Black Hat Meets Blog
The Internet Is Revolutionizing Closed Orthodox Communities and Exposing Long-Hidden Sexual Abuse Allegations — and Not Everyone Is Happy about It
By Jennifer Friedlin
The Jewish Week [New York]
May 25, 2006
Is computer technology shifting the balance of power in Brooklyn's insular, fervently Orthodox community?
In the 1980s, two prominent Flatbush rabbis allegedly closed the door on a burgeoning sexual abuse scandal by preventing a rabbinical court proceeding from taking place. Now, two decades later, an Internet blog has reinvigorated the allegations, resulting in two multimillion-dollar lawsuits against a rabbi, a yeshiva and a summer camp for boys.
"Without the Internet, this story never would have been brought to light," said Un-Orthodox Jew, the anonymous blogger who last year began posting angry diatribes about the alleged abuse and cover-up on www.theunorthodoxjew.blogspot.com.
On the blog, Un-Orthodox Jew, who also goes by UOJ and claims to have deep ties in the "black hat" world, stated that Rabbi Yehuda Kolko sexually abused a number of male students at Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Temimah in Flatbush and at Camp Agudah in Ferndale, N.Y., while Rabbi Lipa Margulies, the head of the school, allegedly helped to protect him at the expense of the victims. All told, three former students of Rabbi Kolko allege abuse against him in the two lawsuits.
While the blog has generated heaps of scorn among readers — some people have said UOJ's Web posts were less acceptable than the alleged acts they were revealing — the Web site has also elicited support as well as a response from at least one alleged victim.
David Framowitz, a 48-year-old former student who now lives in Israel with his family, says he first came across the blog while searching for Rabbi Kolko's name on the Internet. His story was chronicled in a May 22 New York Magazine story.
"I was always typing in Kolko's name looking to see if anyone else was molested," he told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview last week. "Then one day, I Googled Kolko and all of a sudden it was there."
Framowitz posted his story to the UOJ blog, claiming that Kolko repeatedly molested him 36 years ago while he was a seventh and eighth grade student at Torah Temimah and during two summers at Camp Agudah. He said he told his parents, but they did not believe him. Now, he wrote, he was coming out because he felt the time had come to tear down "the wall of silence."
In response to the posts, UOJ put Framowitz in touch with Jeffrey Herman, a Miami-based lawyer who has litigated sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church. Herman took the case. He is also representing two other plaintiffs who go by John Doe 2 and John Doe 3 in the complaints. The complaints, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, all name Rabbi Kolko and Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Temimah as defendants, while the complaint on behalf of Framowitz and John Doe 2 also names Camp Agudah.
Although Rabbi Margulies is not a defendant in the case, the complaint states that Rabbi Margulies threatened to expel from the school and ostracize from the community any child who spoke of the abuse. Herman said that Margulies also enlisted Rabbi Pinchus Scheinberg to help quell the fire by telling victims that sexual abuse had not taken place because there was no penetration. After allegedly thwarting two beit dins, Rabbi Margulies told anyone who asked that Kolko had been exonerated, according to last week's New York Magazine expose. No one ever went to the authorities.
Avi Moskowitz, a lawyer representing Torah Temimah, told The Jewish Week that the yeshiva "emphatically denies the allegations" and has put Kolko on administrative leave.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, a representative of Agudath Israel of America, the owner of the camp, said that officials in his organization had not heard of any allegations against Rabbi Kolko, who apparently left the camp's employ of his own accord in the mid-1970s.
"There is nobody currently in the administration who has any recollection from that time," Zwiebel said.
Rabbi Kolko and Rabbi Margulies declined to comment, while Scheinberg, who is 93 and lives in Israel, could not be reached.
While the statute of limitations has expired for a criminal investigation or a civil lawsuit, Herman said he believes that because of the alleged cover-up the plaintiffs would have the right to pursue the civil action.
Herman also noted that a 22-year-old has come forward with allegations against Rabbi Kolko, but he declined to provide details. If that case moves forward, it could fall within the statute of limitations for a criminal investigation, according to Herman.
Besides blogging, UOJ — who said he will not reveal his identity because it would deflect attention from his cause — said he tried several other avenues to bring the allegations to light, from writing letters to Jewish and secular newspapers to sending a letter about Rabbis Kolko and Margulies to thousands of religious families throughout Brooklyn. But, he said, no one wanted to listen.
"I have submitted letters to the editor and as long as they were non-controversial they were accepted. But once I started snooping around about issues no one was dealing with, my letters were not published," said UOJ, who describes himself as somewhere between 30 and 40 years of age, observant and married with children. He also says that he comes from a prominent Orthodox family that made a fortune in real estate.
Working as an Internet-based Robin Hood, UOJ said his sole interest in starting his blog was to rattle the cocoon of Orthodoxy, which, he claims, has enabled those in power to exploit their followers.
Experts who advocate on behalf of sex abuse victims have applauded UOJ's efforts. They say that because many Orthodox communities prohibit people from going to secular authorities with allegations of abuse and that abusers often go unpunished, the Internet provides one of the only vehicles religious people have for accessing support.
"In the Orthodox world people don't watch TV, they don't listen to the radios, they don't read the papers but everyone seems to be sneaking onto the Internet," said Vicky Polin, executive director of the Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based advocacy group for victims of sexual assault.
Yet others worry about the Internet's potential for abuse.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future, said he thought that recent Internet chatter is "a reflection of the fact that victims have not felt heard on this issue." Nevertheless, he expressed concern about the harm a vengeful or mistaken blogger could inflict on an innocent person.
"Not everything on a Web site can be treated as truth," Brander said.
Whether or not the Internet proves helpful or hurtful or a bit of both, most community observers say the Web has forever changed the way Orthodox individuals interact with the world.
"The Internet poses an incredibly serious threat to the status quo in these communities — as it does to any society that controls information and suppresses public dissent," said Hella Winston, a sociologist and author of "Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels."
"The fact that David Framowitz was able to connect with UOJ from half a world away, in only a few seconds, is nothing short of revolutionary," she said.
In the wake of the lawsuits and the New York magazine article, UOJ said he has received more than 400,000 hits to his site. Meanwhile, the alleged abuse has also become a hot topic on other Jewish blogs.
On the Chaptzem blog (http://chaptzem.blogspot.com/), which describes itself as "the one and only heimishe news center," the host wrote:
"The whole Kolko-Margulies story has brought to light some very important questions regarding child abuse. How do we as a community deal with allegations of abuse? How do we decide if they are founded or fabricated? … Also, even if the allegations are founded how do we go about stopping it? How far do we go?"
According to UOJ, such questions have been a long time coming.
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