Exclusive by Francine Wolfisz
A United Synagogue rabbi advised a child sex abuse victim not to go to the police, despite an “extremely clear” policy on the issue, it has been alleged.
Yehudis Goldsobel (pictured), who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family from Stamford Hill, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of family friend, Menachem Mendel Levy, between the ages of 13 and 20.
Last July, Levy, 41, who is a father-of-six from Golders Green, was convicted of two counts of child sexual assault and is currently serving a three-year jail term. He recently launched a bid against his conviction and sentence in the hope of early release to attend his son’s barmitzvah, but this was dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
His victim, now 28, has waived her legal right to anonymity and has since spoken out about her experience, including the lack of support she received from rabbis after approaching them for help. One, who Yehudis does not wish to name publicly, is a rabbi currently employed by the US.
The organisation has a stringent policy and advises all rabbis to involve the police when such cases arise. Yehudis, who had been advised to deal with her plight from within the community and sought rabbinic advice between October 2010 and April 2011, said the US rabbi suggested waiting before going to the police.
Yehudis added: “His suggestion was to find more victims of the same perpetrator and then we would be able to do something, as it would be more believable. Until then, there was not much else we could do.”
In response, the US moved this week to reassure the community that it takes allegations of child sexual abuse seriously and regularly reminds all its rabbis of the organisation’s policy.
A spokesperson said: “The Child Protection policy of the United Synagogue is extremely clear. In a situation concerning victims of abuse we would seek to involve the authorities to the fullest possible extent. Since the US wrote recently, as it does regularly, to all of our rabbis to remind them about their responsibilities in the sphere of child protection, there is no ambiguity about this.
“Anyone who has any concerns about abuse within the Jewish community should most certainly report those concerns to police, in the knowledge their rabbi will do all they can to offer appropriate support.”
At the same time as speaking to the US rabbi, Yehudis received advice from ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Stamford Hill, Golders Green, Edgware and Hendon, but she was not advised by any to report the matter to the police.
“One said I should take his money for therapy and then get on with my life. The next one said I should try and call him to the Beth Din, but that would cost £2,000 and we could call him three times. If he did not come, there was nothing else they could do.
“Another said I should stop talking about this publicly, because I was never going to get a shidduch. He said I should start taking on extra tehillim [psalms] to cleanse and make myself a better Jew.”
Rabbi Avraham Pinter of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations based in Stamford Hill, said: “A rabbi needs to give all the support to the victim and put the victim’s interest first. If the abuse is historic, there might be a difference of opinion, but if the abuse is ongoing, there is no doubt about it – one has to do everything to stop it, including by going to the police.”
Since Levy’s conviction, Yehudis has established Migdal Emunah, a charity providing support to child abuse victims. She described herself as “walking dead for all those years”, but has found new purpose in helping more than 60 people – ranging in age from 18 to 85 – with individual and group counselling, although she acknowledged the real number of “silent victims” who have suffered abuse from the community is likely much higher.
The response from community and professional bodies to her charity has largely been positive. There have also been endorsements from Rabbis Shimon Winegarten of Bridge Lane Beth Hamedrash and Harvey Belovski of Golders Green Synagogue.
But there is still work to be done to help educate the community and rabbinic leadership about the impact of sexual abuse, she added. “It’s about educating our leaders, parents and community,” Yehudis said.
“If you choose not to educate yourself and your children, then you are just helping to continue the cycle of abuse.”
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• For more on about Migdal Emunah, visit www.migdalemunah.com