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Brooklyn assemblyman (and orthodox Jew) downplays Talmudic molestation claims

Posted in Etc., Media Watch with tags , , , on April 7, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

croglin_vampire_cHikind retreating on tough tactics against molesters
The Jewish Daily Forward

March 26, 2009

Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, a leading voice in the fight to end child sexual abuse in Orthodox communities, is backing down from some of his previous claims and backing away from one of his most confrontational stands against an alleged p-d-phile.

[While not stated in the article, it should be noted that Hikind himself is an Orthodox Jew — 800]

In an interview with the Forward, Hikind dramatically scaled down a previously reported estimate of the number of abuse cases he knew about. He also said he could not keep a pledge to force a prominent yeshiva to remove an alleged p-d-phile from its staff.

Hikind said that he adjusted his tactics in order to be most effective. “Some people want me to yell and scream; they want me to burn the town down. I know how to do that, but I would lose the war immediately,” Hikind said in his office in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park.

After Hikind first publicized the problem of child sexual abuse in religious communities on his weekly radio show, it was widely reported that he heard from 1,000 victims of past and current abuse. That figure was attributed to Hikind by The New York Times, the New York Post, the Forward and other Jewish media. [Note how the Forward openly refers to both the NY Times and the NY Post as “Jewish media” — 800]

But the real figure is about 100, Hikind told the Forward. He said the often repeated 1,000 number may have come from his speculation about the possible number of cases, given what he has heard from therapists who treat sexual abuse victims.

“I think what we were saying to everybody was, my God, the numbers must be astronomical,” Hikind said. “We never said a thousand. It keeps on getting repeated; anybody who talks to me, I actually tell them what the facts are.”

In the same interview, Hikind retreated from his previous position with regard to one of the Orthodox community’s most prominent alleged abusers — Rabbi Avrohom Reichman, formerly principal of, and currently a teacher at, the United Talmudical Academy, located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Reichman, the UTA and the Satmar Bungalow Colony summer camp are all named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Joel Engelman, 23, who says that he was sexually abused by Reichman when he was 8 years old and that the school covered up the abuse.

Since Engelman went public with his allegations, both his family and Hikind have heard from others who say they were also victimized by Reichman. Last summer, following those revelations, Hikind vowed publicly that Reichman would not return to his teaching job in the fall of 2008.

But the accused rabbi is still teaching, and Hikind has not publicly pressed the issue further. The assemblyman told the Forward that his confrontation with Satmar leaders has been “a rather huge learning experience for me.” [One has to wonder what exactly Hikind “learned” to make him change his tune so completely — 800]

Hikind stated that he has “been extremely clear publicly that I believe Rabbi Reichman has done some terrible things, and he should be out. We tried a lot of things behind the scenes to get [Satmar leaders and school officials] to remove this guy, but at the end of the day, for whatever reason — and I think it has something to do with his family being very prominent and having a lot of money — they were not going to remove this guy willingly. Period. End of story.”

The UTA did not return a phone message seeking a response to the allegations.

Hikind said that he could have raised more of a ruckus — for example, by protesting in front of the school — but he believed that such tactics would ultimately hurt the cause by turning other Orthodox leaders against him, which in turn would discourage other victims from speaking out.

“I made a decision that for me to go to war with Satmar, war meaning going into the streets and fighting them publicly and protesting outside the school… it would just destroy everything I’m trying to do,” Hikind said. “I felt without doubt that I would jeopardize everything else that I’m doing. I’ve had to walk on eggs.”

Pearl Engelman, Joel’s mother, has lashed out at Hikind in the past. But at a recent public forum on child sexual abuse, she seemed more sad than angry with Hikind — though still furious at her son’s alleged molester. “The school is stronger than Dov Hikind,” she said quietly. She said people often ask her why Reichman is still teaching children.

“Honestly, I have no answer, and it needs to be asked of the community and the school that is harboring him,” she said, adding that many UTA parents don’t even know about the abuse allegations, despite widespread publicity. “Our community is so secluded that people actually don’t know the news.”

While he has been trying to work cooperatively with religious leaders, Hikind said he is supplying the district attorney’s office with the names of accused molesters. He steadfastly refuses to disclose the names of victims or to publicly name accused p-d-philes, but he said giving information about suspected molesters to the authorities is something different altogether.

“We have always worked with the DA,” Hikind said. “We don’t go out and publicize it, because that would destroy everything that I’m doing. But when we have situations where there’s a danger, we constantly give that information to the proper authorities.”

He would not disclose the number of names he has passed along to the district attorney, saying only that it was “many, many, many.” The Brooklyn district attorney’s office confirmed that Hikind has been sharing information, but the office declined to specify how many names the assemblyman has passed along. Overall, the D.A. now has 19 open cases involving allegations of sexual abuse in Orthodox communities in Brooklyn, said Jonah Bruno, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.

Advocates for abuse survivors say they understand that Hikind has to tread cautiously, and they appreciate his efforts.

“The fact that 100 victims came forward is significant. Think about how hard it is for a survivor to come forward in the face of the stigma in their communities. These people are really courageous,” said Lonnie Soury, who is a spokesman for Survivors for Justice, a group of Jewish sexual abuse survivors.

Elliot Pasik, the attorney handling Engelman’s lawsuit, confirmed that Hikind has been communicating with law enforcement.

“People need to recognize that the sex abuse problem has been brewing in the Orthodox community for 30 years, and an overnight solution is simply not feasible,” said Pasik, president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, a group he founded last year. “I understand there are advocates clamoring for Mr. Hikind to publicly release the names of the alleged molesters, but we shouldn’t pursue vigilantism…. There is a validity to the path Mr. Hikind has pursued.”

In addition to civil lawsuits and criminal investigations, the third front in the fight against sex abuse is unfolding in Albany, where lawmakers are considering two bills that could permanently change the way religious communities deal with sexual abuse.

One would require background checks and fingerprinting for all private school employees — something that is already mandated for public schools. Sponsored by Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and co-sponsored by Hikind, among others, the fingerprinting bill is awaiting a hearing in the Assembly education committee.

The second bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and also co-sponsored by Hikind, would extend the statute of limitations by five years for criminal and civil cases of child sex abuse and would create a one-year window during which people could sue over old cases of sexual abuse. That bill, which would expose churches, religious schools and synagogues to possible litigation from abuses stretching back many years, may get a vote in the Assembly in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, survivors of sexual abuse say they will continue to speak out, and Hikind says he will continue advocating on their behalf — in his own way.

The above article can be found at: Hikind Retreating On Tough Tactics Against Molesters

Brooklyn assemblyman (and orthodox Jew) downplays Talmudic molestation claims

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Fact or Fiction — The story of (another) fake holocaust memoir

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , on January 29, 2009 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

20090129180851766_1The Jewish Daily Forward
January 8, 2009

Josie loved the book “Angel Girl,” by Laurie Friedman. She was a fan of Friedman’s Mallory books, chapter books about the travails of a modern-day third grader: friendships, pets, moving, having her mom begin teaching music at the school she attends (mortifying!). But “Angel Girl” was very different — a non-fiction picture book filled with gorgeous, lyrical, tilted-perspective paintings, about a Holocaust survivor and the “angel girl” who saved him by tossing him apples over the work camp fence.

And now we know that the survivor in question, Herman Rosenblat, invented his story. “Angel Girl” has been withdrawn from the market and its publisher, Lerner Books, has offered a refund to anyone who bought it; Rosenblat’s own memoir has been canceled.

But Josie wasn’t disappointed or upset. When I sat her down to tell her that “Angel Girl” was made up, she said, “It doesn’t matter. It still feels true.” She explained that learning that the apple and the couple’s reunion were lies didn’t affect her love of the story. “I know Harry Potter isn’t real, and there are no flying brooms or magic maps or Voldemort, but the way the writer wrote it, it feels real. And ‘Angel Girl’ feels real.” The notion that people can take risks and help each other in the face of danger and injustice, that love can triumph over evil and that serendipity or destiny have a role in human lives… for her, it was dayenu.

My daughter’s not entirely innocent of darker human motives. “Why would Herman make up this story?” I asked her. “To make money,” she answered instantly. But again, she didn’t care. The story had a life apart from its fallen hero. She loved the art. She loved the way Friedman wrote. That was enough.

Of course, it shouldn’t be. As Adam Lerner, president of Lerner Publishing Group, said in a statement: “While this tragic event in world history needs to be taught to children, it is imperative that it is done so in a factual way that doesn’t sacrifice veracity for emotional impact.” Exactly. I don’t want Josie equating the Holocaust with Harry Potter. And she needn’t. At 7, she can distinguish between the fictional characters in Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars” and the historical truth behind the book: the way the Danes protected their country’s Jews by smuggling them to freedom in Sweden, the role of the Resistance during the war, the heroism of Danish fishermen and Swedish scientists. A note at the end of the novel clearly spells out what is real and what is fictional. It’s certainly possible to teach children history, its broad and terrible truths illuminated by flickers of human nobility and hope. Josie reads non-fiction too, and has learned that all kinds of narratives, “real” and not, can contain emotional truths. But we parents do have to make sure kids understand what veracity means in the real world.

And it’s not as though flags weren’t raised years ago. Rosenblat first told his story over a decade ago to win a newspaper contest and it’s been floating around the Internet for years. (I got it in e-mail five times.) Dozens of people have pointed out that the fence at the Buchenwald sub-camp where Herman was imprisoned was next to the SS barracks and approaching it was punishable by death; Herman and Roma couldn’t have met on opposite sides of it every day at the same time. But hey, we want to believe. Anything with the gloss of “this really happened!” gives a frisson. Memoir is more titillating than fiction. People will always invent stories and say they’re true, risking exposure, for a variety of motives we can never really know. Greed, a need for attention, the belief that the way it should have been is actually the way it was. And the public will always hunger for sensational “true” tales. Folklorists call them FOAFs — “friend of a friend” stories. This really happened! To my cousin’s sister-in-law’s hairdresser! Attaching a human, no matter how shadowy and distant, to an unbelievable narrative gives it believability.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this sordid story is that Herman wasn’t a guy who spent three hours in jail when he said he’d spent three months there; he wasn’t a suburban rich girl claiming to be an inner-city gangbanger. He really did survive the camps. His life was already a miracle. It’s a shame that wasn’t enough, for him or for the publishers and Oprah bookers. There had to be an angel girl.

It’s also galling that everyone jumped on the Rosenblat bandwagon when there are so many powerful Holocaust narratives that deserve wider audiences. A number of comic book creators, including Stan Lee, have been trying to sell a story about Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, a young artist who painted a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the wall of the children’s barracks at Auschwitz. Josef Mengele then had her paint portraits of gypsies for his records; because of this work, she and her mother survived. After the war, she met and fell in love with one of the animators of the original Snow White film. Today, at 85, she seeks the return of her works from the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, but the museum refuses. Comic book creators, who know well the pain of having their creations taken from them, have taken up her cause, thus far to no effect. Wouldn’t Babbitt’s story make an incredible children’s book or graphic novel? Or could I interest you in the tale of Irena Sendler, the Polish Catholic woman who saved thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, whose story became more widely known after four high school girls in rural Kansas wrote a play about her, in 1999? The play has been performed hundreds of times in schools around the world, and the girls got to meet Sendler in Poland several times. She died in 2008. Is this multi-generational saga not worthy of a children’s book or an HBO movie?

But maybe that’s the biggest problem of the media machine: the notion that memoirs have to be larger than life. The best personal history I’ve ever read is Mark Salzman’s “Lost in Place” (Vintage, 1996). It’s about a nebbishy short kid in the suburbs obsessed with kung-fu. There’s no gang violence, no stints in rehab. There is, well, bike-riding. And pot-smoking. (Hey, it’s Connecticut in the ’70s.) And yet it’s about big themes: yearning for meaning, finding your way in the world, creating a sense of self. It’s lyrical, funny, sweet, humane and moving. Why can’t that be enough?

I admit this entire subject gives me agita, as I’m currently wrestling with these issues while co-writing a memoir, the story of a fashion model who overcame anorexia and exercise bulimia. How can I make sure I’m telling the truth while telling a good story and making larger points about all our lives? As Joni Rodgers, the New York Times bestselling memoirist and ghostwriting guru said on her blog, Boxing the Octopus: “The purpose of memoir is not only to suss out emotional truth and meaning in the actual events, but also to recognize the angel and the liar in each of us. There is a way to tell what really happened and still give voice to what might have been, to what we prayed for or dreamed of.”

We have to resist the temptation to sugarcoat history by throwing apples and angels at it. Of course we shouldn’t overwhelm kids with more detail or darkness than they’re capable of understanding at a given age, but we also shouldn’t make the teaching of history part of the feel-good movement.

The above article can be found at: http://www.forward.com/articles/14881/

Fact or Fiction — The story of (another) fake holocaust memoir

The Forward’s ‘Campaign Confidential’ tracks Jewish political ascendancy in U.S.

Posted in Media Watch with tags , , , on November 3, 2008 by The 800 Pound Gorilla

The following contains a collection of recent posts about the U.S. presidential elections by respected Jewish online publication the Jewish Daily Forward. The news items — all of which reveal the enormous Jewish influence at work on the American political system — include: the endorsement of a rabbi for New Jersey congressman; improved electoral prospects for Jewish challengers in upcoming house races; John McCain’s recent “tele-conference” with Jewish leaders; and shameless attempts by both U.S. presidential candidates to suck up to the Jewish electorate.

Bloomberg Endorsed Blind Rabbi
Posted by Brett Lieberman, October 28, 2008Dennis Shulman, the blind psychologist rabbi running for Congress in New Jersey, picked up a high-profile endorsement this morning from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I’m impressed by his pragmatic, sensible approach to the tough issues, including how we strengthen the economy and how we keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Bloomberg said in a statement. “We need more leaders in Congress willing to reach across the aisle and focus on problem solving, not ideology.”

Shulman, a Democrat, is challenging Republican Congressman Scott Garrett in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District.

Bloomberg blamed ideology for too often blocking progress on critical issues.

Jewish Challengers seen gaining in house races
Posted by Brett Lieberman, October 23, 2008

New ratings from the Cook Political Report reflect improved chances for a couple of Jewish challengers in tough congressional races.

The non-partisan group changed the contest between incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Rogers and Democrat Josh Segall in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District to likely Republican from solid Republican.

Likewise, Florida’s 18th Congressional District seat held by incumbent Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been downgraded from solid Republican to likely Republican. One recent poll showed Jewish Latina businesswoman Annette Taddeo trailing by 7 percent.

Neither incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Kirk or Democratic challenger Dan Seals is Jewish, but Illinois’ 10th Congressional District has garnered attention because of its large Jewish population. That race is now rated a toss up.

Rabbis Get the Call From McCain
Posted by Brett Lieberman, October 18, 2008

Republican presidential nominee John McCain plans to host a conference call with Jewish leaders across the country Sunday morning.

The so-called tele-town hall meeting with Jewish leaders, McCain’s second such call since August, will include the participation of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The independent Democrat who has been campaigning for the Republican ticket in battleground states, will introduce McCain, a longtime friend.

Issues important to the Jewish community such as Israel and national security are expected to be discussed as well as the economy. Participants are expected to be able to ask questions.

The 10:30 a.m. call is expected to include representatives from groups like Chabad-Lubavitch, Agudath Israel, Orthodox Union, Young Israel, in addition to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis, according to McCain’s campaign.

Jewish leaders representing groups under the umbrella of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations will also participate.

The call will allow Senator McCain to have a dialogue with Jewish leaders and discuss issues critical to the Jewish community such as Israel, national security and the economy. In traditional town-hall fashion, there will be a question-and-answer session with Senator McCain.

McCain held a similar call with Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis from 47 states in late August.

McCain, Obama Allies Hope to Reassure Jewish Buckeyes
Posted by Brett Lieberman, October 13, 2008

Ohio’s Jewish community is getting lots of love from presidential surrogates this Columbus Day weekend.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent Connecticut Democrat and 2000 vice presidential nominee, is meeting with Jewish communal leaders over breakfast this morning outside of Cleveland to emphasize his belief that Republican John McCain is the bettered prepared candidate to be president.

Lieberman addressed about 200 McCain volunteers at a campaign call center northeast of Cleveland on Sunday.

Not far away at the Landerhaven banquet hall, which Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher called the epicenter of Ohio Jewish politics and at least for a short while the presidential campaign, former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross was joined by Sen. Carl Levin, Rep. Jane Harman and Alan Solow, a prominent member of Chicago’s Jewish community, to reassure Jewish voters that Democrat Barack Obama is a strong friend of Israel and the Jewish community.

While Ross, Levin and Harman emphasized Obama’s commitment and understanding of the importance of Israel and nominating good candidates to the Supreme Court, it was Solow, chairman of Jewish Community Centers Association of North America but the least known of the group, who offered the best line of the night: “I like to say he’s going to be the first Jewish president of the United States.”

Solow, who met Obama in 2003 and traveled with the Illinois senator to Israel in 2006, said that Obama “gets (Israel) in his bones. He has it in his kishkes,” he said, using the Yiddish word for guts.

RNC Criticizes Obama Grant to Rabbi/Relative
Posted by Brett Lieberman, October 7, 2008

The latest Republican attack line on Barack Obama involves a rabbi.

The Republican National Committee is circulating a news release this morning calling the Democratic presidential nominee to task for awarding $75,000 in grants to a social service agency lead by his wife’s cousin, Rabbi Capers Funnye.

The grants — $50,000 for adult literacy and counseling services and $25,000 for youth services — went to a group called Blue Gargoyle in 1999 and 2000, when Obama was an Illinois state senator, the Associated Press reports.

Funnye, Michelle Obama’s first cousin once removed, denied Obama or the group acted improperly in securing the grants. [For more on Funnye, read this earlier Forward article HERE]

“State Sen. Obama joined other legislators in securing funding for a well-established social services agency in his district that provided job training, employment counseling, and alternative education programs to approximately 1,200 Chicago residents each year,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told AP.

But under the headline, “Obama’s Friends & Family Plan,” the RNC asked, “Why Does Barack Obama Decry The Politics Of Special Interest, But Show No Shame In Doing Favors For Friends & Family?”

All of these highly-revealing posts can be found at: http://www.forward.com/blogs/campaign-confidential/