The New Light Congregation - Pittsburgh, PA
Beth Israel Synagogue - Washington, PA
Jacob's Dream Research Firm - Pittsburgh, PA
Squirrel Hill, PA
Agudas Israel Synagogue - Hazelton, PA
Rabbi Gershon Freidlin pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment , saying he had touched the youth's penis and buttocks while applying tanning lotion on the boy on July 10, 1995 Under the terms of a plea agreement, the rabbi will not be jailed for the crime, but faces up to five years probation..
The plea agreement called for the rabbi to undergo psychotherapy and barred him from contact with children under 16. Does anyone know why Rabbi Gershon Freidlin is not on the National Sex Offender's Registry? Under Megan's Law, he also would have to be registered in Pennsylvania.
According to the following articles it appears that even though Freidlin was a convicted sex offender, back in 1998 he was hanging out in a play ground and also was an invited speaker for the high holiday services at Agudas Israel Synagogue in Hazelton, PA. What's interesting is that Agudas Israel is a member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
If you have a photograph of Rabbi Gershon Friedlin, please forward it to The Awareness Center.
Table of Contents:
- Ex-Colonia rabbi accused of molesting boy (03/01/1996)
- Rabbi says he fondled young boy (12/14/1996)
- Rabbi's remorse in doubt Mom of fondle victim urges jail sentence (03/18/1997)
- Former Jersey rabbi sentenced for endangering child (03/31/1997)
- Rabbi Given Probation For Touching Boy (04/01/1997)
- Rabbi Given Probation For Fondling (04/01/1997)
- Rabbi receives probation in fondling of young boy (04/01/1997)
- Israel Can't be faulted in the revival of slavery (02/09/1998)
- Hounding Mellon Park why the dogs of conscientious owners should be allowed to gather in city park (02/28/1998)
- Not all in the Mellon Park dog clique are quite so conscientious (03/21/1998)
- Paid Death Notices (06/25/1998)
- High Holiday Services (08/31/2004)
- Identity Crisis: Dogged by a decade-old scandal, a local rabbi tries to redefine himself (05/11/2006)
- Journal of Synagogue Music - Editorial Board (FALL - 2011)
- Mendele | מענדעלע »Gershon Freidlin (1991 - 2012)
By Jim O'Neill
The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) - March 1, 1996
A former Woodbridge rabbi was indicted yesterday by a Middlesex County grand jury on charges of molesting a 10-year-old boy last summer.
Rabbi Gershon Freidlin, the 58-year-old former spiritual leader of Temple Ohev Shalom in Colonia, is charged with sexual assault and child endangerment in fondling the youngster on three occasions last July.
Assistant Prosecutor Barbara Clark Stolte claimed the rabbi undressed the youngster and rubbed tanning lotion on him, twice at the rabbi's home in Colonia and once at a neighbor's home.
The pre-teeen was a friend of one of the rabbi's sons and had visited before the group was to go swimming at the neighbor's house, Stolte charged.
Freidlin now is the spiritual leader of a congregation in Pittsburgh, where he was hire after his two-year contract with the Colonia temple expired last Aug. 31. His attorney and supporters in the Jewish community contend the rabbi's leaving had no connection to the sex abuse charges.
His attorney, Barry Albin of Woodbridge, said Freidlin "unequivocally denies the charges and we are confident he will be cleared."
The rabbi's arrest in August stunned the community, after the youth told his mother of the incidents and she called police, Stolte said.
Freidlin was jailed in lieu of $150,00 bail, which later was reduced to $75,000. He was released from custody Aug. 28 after posting bail with the help of Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg of Edison, one of his supporters.
Rosenberg and other Jewish community leaders have rallied to the rabbi's defense and have said Freidlin has adapted well at the New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh.
Stolte said the accuser was visiting the rabbi's 10-year-old son when the Freidlin's lived at a home provided by the Temple Ohev Shalom congregation on Temple Way, Colonia.
Following the rabbi's arrest, Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure, who heads sex crimes investigations for the county, said that about three weeks after the alleged assaults, the youngster asked his mother "if things like this happened and if something was wrong with it."
It was then that the mother contacted police, McClure said.
by Jim O'Neill; Star-Ledger Staff
Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - December 14, 1996
A 59-year-old rabbi yesterday admitted fondling a 10-year-old boy while serving as spiritual leader of a temple in the Colonia section of Woodbridge.
Rabbi Gershon Freidlin pleaded guilty to one count of child endangerment in New Brunswick, saying he had touched the youth's penis and buttocks while applying tanning lotion on the boy on July 10, 1995.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, the rabbi will not be jailed for the crime, but faces up to five years probation.
Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman ordered Freidlin to undergo a mental health examination, which will be used to determine if the rabbi will be ordered to comply with the provisions of Megan's Law, which requires certain sex offenders to register with the police. The judge set a March 17 sentencing date.
Freidlin had been spiritual leader of Temple Ohev Shalom in Colonia when he fondled the boy, according to police, who said the youngster was assaulted twice at the rabbi's home in Colonia and once at a neighbor's home.
The boy was a friend of the rabbi's 10-year-old son and stopped at the rabbi's home before the group went swimming at the neighbor's house, police said.
The rabbi was charged on Aug. 23, 1995, after the boy told his mother about the incident, police said.
Freidlin was jailed in lieu of $150,000 bail, but was released from custody five days later when bail was reduced to $75,000.
He moved from Colonia when his contract with the temple expired on Aug. 31, 1995. His attorney and supporters in the Jewish community said at the time that Freidlin's departure had no connection to the sex abuse charges.
He then became spiritual leader of a congregation in Pittsburgh.
His lawyer, Barry Albin of Woodbridge, declined to comment yesterday.
by Jonathan Jaffe; Star-Ledger Staff
Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - March 18, 1997
The plea bargain called for a 60-year-old rabbi to be sentenced to five years' probation yesterday after he admitted that while he was a spiritual leader of a synagogue in Colonia, he fondled a 10-year-old boy.
But the victim's mother said Rabbi Gershon Freidlin has shown little remorse for his actions and that probation would just be an "inconvenience" to him. She urged Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman to put the rabbi behind bars.
Hoffman, who postponed the sentencing until March 31, said a trial could be traumatic for the victim's family. He said the family should take the next few weeks to decide if they will accept the plea agreement or insist on a trial.
Freidlin was instructed to sit in the jury box during yesterday's hearing, but paced around until a sheriff's officer told him to have a seat. The rabbi showed little emotion through the brief proceeding, turning away from the victim's family and speaking only to complain about a news photographer being in the courtroom.
On his way out, the rabbi walked straight toward the photographer and stuck some index cards a few inches from the camera lens. The photographer continued to snap away.
Hoffman said he "wasn't particularly impressed" with the rabbi's demeanor through the court proceedings, noting the man slouched when he admitted his guilt in December.
But the judge told the victim's family a trial could do more harm than good. He said the boy, who was in the courtroom, would have to testify. It would then be up to a jury to decide if he was telling the truth.
The victim's mother told Hoffman that a trial would likely make little difference, noting her family has already suffered so much since the crime occurred. She directed an icy stare at Freidlin, calling him "a disgrace of a man, a parent and a husband" and "the biggest disgrace to the Jewish community."
"You hid behind your position," she said. "You are pathetic."
Barry Albin of Woodbridge, the rabbi's attorney, argued that Freidlin has a strong, caring family and three children who have been traumatized by the ordeal.
He noted that Freidlin has no criminal history and has led "a praiseworthy life" over his 17 years as a rabbi. Albin said Freidlin is apologetic and wants the ordeal to end quickly for both families.
Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Alison Aaron said the plea agreement called for the rabbi to undergo psychotherapy and barred him from contact with children under 16. Under Megan's Law, he also would have to be registered in Pittsburgh, where he now leads The New Light Congregation on Beechwood Boulevard.
Aaron said the rabbi pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to one count of child endangerment, saying he had touched the youth's private parts while applying tanning lotion on the boy on July 10, 1995.
Freidlin was spiritual leader of Temple Ohev Shalom in Colonia when he fondled the boy, according to police, who said the youngster was assaulted twice at the rabbi's former home on Temple Way and once at a neighbor's home.
He moved from Colonia when his contract with the temple expired on Aug. 31, 1995.
Caption: 1. Rabbi Gershon Freidlin showed little emotion through the brief proceeding, turning away from the victim's family and speaking only to complain about a news photographer being in the courtroom.
Associated Press Newswires - March 31, 1997
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) - A former New Jersey rabbi accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy was sentenced Monday to three years' probation after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
Gershon Freidlin, who now is the rabbi of the New Light congregation in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, had been charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a minor in 1995, said Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Alison Aaron.
She said the boy, a friend of Gershon's son while the rabbi led a congregation in Colonia, accused the 60-year-old man of molesting him by rubbing oil and suntan lotion all over his body in July of 1995, while the rabbi was supervising the children one day at a swimming pool.
Gershon pleaded guilty to the endangerment charge in December. Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman had asked the victim and his family if they were comfortable with the penalties that would entail, Aaron said, but they left it up to the judge at Monday's sentencing.
Along with the probation, Gershon will be required to undergo counseling until medically discharged and pay a $1,500 fine. He must live under Pennsylvania's version of Megan's Law. The law calls for community notification when sex offenders move into a neighborhood. He can have no contact with the victim, and can not come into contact with any child under 16 years old without supervision.
Gershon's attorney did not answer messages left at his office.
by ELLEN M. PERLMUTTER, POST-GAZETTE STAFF WRITER
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) - April 1, 1997
The rabbi of New Light Congregation in Squirrel Hill was sentenced yesterday by a New Jersey judge to three years' probation after pleading guilty to improperly touching a 10-year-old boy two years ago.
The sentencing meant Gershon Freidlin, 60, who was accused of removing the boy's clothing to rub him with suntan oil, is free to continue his duties at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, said Assistant Prosecutor Alison Aaron, of Middlesex County, N.J.
Barbara Caplan, co-president of New Light, said she and Co-President Helene Harris preferred not to comment.
``It's very awkward. We need to assess what we need to do,'' she said.
Caplan said she did not know whether the congregation of slightly more than 100 members was aware of yesterday's events.
She said a ``general letter'' had been sent to New Jersey's Superior Court confirming that Freidlin was spiritual leader of New Light Congregation.
The charges were brought against him in August 1995, shortly before he moved to Pittsburgh to become rabbi of New Light.
Freidlin was rabbi of Ohev Shalom in Colonia, N.J., in July 1995, when the boy, now 12, went to his home as a friend of the rabbi's son.
According to the charges, Freidlin covered the boy with suntan lotion at his home and again at another person's house, where the boys were to go swimming.
Freidlin, who had also been indicted by a grand jury for second-degree sexual assault, pleaded guilty in December to endangering the welfare of a child, a third-degree offense, Aaron said.
In addition to placing Freidlin on probation, the judge ordered him not to have contact with the victim or his family, and not to have unsupervised contact with children under 16.
He must also abide by Pennsylvania's terms of Megan's Law, which would require him to register with local law enforcement authorities.
Freidlin could not be reached yesterday at his home or office.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - April 1, 1997
Squirrel Hill's New Light Congregation rabbi pleaded guilty to improperly touching a 10 year old boy 2 years ago and was sentenced in early April to 3 years of probation.
Charges were brought against Gershon Freidlin, 60, in Aug. '95 for reportedly removing the boy's clothing to rub him with suntan lotion on 2 occasions, once at his home and another time at another person's home prior to swimming. Freidlin has also been indicted by a grand jury for 2nd-degree assault and the rabbi pleaded guilty in Dec. to endangering the welfare of a child.
In addition to probation, the rabbi must have no contact with the victim or his family, and may not have unsupervised contact with children under 16. Freidlin must also abide by Pennsylvania's terms of Megan's Law, which requires him to register with local law enforcement authorities as a sexual offender.
Rabbi receives probation in fondling of young boy
by Jim O'Neill; Star-Ledger Staff
After saying he regretted the harm he caused, a 60-year-old rabbi yesterday was placed on probation for three years for fondling a 10-year-old boy while serving as spiritual leader of a synagogue in Colonia in 1995.
Rabbi Gershon Freidlin also was barred from unsupervised contact with children under 16 and was ordered to register as a sex offender in Pittsburgh, where he heads a synagogue known as the New Light Congregation.
In addition, Superior Court Judge Barnett E. Hoffman fined the rabbi $1,625 in New Brunswick and ordered him to undergo counseling.
Before the sentence was imposed, Freidlin said he and his family have suffered and said he has an "understanding and great regret for the hurt I've caused."
"I did something very thoughtless," the rabbi said, adding, "I have suffered greatly from the accusations."
The judge sentenced the defendant after the victim's mother said she could not decide whether she wanted the rabbi to stand trial.
The rabbi initially was scheduled to be sentenced two weeks ago, but the judge adjourned the hearing to give the mother time to consider whether she and her son were satisfied with the plea agreement that had been reached by Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Alison Aaron and the rabbi's lawyer, Barry Albin of Woodbridge.
The mother said she was "not happy" with a plea agreement in which the rabbi avoided incarceration, but said she did not know if she wanted her son to endure a trial.
Hoffman later accepted the plea and sentenced the defendant to the probationary term, saying to the mother, "sometimes it's best to move on."
Aaron, the assistant prosecutor, said the plea had initially been offered so the youngster would not have to testify. The judge noted that cross-examination of the boy's testimony "would not be pleasant" for him or his family.
The judge later spoke privately to the boy, who came to court yesterday with his mother.
There were no confrontations yesterday between the mother and the rabbi. At the March 17 hearing, she called him "pathetic" and "the biggest disgrace to the Jewish community."
The sentence was imposed after the rabbi pleaded guilty in December to one count of child endangerment, saying he had touched the youth's penis July 10, 1995, while putting tanning lotion on him.
By Rabbi Gershon Freidlin
Pittsburgh Post - February 28, 1998
By Rabbi Gershon Freidlin
Pittsburgh Post Gazette - February 28, 1998
Rabbi Gershon Freidlin, a founder of the local research firm Jacob's Dream, lives in Squirrel Hill.
At a community meeting a few years ago, I heard Mayor Murphy expound his vision and plans for keeping Pittsburgh a vital city. I was impressed that the mayor was thinking through not only the economics of cities, but also what is needed to make a city civilized as well as financially sound.
One sign of urban space is safe meeting places, spontaneously organized. I was thus taken aback that word was spreading, before last November's election, that the mayor was being pressured to hound the hounds out of Mellon Park (at Shady Avenue near Fifth). The result would be sending in police to ticket visitors to the park who let their dogs run free.
Prices for such tickets reach $380.
For years, at 5 p.m., in all seasons, dogs with their owners gathered at the park. The owners understood not to gather earlier than 5 o'clock if they sought to unleash their canines - and when they did arrive, to bring plastic bags. Bags were brought, and a box for extra bags. If an unidentified mess was found, it was scooped up by one of the regulars (human).
Owners came from various parts of the city. They included those in the prime of life as well as the frail.
The gatherings proceeded as follows: As owners clustered to chat, exchange news and educate one another on the care and deportment of pets, the animals would pair off. One or two pairs of dogs would try racing. After 10 minutes, the hounds would organize themselves into a pack and begin tearing around the grounds.
It was to satisfy the craving for the pack experience that the pets came to the park. No matter how physically fit or pet-savvy an owner, he cannot provide his canine with a pack experience - unless he is the possessor of a pack.
As the dogs were satisfied one by one, they would lie down for a rest. Then a quick trip to the water fountain, where standing on hind legs, they took refreshment. Then, docile, they were led home.
Children, even teen-agers, were happy to come there with their families, share in the early evening frolic and thrill in the growth over time of the various animals. We often witnessed kindnesses from both the human and animal species.
Laird and Weasel had difficulty walking. Not only did their owners create harnesses for them so that they could move among their kind, but also the fit dogs themselves stopped putting pressure upon the weaker to run. Instead, they accepted a bark as a contribution to the pack and gave back nuzzles.
Clinton, Baily, Lincoln, Jefferson, Trigger, Maggie, Quantum, Atlas, Abraham, Boo, Wasy, Cisco, Pancho, Frankie (named for the singer) - one heard the dogs called. And "Romeo" was called to Hollywood for a film tryout. (Pardon me for not mentioning all names.)
Word got around a few months ago that someone got ticketed with the $380, and the buildup of years devolved. Mellon Park emptied out, almost. Graffiti and beer cans replaced the barks (yes, and the quickly scooped-up waste).
A social psychologist from Pitt (owner of Roxy - a favorite name among Mellon Park hounds) reported that, with the breakup of the dog group, one family had already moved to the suburbs. He himself remarked, "What's the point of staying in the city if there aren't such meeting spaces?"
The only citizens who had complained to us dog owners were those who blindly walked through the pack with a pizza, a cake or a picnic basket. *
Lately, as Election Day recedes, a few loyalists have come out of hiding to brave the $380. We thrilled at seeing one another again. Our dog has never stopped whimpering each day at 5 to be let into the back seat of the car to head you-know-where.
Urban life in America is fragile. Suburbs have not yet created a civilization worth writing home about, and rural America is all but gone. Mellon Park Hound Space may sound like a minuscule source for urban preservation. But it is a free resource still left to us. Let's not kill it.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Not all in the mellon park dog clique are quite so conscientious
By Laura M Schoch
Pittsburgh Post - March 21, 1998
Newsday (Melville, NY) - June 25, 1998
Friends will be received from 7-9 PM on Thursday and from 1-2 PM on Friday in the Piatt & Barnhill Funeral Home, 420 Locust Avenue, Washington,PA where funeral services will be held at 2 PM on Friday, June 26, 1998 with Rabbi Gershon Freidlin officiating. Interment will follow in the Beth Israel Cemetery. For those wishing to make memorial contributions, the family suggests that they be directed to Beth Israel Synagogue, 265 North Avenue, Washington, PA 15301.
|Convicted Sex Offender - Rabbi Gershon Fridlin officiating high holiday services at Agudas Israel|
Identity Crisis: Dogged by a decade-old scandal, a local rabbi tries to redefine himself
By MARTY LEVINE
Pittsburgh City Paper - May 11, 2006
Search Google for Pittsburgh rabbi Gershon Freidlin and you'll have to scroll far down the list for the first mention of his work on Irving Howe's book, World of Our Fathers, the classic account of 20th-century Jewish immigrant life. You'll have to look further still for the Village Voice reviews of his musical appearances or references to his theatrical shows.
And that June 1971 evening, when Freidlin opened for Frank Zappa and John Lennon at the Fillmore East? Keep searching.
But click Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button and you'll land directly at the first item on the list: The Awareness Center in Baltimore, Md., part of the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault.
This three-year-old group has 10-year-old copies of every article that appeared in The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., highlighting Freidlin's 1995 arrest in nearby Colonia for sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
Second and third on Google's list are similar collections: the newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization for atheists and agnostics that tracks reader-submitted clippings of "black-collar crimes," and "The Jewish Whistleblower," a blog that hasn't been updated in almost a year but which contains a passionate discussion of Freidlin's plea to the lesser charge, for which he received three years' probation, a $1,500 fine and mental-health counseling. The judge debated whether to place his name on publicly available Megan's Law lists, which track convicted sex offenders into the communities where they live, providing neighborhood notification in some cases.
The next few links Google generated by his name — until Freidlin got them removed two weeks ago by requesting the action on Google's customer-services page — were porn sites.
Freidlin, 69, is a small man who still sometimes displays a large vocal presence, a holdover from his days of stage work, perhaps, or from more recent years studying the cantorial arts — Jewish liturgical chanting — in Pittsburgh. If he came with a button to click, it would probably say "I'm Feeling Defiant."
In the years following the plea bargain he made to avoid a trial and raise his children, he has kept a low profile. But now, nearly a decade later, he's facing a civil suit — on essentially the same two original charges. That, along with the Internet vigilantes and porn merchants, has prodded him to action.
Does the nature of sex crimes against children make all efforts to publicize the perpetrators fair — including pornographers' efforts to cash in? Victims' rights groups point to the hidden nature of the crime and the recidivism rate among those arrested. One of the largest Department of Justice studies, a 1994 examination of nearly 10,000 male sex offenders (almost half of whom were child molesters) released from jail, found that 5.3 percent were rearrested for another sex crime within three years, and that "compared to non-sex offenders released from state prisons, released sex offenders were four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime."
Yet Freidlin, who is neither listed on the Megan's Law list in New Jersey or Pennsylvania nor has any criminal record apart from this plea bargain, finds himself sharing Internet watchdog lists with serial rapists. If he had pled guilty to killing a family while driving drunk, there would not be special Web sites, let alone pornography, carrying his name.
Freidlin's family disagrees with his new strategy and refuses to get involved, he says, or to speak with City Paper. But he is willing to risk further notoriety in the hopes of clearing his name.
"I would never have made a plea," he concludes, "if I would have known [Google] would happen."
Freidlin, a Scranton, Pa., native, was ordained in 1963 as a Conservative rabbi — the middle of three main Jewish denominations, between the more traditional Orthodox and Reform.
"It wasn't a career thing," he says. "It was wanting to study the Talmud and be in the yeshiva world" — the world of Jewish scholarship. "Which by the way is very helpful, now that I have to defend myself."
By 1971, he was living in Brooklyn, managing a Hyde Park morning newspaper delivery service and trying to make a name for himself as a performer of his own comic songs and chants.
"My first step onto the boards — aged 9 — was covering `Mammy,'" Freidlin says. But the '60s, and their disappearance, were Freidlin's lasting inspiration. "I saw the '60s crumbling, the whole social change that I expected ... fall apart, and people I admired becoming Weathermen" — a group that used violence rather than street protests.
He had recorded a demo for Columbia Records that nobody knew how to sell, he says. His producer matched him with other acts, including an avant-garde rock outfit, the Hampton Grease Band, out of Atlanta. He joined the Grease Band when they opened for Frank Zappa, who had John Lennon sitting in, during one of the last shows at the famous Fillmore East in New York City's East Village.
"They put me out on stage there," he recalls. "They stopped their music — their pieces could take 10, 20 minutes. I did this chant, bare-chested, like a Yiddish theater matinee idol." The piece was called "Badiyoon."
What does it mean?
"You're asking me? I chanted, danced to the `Badiyoon' before 2,500 screaming youths and all these lights. We were the hit of the night."
"Gershon did indeed perform that night, andwas given a great response by the crowd," reports Grease Band guitarist Glenn Phillips, whose group is set to reunite for the first time in 33 years. "Bruce [Hampton, vocalist] says he even remembers John Lennon commenting favorably on it."
Columbia also suggested Freidlin's music might fly in a theater setting. So he created the Martha Bippus Singers with several other performers and took his brand of absurdist theater around New York and other cities. "It started out as social commentary," he says. "But it went where it went." In a recorded performance from 1978, Freidlin introduces the Family Bippus: "Their all-encompassing philosophy calls for the pursuit of embarrassment" in daily life, he narrates, "by veneration of the remains of life, love and dinner."
"Bippus ended because I felt I was doing too many things," he adds. "I was the co-author/composer/dancer/actor."
On the back porch of his Pittsburgh home, Freidlin still offers the show's fake Latin and fake Yiddish with the convincing rapidity of a Sid Caesar. On an old stool, he lays out the work and the souvenirs of a three-decade career in the arts and scholarship: notices of performances on New York's WBAI-FM; a mimeographed rave in the New York Pinewood Folk Music Club Newsletter; a 1993 Hartford Courant account of his use of tap dancing in holiday services while he was a rabbi in Colchester, Conn.; a handbill from the Berkshire Theatre Festival of 1978, listing Freidlin as a Yiddish dialect consultant for a play starring Fyvush Finkel; a gushing recommendation letter from its director.
But the collection also contains copies of books for which Freidlin served as translator (the Holocaust memoir Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto by Ber Mark, published by Schocken) and editor (What a Life! The Autobiography of Pesach'ke Burstein, Yiddish Matinee Idol, published by Syracuse University Press).
There is also a letter of recommendation from Irving Howe, complete with Freidlin's name misspelled: "Rabbi Freidlin worked for me as a research assistant in the preparation of my book World of Our Fathers," Howe wrote in 1993. "He is a man of wit and kindliness, and should make an excellent moral and religious guide — knowledgeable, tolerant, warm-hearted — where he goes."
The pile is topped by a March 1995 positive recommendation from an official of the New Jersey temple where he served.
Just months later, the pile of clippings would be joined by a series of newspaper headlines, as Freidlin was arrested and jailed briefly on sexual assault charges.
In July 1995, when Freidlin was alleged to have assaulted a young boy, his sons were 11, 13 and 20. His accuser was 10.
"He was visiting my kid," Freidlin says today. The boy had arrived without a swimming suit, borrowed one from Freidlin's youngest son and put it on in their bathroom. "His mother had given word that we should put suntan lotion on him before taking him swimming. I then put suntan lotion on his back and chest and maybe his legs. I put it on my kids too."
The boy told a different story. According to the Star-Ledger, the boy said Freidlin had placed suntan lotion on his body, inside his bathing suit, twice inside the Freidlin home and once when he accompanied the Freidlins to another family's swimming pool. "Prosecutor Julia McClure," the paper reported, "said that about three weeks after the alleged assaults, the youngster asked his mother `if things like this happened and if something was wrong with it.' It was then that the mother contacted police ..."
Freidlin denies ever touching the boy inside his bathing suit or seeing him naked, and pled not guilty when arrested. His defense lawyer, (Name Removed) spent a year wrangling with the prosecution in Middlesex County, N.J., then recommended Freidlin accept a plea deal that would keep him away from unpredictable juries and out of jail. Had Freidlin faced trial on the stronger charge of sexual assault and lost, he would likely have received a sentence that included jail time. (Albin would not comment today about the original criminal case because he sits on the New Jersey Supreme Court.)
The boy's mother told the court she accepted the plea to save her own child a trial as well. According to a Star-Ledger account of court proceedings prior to the plea agreement, "The victim's mother told [the judge] that a trial would likely make little difference, noting her family has already suffered so much since the crime occurred. [...] But the judge told the victim's family a trial could do more harm than good. He said the boy, who was in the courtroom, would have to testify. It would then be up to a jury to decide if he was telling the truth."
Although Freidlin says his wife passed through the basement room many times while he and the boy were together, there are no other potential witnesses to any of the incidents save Freidlin and the boy. The civil suit claims one suntan lotion application occurred in a locked room in the Freidlin home and charges false imprisonment, which Freidlin also denies.
On Dec. 13, 1996, Albin and the Superior Court judge led Freidlin through his plea, according to court transcripts, which use the boy's initials, V.K.:
(Name Removed): Did there come a time when you were in a bathroom with V.K. and V.K. had no clothes on?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
(Name Removed): And did you place suntan lotion all over his body including his buttocks and his penis.
THE DEFENDANT: Yes.
Later, the judge asks Freidlin, "Why did you do that?"
THE DEFENDANT: It was a misjudgment. I thought he was supposed to have it all over him. I was in a hurry and, you know, I smeared it and that's — as I understand now, that certainly is a misjudgment.
His apology at the time of his sentencing — he got three years' probation — was in similarly careful language, as reported in the Star-Ledger: "Freidlin said he and his family have suffered and said he has an `understanding and great regret for the hurt I've caused. I did something very thoughtless.'"
But Freidlin says today that he never did this crime to which he pled guilty under oath — that he had to speak under duress because of the legal requirements of a plea, which include an admission by the defendant. The process is "a legal fiction," he says. "Otherwise the plea doesn't get accepted. That's how you have to talk.
"I was allowed to make clear," he adds, "that there was no sexual interest or activity. Even in court" — by calling the incident "a misunderstanding" — "[I said] I have never performed any sort of sexual act."
Even the judge may have been puzzled by the proceedings, as the Sentencing Order concludes: "This court can't fathom any reason why an adult would put sun tan lotion on the penis of a child who was going to cover it with a bathing suit unless there was a sexual basis."
As Freidlin's lawyer told the criminal judge in New Jersey, the rabbi had no criminal record prior to this arrest, and he has none now in Allegheny County. So why not fight the criminal charges?
Because by that point, Freidlin says, he felt as if he'd lost the case before even being tried.
"I took a plea because I wanted to raise my sons in peace," says Freidlin. "We had already been threatened by these procedures"— because of the prospect of jail time, during which his wife would be left alone to raise their sons. "This was wearing me down and wearing my family down. I saw no good from ongoing litigation. Whatever damages that would come to me had come from the charges — you're ruined anyway."
Freidlin's two-year contract with Temple Ohev Shalom, the Colonia, N.J., synagogue where he'd served as rabbi, expired in August 1995 and was not renewed, but he had already been hired by New Light, a small congregation in Squirrel Hill. Freidlin says the synagogue supported him, displaying a letter from its then president to the congregation, calling for help with his legal expenses.
Even so, Freidlin went bankrupt six months after the plea, on July 25, 1997. He retired from the pulpit, he says, when he left New Light early in 1998. Now he finds ruination threatening on a fresh front.
His accuser, (Name Removed), has filed a civil suit against him in New Jersey Superior Court. King, who is now 21 and still lives at his childhood home in Colonia, alleges that Freidlin committed sexual assault — the very charge Freidlin plea-bargained to avoid a decade ago.
Lawyers and victims' rights groups note that civil suits are easier to win than criminal prosecutions. The dueling verdicts on O.J. Simpson's criminal and civil trials is perhaps the most prominent modern example of the phenomenon. As one online group — AARDVARC.org, Inc. (An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection) — advises, "It is likely that a victim wishing to vindicate his or her rights against a perpetrator or third party will find the civil court to be a much more agreeable forum than the criminal court. ... [A] civil court plaintiff needs only to prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence; that is to say, he or she needs only to prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable for the claims set forth in the complaint. This burden is less demanding than the one which must be carried by the criminal prosecutor — the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged."
The civil suit against Freidlin claims that (Name Removed) has suffered "permanent disability, emotional trauma, diminished childhood, permanent loss of bodily function, and has and will in the future incur expenses for treatment of said injuries and has been disabled, and will in future be disabled, and unable to perform his usual functions and has been caused and, will in the future be caused, great pain and suffering, loss and damages."
Legal language aside, Freidlin believes the accusation is a bit strong. "Even if I had been guilty, it could never have produced all this damage," he says.
"Children who experience maltreatment are at increased risk for adverse health effects and behaviors as adults," says the Center for Disease Control in its general fact sheet on "Child Maltreatment," "including smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, severe obesity, depression, suicide, sexual promiscuity and certain chronic diseases." But what could have resulted from the one incident to which Freidlin pled guilty is another question entirely.
Freidlin — representing himself, because he still owes money to his last lawyer, he says — denies the new charges.
(Name Removed's) mother, (Name Removed), who answered their phone, expressed indignation at Freidlin's claims to innocence.
"He can deny it all he wants ...," she said before refusing to talk further.
(Name Removed) civil lawyer, Mark E. Margiotta of Pollock, Montgomery and Chapin in Bedminster, N.J., admits that it "may actually be the case" that there are no witnesses to these incidents save Freidlin and (Name Removed). So why sue Freidlin a decade after the original, perhaps unprovable, case?
Margiotta won't say. But revelations in the past decade about pedophile priests and the ongoing lawsuits may have something to do with the case's timing.
The crime to which Freidlin pled, and the vocation he chose, have attracted a huge amount of notice in recent years, as a slew of once-hidden allegations surfaced against religious authorities — most prominently in the Catholic Church. Revelations of years of complicity on the part of some religious groups has resulted in lawsuits and outrage — correctly so. Religious figures, once venerated, are now suspect.
A civil suit can't put Freidlin in jail, but it can extract monetary damages from him — and from the synagogue where he once worked, even though King is neither Jewish nor was ever a congregant.
Two groups have already been dropped from the suit: the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which promotes the denomination, and the denomination's Rabbinical Assembly. Still listed as defendants are Temple Ohev Shalom, where Freidlin worked at the time of the incident, and the Metuchen, N.J., synagogue into which it has since merged, called Temple Neve Shalom. Ohev Shalom owned the Freidlins' house, where his accuser says part of the abuse happened. The suit alleges that numerous unnamed individuals and groups at both institutions, "negligently failed to investigate the background, history and prior conduct" of Freidlin before hiring him, and "knew or should have known" of unspecified "inappropriate" conduct by Freidlin with unspecified individuals. If the plaintiff's side of the case is aware of actual incidents of such conduct, the suit makes no mention of them. Neve Shalom's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
As Freidlin's legal motions make clear, he hopes to prove that (Name Removed)'s problems are not the result of anything that happened in July 1995. Freidlin is seeking another pile of papers: (Name Removed)'s medical history and any cases from the state's child-welfare agency involving (Name Removed), if such cases exist. Freidlin has already received some of (Name Removed)'s medical records, and the judge has agreed to examine any records found in New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services before turning anything relevant over to Freidlin.
"Medical reports already sent me by [(Name Removed)'s] attorney," reads one Freidlin motion, show signs of "a youth who has not reached his potential and who has turned violent towards both his family and towards himself. ... It is crucial to my defense that I also know and can document the mental/physical state of said youth before Summer, 1995.To wit, if he was already damaged by the time of his allegations, he has no basis coming to me for redress — or, for very little redress."
"Even were I to have caused [(Name Removed)] damage — I did not — how damaged was he already both before and after his allegations," asks another Freidlin motion. "When almost a decade ago ... I entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge, the judge urged acceptance of the plea by all parties. Litigation would damage all of us, esp. (Name Removed) [the judge said]. By his or his mother's not heeding the words of [the] Judge ..., by presenting himself as a wreck and expecting someone to pay him for it, he perpetuates his status as wreck."
Whatever harm has actually occurred to King, from whatever cause, has so far played out far from public attention. Freidlin hasn't been so lucky.
While Freidlin has been spared the state-sanctioned humiliation of a Megan's Law listing, other Internet sites have made certain he will be unable to plug the gaping hole in his reputation any time soon.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, edits the group's newspaper, Freethought Today, which comes out 10 times a year with a two-page "Black Collar Crimes" roundup.
"We don't put ours online," Gaylor says, "and that is for legal reasons — because we don't know the follow-up" — whether some of those arrested were later convicted or acquitted, for instance.
Online, of course, is exactly where Freidlin's first case can still be found in Freethought Today's 1997 editions.
"There may be some back issues still up," Gaylor allows.
What legal issues is she concerned about? The Supreme Court has already ruled that Megan's Law, in using publicly available information, does not violate anyone's right to privacy.
"I don't really want to go into that," Gaylor says. "We have to rely on our readers for reports or updates. I'm not sure I always see the updates. We run everything we get."
The Awareness Center, whose Web site also features Freidlin's case, was founded in 2003 to provide sexual-abuse victim resources to Jews — and incidentally to publicize Jewish perpetrators, says Executive Director Vicki Polin. The help offered by earlier groups was often Christian-based, she explains. And more insular, traditional segments of the Jewish community might shy from seeking help from secular authorities, or even reporting sexual abuse, she adds.
While the Center's Web site reproduces news accounts of any Jew accused of sexual offenses involving children, rabbis are, of course, the easiest to identify.
"We've taken some cases down," she reports. "We try our best ... we're so shorthanded. If somebody sends [an article] to us, we definitely put it [up]." Whatever the outcome of Freidlin's civil suit, he is destined to be on endless public probation for his criminal offense, even though his actual probation ended in 2000.
Unfamiliar with the Freidlin case on her own site, she takes a moment to review the old clippings: "If he pled guilty, he's going to stay on our Web site," Polin concludes. "An offender who molests children will molest 117 times before it's brought to the attention" of police, she adds, citing an unknown source. "That's what our fear is."
The author of "The Jewish Whistleblower" blog, who would not identify himself or be questioned via phone, echoes Polin in an e-mail: "The unfortunate problem in my community, is that by the time sexual predators are subject to Megan's Law they have caused decades of damage. My blog was designed to break the silence and make it tougher for the predators. I believe in that respect that my efforts have fostered others who have joined the blogosphere with their own blogs. There are now dozens of blogs that do what I once did alone."
This blogger claims he helped to reveal the identity of a molesting rabbi. Polin says her site has brought together a rabbi's victims, so they could support each other. But it's unclear who is being protected from Gershon Freidlin at this point. Court documents accepting Freidlin's plea state, "In helping the court make its determination, defendant was examined by an independent expert in the area of treatment of sex offender's [sic]. The expert felt defendant was not what otherwise would be considered repetitive and compulsive."
Those aren't the sorts of documents a blogger is ever likely to see. Or publish online.
In 10-year-old court transcripts, the judge seems to anticipate Freidlin's current regret: "You understand once you plead guilty I'm not going to let you take your plea back except for unusual circumstances ...," he said.
Freidlin's attorney then asked that "the plea not be admissible in any civil proceeding."
"I really never do that," the judge responded. "The application is denied."
Instead of singing the Jewish liturgy in a synagogue as an active rabbi, Freidlin is left distributing tapes of his cantorial performances. On the back of the Martha Bippus Singers sample cassette is Freidlin's clear tenor chanting the "Kol Nidre," one of the signature moments of the Yom Kippur service — the Jewish Day of Atonement. This particular prayer is concerned with the way in which man views the making of oaths to God. Some believe it is intended to clear the petitioner of promises made under pressure.
"While reciting the prayer I often thought of the plea," Freidlin says in an e-mail, the worlds of the stage and the pulpit still evident in his words. "As to whether or not "Kol Nidre" absolves one of an oath taken under duress is a moot question here. Let it be known: Notwithstanding what my family and I have been through, I yet respect generally both the courts and police, guided as I am by theTalmudic maxim that, were it not for the State, `humans would swallow one another alive.'"
Journal of Synagogue Music - Editorial Board
Cantors Assembly - Fall 2011
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