(For an overview of the trial till yesterday see Allison Yarrow’s account in the Daily Beast)
After the alleged victim finished testifying on Friday, everything else was anticlimactic. But there were some significant new facts brought to light.
The mother of the victim testified that the family was forced to use Nechemya Weberman and pay $12,000 up front or else her daughter would be kicked out of the Satmar UTA school system. She produced a letter from the school laying out those demands (LINK). As I have said before, this isn’t just a trial about abuse. It is also a trial about vaad hatznius (modesty committee) extortion.
Another important witness was the mental health professional at the victim’s school who was the first person to hear about the victim’s abuse and report it. She established that she first began hearing pieces of the story from her in December 2010. In an emotional moment she described the victim’s anguish and brought many in the courtroom to tears. This fact helps refute the defense claim that the charge was revenge for something Weberman did well after that first disclosure.
The defense will put up Weberman as a witness today. Yesterday they tried to lay the groundwork. They called on the arresting detective to establish inconsistencies between the victim’s original statements to the police and her testimony at the trial. This is a standard tactic to impugn the credibility of the witness and imply she is lying. In reality, no matter how honest you are, you will have a hard time telling a long, complicated painful story the exact same way twice, two years apart. The important question is whether the versions are basically the same and whether the differences are substantively important. The prosecution demolished the defense claims in a withering and sarcastic cross-examination that left the courtroom laughing. The judge admonished everyone to maintain decorum but even he had trouble suppressing his amused expression.
A principal of the Satmar school was put on the stand to deny any collusion with the vaad hatznius. He even claimed there was no vaad hatznius and he did not know those words except as terms in a dictionary. Everyone in Williamsburg knows he is lying. Rachmuna Litzlon (Ari Mandel) ridiculed that claim on Twitter and Facebook. One of Weberman’s supporters challenged him to provide their address and phone number. Of course we all know that the vaad is a shadowy entity with no official listing, but most everyone in hasidic Williamsburg can name its activists. Ari’s witty reply was “1 (800) MAFIA-11.” He also posted on FaceBook a copy of a KJ vaad hatznius letter to a parent telling him his kids could no longer attend Satmar schools because he shaved his beard.
Perhaps the most significant development happened outside the trial. Defenders of the victim were furious about the Saturday night speech by Aron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe-KJ who called the victim a whore. Ari Mandel and Joshie Berger used FaceBook to organize a demonstration outside his large gathering in Williamsburg. Over 60 victim supporters attended brandishing signs and distributing leaflets. Event attendees passing by took the leaflets and some were persuaded by them. The slogans on the signs included: Rabbis are not above the law; If you are not for the victims, you are against the victims, Aiyn apitropos l’aroyos (You can’t be your own guardian on sexual matters), God does not have a statute of limitations on sexual abuse, Sexual abuse of little boys and girls is soul murder, Stop silencing and shaming survivors of abuse, and herst oiyf shitzen menuvalim (stop protecting lowlife molesters).
Weberman’s supporters are ridiculing the demonstration as trivial and full of bums who are no longer religious. But the organizers of the event were not so sanguine. They deployed in force and Shlomo Shammas was out there with others to try and route event attendees away from the demonstration. They are scared. They are not used to being challenged. They are not used to having the issue talked about publicly on their home turf. They know that a conversation is being opened that they work hard to suppress. As Elie Wiesel wrote: “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The era of silence is drawing to a close. The protest was covered by TV station WPIX 11
The victim who testified against Weberman is our Nachshon. Where others lacked the faith to step forward and test the waters she stepped forward boldly. Because of her the waters are parting and others are also stepping forward. It started with the counter demonstration against the fundraiser for Weberman this summer organized by Zaakah on FaceBook. But that was targeted at the fundraiser, not at the Rebbe himself. Then an I event I organized was directed against Zaalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe-Williamsburg when he appeared in Flatbush. Still, folks were afraid to demonstrate in Williamsburg, the heart of Satmar in Brooklyn, in a direct attack on a Rebbe. That changed last night.
Weberman is expected to take the stand in his own defense today. He is gambling recklessly. Smart defense lawyers keep their clients off the stand. Once you go up there and finish your account the prosecution gets to cross-examine. By law all sorts of topics are off limits for the prosecution unless the defense opens them up by putting the defendant on the stand. For example, you don’t have to defend the witnesses honesty if his testimony is not part of the evidence at a trial. But once he goes up he can be confronted with evidence of his dishonest character.
Readers, you will be upset by Weberman’s lies on the stand. But stay cool and wait for the cross-examination. Weberman, an arrogant manipulator is going to discover that his lies no longer work. He thinks he is on the royal highway to acquittal but he is going to discover he has walked into a buzz saw. Weberman’s backers know the truth, the trial is going badly for them. There is every indication they are preparing for an appeal, as is their legal right. But most appeals fail and he will probably sit in jail while he awaits the outcome of the appeal. With juries, nothing is certain but the odds are excellent that Weberman just spent his last shabbos as a free man. Many of his victims have probably spent their last shabbos tormented by the thought that he is free while they suffer.