Rachel Aviv has written a courageous on-line article, “The Shame of Borough Park”, for the New Yorker about the sex abuse scandal in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Community. The piece presents a case involving a cantor from a respected rabbinical line, Baruch Lebovits, who was accused and subsequently convicted of child molestation. His chief accuser, Sam Kellner, was motivated to go after Lebovits on behalf of his own son, one of Lebovits’ victims.
Two elements of major note surface here. One is that the office of disgraced former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes allegedly conspired with the defendant and the leaders of the community itself to suppress the case against Lebovits and other such cases of abuse in return for electoral support. The second is that the huge Hasidic community of Brooklyn is no different than any cult in its ability or desire to shield its leaders from civil courts. Aviv does point out that these rules governing civil administrations evolved in an era where European Jews were under attack from hostile forces and needed to look inward for self-preservation. The further evolution is now a desire, a passion, a need for separation–and through dress and beliefs, they are separated, even from other Jewish communities. They also represent a large voting bloc which they use to influence and actually harm the interests of the secular community.
Aside from participating in the repression of sexual abuse charges, the Hasids in communities all over New York and Long Island, get elected to local secular school boards. Once ensconced, they defeat school bonds for which approval they would have to pay higher taxes. At the same time, of course, they send their children to private religious schools. Because the Hasids have enormous families, their electoral power is formidable and explains why Hynes and others would cater to their needs. The effect of this misuse of political power is the hollowing out of public school funding and the significant loss of programs, including special education, sports and music. Of course one doesn’t have to look far to see this kind of tactic in communities all over the country when school bonds are defeated by older people who no longer feel a need to support public education. I can only describe the situation as disgraceful.