The demonstration will happen Sunday, March 20th, 6 p.m. outside Yeshiva Oholei Torah, 667 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn 11213. For more information about the demonstration visit the FaceBook event page, “Protest against Oholei Torah’s Abuse of Students.”
The orthodox media are great at protecting Jews from assaults, but only from outsiders. Let a gentile assault an orthodox Jew and the Haredi media swarms in to document the problem and demand action by the police and the District Attorney. Like a dog holding onto a bone they don’t let ago until they get arrests, prosecutions and hefty sentences. Woe unto the DA who slacks off on the job.
However the same media barely acknowledges that the greatest danger to Jewish children comes from those inside the community who physically and sexually abuse children. But why should we be surprised when most of the leadership of the community does somersaults to avoid hurting the reputations of offending adults? This is especially true when it comes to rabbis and yeshiva teachers.
Newsweek magazine (3/3/16) ran a cover story about abuse at Oholei Torah (OT), the flagship boys’ yeshiva of the Chabad community in Crown Heights, NY. Like all such institutions, it promises a wonderful, safe, nurturing environment. But nothing could be further from the truth for the 2,000 boys in this k-12 school.
Newsweek’s Senior Editor, Elijah Wolfson reports a shocking tolerance for abuse at Oholei Torah.
- Rabbi Joseph Reizes came to work there after being exposed as a child molester in Miami. He worked at OT for 15 years with a reputation as a molester until the school conceded he needed to go, but still kept him on till the end of the year. They never reported him to the authorities.
- He also describes an older boy who molested younger boys who was never sufficiently controlled or expelled. Instead the offending boy is now a man who works in OT and at a Chabad summer camp.
- Chaim Levin shared his story of abuse by his cousin with the dean of the elementary school, Rabbi Herschel Lustig. While sympathetic to Chaim’s anguish, he was equally concerned to protect the identity of the abuser Sholom Eichler (Chaim’s older cousin). Lustig never fulfilled his mandated reporting obligation. Nor did he take steps to protect other children. Eichler worked in Chabad summer camps.
- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Zalmanov, a teacher at OT was so physically abusive to students that he developed a reputation with a local pediatrician. Yet the principal, Lustig, would defend him and he still works there.
- Rabbi Velvel Karp is another veteran teacher notorious for abuse including hanging boys out of 4th story windows to frighten them. He also slammed kids into windows and doors even causing concussions. He still works there.
We are not dealing with a single bad apple that was promptly plucked and discarded. OT is a hellhole of abuse and its administration cares more about protecting the offending adults than assuring the safety of its students.
Private communication does not move them. Even the Newsweek story just led to a pro forma letter full of claims that they care about abuse and the allegations are not true. But it is hard to imagine a major publication naming these and other Chabad offenders without doing their due diligence. This story was doubtlessly cleared by Newsweek’s legal department, confident that they could prevail if sued for libel.
The planned Sunday night demonstration will force attention on OT during its annual gala dinner with many donors in attendance. It is clear that OT’s administration is incapable of a cheshbon hanefesh (soul reckoning). But perhaps, this demonstration will influence their donors and OT will listen to their bookkeeper’s reckoning of the costs of abuse.
The demonstration will happen Sunday, March 20th, 6 p.m. at 667 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn 11213. For more information about the demonstration visit the FaceBook Event page, “Protest against Oholei Torah’s Abuse of Students.” Please join the demonstration to make OT a safer place for students.
Update 3/20/16, 1 pm: Press Release Text
For Immediate Release:
Brooklyn, New York: On Sunday March 20th, 2016 at 6pm, Survivor advocacy groups, survivors of child sexual abuse, former students, their parents, and friends will gather to rally in front Oholei Torah, at 667 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn NY 11213 as the yeshiva hosts its annual fundraising gala, to protest the continued cover-up of child sexual and physical abuse that occurred at Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY, a boys yeshiva with close to 2,000 students and thousands of alumni.
A March 3rd 2016 Newsweek cover story detailed multiple incidents of sexual and physical abuse that were covered up by the school from the early 1990’s until now. To date, only one of the alleged abusers, Yossel Reizes, has been fired by the school (and only after 15 years of reports about his conduct). The rest of the alleged abusers named in the article remain employed at Oholei Torah today.
“We are standing together to raise awareness about an issue that has largely been ignored in this community,” said Crown Heights anti-abuse advocate Chaim Levin, whose story of abuse and subsequent cover-up by current Oholei Torah Dean Rabbi Herschel Lustig was detailed in the Newsweek exposé. “Yeshiva Oholei Torah has yet to take any meaningful action to end the decades of cover-up and protect its students from the abusers still in its employ. Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld, director of Oholei Torah, continues to demonstrate a reckless disregard for the safety of the children entrusted to his care. Accused abusers Rabbis Karp, and Zalmanov are still employed by the yeshiva,and Rabbi Herschel Lustig, who has overseen many of these cases is currently employed by the school as will. The incidents of sexual abuse described in the Newsweek article are tragically only the tip of the iceberg. Chabad Lubavitch International’s policy of protecting and relocating abusive teachers is inexcusable and has destroyed thousands of lives. It’s time that people take responsibility for the safety and well being in Crown Heights instead of shifting that responsibility to others. It’s time that abusive teachers and staff members are not tolerated in the Chabad school system. “
Even as Chabad insists it cares about abuse, it evades clear answers about who is responsible for ensuring safe schools by laying it off on others. In an email to the Jewish Daily Forward on Sunday, Rabbi Lustig said: “We follow the guidelines of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the Chabad education arm…Those guidelines are in line with the law.”
In an email to Chaim Levin, Merkos Chinuch Director Rabbi Nochum Kaplan said “The Merkos Chinuch Office has publish[ed] a child Safety Code which all mosdos are expected to adopt. We take no position regarding individual mosdos and how they implement the code. “ When asked if and how these policies are enforced Kaplan said “The Chinuch Office is a service agency; it does not supervise mosdos. “ However, just one year ago after the proceedings of the Royal Commission, Merkos published this letter which includes this paragraph:
The unfortunate incidents alleged to have occurred in Australia may have well been avoided if the institutions in question would have adhered to the Child Safety Code guidelines of the Merkos Educational Office. We will therefore take additional steps of these codes by all Chabad-Lubavitch educational institutions, to ensure strict adherence and we will continue to explore additional measures to raise awareness among school personnel, about the dangers, risks and indications of offenses of sexual abuse and misconduct.
This passing of the buck is unacceptable.
We are protesting to demand
An end to child abuse
The replacement of staff who abuse
The replacement of all leaders culpable in the cover-ups or unwilling to commit to responsibility for adopting and enforcing a child safety code
A vigorous policy of taking all allegations seriously and promptly reporting them to protective services and the police
Reversing the pattern of intimidating victims into silence
Immediate suspension of staff being investigated for abuse
Public acknowledgement of past failures
Apologies to all those affected
Agreement to pay compensation for the damage caused by abuse. While civil law has a statute of limitations (SOLs), there are no SOLs in Jewish law.
For further information and to schedule interviews please contact:
Chaim Levin: 917-932-5394 –
Asher Lovy: 347-369-4016
Oholei Torah contact info:
Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch contact info:
718 774 8600