Rabbi Yosef Kolko had about a half a dozen family members in the courtroom. There were also about a half a dozen supporters of the alleged victim including Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg.
During yesterday morning’s court session, the prosecutor and defense counsel finished selecting a sixteen person jury. The jury that deliberates will consist of twelve people who will be randomly selected out of the sixteen after the presentation of evidence and closing statements. Since no potential juror knows whether they will end up being an alternate everyone is more motivated to carefully attend to the trial.
The rest of the morning was taken up with opening statements by the prosecutor, ADA Laura Pierro, and defense counsel, Michael F. Bachner.
The prosecutor’s opening statement was an all too familiar story about a lonely, unpopular boy groomed by a camp counselor who gave him star billing in the choir and theatrical productions and then subjected the boy to escalating levels of sexual assault culminating in an attempt at anal rape. In the afternoon, the boy testified that Kolko kept saying he should not to tell anyone else about their encounters because it would ruin his chances of getting a shidduch (marriage match). Sadly, the boy maintained the relationship even colluding in secret meetings because “He was my friend” perhaps his only friend.
According to ADA Pierro, the abuse only stopped when the boy revealed it to his father.The boy’s father confronted Kolko, one-on-one and then in several more meetings with Rabbis Shmuel Blech and Doniel Bernstein, members of a beit din (rabbinical court) created to deal with sex abuse allegations. There were also meetings with Rabbi Nechemya Gottlieb, the then director of Camp Yachad and Yeshiva Bais Hatorah (which also employed Kolko).
In news reports unrelated to this case, Gottlieb is alleged to have physically abused boys in his school. Gottlieb went on to organize the asifa (gathering) which filled up a stadium to discourage Internet use and encourage orthodox Jews to buy his pricey Internet filter. It is ironic that this zealot for purity, this crusader against licentiousness on the Internet, ignored and covered up abuse in his own domain where there was no Internet use.
The beit din’s “in-house” procedure included sending Kolko to Gavriel Fagin, a social worker in Brooklyn. Sources tell me that Fagin is popular with ultra orthodox communal fixers across the metro NYC area who deal with molesters.
The father’s goals were getting Kolko out of work with kids and keeping Kolko in therapy in the hope that it would deter him from abusing other kids. But apparently Kolko thought he could get a better deal. He discontinued therapy after the evaluation was completed and the therapy began. He fled from the pointed fingers of the beit din and Fagin into the embrace of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Flatbush where he once learned and was ordained as a rabbi around 2001.
When Kolko discontinued therapy, the father brought the boy to the police to press charges in July of 2009. Fagin will be testifying for the prosecution later in the trial.
Belsky issued a public statement (Hebrew; English translation) branding the accuser’s father a fabricator, a snitch (moser), and a pursuer (rodef). Similar language was used by some rabbis against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, and was invoked by his assassin to justify the act.
ADA Pierro said that Rabbis Blech and Bernstein will testify for the prosecution along with the father and others. I believe they will testify truthfully and this will matter to the jury and will matter even more to the community which respects these rabbis.
For all my criticism of Lakewood, I want to give them credit for having some leaders who will testify truthfully against an abuser. In this respect, Lakewood is better than Satmar. However, like Satmar, Lakewood’s leadership (i.e., Malkiel and Aaron Kotler) forced the victim’s family out of Lakewood by getting the boy kicked out of school and depriving the father of livelihood. Like Satmar, Lakewood raised the money for Kolko’s legal defense but they didn’t book a banquet hall and make a public spectacle of the fundraising. Lakewood’s top leadership covers up sex abuse, obstructs justice, and intimidates witnesses. But they are Litvak Haredim, glatt smoother and less in-your-face, but just as lethal.
Kolko’s attorney argued that the boy invented the allegations of abuse because he was caught stealing. Bachner also questioned the six month gap between the alleged report to the therapist and the police report. He is correct that the delay was unconscionable, but he knows perfectly well how these things go down in Lakewood. This line of defense will force the prosecutor to explain the illegal process which is standard in Lakewood when dealing with abuse. This will mean a lot of trial evidence about the religious norms of the community and testimony about how this case proceeded internally. If Batya Ungar-Sargon reports on this trial she will try to spin this as prejudicial stereotyping of the community. But given the arguments of the defense, this is information the jury needs to understand why a credible charge was not immediately brought to the police. In fact, those who understand the community will realize how remarkable it was for the case to ever reach the offices of the Ocean County Prosecutor.
One of Kolko’s defenders tried to take pictures of the accuser’s supporters while they were in the hallway during a break. Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg complained to a Court Sheriff who brought the offender to the judge who forced him to delete the photo and warned him about much more severe consequences if he did this again. Two sources tell me the offender was Chatzkel Kolko, but I cannot confirm that there is anyone by that name in the Kolko family. For those that remember the Weberman trial the same tactic was used to intimidate supporters of the victim.
If You Want to Attend
The trial is being held in the Civil Division of the Superior Court, Courtroom 16/ 120 Hooper Ave/ Toms River, NJ 08753/ (732) 929-4780 (case # 10-06-1181i). Judge Francis Hodgson is presiding.
If You Want to Follow Trial Developments
I will be blogging regularly about significant developments in the trial. If you want to be sure to receive an email whenever I post, subscribe to an email notice of each posting by going to the upper right-hand corner of this page and enter your email address. I will not share your email address with anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any point.
I will be Tweeting as @frumfollies with the hashtag #YosefKolkoTrial. I woulad suggest following Kathleen Hopkins of the Asbury Park Press on Twitter (@KHopkinsapp).
If You Want Background on This Case
Hella Winston has written an in-depth account of how Lakewood’s rabbinical leaders dealt with this case and how the dominant leadership faction tried to cover it up.
Survivors for Justice has a page on the Yosef Kolko case (as distinct from the case of his uncle, Yehuda (Joel) Kolko). The page has links to key documents generated by Kolko’s supporters (including Yisroel Belsky) and to some other news accounts.
Other bloggers addressing this case include Harry Maryles on his blog, Emes Ve-Emunah (The Moral Authority of Lakewood), and Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn on his blog, Daas Torah (Why the Lakewood Establishment is Scared).