Oholei Torah – Chabad Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Years of Abuse
In an article entitled Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community, Newsweek‘s author, Elijah Wolfson describes the allegations of sexual abuse that have plagued Oholei Torah, one of the largest of the Chabad Yeshivas in New York, specifically located in Crown Heights.
His first example is the story of Ozer Simon, now in his 40’s, who claimed to have been molested by his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Reizes, while living and attending school in Miami in the 1980’s. Reizes had moved to Miami from Brooklyn just before the abuse started. Despite the allegations of abuse, the teacher who fled to New York of his own volition, was hired to work as a teacher at Oholei Torah where the sexual abuse continued. It took 15 years for Oholei Torah to fire Reizes after another parent came forward. Oholei Torah refused to discuss the incident with Newsweek.
According to Newsweek, (“When reached by Newsweek on the phone, the relative [of one abused child] declined to be interviewed.”) Another child, who requested anonymity commented, “Reizes was always touchy; he’d put kids on his lap…” Sadly many of the children, now adults, refused to be interviewed, refused to come forward, refused to discuss the abuse because, even years later, they fear reprisals against themselves and their children. Frightening still, “Reizes, now retired and in his 60’s, lives across the street from the school where he used to teach.” In the State of New York, had Reizes ever been prosecuted (and convicted – which is rare in the Hasidic Community) he would be on the National Sex Offender Registry and would not be able to live near the school. How many more children he could have gotten his hands on since, is an virtual unknown.
The article places significant weight on the naïveté of ultra-Orthodox children who, from very young ages, are separated by gender. They are not taught about their bodies or sexuality. They are not taught what is appropriate or what is inappropriate. As such, they don’t always even recognize when they are being abused. There are stories in the Newsweek article not only of Rabbis and teachers abusing children, but of older children abusing younger ones, even for money.
Manny Vogel, another abused child within the Oholei Torah school, was abused by an older boy. Vogel, quoted in the article “the boy asked for a favor. He claimed he wanted to try karate moves on me.” But, as Newsweek reports, “Karate was simply a pretense to touch the younger boy in ways he would later come to recognize as inappropriate.” “One time, Vogel says, “the classmate paid him $5 to let him touch Vogel’s genitals over his pants.” According to Newsweek, Vogel never said anything to his teachers, principal or parents. Vogel’s final comment in the paragraph, “He took advantage of me. I didn’t know any better.”
As history would have it, Ohalei Torah never acknowledged the claims about the older boy made by other students. The older boy was never prosecuted and the abuse continued until he graduated. He has since been invited back to Oholei Torah to be a shaliach, which is translated from Hebrew to English as “messenger”. In other words, he acts as a missionary to welcome new boys into the community.
For Manny Vogel, the abuse did not end while he was in Ohalei Torah. After graduating he went to Yeshiva Brunoy, a Chabad school in Paris. There he was again abused by a “shaliach” from the new school. But, this time he reported the incident to the school. As quoted form the article, “A week later, Vogel says, Rabbi Zalman Segal, director of the school’s Higher Section for the oldest students, told him they would send the alleged abuser away to a yeshiva in another country.”
Vogel, who returned to New York, was offered money by the abuser with a request for silence. Vogel did not take the money but did not speak about the incident either. A few years later, according to the Newsweek article, Vogel found out that the abuser was allowed to return to Paris after he left. In addition, the abuser now works at a Chabad summer camp where is responsible for the welfare of 300 kids and teenagers.
The Newsweek article continues with harrowing details about a boy, Chaim Levin, who was raped with a pen by his cousin, Sholom Eichler, for years. When he reported it, the head Rabbi, Hershel Lustig told him not worry, that he was still a virgin and not to tell his parents the identity of his abuser. According to the article, “Lustig has worked for Oholei Torah for over 40 years. He’s an impeccably dressed, well-spoken man deeply beloved by the community. In 2003, he was the dean of Oholei Torah’s elementary school, a position he still holds.”
Sholom Eicher, in 2007, worked at Gan Israel Montreal, a religious summer camp. In 2012, though the Statute of Limitations had expired, Chaim Levin filed a civil suit against Eichler, a suit he won in the amount of $3.5M, which he has yet to collect. Eichler left the country for Israel, where he is outside of the reach of extradition.
The accounts of abuse, the disturbing stories not only include abuse by Rabbis and teachers, but also prominent members of the Hasidic society. Mordechai Meir Bryski, a Rabbi and real estate mogul who was accused of abusing another student. While a suit was filed, so too were counterclaims and the suit was dropped. By 2010, Bryski’s name was on the “Wall of Shame” of JewishCommunityWatch.org .
Bryski still lives in Crown Heights, but according to Newsweek, while he has never been charged or convicted, after years of running schools and abusing children, he is not longer prominent within the community. He blames his victims coming forward and appears to take no responsibility or even acknowledge that he did anything wrong.
Mendy Raymond’s story is one of physical abuse and not sexual abuse. The abuser, a Rabbi named Menachem Mendel Zalmonov. When Raymond’s parents confronted Lustig, the head of Oholei Torah, Raymond was suspended. And, according to Raymond’s brother Nachum, Rabbi Zalmonov had a reputation for beating on children. A former student of Oholei Torah, Mendy Alexander, said that Zalmonov was a “known abuser.”
While Oholei Torah is notorious for the unsettling numbers of sexual and physical abuse cases attributed to Rabbis and teachers, it is not alone in its history of abuse or cultivation of abusers. The problem is occurring in the Chabad community throughout the world.
Malha Leifer, principal of the Adass Israel school for girls in Austrailia was accused of sexual abuse of girls. “In September 2015, Australia’s Supreme Court awarded over $1M in compensation to a 28-year-old abused by Leifer from 2003-2006.” FailedMessiah reported extensively on the Leifer case. Shortly after the verdict, Leifer moved to Israel. Presently, Malha Leifer (a/k/a Malka Leifer) is wanted for 74 counts of indecent acts and abuse at a Jewish school. According to an article in the Jewish Times, from January 19, 2016, she is currently living in Bnei-Brak in Israel and despite extradition requests, Leifer claims she had psychotic episodes before each incident of abuse and the process has thus been stalled in Israel. “Her Lawyers have asked the court [in Israel] to reject extradition request due to her mental state.” Unlike most cases, Leifer’s is unusual because many of the girls are willing to testify against her and are just waiting for her to be extradited.
As of February 23, 2016, the Australian News reported that the “headmistress Malka Leifer to face psychiatric tests” which have been ordered by the Jerusalem District Court. To date, however, she remains at large, while her many victims remain shackled by a system that is not allowing them to see the justice they seek.
As of today, there are 103 abusers on the Wall of Shame of JewishCommunityWatch.org. We have not a single doubt that the number should be at least tenfold. Overcoming the stigma associated with reporting the abuse within the Hasidic community is what allows the abusers to retain their anonymity and perpetuates the abuse.
To date, there are countless numbers of children within the Hasidic community who have been abused, are being abused or will be abused. We would guess that in the time it took us to put together this article, thousands of children have suffered. These children, whether they know it or not are survivors. Whether they kept quiet and remained in silent suffering or spoke out, they are survivors. Just living past abuse takes courage.
In honor of the survivors and to give credit and praise to the children who have come forward and have spoken about their abuse and continue to so; and in loving memory of those who simply could not overcome the abuse, we have created the “Wall of Courage.”
For our start, aside from those already mentioned we offer the following names for that wall:
The LostMessiah Wall of Courage:
Manny Waks, who has discussed his abuse countless times
Same Kellner, listened to his son, sent someone to jail and then in the spirit of retaliation was himself accused of bribary (charges which were dropped in 2014)
Chaim Levin, accused his cousin of abuse
Ozer Simon, repeatedly abused by Rabbi in Miami
Manny Vogel, repeatedly abused
Schneur Borenstein, abused and now speaks about the Child Victims Act (CVA)
Mendy Raymond, physically abused at Oholei Torah
All of the victims of Malka Leifer, those willing to speak and those who suffer in silence
“Leiby“ – child accuser of Skverer Rabbi Moshe Menachem Taubenfeld of New Square whose case should have been a slam-dunk for conviction.
Rabbi Michael Malchior, who has spoken on abuse and created a network for its victims
Shulum Deen, who has written extensively about his harrowing experiences, whose writing has drawn attention to the plight of Skverer children, amongst others
In loving memory:
Sarah Mayer (a/k/a Suri) z”l, 31 hanged herself
Faigy Mayer z“l, who jumped to her death after leaving community
Younger Brother of Mendy Alexander z”l, who committed suicide after years of abuse