Sunday, August 11, 2013

Unabashedly Public

Over the last three years, as I’ve written and spoken about some very personal experiences in my life, I’ve received much praise for my bravery, encouragement from others who were motivated to share their stories and come forward, and my voice has never felt louder or more powerful than ever. When I was younger, I used to have nightmares in which I was attempting to scream at the top of my lungs, I was trying to scream about the pain I was feeling, the injustices that I suffered, and the way they were ignored. Today, I no longer have that dream anymore.

Ever since I found my voice and started writing publicly, there hasn’t been a single day that’s gone by where I looked back and regretted my decision. Whether it was talking about being sexually abused for 4 years during my childhood, undergoing so called conversion therapy to try and become straight or shedding light on other people’s plights and raising awareness through them, it’s always been more rewarding than regretful. Some people have chosen to judge me and label me as a “professional victim,” but as far as I’m concerned if that’s what it takes to get said people to talk about these issues that otherwise go ignored, I’m happy to be a professional victim.

I have many detractors out there, some of whom I know but most of whom I don’t know. It pleases me to know that I’ve earned detractors because that means I was part of the important process that forces people to confront issues that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about because they elected to ignore them. Whether it was about the student in Chicago who was put on notice and threatened with expulsion for going public about her past as a rape survivor; the guy who grew up orthodox and got married even though he was gay; the lack of education in many ultra orthodox communities; and many others, I’m proud that I was able to contribute at least one bit in lending a voice to the voiceless.

I don’t represent any group of people, I am an individual who made a decision to share parts of my personal life with the rest of the world in the hopes that someone would benefit through them. I am so thankful to all my supporters and to all the people who constantly encourage me to write more, the ones who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and I truly do hope that there will come a time where no one ever feels like they’re screaming on the top of their lungs but can’t be heard.

Lots of love.

Chaim Levin

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Allegations Against Employee at JEM Center In Los Angeles Spark Uproar

8/6/13


Los Angeles, CA --  An event was held last night by Jewish parents in Beverly Hills who were concerned about the claims of abuse leveled against counselor/director of JEM center Mendel Tevel. The event was hosted in the home of Esther Abehsera and was organized by Meyer Seewald, director of Jewish Community Watch. In attendance were Deputy District Attorney Rabbi Benny Forer, and one of Tevel’s numerous alleged victims that agreed to talk to the crowd without using his name. About 50 people attended the event that was announced just four hours before it was scheduled to take place. The victim agreed to talk on the condition that people would leave phones and recording devices at the door, with the hope that by telling his story to a large group of people, the charges against Tevel would be taken more seriously because someone agreed to speak in front of a real live audience.


The alleged victim now 23, told the crowd that he was 14 when the abuse occurred. With his wife by his side, he recounted how when he was 14 years old he attended “Shterns” Yeshiva in Upstate New York.“When I was 14, I was in Yeshiva. We called it Shterns. Mendel Tevel was my Mashpia (mentor) and teacher. It started out when it became a big thing in school to work out, lift weights. Tevel offered to be my personal trainer, and he would push me to work harder and harder, and one time he in order to make me work harder he would whip me with a metal. hanger. And from then on, If i stopped working out I’d get whacked in the back with a metal hanger. I had marks, I bled, and I had cuts.” He further alleged that the abuse escalated “After a few days of working out with him, he started offering me messages to relax my muscles so that I wouldn’t be sore that day. After a few times he got into bed with me and sat on top of me to give me a message. I hate to be a little bit vulgar but while he was giving me the massage he was “dry humping me.” "From there it progressed where every day he tried to get me to go to the mikva before Shachris (prayer service). He offered to go with me personally because I didn’t like to be part of the large crowd that go together. One day it was really cold and it was so cold that there was a layer of ice over the Mikvah and I didn’t want to go in. Tevel came up behind me and started smacking me on my behind, and I realized that Tevel had an erection.” It was in that moment that the victim says he realized that something was “not quite right” with their connection and maintains that he distanced himself from Tevel from that point on.


Last week, on a Facebook group called LA Mommies, a member of the group posted her concern about the allegations in Tevel's past and his involvement with JEM center. In her post (which has since been deleted), she alleged that she was contacted by a concerned parent who had heard that Tevel was working at JEM high school. The thread quickly escalated, and one parent, a mother of three wanted to make sure other parents knew about the allegations against Tevel.


This mother said that she was “deeply concerned,” when she saw a Facebook post by Devorah Wagshul, sister in law of Mendel Tevel about JEM with the caption “Ran by the best directors, Aka Bracha and Mende[l]”, attached was a recent Facebook post by JEM Hebrew High. Upon further investigation, this flyer was found on JEM’s website, the phone number lists Brocha Illulian as the contact person for the program. Bracha Illulian is the wife of Mendel Tevel.




After calls to JEM center, a woman who would only identify herself as Chelsea said that “We’re safe here, there’s really not an issue, everyone already knows that there’s no issue.” When asked if Tevel was still part of the staff at JEM she said that “There’s no issue, everyone’s safe, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing happened. Everyone knows this, these are false accusations... and, he didn’t do this, to anybody. They’re lying.”  

JEM Center, which was founded by Rabbi Hertzel illulian in 1984, was once connected to Chabad but has since separated from the movement and operates independently.

Other attendees of the event recounted their own personal stories of being abused when they were minors. One of them, Mordy Gluckowsky alleges that he was abused by his dorm counselor at a Chabad yeshiva abroad, but when he notified the principal of his school he was expelled two days later.


According to David Smith*, he was sexually abused and assaulted by Tevel repeatedly when he was 14/15 years old. David recounts moments where Tevel “whacked him” on his rear with a leather belt; he also recalls multiple incidents of oral sex being performed on him by Tevel. David, who grew up in the Crown Heights community still has the ability to press charges against Tevel for another few months but is reluctant to do so because of what he describes as "strong family pressure and community pressure" placed upon him not to do anything to Tevel. David alleges that he was contacted by a member of the Tevel family and was offered money in exchange for his silence, David says he didn’t accept this offer but is still very reluctant to come forward.


A third alleged victim of Tevel who is past the statute of limitations recounted how Tevel would lure him the basement of his parents’ home when he was around the ages of 6 and 7 years old by offering him candy and the use of his game boy. “He would tie me up to the trampoline and would whip me on my backside with a belt, sometimes with my clothes on and sometimes with my clothes off.” This alleged victim’s testimony is very similar to that of other victims who say that aside from the sexual abuse they endured by Tevel, there was a significant amount of physical assault perpetrated against them by Tevel with leather belts in their backside area.


A letter written by members of the Jewish community has already acquired almost 75 signatures within 24 hours. The letter offers support and encouragment to victims of Tevel to come forward. The reason for writing this letter according Seewald was because “we want to show the victims how much support there already is out there, public support for them. There are so many people who are anonymously offering their support, that's not good enough anymore.” As this story continues to grow, many people in the Los Angeles communities are unsure if their children are safe at JEM center. Some mothers are alleging that Tevel sometimes goes to the Hebrew High school in Beverly Hills to put on Tefilin with younger teenagers. Other parents expressed concern about Brocha Illulian, Tevel’s wife who would frequently stand near their children’s schools and hands out flyers promoting JEM’s upcoming events.


Seewald, who attempted to alert the Illulian family before Tevel was engaged to their daughter said: “I went directly to Rabbi Hertzel Illulian when I heard that his daughter was getting engaged to Tevel. Rabbi Illulian outright dismissed the possibility that Tevel still poses a danger to children, and when I told him the graphic details given to me by one of Tevel’s victims in which the victim described Tevel performing oral sex on him, Illulian asked me if “he [the victim] enjoyed it”. A response that even for Seewald, who claims to have heard about so many similar stories, shocked him. "He tried to blame the victim by implying that because he might have enjoyed it, it was his fault."

Seewald remarked that the event "was revolutionary." "For the first time in two years a victim got up and talked to parents for the sake of protecting children even though he knew that people may find out his identity. I’ve never seen a victim empowering so many other people to talk. I hope that people learn from this that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. People should see that coming forward is not just something that will help the public, but it will also help victims heal from their personal trauma.” He ended off by saying that he hopes that this turn of events will set a better precedent for victims of the Chabad community in Crown Heights. "We have almost 70 signatures by now, but hardly any of them are from members of the Crown Heights community, where Tevel committed many of his alleged crimes." Seewald said that this event was a very emotional one for him, and he hopes that the Crown Heights and greater Chabad communities will follow the example set by the people who attended this event and also by the people who signed the letter of support.

*name changed per victim's request







Wednesday, July 10, 2013

MEDIA ADVISORY: Abuse Advocates to Protest Charges Against Heroic Whistleblower

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

WHAT: Abuse Advocates to Protest Charges Against Heroic Whistleblower

WHERE: 350 Jay Street, Brooklyn NY 11201

WHEN: Thursday July 11th at 11am

Contact: Chaim Levin
Chaim89@gmail.com
Ph: 917-293-3674

Brooklyn, New York - July 10, 2013 - Today, members of several large abuse advocacy organizations announced that they would be joining together this Thursday to protest unfounded charges from the Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes's office against Sam Kellner, a father who reported his son's allegations and heroically encouraged others to do the same against notorious abuser Boruch Lebovitz in 2010.

Kellner stands falsely accused of having blackmailed a witness into testifying against Lebovitz but as reported in The New York Times and The Jewish Week, prosecutors recently told the trial judge that they found their key witness was unreliable despite Kellner's defense having asked the DA for a month to look into the credible allegation that the witness against Kellner was being manipulated.  Furthermore despite the case being unprosecutable at this point the DA has still refused to drop the charges.  Said witness has changed his story on several occasions and has been found to have been receiving money for expenses from an activist in the Orthodox Jewish community, Zalmen Ashkenazi, a Lebovitz supporter he previously claimed he did not know.

"Sam Kellner is a father who sought justice for his son," said activist Chaim Levin, the organizer of the protest. "He has been on trial for 28 months and is facing 21 years in prison. We ask Charles Hynes to think of the Biblical dictate tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice, you shall pursue and ask himself: Is this justice?"

The protest will be held on 11:00 a.m. at 350 Jay Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 on July 11, 2013.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

D.A. CANDIDATE KEN THOMPSON TO HYNES: FIRE PROSECUTOR AFTER PATTERN OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS AND SERIOUS MISCONDUCT


 






D.A. CANDIDATE KEN THOMPSON TO HYNES: FIRE PROSECUTOR AFTER PATTERN OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS AND SERIOUS MISCONDUCT

Hynes' Top Aide Was Deposed In Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit; Now Another High-Profile Vecchione Prosecution Has Collapsed
 
Thompson: We Need Accountability For Prosecutorial Misconduct Under Hynes’ Watch
 
Federal Judge Blasts D.A’s ‘Underhanded’ And ‘Horrific’ Misconduct, Was “Disturbed” That Hynes Refused To Punish ADA Vecchione
 
BROOKLYN – As another high-profile prosecution has fallen apart under D.A. Hynes’ watch, former federal prosecutor and candidate for Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson called on the D.A. to fire Michael Vecchione, the embattled prosecutor who has overseen these cases, as one step towards restoring integrity to the office. In a “dramatic reversal,” Hynes told a judge this week, in a court appearance in a case involving an Orthodox man accused of paying a child to falsely testify that he was a victim of sexual abuse, that the prosecution’s key witness was not trustworthy after evidence emerged that the witness had received money from supporters of the accused sex predator.
 
"With a record tarnished by wrongful convictions and unprecedented condemnation from judges, D.A. Hynes has become the nation's number one example for prosecutorial misconduct," said former federal prosecutor and D.A. candidate Ken Thompson. "There is something very disturbing about Hynes’ judgment when he promotes a prosecutor who has botched one case after the next, and whose alleged misconduct -- including the coercion of false testimony, lies in court and intimidation of witnesses -- caused a man to have been likely wrongfully imprisoned for over 15 years. Enough is enough. If Hynes has any interest in protecting the integrity of our criminal justice system, he would fire ADA Vecchione immediately. As Brooklyn D.A., I will fight to ensure that innocent New Yorkers are not locked up for crimes they didn’t commit, and that prosecutors are held accountable - not promoted - when they violate the public trust.”
 
In recent weeks, ADA Vecchione testified that potentially criminal conduct occurred in the D.A’s office, including the repeated unlawful forging of his signature in affidavits, in a $150 million lawsuit that reportedly unearthed "damning evidence of misconduct by prosecutors in the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.” The D.A. himself will face questions in a deposition next month. 
 
Now new details have emerged in a separate botched case. D.A. Hynes has been attempting to prosecute Sam Kellner, a father who accused a prominent Hasidic cantor, Baruch Lebovits, of sexually abusing his son and other children in the orthodox community.  After Lebovits' conviction, Hynes then prosecuted Kellner after allegations emerged from a victim who testified against Lebovits that the witness had testified only because Kellner paid him $10,000.

Lebovits’s lawyers used the Kellner prosecution to have his conviction overturned. Now Hynes' case against Kellner, overseen by ADA Vecchione, has fallen apart as a result of evidence that the witness who had made the accusations against Kellner had accepted payments from Lebovits’s supporters.  According to reports, "that money went to paying for his lawyer; his travel to and from Israel, where he is a student; his apartment; and his school fees."

In addition, according to news reports, Lebovitz's attorney Arthur Aidala "is a campaign contributor to Mr. Hynes and the vice president of Mr. Hynes’ nonprofit foundation" and "has boasted to prosecutors about his access to and influence with Mr. Hynes and Mr. Vecchione."
 
Jabbar Collins Case
 
The Kellner case is not the only recent example of D.A. Hynes allowing senior prosecutors engaging in misconduct. 
 
A separate civil lawsuit against Hynes was filed by Jabbar Collins, who served 16 years in prison for a murder he likely did not commit and was released after providing evidence that ADA Vecchione coerced false testimony to secure his conviction. Despite extraordinary criticism from a federal judge, who called ADA Vecchione's conduct "horrific" and said that he was "disturbed" and "puzzled" that the D.A. did not punish him, Hynes not only praised his top aide, but had promoted him to chief of the office's Rackets bureau. He now stars along with Hynes in a CBS reality television show. 
 
According to reports, in the Collins case:
 
  • A key witness that initially claimed that he had seen Collins running from the scene had admitted under oath that ADA Vecchione threatened to hit him with a coffee table and make him stay in jail unless he testified.
  • A second witness had recanted his claim that he was present when Collins allegedly plotted the murder, but ADA Vecchione never turned that information over to Collins' defense lawyer.
  • ADA Vecchione also threatened to keep that second witness in jail unless he testified against Collins.
  • A third witness claimed ADA Vecchione cut him a deal in which he would testify against Collins in exchange for clearing a probation violation. This, too, was withheld from Collins' defense lawyer.
  • Following the release of Jabbar Collins, Hynes issued a press release addressing the reversal of the conviction. In that press release, Hynes announced that Vecchione would not be investigated or punished because, in Hynes' opinion, he had done nothing wrong.
 
Just weeks ago in the same lawsuit, a former investigator revealed in a sworn deposition that, under the guidance of D.A. Hynes, law enforcement officials from the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office held witnesses in hotel rooms against their will and without judicial intervention. The filing also revealed that prosecutors used forged, falsely "sworn" applications to obtain warrants to then arrest and detain individuals who were merely prospective witnesses. 
 
These practices could potentially constitute a violation of a wide range of criminal statutes, including forgery, filing of a false instrument, fraud by a notary, as well as the aiding and abetting of these crimes. In addition, these practices may have run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits arrest warrants without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

He Was Adam

Dear Friends,


In light of the recent historical rulings in the supreme court on gay rights issues, conversations about gay marriage have been taking place all across the blogosphere but most interestingly lots of these debates have been among orthodox Jews. I’ve chosen to remain relatively silent, despite some of the most outrageous comments I’ve seen written by self-proclaimed orthodox Jews against gay people through name calling, illogical arguments and irrational reasons to be heartless and bigoted. The bottom line is that progress is marching on, our rights are finally being acknowledged despite the opposition. Yet at the same time, I believe that this is a great opportunity to engage some of these people and at best hopefully give them a glimpse into the struggle of minorities like LGBT people and in that token, hopefully hold impact in order to create tangible change and make life better for the next generation of our brothers and sisters.


I give you this incredible story about a boy named Adam, who struggled with his identity, much like myself. This story is completely fictional but the characters in it represent the real life struggles that many LGBT Jewish people, specifically formerly orthodox people face on a daily basis.  


-Chaim Levin



He was Adam.     
By Mimi Minsky


It is night outside, and a few of the Shabbat candles are still burning when Adam disappears through the exit door off the side of the kitchen. His parents and siblings are sleeping soundly upstairs and the dishes have nearly dried, resting on an old dish towel on the black marble countertop. While Adam first joined his family for the customary Friday night Shabbat dinner; donned in a starched white buttoned down shirt and his old black slacks, it is the second part of his night where the real Adam comes alive.


The music blares loudly, sending waves of vibrations through his body and he has to shout above the bass to catch the attention of the group of friends he has come to meet. He calls them friends, but only for the sole commonality they share; they all want to forget. It sounds and looks like a club, but really it is in an old Brooklyn apartment where Adam and his group gather together each Friday night after joining their own families for Shabbat dinner. One girl, Hanna, passes him a joint across the glass coffee table. At first Adam felt guilty coming to these parties, on Shabbat no less, but lately the feelings had seemed to dissipate, dissolving into a pungent cloud of smoke. Like Adam, after taking a couple of hits from his joint, that guilt is gone.


Adam and his friends are not alone. In fact, there are many groups similar to his own. Young teens and 20-somethings, part of ultra orthodox Jewish communities who maintain the appropriate garb while inside of their homes, and later, literally stripping themselves of their religion when in the outside world. Yet, their religion is all they know. Since birth they were taught the Halachot  (Jewish laws) of the Torah: “Thou shalt not steal, do not use G-D's name in vain…Keep the Sabbath.” Nevertheless, over time, and by route of their own experiences, they have reached an undiscovered clearing. On their own, they began to form new opinions and ideas that were no longer merely black or white. Because the truth was, Adam and his friends no longer identified with the identity that has been chosen for them since birth. They now wanted to choose for themselves.


And so, Adam is on the edge. Standing firmly, he knows the ground beneath him is safe, if familiar somehow. He struggles with the fear of the unknown; of having to choose for himself. He stands by the edge, and looking down he hears the words over and over again in his mind. To jump or not to jump, that is the ultimate question Adam asks himself daily. One foot planted on solid ground and the other, a kind of suicide in his step. On this Friday night, he is one step closer to making that jump.

Here is Adam's Story:


Adam is not merely a boy wrestling with his orthodox roots and the life he’s trying to create for himself which defy his upbringing, and he isn’t just a boy who likes to smoke pot. With these secrets, Adam is harboring another secret. You see, Adam is gay. Adam  wasn't always gay. At least that was what he had been told. The rabbis, they told him, "Adam, this is a phase." And then further, "G-d has no room in his world for homosexuals." So Adam had tried. He had really tried to get better. Better, because he felt sick all the time. At school, he wanted desperately to be at home, and when he was home, he wanted to be at school. There was no place for someone like him.  His family didn't know him, his friends from school turned away when he glanced in their direction, and his own father; his childhood hero, no longer understood who he was. A son who no longer seemed like his son at all; Adam was a stranger in his own home. In fact, he had become a stranger to everyone around him; a quiet mystery. So quiet, he was fading into obscurity.


So Adam read. He wrote in his journal. But mostly, he stayed in his room. On weekends, his mother would urge him to spend time with friends. "Maybe go meet some of those friends of yours, Adam." She'd smile, all the while trying desperately to mask her anxiety, the worry surfacing from behind her nervous eyes.


In Yeshivah (religious school), Adam had learned about Baalei Teshuvot. They were special, he had been told growing up. These were people that had lost G-d somewhere along the way only to come back to Him, stronger and more subservient. Adam felt like that, like he had lost G-d. The only difference was that Adam wasn't hoping to find Him again.


After high school, he had fought to attend college. His father had petitioned, arguing with Adam that the classes were coed, "mixed", and therefore unsuitable for a religious boy like him. It was a school that focused on arts and Adam thought that maybe he would finally feel like himself again. He could write like he used to and perhaps, he would even write a book.


But then, there was Sam. He was the mirror Adam could no longer escape.
They took art history together and Sam hadn't tried to hide his interest in Adam. Electricity ran like a current between them when they first shook hands. Sam was everything. Adam became his everything.


Spring, right after Passover, Sam broke up with Adam. Adam’s secrecy and staunch refusal to tell his parents about who he really was, ultimately tore them apart. Sam had met someone while Adam had been away through the holiday. Perhaps, he thought, if Sam and he were broken up, he could pretend that it had all never really happened. Though he knew this wasn’t possible, he resented Sam for introducing him to his family. He had met Sam's family many times. They knew what Adam had meant to him. He had promised him and them that one day he too, would tell his own parents everything and that they would love Sam like he loved Sam. But he was too driven by fear and couldn’t tell them in time, and He never got the chance. He would never have that chance now.


Sam had parents who had loved him. Would there ever be hope for Adam?


Adam had questions without any answers. He wanted someone to tell him who to be, what to be and how to be it.


Who was he anyway, he often mused. He didn't really know. Sometimes he felt like he had imagined Sam. A character he had conjured up in his mind. But then he'd look at the mark on the outside of his palm, a scar he had gotten from a wine glass that had accidentally broken at dinner and he’d know the truth. "It's not a scar, Sam had corrected him; it's a memory."


Adam was gay. He was gay and he was tired of pretending to hate himself. He grew tired of the torrent of lies, spilling from his lips. But mostly, he was tired of living without being able to live at all.


His father had shoved him angrily against his bedroom door. His rabbis; they had told him.
“You are a Faygale (Yiddish for faggot)” he had spit, the words like venom seeping into Adam’s soul. “ You are not a real man. Music and Art is frivolity. I am a respected doctor. You are not welcome. You betrayed us. You are not my son. Get out.”


A few weeks had passed when his sister, Leora, found a carefully written note left on his bedside table.



The Note:


Know that I was a man.
I was a man until I allowed myself defeat.
I was a man even when I had been told otherwise.
I was a gay man; but I was still a man.
I was a gay man; but I wasn't ashamed.
I was a gay man and I was your son.
You did not call me yours; yet I belonged to you.
I was your Adam.
Now it's your turn, dad.
Be a man.


In a tragic twist, Adam chose to take his young life. A life, he thought, that wasn’t worth living for any longer than he had already been suffering. The note had been his hello and his goodbye.


But, Adam was still there. Standing at the edge of his bridge. Would he turn back around? Would he jump?

Adam is your neighbor, your friend, and your brother. Adam is the one who could have been saved and can still can be saved, but part of that depends on how you treat the Adam in your lives.
So, to all of you readers, talk to your Adam. Tell him that it gets better. Tell him that somewhere there is hope, because sometimes, hope is all we have.

After all, it’s like Harvey Milk once said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you...And you...And you...Gotta give em hope.”



Monday, April 1, 2013

The Price of Telling the Truth - Publicly


Ever since I started speaking publicly about personal things that I’ve experienced throughout my life, I’ve received many hate filled emails, facebook messages, tweets and even sometimes phone calls. The truth is though, these hateful messages from anonymous people were by no means a match against the love and support that I’ve received from many others. I’ve said this on more than one occasion and I truly believe it, “my friends are more powerful than my enemies”. The love and support that has come my way from so many people, people who weren’t afraid to use their real names, and in some cases couldn’t use their real name because of various reasons, was something that I never thought would be possible years ago when I was alone and without hope.

On the other hand, very rarely have I ever received a hateful message from someone using their real name, email address, facebook account or even twitter handle. It amazes me how easy it is for people to hide behind a computer screen and spew words of venom, words of hate, words of intolerance, but mostly, words of a coward.

While generally I refuse to give these poor excuses for human beings any sort of voice or platform within the context of my writing and activism, I think it’s extremely important to show others who are contemplating sharing their stories publicly that, while the haters are gonna hate, the fanatics will continue to be fanatics no matter what you tell them, and the trolls hiding behind fake Facebook profiles and Twitter handles will try to destroy your light, your supporters will always outnumber them. This experience is something that I know to be true for me, and I know that it’s true for many of the other people that I’ve had the privilege of working and being in the public eye with.

Lately, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by in which I haven’t come across a really hateful message or email directed at me. Since my abuser was recently arrested in Israel, these messages seemed to increase and become even more vile, yet instead of wanting to go and drop dead like many of these people wished I would, I feel even more empowered to continue fighting for the truth, for justice, and for accountability.

What makes this difficult is the way these hateful messages affect the people who I love and care about, the people who did not decide to be public about their lives, most of these people are my family members, my siblings and my parents. A few individuals have had the audacity to take shots at my parents, my siblings, my other relatives and even some of my friends by spreading lies and untrue alleged "facts" about my family. Once again I find it absolutely unbelievable how far people would go just to spread the opposite of love and hope, yet these individuals don’t have the courage to at least use their real names while spewing their intolerant and idiotic choices for words.

The price of telling the truth is not and will never be something I ever regret paying. The truth has always been the most powerful guiding force in my life; the truth is something that I believe is worth fighting for no matter what the consequences are. And the reality is, the price of telling a lie is much higher than that of telling the truth.

So let the haters hate, let the trolls spew their comments and theories about us, but remember that by standing tall and telling the truth no matter how many people don’t like it, is something that you’ll never regret, I promise you.

#Keepgivingthemhopeforever

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chasing the Devil - Sholom Eichler in Shackles

Sholom Eichler was arrested on March 21st near Kfar Chabad for sexually abusing me as a child. I had already filed a civil lawsuit against him in New York and he ignored the lawsuit and fled to Israel with his family. The result of that lawsuit is still pending, I was awarded a default judgment against him and will hopefully know the amount of that judgment by this coming Monday, March 25th.

As I’ve written previously on my Facebook page and have told many people as well, the last place that Sholom Eichler molested me was when our families were visiting Israel together on a family trip while we were staying at the [then Hilton] David Citadel hotel. The details of that incident, along with many of the other incidents remain clear as day in my mind; I even remember the room number that he abused me in while we were in Jerusalem.

After ignoring the civil lawsuit against him in New York Sholom Eichler and his family fled to Israel because of the default judgment that I was granted against him. Unfortunately for Eichler, the criminal statute of limitations are much broader and severe in Israel, and so I spent the past few months researching my options before deciding to press criminal charges against him. It pains me greatly to know that there are so many sex offenders out there whose victims have the ability to bring them to justice but are too afraid to do so because of community or family pressure, or because they don’t feel strong enough. For 7 seven years I was frightened by the prospect of forcing Sholom Eichler into a courtroom or even confronting him, and it is thanks to the support of many great survivors, advocates, friends and family who showed me that it’s possible to pursue justice despite the staggering intimidation that many victims face once reporting their crime and/or going public especially when coming from more religious communities.

The Israeli justice system operates quite differently than what I was familiar with in regards to how sexual abuse cases are handled in the US. After I received confirmation on Thursday morning that Eichler was arrested, the police requested that I be on “standby” for when they would call me. I thought they would ask me to ID Eichler or something, but what came next was very unexpected. I was brought into a fairly small room with three police interrogators, one of them a translator, and was directed to sit in a seat right across from Sholom Eichler where he was sitting with shackles on his feet.

The main interrogator read Eichler his right to remain silent and warned him that anything he said would be used against him. I was still absorbing the fact that I was sitting right in front of the monster who took so much away from me, the monster that caused so much damage that no amount of therapy will ever undo, but within two minutes I was able to gain my bearings. According to legal experts in Israel, this process is called “eimut” (confrontation) and is used by interrogators to observe the body language between the victim and the accused. I was instructed to look at Eichler and tell him what he did to me, they were adamant that I describe every incident in detail and not hold back on anything. It was at that moment that I looked at the monster in the eyes and told him exactly what he did to me, where he did it and the painful and sensitive details of the times he abused me.

This “confrontation” was sort of like a court proceeding, after I gave my opening statement Eichler was given a chance to respond to what I said, and without an ounce of shame or remorse he attempted to deny everything that I claimed he had done to me. With every word he spoke, with every lie he told I felt my blood boiling to the point where I thought I was going to explode, but although he was lying, his body language was telling a very different story. He was completely unhinged and was shaking non stop, he sounded like he was on the brink of tears and his attempts to discredit what I was saying were clearly not working. One of the things I confronted him about was about a meeting that he and I had five years ago before he got married in which he apologized to me for what he had done to me. I looked at him and said “how dare you sit right in front of me and call me a liar? How do you live with yourself knowing what you did despite the fact that not only did you apologize to me but also admitted your crimes against me to my older brother and my mother as well?”. Eichler admitted to meeting me five years ago, (something he denied until now) and said “I didn’t apologize for what I did to you, I apologized for how you were feeling”.

I pressed further and recounted in vivid detail how Eichler used to wait on his parents’ porch that was just across the street of my school for when I would be walking home from school so that he can lure me inside to commit those unspeakable acts. I also recounted the times that he abused me in the synagogue that our families attended, in my parents’ house, upstate at the bungalow colony that our families both attended during the summer, and of course, one of the most brutal incidents, the last time, in that hotel in Jerusalem on the fifth floor. Eichler had the audacity to attempt and accuse my older brothers of actually abusing me; and when asked by the interrogators why I would make such claims against him he said that he was the “perfect target”. I responded to that by saying that if i was looking for a “perfect target” I would have gone after one of his older brothers which would have ensured that one of them would be sitting in American prison today because they would’ve been well within the criminal statute of limitations within the American justice system.

Those twenty minutes felt like hours and most of the exact details are quite blurred in my head at this point, but luckily it was all on the record and will surely be used to prove his guilt in criminal court. What I remember was the feeling of empowerment I felt when I looked at this evil excuse for a man in the eye and told him exactly what he had done to me and the look on his face, the expression of guilt and shame, feelings that I felt for far too long because of what he had done to me; the tables had finally turned and for the first time in thirteen years Sholom Eichler finally had to answer for his heinous crimes. After leaving that room, I felt nothing but strength and a certain of closure. As painful and emotional as that confrontation was for me, it reminded me that pursuing justice is one of the most important things that a person could do in his or her life.

Eichler was released on bail the next day, the exact amount is still unknown to me but I hope to find out soon, and it is my sincere hope that he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I hope that others will learn by example that while at certain points the prospect of facing their abuser might seem impossible but the truth is that with the right amount of support, therapy, and healing facing one’s abuser IS possible and the power that abusers enjoy over their victims (the way Eichler had power over me) diminish over time.

Aside from knowing that it was my obligation to make sure that Eichler answer for his crimes and that I exercise every single legal option that was available to me in order to do so, I hope that by pressing criminal and civil charges against my abuser a better precedent will be set in the future for those struggling with the decision of if and how they should take action against those who stole part of their innocence, part of their soul. I know that by being so public about my past and about what was done to me is giving a voice to so many who feel like theirs was taken from them, something I once felt all the time. I’ve been publicly shamed on more than one occasion; anonymous emails and tweets from people who don’t even have the courage to use their real names remind me the importance of this journey and only empower me even more to pursue justice. Those voices of hate and negativity fade and the voices of my family, friends and every single person who supported me and encouraged me echo loudly for me and for the world to hear, to you all, I am thankful, I wouldn’t be here without you.