TruthSeeker is the pseudonym of a former student in Elimelech Meisels’ seminaries. She describes her initial enthusiasm, the charismatic, flirtatious nature of Meisels’ leadership, his crossing boundaries, her confronting him about it, her attempts to get staff to confront the problem, her futile attempt to share her knowledge with Rabbi Malinowitz of the Israeli Beis Din, and attempts to intimidate her by Meisels through the Daas Torah blog of R. Daniel Eidensohn — Yerachmiel Lopin
Starting at Pninim
I walked off the plane not knowing what to expect for the upcoming year at Pninim Seminary. I was excited. I heard seminary was a year to focus on my ruchnius (spirituality) and growth. I came thirsting for the kedusha (holiness) of Torah and Yiddishkeit and quenching my thirst for self-improvement. Pninim was a place where people encouraged growth in every way and exposed girls to the sweetness of a true-Torah lifestyle in the most Kadosh (holy) of places-Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).
I remember stepping into my very first class and being blown away by Mrs. Karp’s exalted interpretation of the words in “Eishes Chayil” (“Woman of Valor”). Her passion and raw emotions almost brought me to tears and I felt my neshama (soul) lifted up by her class. Mrs. Kallus’ fiery lectures sent a stream of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) adrenaline flowing through my veins. Rabbi Kahane taught his classes with passion you couldn’t find elsewhere and he had a good sense of humor. He taught me that I had the power to change the world and make a difference
Then there was our principal, Rabbi Elimelech Meisels. I was attracted to his nerdy side which poured out textbook knowledge about any subject and to his intuitive understanding of the world. I enjoyed my private talks with him which I could not get from any other teacher. My mechanchim (educators) blew me away in each and every lesson.
Many of us adored Meisels from the first time we saw him on stage or we talked to him privately. To us students he was a pop star. He was a baal chesed (charitable man), a person who never thought twice about offering financial help to struggling girls or offering a few kind words to help a girl feel like a million bucks. His day consisted of speaking to students privately and he energetically worked his way through the girls lined up outside his office. Most girls called him “Rabbi Meisels” Some even referred to him as their “second Tatti (Daddy)”.
Something Bothered Me about Meisels
But I’d be lying if I said that everything was “just dandy”. I began questioning the behavior of our principal, Elimelech Meisels. At first it was hard to realize what bothered me. He was intelligent, charming, giving, and personal – a bit too personal. Yes, a bit too personal, a bit too charming, too giving, and intelligent enough to explain it all away.
I came to question some of his actions which did not seem to match what he preached in the classroom. He was the only man in the building at all hours besides the fix-it man and chef. He was this charming, “good-looking” rabbi who had girls surrounding him by the dozens. At times it was hard to remember that he was a married rabbi with a family and loving wife.
He made girls blush with teasing and playful comments. He would comment on girls’ looks, calling them gorgeous and pretty. He would get girls to open up about the most private of subjects such as past relationships, boyfriends, and life traumas. He would trade secrets, violating confidentiality in his one-on-one chats such as telling me about other girls’ financial problems and family issues.
Girls got themselves made-up before his class. Girls fought for his attention and for private time alone in his office. If he had to leave the building just before someone’s turn, they would eagerly ask when he’d be available next. At times he would come back late at night, sometimes staying as late as one in the morning.
It was no secret that students had crushes on this man in his forties, and I knew that he welcomed it. On one occasion he admitted to me that he was aware of girls’ feelings for him. He knew certain girls would put makeup on before coming into his office. One time he told me he “could understand why girls could feel this way” because he was “good looking.” It bothered me most that he knew exactly what he was doing and seemed to relish it.
It made my heart sink when I overheard rumors of him breaking tznius (modesty) boundaries with girls. These stories spread like wild-fire throughout the dorms. These are rumors I’d rather not repeat, because I am not sure of their validity. I will only repeat the things I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
I saw him flirting with girls and with a particular female staff member. Other staff noticed it but said the two just had a “close connection like a father and a daughter”.
I witnessed careless behavior at shabbos meals and one specific incident late at night in the school between him and another female worker. There was no touching but there was loose behavior by both of them that made my heart sink. It was hard not to think about what would his wife say if she were there witnessing it.
But I wasn’t yet sure enough. I wondered if might have it all wrong. Maybe I was being too extreme, too negative. So when other girls described the flirting, I’d brush them off exclaiming “lashon harah (gossip)!” I fervently stood up for our principal when girls ridiculed him. I even embarrassed myself for him when a girl exclaimed “he’s not a real rabbi”. I fought her viciously in public for his kavod (honor) and I made her feel ashamed for the audacity of her comment.
Girls and teachers had openly told me that they considered me a role model. I criticized myself; how could a girl like me have the chutzpah to open her mouth and go against the school she loved most? Then I would worry about ruining my reputation. How could I open up to my friends without having them reject my claims? I was afraid and I felt guilty. So I kept my growing suspicions to myself.
But when the rumors and stories began coming from the people I trusted the most and became more frequent, this became more difficult to do. As time went on and I entered into my second year in Chedvas, his inappropriate behavior became increasingly apparent. I spent three consecutive days without any sleep. I could not handle having a role model I did not respect. I wondered. Is my role model a faker, a liar, a manipulator, a flirt, or even a pervert?
I wrote Meisels a letter expressing my conflicted feelings. In part, it said,
Dear Rabbi Meisels,
I’m writing this letter because I feel like there is no way I can physically speak some of the words it contains to you without crying…the kind of crying resulting from such great agony because I respect you so much. Likewise, I think it would embarrass the both of us much more if I would say it in person…
Back in January, just a few days after you arrived back from America, you were (once again) spending a late night in school speaking to girls, staff, etc. But by this time there was practically no one downstairs anymore but me and another girl. I was right outside your office chatting with another girl, until you came out of your office with a certain individual… You were both sharing some very friendly laughs together, shutting off the lights in your office and locking it, preparing to leave (or so I thought)…
Then you and that certain individual exited through the side door together. I was continuing my conversation with that … girl right outside your office… In the middle of our conversation we both looked through the glass doors and onto the mirpeset (balcony). We saw the shadowy figures of you and that individual unlock the door to the mirpeset. You carried along with your easy-going conversation to the side of the building……
Without saying a word to each other, the … girl and I exchanged glances. It was a confusing situation for us both. Some time passed until the two of you finally walked into the building through the glass doors right next to me and the … girl. I just can’t refrain from saying this, but the way you two walked in the building with your laughing seemed so loud and careless that it really shook me and the … girl up.
The interruption was so disturbing that I actually stopped the conversation with the girl to maybe give you two a hint, to maybe have one of you realize that, yeah, there are two students here in front of us so maybe we shouldn’t act as loud and loose with each other as you [would] not be doing if it were in the middle of the day with the school filled with people…
I turned to the girl without saying a word. She said a comment under her breath, expressing her confusion in a more upset manner, I guess. But I was just utterly confused. The two of us just stood there staring (very obviously, in fact) at you two, until your conversation ended and you both went your separate ways…
This is, by the way, only one example… It just happened to be one that struck me so hard, that I remember it in vivid detail…
This makes me look at you and that certain individual in a different way…
Angry, very angry. Angry because you have such great perception and you are so cognizant in just so many areas…yet at times you lose them both. Not realizing that two students were watching even from the shadows of the mirpeset and into the building with your loud interruption…
Sadness this most of all, more than anger and confusion… Every time I pass by your office… I think about what an incredible person Rabbi Meisels is… Every time I pass by your office I think about all the hours of work you put into this school and the people in it and it actually makes me want to cry… I never want to be a bother and ask you to take time off of your busy schedule just to talk to me. … And most of all, everything you’ve done for me and still continue to do until today. I’m close to tears right now typing this… How do you describe the respect you have for a person who has given you everything? It simply cannot be done. And so that is why I feel sadness-
Because I see things that are being done by such a great person that I cannot make sense of… This has been bothering me for months now… It’s because of the amount of respect I still have for Rabbi Meisels and because you’re always there when I need advice on things.
I nervously handed it to him, but he tossed it away like a piece of trash. I waited for him to approach me and resolve the issue with care and concern. But it never happened. He behaved as if nothing had occurred. I then spoke my mind straight to him when I saw no effort on his side. When I made him aware that girls “liked” him, he smiled and asked me how many. Did they like Rabbi Simon too? When I asked him how he could call my friends “pretty”, he said it planted self-esteem in them. He tried lessening my concern. “They have feelings for me, but then they go off, get married, and forget all about me. No big deal,” he told me.
I told him straight out that I saw through his purposeful manipulation. He surprisingly agreed he was able to do this, but claimed to do it for good purposes. He then called me “extreme”, “obsessed”, and an “ingrate.” He took out his phone and said “I just recorded you. Would you like me to replay it for you to show you how ridiculous you sound?” I was shocked and mortally embarrassed. But he left me with kind words in order to keep positive feelings between us.
Other Staff Refused to Act
I was brushed under the rug and I was not satisfied with our meeting. I went to two different teachers and complained about charismatic rabbis getting too friendly with girls. The supposed flirting and crushes the girls developed for their loving rabbis in general bothered me. When Meisels was brought up, they had a line: “Well, he just does things differently.” As far as they were concerned, that made the problem disappear. I questioned the late-night car rides to my friends. They would say “He’s doing girls a favor by giving them rides. Come on, it’s not weird. It’s Rabbi Meisels!”
Then I went to another Rabbi in the seminary to complain specifically about Meisels. With my face in my hands, I struggled to get out my guilty thoughts. By the end of the meeting, the teacher seemed bothered, but could only promise me a minimum amount of assistance to lessen his contact with girls.
Not satisfied with the lack of concrete action by this teacher, I moved on to another teacher. “There is someone in the school that is trouble and I suspect has underlying motives. I feel they are causing more damage than good.”
“Okay. Why don’t you go to the principal of the school if you feel like someone might be doing harm?” The sound of the principal’s footsteps outside the room and my dead silence suddenly made him nervous. When the footsteps were gone, he proceeded. “You can’t tell the principal of the school…because the person you are talking about is the principal of the school.” Unable to speak, I nodded my head. But even then, I saw no change.
After I Graduated
I kept a relationship with Rabbi Meisels after seminary, emailing here and there, because he was a great source of knowledge and insight. Yet I told close friends that I did not trust his honesty and integrity in the slightest. I refused to see him again in person during his frequent trips to America, including seminary reunions. I was still torn by not being able to trust the man who helped me so much in life.
Contacting the Chicago Beis Din
After the scandal broke out this July, I called Rabbi Shmuel Feurst, a member of the Chicago Beis Din (rabbinical court) (CBD) to see if the rumor was true. I was devastated when I heard the answer. I also spoke to Rabbi Zev Cohen about my experiences. I was far from the first to call and report inappropriate behavior by our principal. Now I got more resentful towards the staff who didn’t listen to me. They were supposed to protect the girls but did not.
Trying to Talk to Rabbi Kahane
As soon as got off the phone with Rabbi Feurst, I emailed Rabbi Meir Kahane, principal of Chedvas to set up a time to talk by phone. Within a day or two we spoke and I started off by asking him if he knew of anything and if girls ever complained. He froze in his responses and never answered me outright. I asked him whether he called the CBD to see if it was true. He never did, and when I wanted to expand our conversation, he refused to speak to me. He said “listen, we all do aveiros (sins) that we don’t want publicized. Why do we need to talk and publicize his?” I was appalled by his statement. He told me Meisels would not see the light of day again. But I don’t believe it.
He ended our conversation by saying that if I talk about the incident, “The malachim (angels) in shamayim (heaven) will speak badly about you to HaShem (G-d). You can’t afford that; you need a shidduch (marriage match)!”
I was shocked by his complete lack of empathy and the phone call did not end well. A few hours later, I became one of the few original recipients of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s infamous “Lashon Horah” email. I wrote back a powerful response, letting him know that I was completely disinterested in helping him “save the world” this time around.
I Became TruthSeeker
Shortly after, I began sharing my thoughts and feelings by commenting on the posts in the Internet blog, Frum Follies. I used the pseudonym TruthSeeker. The username came instantly to mind. I wanted to help and give people clarity from the perspective of someone who experienced life in the seminaries.
I gained clarity about my own thoughts on the blog. I did not want to accuse my seminary teachers of “covering up”. I stood up for them and the school fervently. But as things unraveled, I broke free of my protective thinking. I had to come to terms with the fact that some of my role models were not acting in respectable ways. They did not apologize to victims. They lied when they said that they knew nothing when there were complaints.
The Israeli Beis Din Won’t Take My Testimony
During that time the Israeli Beis Din (rabbinical court) (IBD) insisted the seminaries were safe as long as Meisels was gone, but I was concerned about other staff who knew what was going on with Meisels and ignored it.
In order to inform the IBD on August 3, 2014, I called Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, one of its dayanim (judges). When I spoke to Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz on the phone, I asked him how he determined the seminaries were safe. He said, “We asked the teachers and they said they knew of nothing.” When I attempted to share my experience, I was cut off. “We are a real Beis Din”, I was told. Nothing could be heard unless there was an official meeting. He took my name and number and said he’d give me a call when such a meeting would occur. I asked for a heads-up for when they would call so I could be available to answer. He wouldn’t give me an answer. He said that if I happened to be available at the time of the meeting, then they would listen to what I had to say. This was over a month ago. I still haven’t gotten a call.
Meisels and Eidensohn Attack Me
I commented about my experience with Rabbi Malinowitz on FrumFollies.wordpress.com. That may be why I woke up one morning finding myself a part of a main post on the Daas Torah blog of Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn with a campaign against “TruthSeeker.”
People called me a liar and claimed I was a “troubled and lonely girl” and that Meisels paid for my therapy. I have never been in therapy and certainly not one which Meisels paid for. I suspect Meisels is the one behind this attack to punish me for revealing information and to intimidate me into stopping. I am not saying he did it himself. He was always good at getting other people to do what he wanted.
Meisels, your therapy claim was silly. But what really bothered me, Meisels, was that you exposed that I was on a special scholarship, as well as other personal information. Nobody but you was supposed to know those things.
You were a fake baal chesed (charitable man). You used your giving as a way to gain power and to control other people. That scholarship was one of the main reasons I kept my mouth closed about you for so long. I felt so much guilt about attacking someone to whom I owed so much. I spoke to a friend you once offered financial help. When I asked her why she refused your offer she said, “I don’t want to feel I ever owe him anything.” Most other people did not know enough to push away the strings attached to all the chesed (kindness) you showered on them. You used those strings to control us like puppets that would follow and praise your every move.
On the Daas Torah blog under the username “Y Cohen” which I am confident was you, or your shliach (agent), “Cohen” claimed that I betrayed you.
Elimelech Meisels, you betrayed hundreds (if not thousands) including mechanchim (educators), alumni, and parents the moment you could not keep your hands to yourself. Your betrayal goes far beyond the destruction of our personal kesher (bond).
I have lost my Pninim family. And for that, I cry. The people I trusted the most and looked up to have acted in unspeakable ways. Pninim’s magic will never be the same for me anymore. But I would rather face this unpleasant truth and become an outcast to some other alumni than participate in a cover-up for your sick actions.
You can see other posts on Frum Follies about the Meisels seminaries scandal. They will appear in reverse chronological order (most recent first). You will get several pages of titles, so when you get to the bottom make sure to click on “<– older posts.” If your prefer reading in chronological order, keep going back and read from the bottom up.