Aired December 15, 2012 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxQnpP0RbMI
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of December 16th, 2012.
Oy! Happy end of Chanukah, everybody. Why do I say that with such resignation and dispiritedness? Because just when we need to be showing the world that Jews take a higher moral ground . . . Just when we need to be reminding Christians that we’re not evil, we didn’t kill Jesus, we belong in the land of Israel because we earned and deserve it . . . Just when we should show off that Jews are a model of the three L’s: Learning, Law and Lokshen kugel – the Orthodox community of Williamsburg Brooklyn displays the worst of the three I’s: Inhumanity, Insularity and I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with them.
By now you’ve no doubt heard about Rabbi Nechemya Weberman – a Jew, unfortunately, who was convicted of repeated sexual abuse of a young girl. He’s facing 25 years in the slammer for making this shayna maydel act out porn films for him, give him oral sex and buy things for him retail. And this all started when she was just twelve years old. My God, he used to burn her stomach with a cigarette lighter and then tell her to soothe it with peanut butter when she got home. Peanut butter! I mean, almond butter I understand, but peanut butter?!
I’m making jokes about all this because the truth is so goddamn horrible all you can do is laugh. This monster turned the girl’s parents against her and threatened to toss the whole family out of the religious order if she dared to come forward with her stories. It wasn’t until she switched to a less religious school and started opening up to teachers and counselors there that the truth came out – because the truth always comes out – if not in this world, then the next. If some sect is so tight-knit that a leader can get away with sexual abuse until the day he days, you can bet when he gets to the gates of heaven, Elijah’s up there going, “So, did you observe the Sabbath?”
“Oh yes, every week.”
“Did you give tzedakah to the poor?”
“Absolutely. And I didn’t even do it for the tax deduction, I really meant it!”
“Did you keep all the kosher laws?”
“Are you kidding? I waited ten hours between having meat and milk – not six, ten!”
“Well, Rabbi, I see no reason not to open these gates and let you into paradise. Welcome to – wait a second. Did you make 14 year old girls masturbate you while you watched Amy Irving in “Yentl?”
“Well, I, uh – ”
“Did you make a teenage boy eat your shmekel and then warn him that if he tattled on you, God would throw him into the fires of hell?”
“Well, I, uh – ”
“Rabbi, you might wanna know, that boy was up here 30 years ago. `Cause he killed himself when he was 17. Good news, though – he’s having a fantastic time. He’s up on cloud nine playing X-box with Anne Frank. You however . . . I hope you brought sunscreen.”
It should not take years or lifetimes to expose revolting behavior like this to the light. Coverups are for dark circles under the eyes, not dark blotches on the soul. And just when you thought the story of Rabbi Weberman couldn’t get any worse, it gets worse. Another Rabbi, Nachum Rosenberg – who probably will be going to heaven, by the way – Rabbi Rosenberg is a longtime advocate for speaking out against abusers. He’s been an oasis for girls and boys who have been subjected to the terrors of sexual assault and the even greater horrors of psychological suppression. He’s been begging the Satmer community to stop sheltering the guilty, stop keeping the laws of America from touching – you should pardon the pun – from penetrating – you should pardon the pun – from affecting this insular Satmer sect.
But no good deed goes unpunished. On his outspoken blog, Rabbi Rosenberg accused the owner of a local fish market of abusing young boys. Now, this may or may not be true, and because this community resists legitimate investigations, finding out the truth can be harder than catching a squid in a butter tank. But one day the Rabbi is strolling through his neighborhood when the son of the fishmarket owner comes up to him. He’s holding a jar of liquid which turns out to be bleach – tosses the bleach in the Rabbi’s face and runs away. Had he not washed his eyes very quickly after the incident, the Rebbe would have gone blind. His shirts would have been really clean but his vision not so good.
Now, because this is the son of the accused, and everything on both sides is just allegation at this point, I will reserve judgment on the particulars of this incident. However, it serves as an object lesson on what happens when you spend years sweeping landmines under the rug. Eventually they start going off in every possible direction, hurting the innocent, the guilty and the just-plain fishy.
And it’s happening in this case because these tight cults want to do everything in-house. No need for police intervention, no need to wash dirty tallises in public; they can monitor everything and keep the outside world out. But do they self-govern? Yes, exactly the way the Catholic church handles the scandals. Got a pedophile priest? Push him from parish to parish. Exactly the way an American president reacts to a sexual boo-boo or a military blunder – deny, discredit, dismiss. That’s way too much alliteration for one paragraph, and way, way too much lying and ducking responsibility on the part of people who should know better.
How sad that thanks to Rabbi Weberman, Rabbis will now be lumped in the same pile as pervo priests – even though, one hopes, and prays, the rotten apples make up just a teeny percentage of Orthodox orchard.
That said, when it comes to sexual misconduct in our community, it’s obvious this is just the tip of the iceberg. And the Goldberg. And the Kleinberg. The Satmers, and every other sect, when dealing with sex, need to be diligent and transparent and not make excuses and exits for evil.
This is gonna get much bigger and uglier before it gets better. So we have to urge the victims don’t be intimidated. Don’t be brainwashed or shouted down. You have to stick it out, because if you don’t, some Rabbi’s gonna stick it out – and in.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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