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74 A MI MAG A Z I NE / / MAY 2 8 , 2 0 1 4 / / 2 8 I YA R 5 7 7 4

HOW
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INTO A
TRAIN WRECK
by Yossi Krausz
2 8 I YA R 5 7 7 4 / / MAY 2 8 , 2 0 1 4 / / A MI MAG A Z I NE 75
A panel about
reporting on
chasidic Jews
turns into
a forum for
attacking
them.
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TRAIN WRECK
76 A MI MAG A Z I NE / / MAY 2 8 , 2 0 1 4 / / 2 8 I YA R 5 7 7 4
M
Y EMAIL CHIMED EARLY
IN THE MORNING. I’d
been forwarded an email
with the Subject line
“What an OUTRAGE”:
“John Jay College of
Criminal Justice is hosting May 14 6:30 PM a panel discussion about
‘Reporting On Crime in the Hasidic Community.’ They write, ‘In New
York’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, powerful religious
and political forces take great pain to settle criminal matters within
the fold. Victims of these crimes say this approach protects perpetra-
tors from justice and provides little relief for the community. These are
stories that need to be investigated and told.’
“The premise of this discussion is an outrage in itself and the panel
is [being] moderated by Hella Winston who has an infamous record
of anti-Hasidic reporting; including being part of the ‘Who didn’t want
him dead’ story in the NYP. Worse, none of the panelists are people that
can offer balance to such a sensitive topic.”
The email had been sent by OJPAC, a group that describes its
mission as helping “enhance the standing of the Orthodox Jewish
community in the media and in the eyes of the general public.” It
went on to call for a phone and Twitter protest against the event.
Looking up the event on John Jay’s website, I saw that the panel
discussion was a sort of glorifed publicity event for a new fc-
tion book:
“[A] new novel by journalist and former CMCJ fellow Julia Dahl
follows a young reporter delving into this world, and her journey asks
important questions: How can reporters fnd sources for stories—like
[child] abuse, domestic violence and corruption? How do police work
with the community to keep predators at bay? Find out in a special
panel discussion about the challenges of investigating and reporting on
crime in this insular community.”
I looked at the names of the panelists. More disturbing than
Winston’s inclusion was the inclusion of Ben Hirsch of the group
Survivors for Justice on the list of panelists. An advocate with an
axe to grind against the community, Hirsch wouldn’t be an expert
on the techniques of journalism or investigating; he’d be there to
tell over the crimes and misdemeanors of the community.
I checked my calendar. I had time for an outrage.
An attractive target
To put it mildly, the frum community has had some problems
with much of the reporting—especially crime reporting—that’s
been done on it. Perhaps “vilifcation” might be a better word
than “reporting,” actually.
That’s particularly true in relation to reporting on abuse cases in the
Jewish community. In an article in The New York Times last year, Mark
Oppenheimer discussed the way the media has looked at these
cases.
“Just as we think we know what an abuser looks like, we think
we know what an abusive religious community looks like. We
may think it is highly insular—like the Satmar Hasidic commu-
nity in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn… Or it is
hierarchical and bureaucratic: If the Roman Catholic Church
did not have so many bishops and archbishops who refused
to dismiss or defrock molesters in their ranks, would so many
“They are not
interested in
fnding justice;
they are more
interested in
keeping things
in the fold.”
[molesters] have been able to carry on for so long?
“But we don’t know a thing,” he wrote, and
then he pointed to cases in Yeshiva University and
in various liberal non-Jewish religious groups.
Finally, he pointed out, referring to a high-profle
case at Penn State University, that abuse cases go
unreported in groups that have nothing to do with
religion at all. Jews, Oppenheimer pointed out,
aren’t different from other groups.
In fact, reporting and congressional investiga-
tions that have gone on this year about abuse in
the US military and on college campuses across
the country, including at the most prestigious Ivy
League colleges, has shown that horrifc cover-
ups of abuse go on in those institutions to a level
no rational observer believes is happening in the
Jewish community.
Yet the vilifcation of the community still con-
tinues, and the narrative that the chareidim are a
sinister, “insular” group that as a whole evilly vic-
timizes victims is still one that reporters have a
hard time letting go of.
A tremendous talk
The conference room at John Jay, where the panel was going to take place, was rel-
atively full, but there were very few Orthodox members of the audience. There were,
however, a number of child abuse activists there. Mark Appel, the head of the group
The Voice of Justice (a rival group to Hirsch’s Survivors for Justice), oozed into the seat
behind me.
The lineup of panel members had been changed a bit. Ben Hirsch wasn’t coming, but
he’d sent another member of his organization, NYPD captain Daniel Sosnowik, a frum
Jew. Then there was Hella Winston, as moderator; Julia Dahl, the author of the fction
book being promoted, who reports for CBSNews.com; Reuven Blau, a frum Jew and
reporter for the Daily News; and Jennifer Molinari, a retired NYPD detective who spe-
cialized in abuse crimes.
The discussion, supposedly about reporting and investigating, quickly turned into a
recital of the community’s supposed crimes.
Sosnowik, for one, rather than talk about policing, repeatedly discussed how dis-
turbed he was as an Orthodox Jew to see that a “parallel system” of justice was operating
in the community. Even when asked a question about whether there are groups like
Shomrim—which was accused by several of the panelists of covering up crimes—in
other communities, he chose to answer in the most accusatory way: “The NYPD works
widely with communities across the city, in terms of neighborhood watch and other pro-
grams that I’m probably not familiar with. But that’s a whole different discussion from
the one that I think you’re talking about—collaborating to cover up crime.”
Dahl, for her part, made it clear that she had no experience with frum Jews until
recently. “In Fresno there was no such thing as ultra-Orthodox Jews. I did not know that
this community existed until I moved to New York City,” she said. And she had gained
much of her information about the community from malcontents and those who had
left the community.
While she at frst made a parallel between reporting on the frum community and
reporting on the military (“The military in a way is a very closed and insular commu-
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78 A MI MAG A Z I NE / / MAY 2 8 , 2 0 1 4 / / 2 8 I YA R 5 7 7 4
nity that thinks the outside doesn’t understand them”), she soon
moved into more offensive metaphors:
“Shomrim are like gang culture—‘Don’t snitch.’ I’m not trying
to equate the Orthodox with gangs, but there’s a sense of ‘this is
our world and we handle it ourselves.’ The idea of mesirah and
‘stop snitching’ struck me as an interesting parallel [to gangs in
Chicago].”
Some of the audience members, who seemed determined to
give speeches rather than ask questions, were even worse. One
man got up and gave a bizarre rant about how Orthodox Jews,
the Western World, Plato and Nigeria (I can’t explain the connec-
tions, I’ll admit) hate women. Mark Appel spoke about the way
the “rabbis” are on the run because of people like him and his
friends in the media.
“I always tell the rabbis,” he said, “‘You were the ones who
caused the awareness. Had you not fought us, nobody would
have known who we were.’ They created their own deathbed.”
The only question from the audience that had to do with actual
reporting, rather than the community’s behavior, was from me,
when I asked how the reporters there justifed the use of anony-
mous sources.
But attacks on the community took up pretty much the entire
discussion. There were just a few diversions from what had
become the evening’s main theme. Reuven Blau, for example,
noted at one point, “In the tabloid world, they want stories that
are very black and white. They don’t want confusion. They want
a villain.” He also pointed out that in the tabloids, “the stories
that editors gravitate towards are the crazy things that happen in
the community.”
Two of the audience members subtly undermined the general
tenor of the discussion. One young woman discussed her sister’s
abuse by a neighbor; a young man discussed his own abuse. Both
of them said that worries about shidduchim, either for their own
family members or for the family members of the abuser, were
why their parents didn’t go to the police.
Those turned out to be bad decisions with tragic consequences,
because they left the abusers free to prey on other children. But
these stories had a different narrative from the one that the panel
had been promoting. Instead of evil rabbis engaging in backroom
machinations—the image that one would have gotten from much
of the panel’s discussion—these speakers were pointing out, per-
haps unintentionally, more subtle factors that exist in many cases.
Yet in the context of the entire discussion, that point was prob-
ably lost on most listeners.
A dangerously fawed book
Julia Dahl’s book, which the discussion was meant to promote,
may present the world of the freelance reporter accurately. But it
does a very poor job of presenting the world of the chasidic com-
munity.
There are the little things that show her ignorance of Ortho-
dox Jews. For example, most would fnd it surprising to learn
that Orthodox Jews must sit in the darkness on Shabbos. There’s
the part where an ostensibly Orthodox policeman rides a bike
around Boro Park on Shabbos and writes in a notebook. Later,
there’s a humorous scene where it turns out that he is not really
all that observant, and the journalist-hero of the book refers to
him as having “rebelled” against the community, which elicits an
indignant response from him, despite the fact that he’s driving a
car on Shabbos at the time. Er, yes, that’s quite a rebellion.
These kinds of mistakes, of course, could just be laughed off as
a joke, like any number of other incorrect depictions of Orthodox
Jews in mass media. But a central plot point of the book—that
Shomrim and Chesed Shel Emes cover up a murder—is not so
funny.
Yes, she actually names those two local organizations in her
book and has them nefariously tampering with a murder case.
(How her publisher allowed this is a question.)
Not that she knows much about these groups. There’s a silly
scene where the Chesed Shel Emes volunteers come to the
murder scene wearing orange vests and wide-brimmed black
hats, a clothing choice she could have realized is incongruous
“We think we
know what an
abusive religious
community looks
like. But we don’t
know a thing.”
by simply doing a Google
search for images of Chesed
Shel Emes. She also refers to
the organization as a “Shom-
rim-linked” group; the only
real link between the two
groups is that they’re both
Jewish.
Even more to the point,
Rabbi Tzvi Gluck, Chesed
Shel Emes’ government
liaison, pointed out that
it was his father, Rabbi
Edgar Gluck, the head of
Chesed Shel Emes, who had
helped write the New York
State autopsy law and had
inserted the clear require-
ment that an autopsy be done in cases of murder. That was done
at the insistence of Rav Moshe Bick, zt”l, who said that in such
cases an autopsy wasn’t just allowable in Jewish law but required.
(Even the Forward, in their review of her book, took her to task
for the idea that an autopsy could be avoided in a murder case.
Yet they failed to point out that therefore Dahl’s depiction falsely
impugns the Orthodox community.)
Despite that lack of knowledge, she still smeared these groups
and by extension the entire community, if only fctionally. During
an interview I had with her after the panel discussion, it was
made painfully clear why. She had started off with little Jewish
knowledge, as she had said. The daughter of a Jewish woman and
a father who is a Christian minister, growing up in a town with no
Orthodox Jews, she was starting with a defcit of knowledge. And
then she never really made up for that. She hadn’t done many sto-
ries in the Orthodox world as a reporter, and the sources that she
did have for stories on that world were activists or disgruntled
former members.
In an interview she gave to the Crime Report, she made it clear
that these people, including Ben Hirsch, whom she named, had
given her a totally false view of the community and groups like
Shomrim.
She told the interviewer: “They would talk to me about how
the chasidic community would not want to report anything to the
police, no matter how horrible the crime. I’m talking about child
abuse, [molestation], fraud, even murder.”
She also said: “In the chasidic community, if someone goes
missing or a child gets [molested], they call the Shomrim, not the
police, and that blew my mind. They are not interested in fnding
justice; they are more interested in keeping things in the fold.”
During our interview, on the other hand, she told me: “I would
see people dressed with the pei’os and hat on the subway and it
just felt so foreign to me and I was so intrigued—not because I
felt I want to be like you because I knew very clearly I don’t, but
I just wanted to understand. I felt like you’re like me, but you’re
not like me. How? And what is that life like?”
Yet she did very far from a good job of fnding out.
The larger problem, of course, is not with just one book that
is clearly fction. (Still, despite it being fction, one blurb on the
back of her book made it clear that people take this kind of fc-
tion seriously; the reviewer wrote that the book “makes me proud
and a little afraid to be a Jew living in Brooklyn.”)
As the panel discussion had made clear, the issue of abuse is
one that can inspire a wholesale assault on the community, and
it is fertile ground for manipulation by activists with an agenda
to, in the eloquent words of Mark Appel, put the community in
its “deathbed.”
It’s entirely possible that some of the journalists, as Winston
and Blau told me after the discussion, aren’t interested in sink-
ing the community. They may simply be out to write a good story
and fnd the community a good subject. But activists, who create
a narrative of villainous rabbis and nefarious communal organi-
zations, certainly use that to their own ends.
And that is an outrage.

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