Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
"Detectives told them there could be more than 200 victims, some as far away as Israel."
Monday, October 20, 2014
MONSEY, N.Y. (PIX11) – The marker on the freshly-dug grave in the Monsey Cemetery had the name “Joel Deutsch” in Hebrew, the name 34-year old Joe Diangello was given at birth in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Diangello had walked away from the Satmar Hasidic community — and his name — at age 17, ten years after suffering what he said was a brutal sexual assault in a mikvah bath on Marcy Avenue.
“I think when that person raped me, he murdered my Jewish soul,” Diangello told PIX11 Investigates in early 2009, when he finally started going public with his story.
Diangello was buried Sunday by members of the Hasidic community, not long after he was discovered dead in his Manhattan apartment by a social worker.
His close friends who became his true support system in recent years, after Diangello’s family rejected his new lifestyle, said he would not have wanted a Monsey funeral.
Diangello certainly stood out in a crowd, with his dyed, jet-black hair, black fingernails, and heavy metal t-shirts.
The cause of death was listed as a drug overdose, but many friends insisted to PIX11 it must have been accidental, since Diangello had been taking a more positive outlook on life.
He was running marathons, working as a medical biller from his apartment, and enjoying Yankee games.
Still, his life was one filled with pain.
“Joe was a troubled young man,” said Lonnie Soury, a co-founder of Survivors for Justice. “But he struggled with tremendous courage.”
Soury added, “He was rejected by the Hasidic community, because he stood up…because he talked about his sexual abuse.”
Soury pointed out that Diangello would “really go after and expose the rabbis that protected abusers for the last thirty, forty years. He’s a real hero.”
Diangello lobbied state legislators in Albany to change the “statute of limitations” for abuse survivors, so they could have more time to confront the reality of what had happened to them.
He attended the trials of accused abusers and rapists within the Hasidic community, watching a former counselor named Nechemya Weberman get sentenced to 103 years in prison, convicted of raping a female student when she was just 12 years old.
Diangello paid a price for leaving the community, often getting hissed at on the streets of Williamsburg, if he was seen anywhere near his old neighborhood.
His story was one of intense trauma.
Diangello had taken PIX11 to the shul on Marcy Avenue in 2009, explaining that he used to go to the mikvah with his father, starting when he was 7 years old.
“It’s supposed to cleanse your soul,” Diangello explained to me about the mikvah bath.
Instead, when Diangello entered the bath before his father, he said that’s when the assault happened.
“I just felt this unbelievable pain,” Diangello recalled. “I fell under water.”
Diangello added, “It felt like my whole spine crumbled.”
The young man struggled with mental health issues and spent time in the Bellevue psychiatric ward.
Diangello was proud of himself, when he started to pursue healthy outlets, like running.
Joey Diangello became my friend and was wonderful about texting, just to say hello.
I invited him to a Mother’s Day dinner this year with my family in a Brooklyn restaurant, and he happily shared a meal with us.
We were glad to be with him, enjoying his mischievous sense of humor and his amazing blue eyes. But I knew that Joey still carried his pain around.
He made a remark about taking Xanax, an anti-anxiety medicine.
He made a remark about taking Xanax, an anti-anxiety medicine.
The last time I heard from Joey was a text he sent on September 17.
He wanted to let me know that his childhood friend, Joel Engelman—another abuse survivor—had married. I knew he was happy for Joel.
When I asked him if he attended the wedding, he responded in typical, Joey Diangello style, “I didn’t. I have a no wedding or funerals thing. Especially on an NFL Sunday. But I saw the video.”
Rest in peace, Joey Diangello. You traveled this world with a brave soul—and left us better for it.
The Contemporary Ma Nishtana מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה - "How is this scandal different from all other scandals and why is the Orthodox world reeling in its aftermath?"
Hidden cameras in the mikveh? Why a voyeurism scandal is rocking the Jewish world
The shocking charges that Rabbi Barry Freundel in Washington, D.C. videotaped women congregants in their most vulnerable moments are uniquely horrifying.
Kesher Israel, the only Orthodox synagogue in downtown Washington D.C.
Rabbi Barry Freundel.
Sadly, it’s a sign of our times that no one is exactly stunned by clergy sex scandals anymore. It is arguable whether sexual impropriety by spiritual leaders happens more now than in the past - or if simply more of the cases now come to light. Either way, it seems that hardly a month goes by when we don’t hear something about a priest, minister, imam or rabbi of accused of some form of bad behavior involving sex. In the Jewish community, as elsewhere, the spectrum of offenses range from the revelations of embezzlement of synagogue funds to hush up affairs to yeshiva rabbisconvicted of sexually assaulting their students.
Each time it happens, it rocks a community to its core, and creates waves that affect adherents of that religion far beyond the immediate area. The scandals also provide fuel for those who may have an issue with the religion in question or the form in which it is practiced.
But the underlying lesson is usually the same: once again, we learn that every human being, no matter how exalted or respected, is tragically flawed and capable of terrible things. The fact that someone is learned in holy teaching and stands in front of congregations in ritual garments, preaching to them about distinguishing between good and evil doesn’t make anyone immune from giving in to base or unethical urges.
That said, the unfolding news of why Rabbi Barry Freundel, rabbi of the Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C. in handcuffs and charged with voyeurism, has succeeded in shocking even those who thought they couldn’t be surprised anymore. The details of his arrest as reported by a local television station:
“D.C. police say Rabbi Freundel used cameras set up in a changing area just outside the mikvah to peep on women. According to a police report, Freundel was seen installing a camera hidden in a clock radio above a shower at the mikvah.
He allegedly told a 35-year-old woman who caught him that he was fixing the shower ventilation...Neighbors who live on O Street say D.C. police arrived at the rabbi's home just before 8:30 a.m. and later arrested him in an alley behind his home where witnesses say he was clearly agitated and very upset. Neighbors say as many as five officers came to the house, spent several hours inside and took several items out of the home, including what they believed to be hard drives or computers.”
How is this scandal different from all other scandals and why is the Orthodox world reeling in its aftermath? Here are a few of the reasons it stands out - and has been discussed incessantly across social media since the moment it was reported.
1. The (alleged) violation of the sanctity of a ritual bath known as the mikveh
If there is any place that should be more intimate, more protected and sanctified, it is a space where people not only make themselves spiritually open and vulnerable, but physically as well. In Orthodox Judaism, which puts such a premium on physical modesty, the vulnerability of nudity is multiplied. Watching videos of people who are naked for reasons of ritual immersion would be a terrible betrayal. The idea of an respected rabbi installing a camera to watch his congregants - and others who use the mikveh such as visitors or converts to Judaism for the purpose of sexual gratification is so horrific as to seem inconceivable.
2. The prominent congregation
Kesher Israel isn’t just any modern Orthodox congregation. When I lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1990’s, it was the place where those who were both powerful and observant belonged - if you wanted to plug into the Washington power network, that was where you went to pray. Located in the wealthiest and most prestigious neighborhood of the capital, the synagogue is frequented by members of Congress, key White House aides, top AIPAC staffers. Current congregants include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Senator and former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, and New Republic critic and author Leon Wieseltier.
Founded in 1910, according to its website, Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman and other Israeli negotiators attended Yom Kippur Kol Nidre services on October 10, 1978 - and two days later, began negotiating with Egypt at Blair House in an effort to find solutions to the unresolved issues following the Camp David negotiations leading to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
And the mikveh isn’t just any mikveh -- it is called the National Capital Mikveh, founded in 2005 for the purposes of allowing Orthodox women to observe family purity, but also allowing men to immerse before holidays and festivals, for brides and grooms before their wedding days and for “conversions under the aegis of the local court of the Rabbinical Council of America.”
It is located in the basement of the building adjacent to Kesher Israel. While voyeurism seems like more of a victimless crime than outright sex abuse, one must only think of the hundreds, if not thousands of women and men now wondering whether their privacy was violated in their most intimate moments.
3. The respected rabbi in question
Rabbi Barry Freundel, by all accounts, is a high-profile, well-liked member of the Modern Orthodox establishment with a flawless reputation - until now. He holds a doctorate, and, according to the synagogue website, he is “an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University, and a Consultant to the Ethics Review Board of the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health” and serves as the head of the conversion committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and Vice President of the Vaad of Washington.
The fact that the focus of his national work is conversion - and the mikveh is a key part of the conversion process - adds an extra layer of ugliness to the charges he appears to be facing.
No matter which strain of Orthodox Judaism a rabbi in such a scandal belonged to - his positions would be used as some kind of political ammunition in the ongoing intra-Orthodox debate. If he were ultra-Orthodox, there would be charges from liberal quarters that the cloistered and secretive atmosphere of his community made such behavior possible. If he were an ultra-liberal proponent of full female equality, known as Open Orthodoxy, the more conservative forces would say that liberalism was a slippery slope to depravity.
Freundel, as it happens, seems to be as mainstream Orthodox as it gets. He has written in condemnation of homosexual behavior and believes Orthodoxy should “create an environment that is most conducive to motivating the practitioner of homosexuality to want to change his orientation” but if that motivation is absent, “keep this individual within the Torah community” and “create a situation which offers a positive alternative to the "gay synagogue" and to the even worse choice of complete abandonment and assimilation."
He has taken a liberal position regarding women’s prayer groups and holding positions like synagogue president, but spoken out vigorouslyagainst Open Orthodoxy since, “being both “open” and Orthodox sounds to me, unfortunately, like an excuse for anything goes, so long as it can be given a veneer of legitimacy through a bit of superficial talmudic casuistry.”
4. The silver lining - the impressive lack of a cover-up
In the context of an event that is clearly “bad for the Jews” a ray of light is what appears to be admirable behavior by the leaders of the congregation in the face of what must have been a painful discovery. Often, such scandals have come to light with an accompanying tale of attempts by institutional leaders to cover up criminal misbehavior of clergy fearing the damage of scandal. This story seems to be different, with the Kesher congregation leaders taking swift action to alert authorities, even while knowing how it would adversely affect the congregation’s image. According to their website:
“Upon receiving information regarding potentially inappropriate activity, the Board of Directors quickly alerted the appropriate officials. Throughout the investigation, we cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so. After today’s arrest of Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the Board of Directors suspended him without pay..”
If the congregation turned to law enforcement as swiftly as it appears, their reaction is worthy of praise.
There were plenty of alternative ways they could have reacted: ignoring the problem, sending him to therapy and hoping it would go away, letting him quietly resign scandal-free, which would allow him to take another rabbinical position and potentially re-offend. Instead, they chose to protect their congregation and any potential future victims with quick and decisive action.
The fact that they acted as they did is being noted and praised across social media networks. As one modern Orthodox woman, Sarah Bronson, observed on her Facebook status. “Although it must have been heart-wrenching for them, they cared about their congregants' safety, dignity, and right to privacy more than they care about the synagogue's reputation or the reputation of Orthodox Judaism - as it should be.
To me, this isn't a story about a rabbi behaving badly. This is a story about an Orthodox synagogue’s Board of Directors acting courageously. I applaud them for doing the right thing under very difficult circumstances.”