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Crime and Punishment

No, 103 years sounds like a good number to me. As Esther’s brother pointed out: “If my sister lives to be 120, that’s about the same number of years she’ll have to live with what he’s done to her.”

On Tuesday, January 22, Justice John G. Ingram of New York’s State Supreme Court sentenced convicted child molester Nechemya Weberman to 103 years behind bars for 59 counts of sexual abuse against a little girl sent to him by her school, the UTA Satmar, for religious counseling. In passing sentence, the judge praised the young victim for her “courage and bravery in coming forward.”

After speaking to her briefly on the phone last week and having a long talk with her older brother, who lives here in Jerusalem, I must say I believe she heartily deserves this compliment. I now have an even deeper appreciation of the unique spirit and deep conviction that allowed this young person (let’s call her “Esther” – a fitting name for a heroine who risked everything to save others) to keep strong and go forward. Vilified, her veracity questioned at every turn, her family harassed and many in her insular community shamelessly lining up behind the convicted sex offender, Esther never faltered.

“Was it worth it?” I asked her.

“Definitely. [When Weberman was convicted] people started opening their eyes, looking at what’s going on around them. We have to teach children that if someone is bothering them, if they’re uncomfortable, they shouldn’t just accept it. We have to make parents really listen to their kids.”

What did she learn most from this whole experience? “That even if people don’t believe you, you should never lose faith in yourself and allow yourself to be intimidated. God knew I was telling the truth. And I knew He was on my side, not on his [Weberman’s] side.”

Still, even now, after the conviction and the whopping sentence, the Satmar community continues to make life difficult for Esther and her family. Her new husband, who ran a restaurant, had his kashrut certificate revoked. “He’s looking for a job,” she says. Her father, who for many years supported his family from the ad revenue of Williamsburg businesses by publishing a local Jewish yellow pages, suddenly has a new competitor, The Jewish Phonebook. The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum himself, went to the offices of the new company to affix the mezuza. Many see this as a vengeful attempt to drive Esther’s father out of business. Her brother is especially upset by this. “My father follows everything in that world to the letter in the purest, most sincere way. Why should they target him?”

Anti-Zionist Teitelbaum, who showed up in Israel right before the election, reportedly to discourage haredim from voting, is allegedly at the top of the pyramid of abuse against Esther and her family. He’s taken part in Weberman defense fund-raisers and, according to some interpretations, even publicly labeled Esther a whore. Weberman was Teitelbaum’s late father’s chauffeur.

What those who continue to target her and her family never understood – and probably never will – is that Esther isn’t in this for revenge, or even for justice, both of which she richly deserves. It was never about her at all: “I just couldn’t let this happen to anybody else,” she told me in her sweet, girlish voice. “If I didn’t stand up, and it happened to another girl, I would be responsible.”

And then she told me something else; something so startling that at first I couldn’t believe my ears; something that made everything so clear: “I wasn’t the only girl in my family he [Weberman] abused.”

I asked her brother if I’d heard right. “Yes,” he confirmed. An older sister had gone to Weberman and she, too, had been molested. I admit, I was aghast. “But why didn’t she tell your parents, stop them from sending your younger sister to him?” I asked. In answer, he told me the following: “When I was eight or nine years old, I got into some trouble on the school bus. The rebbe told me I’d ‘get it’ the next day. I was absolutely terrified. When I was called to the principal’s office, I ran first to the pay phone and called my mother, begging her to call the principal right away. When they dragged me in, the principal sneered: ‘Crybaby! Do you think your parents can help you?’ He took out a rubber hose and beat me so badly I had welts all over my body.

That’s when I realized that when you’re in their system, nobody can help you. There’s no point in even telling your parents what’s happening to you, because they are helpless to stop it.” According to him, the only way out of this insular system is to do what he did: educate yourself (he read books in Barnes & Noble), learn to question and not be dependent on the community for your livelihood. “Because then they own you.”

He urges all young people in the community to do the same. “They are making the children in Satmar schools say tehilim [psalms] for Weberman. What kind of God are they teaching those children to pray to? A God that protects pedophiles?”

In imposing the near-maximum sentence, Judge Ingram said: “The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done.”

Apparently, not everyone is listening.

Gary Schlesinger, who runs a charity under Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, told The Wall Street Journal: “The sentence will discourage future victims… nobody wants to have that on their conscience.” Right. Victims of sexual abuse are now going to be afraid their abusers might sit in jail too long…

Others say the community will now try even harder to stop victims from testifying. But I say: bring it on! As the Weberman case shows, short of actually murdering the victims, they’ve tried just about everything else. So I beg to differ. I think it will have exactly the desired effect: allowing the fear of secular authorities to fill the vacuum where the fear of God should be, but obviously isn’t.

Some even claim anti-Semitism, or anti-Satmarism, is behind what they call an “excessive” sentence. Even Levi Aron, who murdered little Leiby Kletzky in July 2011, only got 40 years to life.

I’d like to point out that it was Weberman’s choice not to plead guilty and accept a plea bargain. Moreover, you can only murder someone once and they can only die once. What Weberman did to that little girl he did day after day, year after year. He was in a position of authority and she was a child in his care. Every time he violated that trust was another crime. That adds up.

No, 103 years sounds like a good number to me. As Esther’s brother pointed out: “If my sister lives to be 120, that’s about the same number of years she’ll have to live with what he’s done to her.”

After I spoke to Esther’s brother, I wandered into Hamashbir, Jerusalem’s department store. And there I saw a religious mother watching her 15-year-old daughter trying on clothes. The girl was slim and lovely, her blond hair pulled back modestly into a ponytail, her complexion makeup free, her eyes bright, laughing and innocent as she looked at herself in the mirror; the kind of girl Esther could have been if Weberman had never come into her life.

“I remember how I would look in the mirror,” Esther told the court. “I saw a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered at age 12. A sad girl who wanted to live a normal life, but instead was being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts again and again. I would cry until the tears ran dry… But now I can see someone who finally stood up and spoke out for myself and for other silent victims.”

At age 18, Esther married a man who has supported her throughout her ordeal. In her wedding portrait she stands tall and model thin, her beautiful young face shining with happiness, her elegant wedding gown very hassidic in its neck-to-toe modesty. Beside her stands her groom, his head topped by a traditional shtreimel. He too is beaming.

She’s my heroine. I wish her and her husband every happiness, and I hope that the Jewish community will embrace, support and comfort them and their families and all who have the courage to defend true righteousness, in every way possible.

This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on 1 February 2013.

Last week, Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast a documentary showing that this pattern of abuse, denial and unwavering rabbinical support for the abusers rather than for the the victims is widespread in haredi communities. I highly recommend that you watch the program here:
Please note that this video may not be available in all areas.

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22 comments on “Crime and Punishment”

  1. Esther

    I want to wish Esther a happy and wonderful life surrounded by her amazing husband and children one day. May they all be happy, grow in a world and community where they will see the beauty of a real Torah life.

    May Esther and her family be blessed for their courage and pugnacity.

  2. rivkah

    Something in this story is not clear to me. How come that the school – a Sadmar-girl- school- sends young girls to a man for counseling, a girl on het own, without being accompanied by a woman? To have yichud with a man? Don’t they apply Halacha at all? They are so strict with separating men and women at every occasion,(busses- chatunot-even at the Kotel) how could the school recommend it ?

    • Hillary C

      The rules are for the little people. The big shots get to do what they want and they can always find a way to justify themselves. As long as the gullible hasidim (who are taught to believe that the rebbe will get them into Paradise) keep handing over their money and keeping their mouths shut, everything is fine.

  3. K Polin

    This was a victory for what is right and an indictment for the Haraidi community. In Chicago, we have had this with the Agudah trying to suppress the police report and the head Dayan of Agudah offering the pedophile a home. This was an accessory to the crime. Never Again if all speak oput and are nor bullied by the perps and their supporters.

  4. Herbert Kaine

    The Splatmar community needs further investigation. Their anti-zionism and child abuse appear to go hand in hand. Teitelbaum’s actions appear to make the community complicit in this. Perhaps they would be more comfortable in their ancestral home of Satu Mare (St Mary), Hungary. Thei behavior is a chillul Hashem

  5. calamity jane

    Three cheers for Esther & also to her husband & family for supporting her.

    Her case brings back the memory of Rabbi Barush Lanner who was protected for many years by the OU.

    The “Modern” orthodox community he victimized has still not apologized to those whom they villified when they tried to expose him.

    Some of the children he victimized had the courage, when they grew up, to take him to the secular courts – the beit din gave him a slap on the wrist & he repeatedly viloated their ruling to not work with children with no consequenses to him.

    It took the secular court to finally give some justice to the victims in this case.

  6. Naomi R.

    The punishment might seem excessive to some people, but this is long overdue. The Jewish community has been sweeping these despicable actions under the rug for far too long. No folks it isn’t going to go away and halacha is very specific. One is obligated to live by the Law of the Land.

    • Surak

      It’s not just the law of the land; it’s our own law. “Do not stand upon the blood of your fellow.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do not do to others what you do not like.” These clowns have committed a public chilul Hashem and should be put into cherem until they do t’shuvah.

  7. LeeZee

    I first learned what was going on in this Haredi community while volunteering at NOW NYC, during the 1980’a. We noted that there was a particular judge on the bench in Brooklyn, who never ruled against the abuser in cases of incest and abuse. This certainly did not send the right message. It undoubtedly influenced victims, parents, and others involved at the time who found that they would get no justice in the Courts. I can see how discouraged and disillusioned they could become, and how alone and powerless this situation made them feel. This judge was finally removed from the bench and retired, only to be returned on an interim and “as needed” basis when there was a dearth of judges to handle an overload of cases in the District. How wonderful that these cases are now getting the proper hearing and that a just sentence might prevail. Unfortunately, the Haredi’s are just as insular as they have ever been, perhaps even moreso. Their attitudes and fanaticism bring shame on us all that will only be lessened by keeping the spotlight on their behavior so that the shame falls where it belongs…on the perpetrator and the Community that ignores or covers it up, and not the innocent victims.

  8. Emily Panzer DeRosa

    I also thought that couldn’t happen in a religious community. In jail he will be treated as a martyr-the poor rebbe who was justified for what he did. He will never be blamed for being the disgusting pig he is.
    And the anti-semites will have another reason to call us dirty jews.

  9. Harriet Wolpoff

    Just last week I saw the movie “Standing Silent” which is almost the identical story, except in Baltimore. Very disturbing.

  10. SUE


  11. Linda Drum

    These horrible people should be denounced and thrown out of the Jewish community. They bring only shame to our people.

  12. Laurie Winstanley

    Good for you,’ Esther’. I hope things work out better for you and your family and that your husband will find a new job soon. I also watched the programme on the abusers in the UK and they were appalling people with really skewed and ignorant and irreligious beliefs. Men like that should be locked up and the keys thrown away – not only as a punishment but also for an example. I thought the ultra orthodox were supposed to set an example of a correct and religious life – WOW examples like that nobody needs. Plus (certainly in the UK) whatever does the outside world think of the Jews and we ALL get tarred with the same knife.

  13. Mickey Oberman

    I repeat Janice’s question.

    Is there any way we can assist them to normalize their lives as much as is possible.

    This would not be charity.
    This would be repaying the Jewish community’s immense debt to them for their great courage.

  14. B J Wax

    What happened to Esther sickens me to the core! I felt like I was reading about a Muslim girl, not a Jewish girl. I don’t care what her religious background is and I realize it goes on in every culture but it is so sick. I am a bliever and they need to stand on Isaiah 54:17! These molesters will stand in HIS judgement someday…may it be sooner than later!

  15. Rahel

    God commands us in the Torah to eradicate evil, not sweep it under the rug. All honor to Esther for standing up against the abuser in the face of such terrible and unwarranted opposition. Shame on the Satmar community for allowing the abuse to continue and sheltering its perpetrator. What they have done is far worse than a hillul ha-Shem in my opinion.

    I wish Esther, her groom and all her family the very best.

  16. judith

    Kol Hakavod to this brave young couple..
    It is time the Haredim realise and understand what is going on in their midst. As to this ganging up on anybody who dares to differ with their thought processs; it only serves to show how STUPID, UNEDUCATED, and BARBARIC and UNG-DLY they are.

  17. Coral Mings

    Dear Naomi,

    Thank you for publishing this account. These terrible crimes against innocent children must be stopped–not just punished. You may not believe in Jesus (Yeshua) but he said something very appropriate: “But whoever causes one of these little ones …to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” My sentiments exactly.

  18. Janice

    Is there a way we can help support her husband / father to make up for their lost income from the moves against them?

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