Mendelsohn’s Directors Blog

Amy Neustein is an Orthodox Jew and editor of the book Tempest In The Temple.

It was clear from my first phone call I made on this story about sexual molestation by rabbis in the ultra orthodox Jewish community that this was going to be a difficult story to tell, because nobody wanted to talk. For those who were young at the time, they were terrified of the Rabbis, who told these 8-year-olds never to tell their parents. When they finally told their parents years later, the parents first disbelieved them, because how could such a holy man do such dastardly acts?

As adults, when they finally confronted the rabbis, they were told in no uncertain terms that they would be ostracized from the community, their daughters would not be allowed to marry, and their children would be kept out of Hebrew schools if they didn’t keep quiet.

They communicated to me by emails and only gave me their first names. The stories they told were unspeakable. They were terrified that their friends would desert them and that they would be banned from the synagogues. And these were holy people; to be banned from a synagogue was a shame and humiliation. There was one courageous person and his mother who finally decided that it was intolerable that any of these child abusers were still working in classrooms with the opportunity to destroy another child’s life. They spoke to me with conviction and determination that something had to be done.

Daniel Sosnowick is an Orthodox Jew and a Captain in the New York City pollce force.

I was on the phone the next day with a father who couldn’t stop crying because his child, who was developmentally handicapped, was being molested continuously. He called me from the police station, from his lawyer’s office, and from his child’s room. He was so disturbed he couldn’t go on television. But his story confirmed to me how grave this problem was.

I met a Rabbi who wanted to expose the child molesters. He was threatened, he was banned, and he was attacked. When we tried to film in a synagogue – one of the few that still allowed him in – we were asked to leave, even after he had arranged ahead of time for us to film there.

Nobody wanted to be associated with the story. You walk down the streets of Williamsburg in Brooklyn and there is a disconnect: all these dignified religious men in their fur hats looking like religious scholars, and you can’t imagine that some of the seemingly holiest of these men, who spend their time trying to live every rule in the Torah and wear their prayer shawls and pray everyday, could justify in their mind the damage they caused.

It taught me that pedophilia has nothing to do with celibacy, and it transcends all religions. And that as bad as the crime is, the cover-up is worse. It puts a black mark on these sects who profess they are the holiest of the holy. The light at the end of the tunnel while we were making this film was a community meeting, where people were trying to speak out against this horror.

Alan Mendelsohn

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