A man sues a rabbi for sexual abuse — and explains why others won’t do the same


July 22, 2020

By Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt

The first time Joel Engelman sued the rabbi he accused of abusing him was in 2008. He did so, despite having missed the deadline for such lawsuits, in order to name the man — Abraham Reichman — and hopefully protect other children from him.

Now he’s suing again, but his reasons are slightly different: That deadline has been extended, through the Child Victims Act, and he wants to set an example for other child victims of sexual abuse, especially in the Orthodox community.

“I’m hoping others come forward as well,” said Engelman, 35, in an interview. “I see this as an opportunity for survivors of abuse, that they can make a difference in their own lives and in protecting children.”.

Now a graduate student and a married father of two living in Toledo, Ohio, Engelman alleges that Reichman, a former principal at United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, sexually assaulted him in 1993 over the course of two months, when he was eight years old. Engelman is also suing the school, for negligence, as well as community leader and lobbyist Rabbi David Niederman and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg for “fraudulent inducement” — according to Engelman, they “tricked and pressured” him into delaying his lawsuit in the Kings County civil court, until it was too late, and the statute of limitations had expired.

A spokesperson for Niederman denied the allegations. “There is not a scintilla of truth in any of the allegations,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “In fact, it is a shame that Rabbi Niederman and UJO are even a party here. But, facts are facts and therefore we look forward to the opportunity to tell the real story (or lack thereof) in a court of law.”

Upon learning about the alleged abuse of their son, Engelman’s parents tried to first handle it inside the community — by petitioning leadership in the Satmar community to remove Reichman from his position. In a letter written at the time to Reichman, in Yiddish, his parents wrote: “We wish to let you know that since our son, Yoel Nechemia is a victim of you, you molested him as a child…and because we also know of other children who were victimized (molested) by you at least from 1993 until now — therefore you are a danger to children. We request from you to resign your position as teacher… We do not seek revenge! We seek to remove you from the vicinity of children.”

Between Engelman’s first and second lawsuits, New York State passed the Child Victims Act, which offers a window of time for survivors to sue abusers, even if the statute of limitations has expired. About 1,700 such suits have been filed since the act passed last January, after a long battle with both Catholic and Orthodox Jewish organizations.

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