Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Note to Saul Berman, Avi Weiss, Joseph Telushkin and the rest of the Gafni Gang

Wouldn't it be great to start 2007 with a clean slate?

If you know any of the individuals listed below please encourage them to apologize directly to those they attacked for exposing Rabbi Mordechai Gafni.

Marc Gafni came out publicly back in May that he assaulted more women in Israel. To this day Saul Berman, Joseph Telushkin, Dr. Steven Marmer, Naomi Marks, those at ALEPH and others who supported Mordechai have not make an apology to those they harmed.

Saul and Joseph, pick up and write an apology letter to all of the survivors of Gafni, Vicki Polin, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Luke Ford and the rest of the people you harmed. It's been suggested as part of your teshuva process you all should start fundraising for The Awareness Center for at least the amount of revenue they must have lost because of your denial and attacks.

I think you should contact all the rabbis and other individuals you contacted in the past and let them know of your horrible mistake and request they put their names back up. I know this may be a difficult task to attain, so an easier way would be to take an add out in all Jewish papers in the US and Israel with your apology, naming the survivors of Mordechai Gafni, Rabbi Blau, Vicki Polin and Luke Ford.

Here's the list of Characters that need to apologise directly to those they attacked for exposing Marc Gafni as a sexual predator. If you know any of these people please call them and encourage them to do the right thing.
  1. Metuka Benjamin (Director of Education, Stephen S. Wise Temple)
  2. Rabbi Phyllis Berman (Former Director Elat Chayyim summer program)
  3. Rabbi Saul Berman (Director, Edah)
  4. Davidovich (Executive Producer, Israel Channel 2 Television)
  5. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone (Congregation Nevei Kodesh)
  6. Rabbi Shefa Gold (Director C-Deep, composer and teacher)
  7. Rabbi Arthur Green (Dean, Hebrew College Rabbinical School)
  8. Rabbi Eli Herscher (Stephen S. Wise Synagogue)
  9. Arthur Kurzweil (former Director, Elat Chayyim, Jewish Book Club)
  10. Avraham Leader (Leader Minyan, Bayit Chadash)
  11. Stephen Marmer, M.D. (Psychiatrist, UCLA Medical School)
  12. Jacob Ner-David (Board Chair, Bayit Chadash)
  13. Peter Pitzele (Ph.D., Bibliodrama Institute)
  14. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Rabbinic Chair, Aleph Don Seeman, Ph.D. Emory University)
  15. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (author, Jewish Literacy and Jewish Wisdom)
  16. Rabbi David Zaslow (Havurah Shir Hadash)
  17. Noam Zion (Hartman Institute)

This is one of the many letters the above individuals signed and sent out in attempts to destroy The Awareness Center.
To The Jewish Community worldwide:
In this letter we the undersigned ask the Jewish community worldwide to reaffirm its commitment to the Torah, and to the ethical principles of Judaism. Although the specific focus of our discussion is Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, whom have known collectively for many years, the issues we address are universal and timeless.
A group of several people. None of whom know Rabbi Gafni personally in any real way, and none who has had any contact in the past twenty years have undertaken a systematic campaign to besmirch his name. Their primary method has been to keep alive and distort two very old and long discredited stories. Their attacks have recently increased in volume and intensity. He has consistently and generously offered to meet with them, but they have refused.
Many people who know Rabbi Gafni well, as all the undersigned do, have individually and collectively examined the accusations about him that this group has been spreading. We have found their rumors and accusations to be either wholly without substance or radically distorted to the point of falsification. We conclude that the false and malicious rumors against Gafni constitute lashon hara and that the dissemination of such lies is prohibited by the Torah and Jewish ethical principles.
Thus we must address and to make right the wrong that has been attempted in regard to Rabbi Gafni, and affirm our support of him as an important teacher and leader in the Jewish community.
We have worked with Rabbi Gafni in many contexts, ranging from colleague to employer. We have published his works in our collections, co-taught with him, and known him in a host of other close relationships. Over the years, we have also extensively discussed with him the different stages of his life and the decisions he has made in relationships, professional choices and more.
We affirm without reservation that in addition to being a person of enormous gifts, depth, and vision, Rabbi Gafni is also a person of real integrity. He possesses a unique combination of courage and audacity coupled with a genuine humility that comes only from having lived life fully with all of its complexity, beauty and sometimes pain.
Leaders of his caliber and depth who are committed to ongoing personal development are few and far between. From our dual commitment to him as an individual, as well as to the most profound ethical teachings of the Torah, we urge you as the reader of this letter to reject the false reports about Rabbi Gafni, and to give him your full support, as we all have done and continue to do.
If you have further questions, please feel free to contact any one of us directly.
The following letter was written by Rabbi Saul Berman and distributed widely by Rabbi Gafni and his supporters over the past 18 months:
To Whom It May Concern,
I have had occasion during the spring, summer and fall of 2004 to conduct an extensive personal inquiry in response to accusations which have been made against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni and publicized on the Internet. A more balanced version of these same issues than that on the Internet was raised in an editor's column by Gary Rosenblatt published in the Jewish Week newspaper, in which Rosenblatt asserted that he was unable to draw either a negative or positive conclusion about these issues, calling his extensive research into the issue an "investigation without a conclusion"
I have invested literally hundreds of hours in talking to parties directly and indirectly related, reading public statements posted on the Internet, and following the unfolding of this issue. I have come to a number of clear and unequivocal conclusions.
First, as I have written in a public letter together with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, we have found the decades-old accusations against Rabbi Gafni to be unconvincing now, as they were dismissed in responsible contemporaneous investigations. We believe that these accusations have been intentionally distorted, kept alive and circulated by a small group of people who have waged a vendetta-like campaign against Rabbi Gafni, creating a false and unfair impression of his character.
Second, the material posted on the Awareness Center website and related Internet blogs is not credible. Both in regard to Rabbi Gafni as well as to other cases posted there, the Awareness Center has grossly distorted facts and blatantly lied. Indeed, working together with a small team I have collected a host of examples of such behavior on the part of the Awareness Center. While the Awareness Center does address an issue critical to the Jewish community, that of sexual harassment and abuse, the center itself has unfortunately become an abuser itself of the first order.
The major other Internet poster of accusations against Rabbi Gafni is a certain Luke Ford. Luke Ford, who poses as a journalist, also runs a pornography site. He is a discredited Internet gossip columnist for the pornography industry, who, by his own written admission, regularly publishes libelous material as truth without even the slightest attempt at verification.
Third, I have urged Rabbi Gafni to continue actively writing and teaching his communities of students around the world. I have done so based on my firm conclusion that he poses absolutely no danger or threat to anyone. Indeed, I firmly believe that the notion suggested by Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center that he poses any danger whatsoever is patently absurd. While in some areas I would take issue with Rabbi Gafni's thought, particularly in areas where he departs from classical Orthodoxy, the work he is doing is serious and is of great benefit to the Jewish community worldwide.
I urge the readers of this letter to continue to support Rabbi Gafni's work, including his public teachings, writings, television projects and social activism. We are in need today of hearing the emerging voices of the next generation of Jewish leadership, and Rabbi Gafni's voice is one of them. I look forward to learning what he has to teach in the decades to come.
(Director, Edah)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Rabbi Considers Appeal Kaye Sentenced for Sex Crime Charges

By Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week - December 6, 2006

The lawyer for the rabbi caught in a hidden camera sting of online sexual predators said Tuesday that he and his client are still discussing whether to appeal his conviction on sex crime charges.

A notice of an appeal must be filed within 10 days of last Friday's sentencing of David Kaye, in which Alexandria U.S. Court Judge James Cacheris sent the Rockville rabbi to prison for 78 months.

Kaye was found guilty in September of "coercion and enticement" and travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual contact with a minor. Those charges were brought after Kaye was featured in a broadcast of the Dateline NBC "To Catch a Predator" series.

Kaye lawyer Peter Greenspun said he was pleased with the sentence considering that the government had originally asked for a term of 121 months. But, the lawyer said, "that doesn't mean it's not a difficult and harsh ... sentence."

Federal sentences are determined by a system that assigns a certain number of points for a specific crime and and then adds or subtracts points based on various enhancements and reductions.

Prosecutors asked for three enhancements, but the judge only accepted one, for obstruction of justice. Cacheris ruled that Kaye had commited perjury by testifying that he had gone to the house in Herndon expecting to meet with a young adult. For that reason, the judge also rejected the defense request for a sentence reduction based on his acceptance of responsibility for the crimes.

Kaye testified at trial in August that he believed his chat partner had been lying about being 13 years old and was engaged in a "role play."

In fact, his chat partner was an adult and a member of an organization called Perverted Justice, a controversial group whose volunteers pose as children online in order to expose potential Internet predators and then turn over chat logs and other information it gathers to the police.

The group was working with Dateline NBC, and Kaye was confronted on camera by a Dateline reporter when he arrived at the Herndon house.

Kaye, who served for more than three years as vice president of program at the Rockville-based teen educational group Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, resigned from that post just days before the Dateline segment first aired. Until 2001, he had been a rabbi at Potomac's Congregation Har Shalom for 16 years.

His time in prison is likely to last about five more years. His sentence includes the more than six months he has already served since his May indictment and can be shortened by 15 percent with good behavior.

Once he serves his time, though, he faces an additional 10 years of supervised release. He will be required to register as a sex offender and banned from accessing the Internet and being alone with children under the age of 18 without the prior approval of a parole officer, among other conditions.

Cacheris also recommended that Kaye be admitted into the Sex Offender Treatment Program at the federal prison in Butner, N.C., although he said that Kaye may have to wait a while. The program is currently full.

In congressional testimony in September, Andres Hernandez, director of that program, said that therapy at Butner includes about 15 hours of treatment activities per week that "help offenders manage their sexual deviance in an effort to reduce sexual recidivism" by teaching "effective self-control skills."

Charles Onley, a research associate at the Silver Spring-based Center for Sex Offender Management, said that he wasn't familiar with the specifics of Butner's program. But, he said that such treatments often teach offenders to identify "triggers" for their behavior and make them much better prepared for re-entry into society.

In his statement to the judge at Friday's hearing, an emotional Kaye acknowledged his father and others family members in the courtroom and asked the media ‹ specifically citing Washington Jewish Week by name ‹ to "keep this private."

He then said that the Dateline incident was "my cry out for help," and while it may be a cliche, "sometimes cliches are true." (Major media outlets have already reported details of Kaye's statement.)

Reactions to Kaye's sentence were mixed. Vicki Polin, executive director of the Awareness Center, which tracks sexual abuse in the Jewish community, said she thought Kaye received a "fair sentence," considering that there was no evidence presented in court that he had contact with a child.

Congregation Shaare Tefila's Rabbi Jonah Layman sees the sentence as a "positive thing for him and his family," given it is "a lot less that he could have gotten."

"I hope that this can begin the process of David's healing and his family's healing," said the Silver Spring rabbi, a friend of the Kaye family.

Agudas Achim Congregation's Rabbi Jack Moline, a longtime friend of Kaye's, said he was less concerned with the sentence than with the vigilante methods used to catch him.

"I can't defend what he did. I don't think that's the issue," said the Alexandria rabbi. "Whether or not he should have been doing [it] ... the man was convicted by NBC," which was "interested in the most sensational story."

"It's not about justice, it's about ratings," and "it's a terrible way for justice to be served," he added.

Moline noted that NBC continues to rerun the video of the Kaye sting and the video can be viewed on the program's Web site.

"Now that he's convicted and sentenced, what is the purpose of ... keeping it up on the Web site?" he said.

Dateline did not respond to a message requesting comment. Meanwhile, the show has scheduled a program with "updates" on those caught in its "To Catch a Predator" series for this Saturday night.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Surviving Hanukkah: Jewish Survivors of Childhood Abuse

© (2005, Revised 2006), Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC

Hanukkah is for many a time filled with wonderful memories of rushing around to purchase gifts and cards for loved ones; of families and friends getting together, lighting the Menorah, eating potato pancakes, and singing the traditional songs.

However, for survivors of childhood abuse (emotional, physical and sexual abuse), this festive time can be a time where painful memories reemerge. It is not unusual for survivors to need to make decisions about how to best keep themselves safe during the holiday: some may need to spend time with friends who understand their conflicted emotions toward the holiday, some may need to limit their time with their families, while others may not feel safe spending the holiday with family at all. Even for those who make alternate plans, there is often a sense of loss of the loving, healthy family they never had or the memories they wish they'd had. Hanukah--like other times where families traditionally get together--can be a difficult time for those who no longer have contact with family members due to the degree of dysfunction that was (and often still is) in their family.

This is a time of year when a survivor may find it safer to retreat than to participate in holiday functions--the associations and memories may be too painful, too emotions too close to the surface. This is not a failure or wrongdoing, but can be seen as yet another aspect of the aftermath of abuse in the family. It is important that each individual survivor finds what works best for him or her so that they can optimize their ability to stay emotionally healthy. If you decide to be with your family and are nervous about how you'd feel about it, it can be helpful for you to designate ahead of time a 'safe person' with home you can debrief afterwards or call if things get tough while with family. It is vitally important that each person be kind to themselves about the decisions they make for holiday plans. The rest of us need to respect the survivor's decisions, and to understand that they may decide not to participate in Hanukah events.

If you know someone who is a survivor of childhood abuse, maybe you can take upon yourself to check in with them over the eight-day holiday. Maybe invite the survivor to your house for lighting the menorah or a family meal, and if they say no let them know they can change their mind and come at the last minute. Remind them they are not alone, that you are there. That you understand.

Holidays are often times for families to get together. School may be out, vacation days may be taken; routines are changed. In many families there is--along with the excitement and happiness of getting together--an added stress of cleaning and preparing meals, sometimes financial issues over not being able to afford the kind of holiday celebration one might want.

It is a reality that some parents have difficulties managing their own stress and are already inclined to use their children as an outlet for emotions and urges. Such parents are often even more likely to do so when under the pressure of increased anxiety, close quarters with their own family of origin (and it's pressures), and holiday stress. Though clearly not all stressed-out parents abuse their children, many survivors of childhood abuse do report that their abuse became more intense around and during holidays.

If you know parents who struggle to manage stress, see if you can discretely and gently offer them your support: Maybe offer to take care of the children for a bit, to take them on an outing or host a meal; maybe provide the parents with information about resources available in their community (such as parental hotlines in your community). Be a friend. By allowing the parents some time for themselves and offering venues for relief, you can greatly assist in the parents in managing their anger and stress.
If you are a survivor, remember: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

It is not uncommon for symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) to re-emerge even after times of relative remission and/or intensify in those already struggling. If holiday times are difficult for you, you may experience an increase in disturbing thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks. Thoughts of self-harm, even suicide, may be an issue. The crucial thing for you to remember is that these feelings are about the past; that the abuse is over and it is of utmost importance for you to be kind to and gentle with yourself. To stay safe.

Over the years we've spoken to many adult survivors who admitted that they find it very painful to even think of being around family members, even around friends. This is sad, but it is OK. Someday you may feel different--many survivors do with time--but if the pain right now is too intense, you need to do what is healing for YOU and set boundaries to what feels safe for you.

One survivor shared that she felt uncomfortable not doing anything for Hanukkah, so she'd rent movies that she found carried an empowering theme for her. Another survivor invited other Jewish Survivors over to his home and together they created their own 'tradition' that felt healing and empowering.

Whatever works for you is OK. You are not alone; not wrong; not bad for having second and third and forth thoughts about how to celebrate and if to celebrate the holidays. Look into yourself and see what you need, then do what you can to do it, and be kind to yourself for needing to make these adjustments.

Todah Rabah for Surviving!

Suicide Prevention
The National Hopeline Network

National Child Abuse Hotline
1-800-4-A-CHILD (24 Hours a Day)

National Runaway Switchboard

Monday, November 27, 2006

Letter to the Editor - Violence unchained

Jerusalem Post - November 27, 2006
Sir, - I was outraged by the title "Experts: Sela poses 'no immediate' danger to women" (November 27), which can give unsuspecting women a false sense of safety. Benny Sela should be seen as extremely dangerous no matter if it's his first hour or first week on the run.
Prof. Zvi Zemishlany is correct that "An escaped serial rapist is like a wild animal who hides." The problem: If Sela is hiding in a location where an unsuspecting woman is present, the likelihood of her being assaulted is extremely high.
Research into the treatment of sex offenders is still in its infancy. As of yet there has been no proven treatment for those who offend, especially for violent sex offenders such as Benny Sela.
Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center, Inc.

Baltimore, Maryland

Friday, November 10, 2006

Letters to the Editor - Beyond The Pain

Baltimore Jewish Times - November 10, 2006

Reading the Nov. 3 article "Bar None" about kosher food for state prisoners, I started to think: prisoners in Maryland include convicted sex offenders. We all seem concerned about the rights of those who commit violent crimes, but not their victims.
It is not uncommon for those victimized by criminals (especially survivors sex crimes) to go through periods of depression, which can become severe leading to thoughts of suicide; psychiatric hospitalization may be required. Most treatment facilities do not offer kosher food. This means family members or friends must bring food to them.
Once again it appears that we care more about offenders than about those victimized.
Perhaps Jewish groups involved in the kosher food effort for prisoners (including Agudah Israel of America and the Orthodox Union) will start an effort to help those living in a nightmare of flashbacks.
Vicki Polin

Executive Director, The Awareness Center Inc.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Growing up Paddled, Belted, Switched or Swatted - Spanking is Never OK!

© (2006) by Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, Michael J. Salamon, PhD, FICP; and Na'ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH

USA Today recently published an article stating that one of the few things that America's top business executives have in common is that almost all of them were regularly spanked, paddled, belted, switched, or swatted when they misbehaved as children. The report also stated that both male and female executives were spanked at just about the same rate.

The tone of the article makes one wonder if the report's logic seems to be that being spanked as a child somehow helped the CEOs achieve their positions. One must also wonder, however, how much better the CEOs would be--as people as well as managers and achievers--had they NOT been spanked . . .

Maintaining the same strange sort of logic presented by the article, one has to wonder if these same CEO's utilize corporal punishment as a way to keep their employees productive? If not, perhaps they should explain why? If spanking their employees to improve discipline isn't something they endorse, how do they explain spanking children, who are young, physically smaller, dependent, vulnerable, and with no recourse of a grievance process?

Violence is violence. Humiliation only teaches shame and anger. As long as we--and rightfully so--teach our kids that they can't 'spank' their friends or siblings when their friends or siblings do wrong, yet we allow and endorse the spanking of children by their parents; there's a double standard to violence which is difficult to understand and balance out.

University of New Hampshire sociology professor Dr Murray Straus said: "Evidence points to corporal punishment as detrimental. If some spanked children grow up to be successful, even billionaires, it's like saying, go ahead and smoke because two-thirds of smokers don't get lung cancer."

Research shows that spanking is correlated with later antisocial behavior, and that children who are spanked are much more likely to be aggressive to peers at school.

The use of corporal punishment all too often teaches a child to resolve problems using violence. It also can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and problems with self-worth. There are nonviolent techniques parents can learn to discipline their children, teach them right from wrong, and help them acquire focus and self-discipline. Today's parents would do well to take time to learn nonviolent ways to discipline their children, instead of repeating what they often endured themselves as children.

Corporal punishment against a child is wrong. Before you hit a child, stop and think: how did you feel when your parents used it on you? How would you feel if your neighbor or a stranger on the street struck your child in a similar way?

Children need direction and boundaries, but if we cannot muster self-control, if we cannot utilize nonviolent ways to teach them, how can we expect them to do so?

Considering the harm caused by the use of any form of corporal punishment against a child, The Awareness Center, Inc. advocates against it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Letter to the Editor: Hands Off - Don't investigate yourself

Miami News Times - July 20, 2006
Don't investigate yourself, rabbi: Regarding Forrest Norman's "Yeshiva Dustup" (July 13): It's important to remember that clergy abuse has nothing to do with religion, even though you will find it in all of them (Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Bahai, et cetera). Sex crimes are about an abuse of power and the need to control others.
Unfortunately it's common for child molesters to choose careers or volunteer time for organizations and/or institutions in which they have ample access to the types of victims they prey upon. One of the biggest problems we face is that instead of allowing law enforcement to conduct criminal investigations, institutions attempt to handle things on their own. When this happens, we end up in situations like the one we are seeing in the case of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko and Yeshiva Torah Temimah.
Just as we say, "It takes a village to raise a child," we can say the same thing about sex offenders. When an individual suspects a child is at risk of harm, we all must become mandated reporters. Let those with the education, experience, and training collect the physical evidence and do the forensic interviewing. This is not the job for our clergy.

Vicki Polin
The Awareness Center, Inc. 
Baltimore, Maryland

Monday, July 17, 2006

Defrocked Rabbi's Jerusalem Lecture Cancelled after Threats

By Daphna Berman
Haaretz - July 17, 2006

A lecture by an American rabbi accused of sexual improprieties by several of his New York congregants, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem on Thursday night, was cancelled, following threats of protests and a flood of complaints, activists said.

Mordechai Tendler, a scion of a prominent rabbinic family, was expelled unanimously last year by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) after the organization decided that he had "engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi." In March, he was also suspended by the board of Kehillat New Hempstead, the New York synagogue that he founded. Tendler, who is currently in Israel, was scheduled to speak Thursday in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof. A protest was scheduled to take place outside the event.

"This is definitely a victory," said Leah Marinelli, a former congregant from New York, Wednesday. Marinelli was one of the first community members to speak out against the rabbi and convinced some of his alleged victims to come forward publicly to the RCA.

"We put out a call for action on Tuesday morning and the next day it was cancelled and so I am pretty convinced that there is a connection," said Vicki Polin, founder of the U.S.-based Awareness Center, the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse and Assault."We didn't want him to recreate in Israel what he had done in Monsey [in New York]."

Both, however, expressed concern that Tendler would proceed with the lecture in a smaller and non-publicized location with a core group of supporters.

Moshe Siegel, a former congregant who immigrated to Israel some 10 years ago, was coordinating the lecture and had publicized the event on various English-language list servers around the country. He was subsequently flooded with e-mails and phone calls, urging him to cancel the event. Wednesday afternoon, Siegel posted a message on the list serves, informing the public that the event was cancelled. He did not provide a reason and did not respond by press time to Haaretz requests for further clarification.

Other community leaders in the U.S. have welcomed the cancellation. Rabbi Mark Dratch, chair of the RCA's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties said that the move had proven that "there is no place a person can hide. We're one community and though we are distanced by an ocean, that doesn't mean that what happens in one place gets ignored by another." He said that members of Tendler's former community felt "that he compromised the rabbinate and should not be given the opportunity to teach Torah publicly," Dratch said.

At least nine women have come forward against Tendler with claims that he used his rabbinic authority to solicit sexual favors. According to allegations, women who approached him with marital problems and sought spiritual counseling were sexually harassed. Last year, a former congregant filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan against Tendler in which she accused him of giving her "sex therapy" when she went to him for help. Their affair allegedly took place in his rabbinical study from 2001 to 2005.

Following the RCA ruling last year, Rabbi Benzion Wosner, head of the Shevet Levi rabbinical court in Monsey, New York, issued a ruling that Tendler "can no longer officiate at divorces, weddings ... One should never allow their wives or daughters to go to him at all including [for] counseling ... and all his rulings are null and void."

The allegations against the rabbi, who is married and is the father of eight children, surfaced three years ago. Tendler's grandfather is the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the leading religious arbiters of the twentieth century.

Tendler's attorney, Glen Feinberg, did not have information about the reasons for the cancellation. "I represent Rabbi Tendler in the lawsuit brought against him. My representation does not extend to other matters. Thus, the rabbi does not discuss his travel or lecture plans with me and I have no information about this." He added, however, that "Rabbi Tendler completely denies the allegations of sexual misconduct and expects to be vindicated through the judicial process." 

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rabbi Challenges Right to Anonymity on Internet

Rabbi Challenges Right to Anonymity on Internet
By Rebecca Spence
Forward - July 14, 2006 

The latest chapter in an ongoing saga pitting an Orthodox rabbi from Monsey, N.Y., against female former congregants who have accused him of sexual harassment is raising broad legal questions about the right of free speech in cyberspace. 

Rabbi Mordecai Tendler, who was accused of sexually propositioning women who came to him seeking spiritual guidance, petitioned a California court May 24 to force Google — the Internet giant that hosts electronic message boards through its Blogspot division — to disclose the identities of four anonymous writers who post comments to Web journals, known as blogs. Tendler, the scion of a storied rabbinic lineage, has fiercely denied the allegations of sexual harassment since they first surfaced in 2004. He claims that the bloggers have posted "false, misleading, and defamatory materials" about him on their Web sites. 

In response to the petition, Public Citizen, a national public interest group whose litigation group has played a lead role in defending free speech on the Internet, filed motions on July 6 to throw out Tendler's case and reimburse the defendants' attorney fees, saying that the request violates the bloggers' First Amendment rights to free speech. 

The newest development in the controversy surrounding Tendler, who was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America in 2005 and was later sued for sexual harassment by one former congregant, is part of a growing body of court cases that are grappling with how to balance the rights of those who say they are being libeled with the rights of their anonymous critics, legal analysts said. 

"Our interest is in the problem of balancing the right to speak anonymously on the Internet against the right of someone who has been harmed by unlawful speech to get redress," said Paul Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the motion in response to Tendler's petition. Levy leads the group's Internet free speech project. "For ordinary people, the only effective way to reach the community at large is through the Internet, which provides a voice and an opportunity to speak," he said. 

Tendler is seeking to learn the names of those who operate the blogs and, among others. 

The issue of anonymous free speech on the Internet is particularly salient in the Orthodox Jewish community, where electronic message boards have often served as a safe space for airing allegations and discussing claims of sexual abuse by rabbis. Fearing both retribution by the accused clergy and ostracism from their communities, many Orthodox victims of sexual abuse have sought refuge in cyberspace. Jewish-themed blogs, which have proliferated in recent years, have also served as an effective means for victims to take action when allegations of sexual misconduct have gone unheeded by rabbinic authorities, some critics said. 

In response to Tendler's petition, Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual adviser at Yeshiva University, filed a three-page affidavit with the Superior Court in San Jose. Calif., arguing that it is important to maintain the anonymity of the bloggers. "The potential consequences of speaking out can be especially severe when the target of the criticism belongs to an influential family, as is true of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler," wrote Blau, who has himself been the subject of attacks on blogs and in the print media from critics who accused him of organizing efforts to oust Tendler. 

Tendler is the son of Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a prominent Talmud instructor and bioethicist at Yeshiva Univeristy, and the grandson of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, widely considered to be his era's preeminent decisor of biblical and rabbinic law. 

In 2005, Blau was attacked in a series of articles published in two Orthodox newspapers, the Jewish Press and the Jewish Voice and Opinion, as well as on a now-defunct Web site that was created to discredit him. Blau said that he was never able to prove that Tendler's associates were behind the Web site and that he eventually gave up his efforts to expose them. "The supporters of Tendler have never revealed themselves, but no one is suing on the other side," he added. 

Lawyers for Tendler did not return repeated calls from the Forward seeking comment. 

While a strong precedent for cases involving free speech on the Internet has yet to be established, in previous cases that have come before state courts — most recently in a 2004 state Supreme Court ruling in Delaware — judges have placed the burden of proof on the plaintiff to prove defamation before they are willing to force an Internet host to reveal a blogger's anonymous identity. 

"The First Amendment reflects an understanding that sometimes the most valuable speech is uncredited," said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University. Zittrain cited as a historic example the Federalist Papers, which were written anonymously by the authors of the United States Constitution. "And no one would call the framers cowards," he said. 

Some advocates for sexual abuse victims contend that anonymous blogging is necessary not only to shield accusers from potential harassment, but also to help them through the process of healing. 

"One of the things most healing to any victim of a serious crime is to talk about it," said Vicki Polin, founder of The Awareness Center Inc., a volunteer organization that maintains a Web site on sexual abuse in the Jewish community. "When people start blogging, they realize they're not alone," she said.
But some Jewish bloggers expressed disdain toward those who remain anonymous. Stephen I. Weiss, who operates the religion blog Canonist and founded one of the first Jewish blogs to host discussions on sexual harassment by rabbis, said that while anonymity may be legally justified, it can't be morally justified. Many blogs "claim to bring down abusive rabbis when they don't," Weiss said. Still, Weiss added, "legally, the potential ramifications for what Tendler is proposing are horrendous." 

Meanwhile, an Israeli Knesset member, Yisrael Hason, was set this week to introduce a bill that would require Internet sites to only post comments from participants who identify themselves, according to Israeli news reports. That bill was sparked by similar cases in Israel of public officials who were anonymously criticized by Internet bloggers.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rape Trauma Syndrome: Reading Blogs and Newspaper Articles about Your Case

© (2006) By Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, ATR-BC, NCC

When someone is a survivor of sexual violence (incest, sexual abuse, sexual assault, professional sexual misconduct, clergy sexual abuse) there are certain types of behaviors (symptomology) that they may display, especially when they are under a great deal of pressure. The behaviors are extremely common for someone who is experiencing rape trauma syndrome (which is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
One of the things that helps most survivors is when PTSD symptoms pop out, to take a step back, and regroup. If you don't do this, then you remain in the "victim" role, and healing can NEVER take place.
It's vitally important for a survivor involved in a court case to take as many breaks as possible from following what's happening in the news and or on blogs.  Remaining cool, calm and collected will help your court case.
Reading articles about a case your involved with, and also reading blog entries can trigger "anyone" to say things and behave in ways that would not normally occur. Please, if you or someone you know is a survivor of a sex crime and involved in a court case, please help them by keeping them off of blogs that debate their case, and also DO NOT baiting them into discussions.
I want to urge survivors of all cases NOT to read these types of blogs. If a survivor feels they need to, it should only be done when they are with their rape counselor and or a trusted friend. 

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is Gary Rosenblatt reinventing history when it comes to the case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni?

(© 2006) By Vicki Polin

The Awareness Center's Daily Newsetter  - June 16, 2006

Marc Gafni
Early in 2003, while The Awareness Center, Inc. was in its infancy, several orthodox rabbis (who had a connection with the Rabbinic Council of America and Agudath Israel) started calling to request our organization to do something about Marc Gafni (AKA: Mordechai Winiarz). In order to comply with wishes of the rabbonim, our board and volunteers attempted to track down three known survivors of this alleged sex offender.

We had very little difficulties tracking down the second and third survivors, yet had trouble locating the first. Gary Rosenblatt was the link to finding the first survivor.

During our initial conversation with Winiarz/Gafni's first survivor, we learned that several years prior, she had provided Rosenblatt with her story. Back in the 90's Gary had heard rumors and tracked her down. The first survivor stated that she was not seeking an opportunity to share her abuse history, but was convinced by Rosenblatt that sharing the story might spare future women the pain of abuse at Winiarz/ Gafni's hands.

Gary Rosen
This survivor shared every painful detail with Gary Rosenblatt. Gary promised that he would publish a story right away. Years went by, there was no further contact and a story was never published. The survivor felt exploited and betrayed.

In 2004 finally Gary Rosenblatt reestablished contact with the first survivor, providing her with the contact information for The Awareness Center. The survivor was apprehensive, yet followed through and made the initial call.

I'll never forget the day Survivors two and three communicated with the first survivor. It was amazing to watch; a day filled with old terror and pain transforming into tears of healing, joy and empowerment.

Amazingly the three survivors were eager to work with Gary Rosenblatt. The intention was and always has been to prevent any more women from being victimized by Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni. The Awareness Center did it's best to work with Gary Rosenblatt as well, and provided him with names of individuals who had first hand knowledge of Gafni's past.

Gary had ample information and factual content from highly respected rabbis and members of the community. The original story Gary wrote was to be published in the spring of 2004, yet nothing happened. Every week Mr. Rosenblatt told the survivors it would be published the following week, yet nothing happened. It wasn't until September 24, 2004, that an extremely watered down version of what was originally written was published.

In Gary Rosenblatt's most recent article "Deconstructing The Gafni Case" he wrote:

"They felt they were the victims, that they had suffered enough and did not want to go through a public scrutiny of past abuses and humiliations. His former wives and the other women had new lives to live and reputations to protect." 

The problem with this statement is; Gary ceases to mention that in the code of journalistic ethics created by the US department of Justice, one should never publish the names of victims of sex crimes. Three women spoke directly to Rosenblatt with the understanding that thier names would not be used, all of whom were quoted in his original article. It is common journalistic practice to have unnamed sources. Remember Watergate?

Rosenblatt continued:
"But for a journalist probing these accusations and knowing that the resulting expose could destroy the subject's career, professional standards require offering up real people and real names to make those charges. That is why I spent three years on the Gafni trail, interviewing dozens of people about the allegations of sexual misbehavior, before publishing anything. And at that point, in September 2004, I wrote an opinion column rather than a news story because I still did not have anyone with firsthand experience of abuse speaking on the record."

"And I offered up Gafni's denials, and other rabbis defending him. They said that even if these things had happened, it was a long time ago and he had done teshuva (repentance). . . I think I should have written at the time that I found the women far more credible than Gafni. . . One thinks I should have acted on my instincts and been tougher on Gafni, even though I had no firsthand accounts on the record. Another said I was right to have held out for on-the-record attribution."

The survivor who was thirteen at the time of her abuse stated that it wasn't until years after her initial contact with Mr. Rosenblatt that he connected her with The Awareness Center. The survivor had already given a detailed account of her sexual assault directly to Rosenblatt, yet she requested that her name be withheld from the story. From the point this survivor contacted The Awareness Center, it was another six months before Gary's watered down article was published. He promised the survivor years before that he would publish the story the week following the initial interview, yet nothing ever happened.

Naomi Mark, ACSW
Back in 2001, survivor number one received a telephone call from Winiarz/Gafni supporter Naomi Mark, ACSW. Naomi's goal was for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to meet with her offender. Naomi told this survivor that Marc Winiarz/Gafni wanted to make amends. She told the survivor that Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni had wrote a letter stating: "he thought the survivor was hurting because he ended their relationship instead of marrying her". He wanted to apologize for "breaking her heart."

The survivor told Ms. Mark that she would not meet with the man who raped her. The survivor disclosed that she let Naomi Mark know that "the relationship" Winiarz/Gafni was referring to should be called RAPE. A far cry from what Winiarz/Gafni called a "heartache, or a fallen romance."

The Survivor believes the reason Winiarz/Gafni wanted to contact her at the time was because he learned of the interview she had given to Gary Rosenblatt. The survivor was sure that Winiarz/Gafni was worried about what Rosenblatt would publish. Winiarz/Gafni wanted the survivor to say that she had forgiven him for the assault. Marc Winiarz/Gafni neither acknowledged that he had sexually abused a child, nor admitted to any violent acts. 

It appears Gary Rosenblatt's attempt to re-create history has been influenced by his long time friend, Rabbi Saul Berman -- who to this day is believed to be a defender of Mordechai Gafni.

If Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni has done teshuva, why has he not contacted the other women whom he victimized? Why didn't he ever offer to pay for the pain and suffering all three women endured because of his offenses?

Once again Rosenblatt's affiliation with Rabbi Saul Berman influenced his ability to get the facts straight. Gary Rosenblatt had firsthand accounts. He spoke to three women who were sexually victimized by Mordechai Winiarz (AKA: Marc Gafni). Two survivors had sexual contact; the third was a survivor of inappropriate sexual advances by an orthodox rabbi, who was also a married man.

Gary Rosenblatt spoke to numerous rabbis and other credible individuals who backed the survivor's stories. What more evidence did he need?

If Rosenblatt really wants to make amends to the survivors of Winiarz/ Gafni, he should put an advertisement in the New York Jewish Week calling for the extradition of Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni, and have all those who have blindly supported Winiarz/Gafni sign it.

NOTE: Since writing this piece many years ago, The Awareness Center had learned that Naomi Mark's brother  Jonathan Mark, who was and still is the associate editor of the New York Jewish Week.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Mikvah - Suggested Protocols to Protect Minors

By Vicki Polin, Michael J. Salamon and Na'ama Yehuda
(originally published by The Awareness Center in 2006)

Background Information:
The "Mikvah" is a ritual pool of water, used for the purpose of attaining ritual purity and is used in Jewish communities internationally, including those located in Skokie and the Chicagoland area. 

Immersion in a Mikvah is performed for the following main purposes:
  • in connection with Repentance, to remove the impurity of sin.
  • in connection with Conversion.
the ritual act that divides two periods of time - the period of separation when marital relations are forbidden, because the wife is in the state of "niddah," and the period of union when such relations are not only permissible but regarded as essential to a healthy marriage.

The laws of purity and impurity apply to both men and women. In ancient times when the Temple stood in Jerusalem it was required of everyone to be pure prior to entering the Temple or when eating holy foods. Therefore, both men and women (married and single) would use the Mikvah regularly—if they wished to enter the Temple. During excavations at Masada a mikveh was found. During excavations in Jerusalem there even were mikvah’s found in privately owned homes.

The use of the Mikvah is a vitally important aspect of the Torah observant lifestyle and something that is extremely sacred. In the Hassidic community there is a custom of both men and boys going to the mikvah every day, especially prior to Shabbat and holidays. Unfortunately, there have been reports of boys being molested at a mikvah. For this reason The Awareness Center, Inc. is suggesting that the following five basic protocols be adopted by all communities as an attempt of preventing one more child from being harmed.
  1. All men should be required to wear a towel around their mid section when not in the shower or in the Mikvah.
  2. Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by their parent. If this is not possible a credible supervisor must be present.
  3. Special times be established for boys between the ages 14 - 18. There should always be at least one trustworthy adult attendant present who will be responsible to be sure the boys don't get out of hand with each other.
  4. Underaged boys should not be exposed to the nudity of adult men. There is a custom in some communities that a boy cannot see his father’s naked body, nor a son-in-law seeing his father-in-law naked. The father does not have to be immersing himself at the moment in order to supervise his son. Another suggestion is that a substitute supervisor can be arranged with the signed consent of the parent.
  5. There has been recent discussion that a men’s mikvahs adopt the same policies as the women’s mikvahs in which there is privacy. When an individual goes to the mikvah, the purpose is for purification, and connecting with G-d. This spiritual task is compromised when the environment becomes a threatening place for boys.