Monday, December 10, 2012

After Nechemya Weberman, Hasidic Satmar sect considers sending rebel teens away 

Embarrassed by the sex abuse trial of a Hasidic counselor, leaders of Williamsburg's pious Satmar sect are considering a different way to deal with rebellious teens: shipping them out of the country for treatment.

The idea comes as the jury weighs charges against the counselor, Nechemya Weberman, who prosecutors said molested a then-12-year-old girl referred to him because she wore supposedly indecent clothing, read People magazine and questioned God's authority in a religious school class.

Without addressing the allegations against Weberman, a Satmar official told the Daily News that leaders are considering ways to avoid similar accusations by victims.

"This was a wakeup call; nobody denies that," said Gary Schlesinger, who heads a nonprofit tied to Satmar leader Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.

"Maybe we will send them to an Israeli program or a European program, and the kid will come back a different person."

A verdict is expected this week. Meanwhile, the Satmar community — where self-styled modesty police crack down on perceived transgressions — is riven by the victim's account.

"It's a horrible embarrassment," said Pearl Engelman, 65. "We represent ourselves as the Almighty's children. We don't want to be an embarrassment to God."

Some Satmars believe that it's too late for that.

"It's an embarrassment for the community that some are standing up for the abuser," said Raizy Pollak, 19, who dropped out of the accuser's yeshiva to protest the strict rules. "We need to stand up for the victim instead of pushing her down," she added.

Supporters of the victim rallied last week, holding signs in Yiddish blasting perverts and molesters.

"Every single Jewish family is talking about this case. The grand rabbi (Teitelbaum) couldn't even ignore it," said real estate developer Joel Neuwirth, 22. "He had to address the issue."

The rebbe did just that last week — and blamed the victim.

"A Jewish daughter has descended so low," said Teitelbaum, according to a translation published by the Jewish blog, FailedMessiah.com. "There hasn't been such a disgusting saga in (the history of religious) Jewry."

Weberman was the driver for Teitelbaum's late father Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, under whose leadership the movement grew into one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world, with the majority of its 100,000 members living in Brooklyn.

Aaron Teitelbaum's statement incensed supporters of Weberman's alleged victim.

But Weberman has plenty of supporters.

"Weberman was trying to help her," said Joel Weinstock, 31, a private tutor. "The rules are set forth by the rabbis. There is no reason to change."
Outsiders see a community hoping not to draw attention to itself.

"They want to be seen as God-fearing and well-behaved," said CUNY sociologist Samuel Heilman, who specializes in Jewish studies.

"The case is over whether the girl is deviant, or is Weberman deviant," said Heilman. "It is all about deviance within the Satmar community."


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