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Dov Hikind’s Challenge: Who Should Sit—and Who Should Not—on Taskforce Dealing with Sex Abuse in the Frum Community

by Susan Rosenbluth,
Editor, Jewish Voice and Opinion

November 2008

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 children.

Anonymous Accusations

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.

"Ritual Sacrifice"

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 that purpose.

Abrupt Ending

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.

Posting

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 issue.

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 person.

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."

The Jewish Voice and Opinion is a politically conservative Jewish publication which present news and feature articles not generally available elsewhere in the Jewish or secular media. Articles may be reprinted in their entirety with attribution.

 

 

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EMAIL : susan@jewishvoiceandopinion.com
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