But what if that estimate was too low. What if the reality is that harav Eisemann molested one boy per week (x) 40 years. That would mean he molested at least 2080 boys."

I don't think you appreciate the addictive nature of a molester. Two or three times a day is much more realistic. And Eisemann has been in Jewish education for 50 years, not 40. So, let's be conservative and say it is two boys per day (x) 50 years. That is 36,500 boys! Obviously, every frum family has been directly affected by this. Why can't everyone understand this!

So why don't you see thousands of people coming forward? Ever hear of repressed memories? Do you know what kind of shame and humiliation a survivor goes through? There are 36,500 victims out there suffering away because of one man. And two more added every day.

February 27, 2008 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to One in the know,

If you were in the know you would already have the answer.

It takes most survivors of child sexual abuse many years to be in a place where they are ready and willing to enter into counseling and begin to deal with the horror of their childhood. It’s also known in the clinical world that there are certain times that a survivor is more likely to go for help. These times include:

· Right after the abuse happened if they tell their parents and or have other support,

· When the survivor is old enough and capable of leaving home,

· Around the time the survivor is thinking about marriage or get married,

· When the survivor or their spouse is pregnant or right after their child is born,

· When the survivors own children reach the age they were when they themselves were abused,

· But most common is when they are in their forties or fifties. This is an age that most adults can focus on themselves, they start reflecting on their lives and have the time to deal with things they never resolved.

It's only after years of therapy that any survivors begin to feel safe enough to let the outside world know what happened to them. Look at the case of Ephraim Shapiro. Murray Levin said it took him 52 years to tell anyone, let alone talk to Phil Jacobs of the Baltimore Jewish Times. At the age of 65 he is now advocating for others to do more then he did.

When were dealing with the frum community and we have people like David Mandel and rabbis Heinemann and Hopfer terrifying community members with the notion that they can't use the secular authorities because by doing so can start another pogrom, frum families will keep the horrible secret to themselves. They also are told if they go to law enforcement that their children will not get into good yeshivas or find good marriage partners. Then you end up with cases like the daughter of rav Eisgrau where she basically became homeless. Not just physically but emotionally too.

Do I need to go on anymore?

February 27, 2008 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Mailing from the Awareness Center said...

From the Awareness Center's mailing

Letter from a parent in Baltimore
Permission was granted to publish this letter

The case of Shmuel Zev Juravel is a perfect example of what happens when the rabbis in our community know about an active pedophile and cover up his crimes. Shmuel Juravel, now convicted and serving a sentence of 22 years, reportedly continued to victimize hundreds of boys first in Baltimore and later in Savannah, Georgia, after parents of victims repeatedly reported Juravel's crimes to Rabbis Yaakov Hopfer and Moshe Heinneman. We have learned the hard way that surveillance by rabbis is not a viable option.

It is incredibly sad that Shmuel Juravel's crimes were only stopped after decades of him sexually victimizing children, when he was finally caught in an FBI sting operation, after he answered an ad soliciting relations with boys in Alabama.

According to the Bureau of Missing and Exploited Children only three percent of pedophiles ever get caught. As parents and community members we all need to be concerned about all the other sex offenders who are protected by our rabbis and living under the radar in our community. At this time we cannot trust our rabbis to keep us safe.

Think about it, what kind of surveillance did the rabbis use years ago when Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, past principal of TA, victimized hundreds of students for decades. Can we believe the rabbonim back then had no idea that Ephraim Shapiro was committing sex crimes against our children?

And more recently: Didn't the rabbis sign a letter in April, 2007 stating that they had made mistakes in the past and that they were now encouraging victims to go to our public authorities? What happened to that stance? Why did they go against their own words at this community gathering last week? Didn't the letter state that the Gedolei Ha Dor encourage us to report these crimes to the police? Why the double-talk now?

February 27, 2008 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Phil Jacobs said...

The "Catholic Conference of Orthodox Rabbis
By Phil Jacobs
Baltimore Jewish Times Blog - February 29, 2008

It was as controlled an environment as a fish tank. The temperature was right, the filter was working perfectly, there was enough food sprinkled on top for feeding.

Over 500 people don’t just come to a meeting on a freezing February night to hear what the Vaad HaRabbonim wanted them to hear. They, for the most part, ate the “fish food.”

Questions were controlled and filtered.

The man we really all came to hear was ostensibly silenced by a time limitation.

Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, a man who knows of so much community pain and victimization, is given the opportunity to speak…for an inordinately long period of time. He took from the time we could have used to get yet another question in for Dr. Pelcovitz.

So before we start thumping our chests about what a wonderful success story last Wednesday night was, this was opportunity missed.

Hug your kid, make him tougher, call your rabbi. That’s right, keep it in the fish tank, in the filtered water, in the community.

That’s pretty much all you have to know.

A letter from the Vaad went out on April 11 of 2007. Ten months later, we have a meeting. Did it ever occur to anyone why the numbers were so high at this meeting? Was it because we had nothing else to do on a Wednesday night? People are hurting. They need help. Some looked around the room nervously and took note of the friends and neighbors they saw there.

Where were the civil authorities to address us? Molestation is a felony, isn’t it? Who do we call if we suspect something is wrong, a rabbi? Should I call a rabbi if I see a house burning down?
Should I call a rabbi if a kid breaks his arm? Should I call a salesman if I want to learn about Shabbat?

Don’t accept last Wednesday evening. Demand that something better be presented.

Where were the 23 who so “bravely” signed that letter last April 11? I’d say less than half attended. A couple of the rabbis even left early

Maybe we should have a meeting without the rabbis. Maybe we’d feel less inhibited about asking real questions. Rabbis, did you look around the sanctuary last Wednesday? Did it dawn on you that some of these people were perhaps coming because they needed to be saved some how?

A small handful of rabbis showed admirable effort getting a full house last week. You brought the issue to the front, which I give you total credit for.

But we are all still wondering what to do now? Do we wait another 10 months?

The name of the program was “How To Protect Our Children.” An obviously frustrated man sitting near me had his own name for the evening. He simply renamed it a meeting of the “Catholic Conference of Orthodox Rabbis.”

March 02, 2008 10:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home