Dov Hikind’s Challenge: Who Should Sit—and Who Should
Not—on Taskforce Dealing with Sex Abuse in the Frum Community
Editor, Jewish Voice and Opinion
Last month, NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind acknowledged that separating
the true experts on the issue of child abuse from the many charlatans,
especially those proliferating on the Internet, will be a major
challenge when it comes to selecting members of his taskforce.
He indicated that he has already been approached by individuals
connected with a notorious Baltimore-based website known as The
Awareness Center (TAC), which exists only on the Internet.
Run by its founder, Vicki Polin, TAC was established in 1999
purportedly as a venue to address the issue of sexual abuse in the
Jewish community. In addition to posting articles and suggestions by and
for those who have allegedly suffered abuse and those who wish to
counsel them, TAC identifies, by name, more than 250 "rabbis, cantors,
and other trusted officials," most of whom have been anonymously accused
but neither convicted nor even indicted, of sexually abusing women or
While TAC says it identifies only those whose cases have reached the
attention of newspapers, in fact, the site also considers anonymous
Internet blogs as sufficiently reliable sources. Thus, if an anonymous
blog accuses someone, by name, he risks being listed, frequently along
with his family—including those who are deceased—on TAC.
Some experts in the field have accused Ms. Polin of posting
accusations herself on other websites and then using that accusation to
list the individual on TAC.
It would seem to be exactly what Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for
Agudath Israel of America, called "the blogorai," which, he said, "is
the new way of making irresponsible accusations."
"Using a blog is a very easy and effective way of casting aspersions
on people," he said.
Once listed on TAC, an accused individual may find it impossible to
be removed. Although Ms. Polin has said she would de-list an accused
person if he repented, she was also quoted at a conference in Washington
as saying that, even after an accused individual underwent "real
teshuva," TAC might decide to keep his name on the list, just to
keep him "on the right path."
Rabbi Mark Dratch, the leader of JSafe, a Jewish group designed to
address the issue of sex abuse in the Jewish community, was once closely
associated with TAC. He broke off his connection, he said, because while
he approved of TAC as an "advocacy organization and resource center for
survivors of sexual assault," he disapproved of its practice of
identifying those who have simply been accused of abuse through
innuendos and rumors.
Ms. Polin herself has an interesting story. According Rabbi Tzvi
Kilstein, a former resident of Teaneck who now resides in Boca Raton;
Arutz Sheva Radio personality Tovia Singer; and an inordinate number of
blogs, Ms. Polin has claimed that, in 1989, she was a guest on the Oprah
Winfrey program using the pseudonym "Rachel."
According to a transcript of the program, "Rachel," who said she was
undergoing treatment for "multiple personality disorder," told Ms.
Winfrey she had witnessed the "ritual sacrifice of Jewish children" and
had herself been a victim of "ritualistic abuse."
She claimed to have been born into a Jewish family that was involved
in "Satan-worship rituals," and, she said, hers and "other Jewish
families across the country" sacrificed babies that had been bred for
Ms. Winfrey, obviously concerned about the consequences of her
audience believing this was typical of Jewish worship, stopped the
segment abruptly, cautioning her viewers to remember that "worshipping
the devil is not part of the Jewish faith."
Nevertheless, according to the New York Times, the show
provoked hundreds of angry phone calls and letters to Jewish and civil
liberties groups, faulting the program for inviting the woman on the
show in the first place.
Rabbi Kilstein said Ms. Polin she told them she had been "raped by a
member of the synagogue on a Torah scroll on the bima and penetrated by
a ritual object."
"Accepting someone like Vicki Polin on the taskforce would be
disastrous for Hikind and the panel’s reputation," said Rabbi Kilstein.
Ms. Polin has crossed paths with Dr. Neustein and Mr. Lesher on
several occasions. Last month, after Dr. Neustein made her public
apology to Mr. Hikind, the blogsite called "the Un-Orthodox Jew,"
received an article entitled "Silent No Longer," which is purported to
have been authored by Sherry Orbach. UOJ informed Mr. Lesher that the
piece was posted by Ms. Polin.
In "Silent No Longer," which was written in 2005 after The Jewish
Voice published a piece on Dr. Neustein’s efforts to reconcile with
her daughter, the author denies that she was ever molested, maligns her
mother as a "publicity hound," and castigates anyone who has looked at
the record and drawn other conclusions.
The problem is that it is doubtful that the highly incendiary piece,
which is riddled with factual inaccuracies, was really written by Ms.
Orbach. Dr. Neustein believes it was authored by a member of the group
that has fought her for years.
"They are terrified that a thorough investigation will reveal the
truth about what happened to my daughter and countless others," she
said. Dr. Neustein believes her daughter was sufficiently cowed by years
of abuse, rendering her incapable of standing up for herself on this
Who Wrote It?
After "Silent No Longer" was submitted to The Jewish Voice by
email, the author refused to deliver it personally, even when the offer
was made for it to be picked up from her on the Columbia campus, where
she was attending law school. Doubting that it was written by Ms. Orbach,
The Jewish Voice declined to publish it.
When the piece was similarly emailed to the Brooklyn-based Jewish
Press, the editorial staff initially decided that they, too, would
insist on meeting the author, just to ascertain that it was indeed Dr.
Neustein’s estranged daughter who had written it.
The author again refused, but, unlike The Jewish Voice, The
Jewish Press eventually published the piece without ever meeting her
In retrospect, Naomi Klass Mauer, associate publisher of The
Jewish Press, has acknowledged that she probably should have
insisted on receiving the piece in person. At this point, no one knows
for certain who wrote "Silent No Longer."
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