Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chemical Thrown at Rabbi Who Helped Abuse Victims 

An outspoken advocate for child sexual abuse victims in the Satmar Hasidic community was injured by a chemical he believed to be bleach that was thrown in his face as he walked down the street in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood on Tuesday.

The advocate, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who runs a Web site and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, said in an interview at the hospital where he was treated that he was walking on Roebling Street just after noon when a man came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.

“He has a cup of bleach,” Rabbi Rosenberg said, adding that he recognized the man. “And then he says ‘whoops’ and throws it in my face and walks off.”

A Police Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening that there had been an “ongoing dispute” between Rabbi Rosenberg and the man who threw the unidentified substance, but that no arrest had yet been made. Rabbi Rosenberg was taken to Woodhull Medical Center with burns to his face. According to a relative who was at the hospital, he had a corneal abrasion to his left eye and chemical burns around his eye. He was released after treatment and is expected to fully recover, his relative said.

Tensions are high in the tightly knit Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg after the conviction on Monday of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member who was found guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl who came to him for counseling. Since his arrest on those charges last year, Mr. Weberman has had the backing of the community’s rabbinical leaders, and many in the neighborhood continue to believe he is innocent.

Rabbi Rosenberg said he believed the attack against him was related to Mr. Weberman’s conviction, as well as to a claim that he made on his telephone call-in line last week claiming that another ultra-Orthodox man was also a molester. “Everyone is so crazy right now,” Rabbi Rosenberg said.

A Police Department spokesman said there appeared to be no connection to the verdict.

A law enforcement official said that the police were still determining what substance had been thrown at Rabbi Rosenberg, but confirmed that he had been burned. Detectives interviewed Rabbi Rosenberg at the hospital and said they would take his clothing for chemical analysis.

Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has vowed in recent months to crack down against intimidation of sexual abuse victims and their supporters in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where he has said people trying to cover up cases use tactics similar to those employed by organized crime. On Monday, the district attorney warned that people acting like “thugs”  in the community would be punished.

Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, said on Tuesday that his office was investigating the attack on Rabbi Rosenberg.

Primo Santiago, the manager of Roebling Liquors, at 311 Roebling Street, said that he saw the attack take place. He said he was unlocking his store when he saw a man rushing across the street with a cup of liquid.

 “I saw the one guy throw something at the other guy’s face,” he said. Rabbi Rosenberg, 62, has been confronted before. In 2008, after he began talking publicly about ultra-Orthodox Jews who he believed were molesters, he was formally ostracized by a group of rabbis and religious judges, and barred from local synagogues.

“The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp,” that ban, printed in local newspapers, said in Hebrew. Rabbi Rosenberg also said he was grazed in the forehead by a bullet from a pellet gun shortly afterward.

Through it all, Rabbi Rosenberg has refused to tone down his advocacy. He has accused some top rabbis within the Satmar community of covering up abuse or being molesters themselves.

On Monday, he attended the Weberman trial and gave interviews to the news media praising the guilty verdict.

“Eventually, we are going to be a normal community, that everyone who is molested can come forward,” he said.


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