Is Ohel a Leaky Tent?

The Hebrew word ohel means tent. When a social service  agency chooses to call itself Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services you expect it to protect children and help remove molesters in our midst. When it has a forty million dollar a year budget you expect a lot of protection. Yet in 2002 they knew about a molester and did not report him. Ohel was not legally required to report him. But they would have been fully protected from lawsuits if they had. Reporting him might have prevented him from sodomizing two thirteen-year-old yeshiva boys. Ohel did not protect those two boys.

Instead, the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston wrote:

Asked multiple times over a period of more than a month for an explanation of its reporting policies, Ohel said in a statement provided just before the paper’s deadline that the agency “fully complies with New York State laws, including those related to mandated reporting.” The statement did not address the group’s policies and practices when a non-court-mandated offender drops out of treatment.

Indeed, the agency’s CEO, David Mandel, has made public statements . . .that it is not always appropriate — even when legally permissible — to report sexual abuse to the police.

The disturbing fact about Ohel it that it continues to be touted as a safe harbor, as the go -to refuge for survivors of sex abuse. Their staff are brought in by other communities and organizations as consultants. Their record does not match their reputation. In 2009 there were only 32 arrests of orthodox jews for sex abuse crimes in Brooklyn. I refuse to believe the number would be that low if Ohel was doing its best to facilitate the prosecution of sex offenders. There is clearly a disconnect between the things they know and the things that get acted on by the District Attorney.

Organizations accepted in the ultra orthodox Jewish world usually have halachic advisors. Rabbi Dovid Cohen fills that role at Ohel. Officially, Rabbi Cohen supports reporting to the police. He has even been accused of handing out such dispensations too readily without inquiring into the facts. Yet I keep wondering about the discrepancy between that reputation and Ohel’s very limited exertions to effect arrests of molesters. Rabbi Cohen has also  justified cheating on taxes. Perhaps he just views tax evasion very differently from molesting. Perhaps he has no trouble taking one public position on reporting but taking a different private one, especially when it could hurt influential individuals and institutions in the community. I know many survivor advocates are suspicious of Dovid Cohen’s role at Ohel even though they acknowledge that he does frequently endorse police reporting. The truth is hard to know because there is no transparency at Ohel. To the best of my knowledge they do not publish their protocols and practices. They do not reveal the number of cases they have reported to the authorities or the number of cases where they exploited legal options to avoid reporting. It would be nice to give them the benefit of the doubt. But their history is troubling, and their evasiveness justifies suspicion.

Maybe I am wrong. But right now I believe that Ohel is a leaky tent and David Mandel and Rabbi Dovid Cohen have brandished the seam rippers that make it leaky.

Update (February 23,  2011) Hella Winston documents another case where Ohel covered up sex abuse.

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13 thoughts on “Is Ohel a Leaky Tent?

  1. Great piece!

    Check out this video of David Mandel telling people how to avoid using protective services and refusing to answer a question about going to protective services.

  2. Ohel Ohel Ohel – what can I say?

    Ohel placed two children with DS and multiple foster children with special needs children with my family in PA. When I reported abuse of those children, I was told that there were no records of those children ever being at Ohel (mind you Ohel liberally used my brother’s pic in the JP and probably other Jewish publications in the 80s with the headline “If you don’t help, Chaim will soon be called Christopher”) They also said that they could not help because my siblings were in a different state (the same state they had originally placed them, though).

    They had no answer for the question, “If you placed them out of state, why can’t you DO SOMETHING about it and help the children you placed who are being ABUSED out of state?”

    There are lots of holes in the ohel. I’m DONE with giving them the benefit of the doubt and it baffles me how many people still do.

  3. I think that it is מטמא באהל. This is nothing new, protect the abusers and persecute the abused. Remember they used to say something like “it’s her fault, the way she looked or dressed made him rape her”. כל אשר באהל יטמא.

  4. I am neither from the advocates for Ohel nor from those who wish to attack it. I hear the complaints in the post, and they raise my brows.

    I feel that there is negativism, that might be justified, though it leads to “factual” conclusions that are simply not true. If investigated, one would find stories that are actually different.

    * Only 32 cases of abuse resulted in arrests. Yes. One can freely add the word “only”, and it sounds terrible. However, there were many more reports, and the largest percentage could not result in arrest or prosecution. There were victims or families that would not testify or press charges, there were those with evidence that was too flimsy to prosecute, and others were beyond statute of limitations. “Only” makes it sound like the system that brings perpetrators to justice is a dismal failure. That is not accurate. I have not a doubt that improvement is sorely needed, but the 32 of this past year represents good progress.

    * Perhaps greater responsibility for the community wide problem is being placed on Ohel’s shoulders. Yes. that agency serves as the ACS representative in the Orthodox community. But there are many other agencies and professionals, and the burden is shared by a diverse group. To minimize “Only 32” and blame that on a single agency is inaccurate.

    * The attack on Reb Dovid Cohen is also unwarranted, and perhaps in conflict with fact. It seems that the pronouncement about tax evasion (though his remarks about that have been quoted out of context) is a cheap shot at making him look bad, despite his support of reporting suspected cases of abuse to police. In this regard, he is unquestionably a “friend” of the victim advocates. Why throw wrenches into that and raise doubts that do not exist? Is there reason to believe he speaks differently in private,or does that just make for good press?

    * I have no problem with questioning Ohel’s practices. The video of David Mandel certainly justifies suspicion. (I believe that video is dated, and that Mr. Mandel has a very different mind today.) The evasiveness in not sharing its statistics is likewise a basis to suspect. I would ask the same questions. But this post is a far reaching effort to cast aspersions beyond what is established as fact.

    • A to Z, you write: * The attack on Reb Dovid Cohen is also unwarranted, and perhaps in conflict with fact. It seems that the pronouncement about tax evasion (though his remarks about that have been quoted out of context) is a cheap shot at making him look bad, despite his support of reporting suspected cases of abuse to police. In this regard, he is unquestionably a “friend” of the victim advocates. Why throw wrenches into that and raise doubts that do not exist? Is there reason to believe he speaks differently in private,or does that just make for good press?

      I defer to the Jewish Week’s report about R. Cohen’s views about taxes. It is not a cheap shot. It suggests that whatever his willingness to support reporting of child sex abuse in some cases it is not rooted in the broadest interpretation of dinah dimalchusah dinah.

      I have heard from various sources that R. Cohen always supports reporting when the victim himself is the source of the complaint asking the question. However, the answers are often not to report when someone says I know that so and so molested so and so. This specific standard is at odds with a broad interpretation (supported and encouraged by law) to promote reporting by all who have well founded suspicions.

      If someone can document that I erred in that understanding I will of course correct the article and issue the appropriate apologies.

  5. It’s a old story they are in bed with ACS its a shame with all the money they have from the state and city put in there pockets with no heart for the abused victims and there family’s , they belong in Nazi germany with a nice smile and stiff hearth
    The DA office should look into them
    They don’t service the community only there pockets

  6. That video is a bombshell! David says, “and so that the case does not have to become reportable to authorities, etc… we strongly advise the father he needs to leave the house”. In other words; we proactively give advice to cover-up and protect sexual abusers. Shocking!

    David Mandel should publicly retract the things he said. i

    With regard to his statements, “the confusion in a girls mind between the ages of 12 and 16 etc.. is much more complex than in a boys mind, because of the issue of sexuality, because of the issue of Besula, because of the issue of intimacy etc….”; this rhetoric is ridiculous and dangerous.

    Talmud Gittin 57:B; “a story is recounted with 400 children, boys and girls, who were taken captive (aboard a ship) to be (sexually) humiliated. They realized within themselves for what purpose they were taken captive. They questioned each other, saying, “If we drowned ourselves at sea will we have a place in the world to come”? The oldest one quoted psalm 68, “G-D says, “from the depths of the ocean I will bring them back” etc…. When the girls heard his contention, they jumped overboard and drowned themselves. The boys then made the following (kal v’chomer) extrapolation: “whereas the act with the girls is natural, (not the perpetrating or forceful part – rather the act itself, OBVIOUSLY), to us though, that the act is of an abnormal kind, we surely should apply the same rule. And they immediately jumped overboard and drowned themselves at sea.”

    To dispute, whether or not, for a boy or girl, the abuse is more severe, is very amateurish. For both of them, the trauma is deep, severe, and leaves horrific scars for life. But one clear inference we can derive from the Talmud’s story; (when a male abuses a male – as opposed to a male abusing a female) that the identity of the boys (the male factor that exists in a boy) is severely traumatized from sexual abuse. So, David Mandel’s argument that a girl’s trauma is worse at certain ages is contrary to the Talmud’s opinion, and just extremely insensitive! This guy, Mandel, needs to be immediately removed from his position – just like the Pope!

  7. It is like the tent of Avraham Avinu, our forefather Abraham, with open doors on all four sides.

    But in their case the open policy is to let the molesters come in and slip out as easily as possible, not to G-d forbid report to the police.

    Their OFFICIAL policy to their therapists is not to report without consulting their “Morah d’Asrah” Rabbi Dovid Cohen. Just like the Catholic Church…..but on taxpayers’ money. 35 million a year, to be exact.

  8. I would just like to comment on this video posting. Having worked at Ohel at one time for a number of years, I have to say that it is firstly unfair to view this video of all of 9 minutes of an hour or so presentation and make a clear judgment. We didn’t hear the question from the questioner directly to understand the context of the question. Also when he spoke about the difference between boys and girls, I don’t think he was suggesting that boys feel less victimized, i understood it to mean that there is another aspect that is added in relation to a girl as it relates to virginity and the like. Additionally, while i don’t really understand what he was saying regarding having the father leave the home, perhaps he was stating that the concern would be that once the allegation was made (remember allegation doesn’t mean fact), that there would be an investigation and the children might be removed from their home creating even more trauma (its possible they could remain with mom who was not involved in this at all). Also I have read studies and suggestions from trauma experts that not everyone who has had a trauma needs to be in treatments ASAP and it needs to be assessed. I have a lot of issues with the agency and did so while i worked there but i think it is also unfair to make such blanket statements without knowing the facts. It is NOT their official policy to not report as that is against the law and therapists don’t want to risk losing their licenses (they call all the time). Its budget is big but its a non profit, they don’t keep the money and they have a lot of programs. Its important to have the facts straight and not allow anger to get in the way of truth.

  9. I am confused. Is the reason to report child molestation because of Dina D’Malchusa Dina or in order to protect our children. I always assumed it was to protect our children from future instances of molestation by both exposing molestors and removing them from the streets. If so, what does cheating on taxes have to do with reporting of childe molestors?

  10. Pingback: It Is Time to Overhaul Ohel and Dismiss David Mandel « FRUM FOLLIES by Yerachmiel Lopin

  11. Pingback: Questions for Ohel About Sex Abuse When They Speak in the 5 Towns Tonight « FRUM FOLLIES by Yerachmiel Lopin

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