Reputation Laundering

I did not choose to be a victims’ rights advocate. I was a little girl, age 9, at Hillel Day School in Passaic, New Jersey. It was 1980 and we had just moved there that school year from Cincinnati, Ohio. One of my teachers, Rabbi Mordechai Sevy, hugged me so tightly. My next memory is of my mother slamming the gas pedal on the car. She drove to the school, ran up the stairs, and flew into the office of Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, (may he rest in peace), the principal.

It was a very strange incident. I cannot remember anything else except that I think I was in the basement. I do remember that I was moved from fifth grade to sixth grade to deal with the problem. This was my second time being skipped a grade (the first time was because of an IQ test I had taken) and the result was that I was socially completely messed up, not on the same page as the students who were my biological age.

In those days nobody was sensitive to these kinds of things. Different times.

Rabbi Sevy must not have been well liked, because another student pranked him. One day Sevy opened the door to the sixth grade classroom and one of those large, old-fashioned silver buckets of water, hung from a rope on the door, tipped over as he walked in.

I have the most vivid memory of Sevy’s contorted, furious face. He was drenched in water from head to toe. He was sopping. I can still see the water descending over him in slow motion.

That incident became a big deal because Sevy, in his absolute rage, slapped a student over it. Maybe he thought he knew who the culprit was. Maybe someone just got in his way. Either way he lost it and they did a kind of investigation.

I remember that I actually defended Sevy at the time. I said that it was not his fault. I am not sure why I did that but will leave it to the psychologists to decide.

After this, Sevy was fired from Hillel. We saw him in a pizza place in Monsey one Sunday. He was standing at the counter. He turned around and laid eyes on me and my dad as we walked in. He recognized me of course and formed his features into the most evil grin I have ever seen.

Not all rabbis are like this. Most rabbis are not like this. But a certain percentage are.

The incident affected me. My clothing choices changed. I just wore black. I became very self-conscious, and full of shame.

This was 1980 and it took me 30 years to wake up and realize that the same kind of thing was happening to other Jewish victims from the religious community, except so much worse it is unfathomable. Absolutely unfathomable. We are talking about serial rapists and sodomizers on the payroll of the schools, shuttled from place to place, and nobody says anything except to call the victims troubled, troublemaking whores.

I highly recommend this podcast, “Episode 2: The Case That Started ZA’AKAH.” Kudos to Asher Lovy and Ariella Goldberg-Kay.’akah

Also see “Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities” by Michael Lesher.

I was raised on the Holocaust — rebuilding, remembering, defending ourselves against antisemitism. Many young Jewish people made aliyah and supported the fledgling State of Israel. We were supposed to be working together. I could not imagine that we would be silent as the religious leaders who so vehemently and vocally worried about spiritual destruction…actually witnessed, ignored, and facilitated nothing less than the trafficking of children to these monsters.

For what? For money? Because they were afraid of antisemitism? I don’t get it. I never will.

Many years later, I was contacted by a woman from Australia who had read my story when I blogged it years ago. She gave me permission to use her name but it’s not necessary. She told me that Rabbi Sevy had been her teacher, had treated her like a kind of pet, eventually had locked her in a classroom, and that her friends had to scream to get him to open the door.

Notice that these incidents with Sevy were just random sadistic abuse. There is no rape here. But he felt free to do what he wanted, and he did, and nobody did a thing except to move him from place to place and let him continue as an “authority” of some kind, because Jewish religious leadership nowadays is somehow divorced completely from personal ethics.

Multiple personality disorder – the side of the rabbinate which goes “shh shh” about abuse and then the side of the rabbinate which lectures boys about every normal manifestation of sexuality, which arguably has turned many Jewish boys angry, emasculated and worse.

All of it is child abuse. And any gadol (great Sage) will tell you that child abuse and Judaism cannot sit in the same room. That what we are seeing is a sick aberration that must be removed and condemned like the cancerous growth it is. Not in a quiet way, but with THUNDER AND LIGHTNING in word and in deed.

It is not just a Jewish thing of course. As my friend and fellow blogger Veronica Swift reminded me, you have to stop thinking about religion and start thinking about what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and within what system they operate.

To this day, despite all the advances that have been made in the Jewish community, there is still a kind of attitude that the victims are the problem. In its most recent “Outcry” podcast, “Episode 10: Leslie Wexner & His Merry Band of Enablers,” Zaakah addresses this topic along with many others.

What needs to happen is for the Les Wexner/Jeffrey Epstein/Jewish philanthropy conversation to connect with the larger one around the use of children for intelligence purposes, specifically blackmail. We can start with the tapes Epstein kept at his homes, and this is public information.

In the meantime, Zaakah in its podcast brings up the term “reputation laundering.” It is very apt. If you are taking “philanthropy” money from serial sex offenders, you are washing their conscience and washing their image to the public.

The answer to all of the above is to adopt a victim-centered approach at the individual level and to adopt a systemic-reform approach at the institutional level. To paraphrase Asher Lovy — an organization which puts its own survival over the wellbeing of its members does not deserve to exist.

By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own.