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Citation for the book: Brizel, Chie. Shetikat ha-Haredim
/ Shiye Brizel. -- Tel-Aviv : Yediot Aharonot ; Sifre Hemed, 1999. 220 p.
; 21 cm. Title on t.p. verso: Hasidims silence. (A possible English title
is "Silence of the Ultra-Orthodox". I don't know if it was ever published
What is Spain?
An abominable silence
Arapali tried to explain what makes Amichai's poems
so popular, even among people who are not poetry freaks. "Anyone can pick
up an Amichai poem and find himself in it," said the professor, alluding
to the profound yet simple humanity in Amichai's work. Somek spoke about
the poetry of Amichai as "an island of sanity" in our mixed up world, seemingly
an odd way to describe poetry, yet amazingly apt when it comes to Amichai,
a poet of civilian life, an anti-romantic (in the sense of romanticism as
the "beautiful malady," the source of the passionate verse produced by the
Romantics). It was romanticism, and especially East-European romantic
nationalism, which gave birth to the idea of a national poet. No wonder that
Amichai, the yekke, endowed with some of the more admirable traits of German-born
Jews, objects to this term, alien to the spirit of his poetry. He refuses
to be a national poet. Amichai's song is the song of Middle Israel (he has
written about his longing for "Middle Jerusalem"), the song of the Israeli
as he lives from day to day, in richness and in poorness. The surprise guest
on this show was Ada Yardeni, the daughter of Amichai's good friend Dicky,
who was killed in the War of Independence and is often mentioned in his poems.
Any sense of "gimmick" soon disappeared in the face of the beauty and refinement
of this woman, who was helped by Amichai to discover the father she never
knew, who died when she was just a baby. Throughout the program we saw archival
photos of the young Amichai, gun in hand, and the older Amichai, reading
poetry or out for a walk: a moving album for lovers of Yehuda Amichai.
But that evening, on "Meet the Press" (19:15), we saw
him as he is today - or almost (the interview was taped, contrary to the
norm for this program). Guy Zohar talked to him after his return from the
United States, where he underwent a serious operation. He has since recovered
from his illness "which we shall not name," said Guy Zohar, although he had
already named it a moment earlier: cancer. Not that Amichai is afraid of
the word, but as he politely agreed, spelling it out was not necessary.
It was a straightforward television interview. Amichai,
incidentally, praised our television, which he feels is better than American
TV, although Zohar knows that is not a great compliment. Anyhow, the questions
were ordinary, and that was perfectly appropriate, with Amichai's answers
also excelling in a wonderful ordinariness, not at all put on. "I've never
played the poet," he told Zohar, who depended a little overmuch on cliches,
but did ask a good question about what price the family paid for having a
famous father. "No price at all," responded Amichai.
Amichai is also well aware of the character of eternity
in our day. "Even eternity is not eternity," he said, as if reciting a line
from one of his poems. In effect, all his simple, human, down-to-earth, yet
often wise, replies could have come straight out of a poem. Amichai knows
about relativity and the vanity of fame and eternity, but he doesn't knock
the million dollars that come with the Nobel Prize - a prize that somehow,
as you watch him, you can't help wishing he will win. French-Spanish relations,
or perhaps we should say the puzzle and the challenge to France posed by
its neighbor to the west (no less puzzling and challenging to France, perhaps,
than its neighbor to the east - Germany), was the subject of a recent installment
of the excellent French culture magazine "Bouillon de Culture," taped at
the new Guggenheim Museum in the Basque city of Bilbou. I missed the first
showing of this program, but there was a repeat this week (Saturday, TV5,
15:15), so that I, too, had the opportunity to meet the writers and artists
of Spain - first and foremost Jorge Semprun, a French writer and Spanish
statesman, symbol of the eternal bond between these two countries.
Semprun began the interview, hosted by Bernard Pivot,
with a quote from "Meditations on Don Quixote," by the greatest Spanish
philosopher of the century, Ortega y Gasset. "Mi Dios, que es Espana?" Gasset
asks. "My God, what is Spain?" This is a question that keeps Spaniards awake
at night, claimed Semprun, who cannot answer it any better than the Frenchmen
who have been pondering the "myth of Spain" for hundreds of years.
One way of addressing this dramatic question is humorously,
as demonstrated by the Catalonian actor Jose Maria Flatts, who repeated it
over and over in different intonations - as a reproach, a complaint, a prayer,
a mini-drama. What is Spain? Spain is...Spanish, he splutters. The problem
of Spanish identity is that Spain is so diverse, so hugely heterogeneous
that the heterogeneity of every other European country is dwarfed by
In the course of the discussion, we discovered "only"
four major languages: Castilian (what we call "Spanish"), Catalonian, Basque
and Galician (spoken in Spanish Galicia), three of which were represented
around Pivot's table. But the diversity and heterogeneity actually goes much
further than that, and even Catholicism cannot pave over the incredibly numerous
Bernardo Atxega, a Basque writer, defended his language.
It is the "great language of a small people," he said, a language like no
other in Europe, whose origins have stumped the experts for years (it appears
to be related to a number of Caucasian dialects). Flatts, the Catalonian,
described his childhood, very different from that of a Spanish child, and
his embrace of French as a linguistic and cultural refuge from Catalonian
insularity. Semprun, Spain's former minister of culture who lives in Paris
most of the time, hailed Spanish diversity as a creator of
Pivot began the discussion by asking each of his guests
which event in Spanish history was most significant in his or her eyes. The
youngest guest, Jose Angel Manas, the author of a successful novel (also
climbing the charts in France) called "I Am a Frustrated Writer," was only
four when Franco died, but he sees this date, and the end of Franco-ism,
as the foundation stone. Another author, Carmen Posadas, goes back as far
as 1492, a date connected in her mind primarily with the discovery of
A third author, Reverte (I didn't catch his first name)
also cited the end of Franco-ism, under which Spanish culture had been frozen.
Because Franco claimed ownership over the classics - Cervantes, Velasquez,
and so on - they lost all their charm for young people. "No one reads Cervantes
any more," said Reverte. "It is only taught at universities."
This sparked a great outcry in the studio. Pivot related
that on a recent three-day trip to Madrid, he dropped in several times to
listen to the adventures of the Man of La Mancha being read from start to
finish at a hall packed with hundreds of people. The provocative Reverte,
retreating just a bit, declared that Don Quixote had nothing to do with Spain,
but that Sancho Panza was indeed a true representative of the Spanish
Shiye Brizel is an ultra-Orthodox man in his thirties.
At the age of 11, he walked into the empty women's section of the synagogue
where his family prays and chanced upon his father, a scribe and a respected
figure in Bnei Brak, lying on top of a 16-year-old boy in a position that
could only mean one thing. Brizel told this to Yair Lapid ("Yair Lapid Live
at Ten," Sunday, Family Channel, 22.05) in one of the most shocking interviews
I can recall on this program, which has been around for quite some time.
Brizel has just published a book, "The Silence of the
Haredim," in which he relates the story of his father, the Haredi homosexual,
his mother, who already knew of her husband's sexual orientation as a 19-year-old
bride, and the hypocritical efforts to hush up cases like these in the
Listening to Brizel, it was hard to think of a crueler
community - not that being a homosexual in Israel in general is so easy,
even today. "We, the enlightened," Yair Lapid properly pointed out, "do not
see anything wrong with homosexuality." For the ultra-Orthodox, however,
homosexual love is an abomination. As one hopeless fool among our country's
leaders put it last week, homosexuality is a genetic problem, and if he were
minister of health, he would set aside money to cure these sick people. God
save us from the possibility that a man like him should ever become a minister
of health in Israel.
On "A New Evening" one day last week, incidentally,
one of the Shas ministers, Shlomo Benizri, found himself face to face with
a friendly, highly intelligent lesbian. Minister Benizri (I hope to God he's
not the minister of health...) began to explain to her that "she has a problem."
Well, so do you, she replied. "You're Haredi."
I was reminded of this remarkable scene as I heard
Shiye Brizel, an educated, likable man, telling Lapid that he remained
ultra-Orthodox even after confronting all the abominations he describes in
his book (written together with Efrat Ben-Tsedek). Judaism, he said, "is
a very beautiful religion." Imagine that, I marveled. It goes to show you
the power of faith. Today, Brizel and his family live very far away from
the Haredi community.
Apropos Haredim, on the excellent program "Discussing
Matters" (Saturday, Channel Two, 9:30), which also dealt with attitudes towards
homosexuality, the most intelligent man on the panel, Yaron London, called
Minister Benizri a "dumbbell." Perhaps that wasn't the most appropriate epithet,
especially since London was talking about one of the most cunning men ever
to serve in the Israeli government, but his apology was grossly exaggerated.
Even courtesy has its limits.
Erratum: Germaine Greer's book "The Female Eunuch"
appeared in 1970, and not as stated in this column last weekYehuda Amichai
is 75, and Channel Two did the right thing in celebrating this important
cultural event on Saturday, in the wake of a number of other parties held
in the poet's honor. One of them, sponsored by the Jerusalem Municipality,
featured well-known singers performing Amichai's poems set to music: "At
a Glance" (Saturday, 11:00), launched Amichai Day with an exceptionally lovely
program that included tapes of Shlomo Gronich, Yoni Rechter, Rikki Gal and
others performing at this party. In the course of the program, Avirama Golan
interviewed the poet Ronny Somek and Prof. Boaz Arpali, author of an excellent
book on Amichai's poetry.
Sodomy in the synagogue
- Mother went out of her mind
by Shahar Ilan
Ha'aretz - February 1, 2000
And the Modesty Squad Kept Silent: For Many Years,
Yaakov Yitzhak Brizel, The Nephew of the Founding Leader of the Modesty Squad,
Sodomized Ultra-Orthodox Boys. The Greatest Reabbis Knew - And Did
Though Brizel was a scion of the Brizel family, which
founded the Modesty Squad, the mysterious organization that imposes moral
order on the ultra-Orthodox ghetto, like most ultra-Orthodox children he
had no idea what a homo was. As he sensed that he had been told something
terrible, he left school in the afternoon and went home. "Mother, what is
a homo?" he asked. His mother blanched, but she kept the secret: "When you
grow up, you'll know, Shaiya, when you're big you'll know," she replied.
Shaiya Brizel was already very tenacious. He decided
that such a difficult problem could be solved only by the rabbi of Bnei Brak,
Rabbi Yaakov Landau, one of the most important of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis,
who has since died. "My name is Shaiya Brizel," he told the rabbi. "I've come
to you to tell you what happened at my school and to ask you a question."
Landau, it turns out, knew exactly what the secret was. "I will not explain
to you what a homo is," he replied. "I will tell you only that I know who
your father is, and he desecrates the name of the Lord in public."
Now it had become official. Brizel understood that
his father, a respected Torah scribe, had transgressed a huge prohibition
of the Torah. But only his older friend, Menachem, was prepared to explain
to him what that prohibition was. Menachem used the means known to every
ultra-Orthodox child. He took the Book of Leviticus and opened it to 18:22:
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is an
What is the punishment, Shaiya demanded. Menachem could
not evade it: "Whosoever shall do any of these abominations, even the souls
that do them shall be cut off from among their people" (18:29).Had the father,
Yaakov Yitzhak Brizel, the nephew of the founder of the Modesty Squad, Eliezer
Brizel, contented himself with homosexual relations with adults, it is reasonable
to suppose that we would never have heard his son's story. However, in his
book, "The Silence of the Ultra-Orthodox," published a few weeks ago, the
son claims that for decades his father seduced and sodomized yeshiva students.
He committed the act in empty synagogues during the hours between prayers
and in other places.
The greatest of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis, claims Brizel,
like Rabbi Landau and the halachic sage Shmuel Halevi Hausner of Bnei Brak,
knew and kept silent. The father was a Hasid heart and soul, and went to
a number of rebbes. One of these, the Rebbe of Kretschnif from Rehovot, expelled
him from his following after he discovered the truth. But the twin brother
of the rebbe from Rehovot, the Rebbe of Kretschnif in Kiryat Gat, was happy
to accept the father among his followers. Ultimately, claims Brizel, it was
not easy for the Rebbe from Kiryat Gat to be picky when he could win such
a respected adherent.
The reknowned Brizel family, one of the pillars of
the extreme ultra-Orthodox wing known as the Eda Haharedit, had no need to
bring the Modesty Squad into the affair; it was involved in any case. The
Brizel family used its enormous influence to hush up the affair, again and
Did you ask your grandfather's brother, Rabbi Eliezer
Brizel of the Modesty Squad, why he kept silent all these years?
"No, he was not a person I could talk to. He was older
than me by 70 years. He wasn't someone I could hold an ideological discussion
Did you ask anyone in the Modesty Squad why they kept
"I know why they kept quiet: because no one has the
strength to meddle with Brizel family. Every time anyone submitted a complaint
against my father to a rabbinical court because of what he did, my uncle
would immediately show up at the court and close the matter."
The proud father with the look of an honored rebbe,
who observed all the commandments from the slightest to the most important,
used to pray at a certain yeshiva with the young boys. There, claims Shaiya
Brizel, he hunted his victims. When the head of the yeshiva discovered the
true reason that the respected Torah scribe was praying fervently at his
yeshiva, he did not contact the police, but confined himself to expelling
the father from the synagogue and transferring the problem to someone else's
Before the publication of his book, Shaiya Brizel met
with the yeshiva head. "You are right that we covered up for him," admitted
the man. "I and a few other rabbis...I was busy trying to calm things down
and hushing up the affair so that it would not get publicized." The rabbi
also begged Brizel to give up the book. "Shaiya, these things happened a
long time ago. Your father is old and can no longer sin."
But Shaiya is also a Brizel, and when he goes into
battle he uses all the means at his disposal. He published the book using
real names. His entire family and almost all the rabbis appear under their
own names. Only the names of some of the localities and the head of the yeshiva
are disguised. To protect himself from a legal point of view, Brizel held
a series of conversations with members of his family and rabbis, in which
he demanded explanations of why they had covered up for his father's misbehavior.
He secretly recorded all these conversations, even with his mother.
"If I had written without the names it would have been
fiction and this certainly did not suit me," he explained. "I wanted things
to change, for ultra-Orthodox society to know that it can attempt to hide
things and be hidden, but even if it takes 30 years, a Golem will always
rise up against its creator and reveal everything. In this case, I was the
Golem."When Rachel Brizel, the daughter of a good Bnei Brak family, married
an arranged match from the glorious Brizel family, she had no idea that she
was destroying her own life. After six months, she caught her husband having
sex with another man. In that case, at least it was with an adult.
Shaiya Brizel relates that some of the boys with whom
his father had relations sent letters of complaint to their own fathers;
in the discreet ultra-Orthodox society they had no one else to whom they
"When she read these letters, my mother went out of
her mind," writes Brizel. "Every such letter made her want to demand a divorce.
Again and again batteries of mediators, the Brizel rabbis, would show up,
whose job it was to calm her down so that, heaven forbid, she would not destroy
the good name of the Brizel family. They could live with the fact that one
of their own had raped minors, but for them divorce was an impossible
"We, the children," he relates, "became objects of
derision." He recounts that in ultra-Orthodox society there is a special
scornful look that is used when a person who has someone with a bad reputation
in his family is identified. But this does not always end in dirty looks.
Twice, once during prayers in a synagogue, and once during a Gemara study
hour at Rabbi Eliezer Shach's Ponevezh Yeshiva, ultra-Orthodox men who were
strangers to him touched his sexual organ, presumably on the assumption that
he followed in his father's footsteps. The first time, he made a fuss, only
to discover that the only thing that interested the people there was to hush
the whole thing up. The second time, he made do with a whispered warning
to the man.
How do you feel about your father?
"I pity him and hate the way he behaved. He should
have remained single. A person is not supposed to bring children into this
Shaiya Brizel is now 36 and the father of three; he
works as an accountant. His father, 65, was forced to leave home several
years ago and return to his elderly parents' apartment. Shaiya wrote this
book after a suicide attempt in June of this year. "For all those years I
was half dead. For the past five years I have been getting psychological
treatment. During my talks with the psychologist I decided that I was going
to spew out all this ugliness in the form of a book."
He took into account that there would be violent reactions
to the book. These have not occurred, perhaps because the book, which only
came out a few weeks ago, has not yet roused the expected tempest. Brizel
suffers from a serious heart defect, which could cause his death. As a way
of protecting himself, he has deposited a letter with three lawyers that
contains serious allegations about the Eda Haredit, and he has informed the
Recently, he has moved to a new apartment, and he lives
in the National Religious sector of a mixed community of National Religious
and ultra-Orthodox families. Naturally, he started praying at the only Hasidic
synagogue in the settlement. After the book came out, associates of the local
rebbe informed him that he was persona non grata. Ironically, this same rebbe
had come to the area after being compelled to leave several other communities
on suspicion of having sodomized his pupils. In ultra-Orthodox society, revealing
that acts of sodomy have been committed is a far graver offense than committing
them. On the day the book was published, Brizel met with the head of the
Hachemei Lublin Yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham Vazner. "He told me that publishing
the book was a million times worse than what my father had done, and warned
me that I would not be able to find marriage partners for my children."Ha'aretz
has been unable to obtain a response from Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Brizel. At
his parents' home, a woman replied: "We don't care. Shaiya is a liar and
there is nothing more to be said."
Ha'aretz also requested the Brizels' response through
the Eda Haredit activist Yehuda Meshi- Zahav. By the time the article went
to press, there was no response through this channel either.
Several weeks ago the father responded to the women's
magazine La'isha, saying that he would sue the publishers, which has not
yet happened. It is unlikely that it will happen. Shaiya Brizel was ready
to put off publication of the book, on condition that the family sue him
in a rabbinical court, in which the affair would be aired. He has said that
no one in the family was prepared to take up the challenge.
In the conversation with La'isha, the father said that
he was indeed a homosexual, "But I have had treatment and today I am no longer
like that. All this is behind me."
In reply to a question as to whether he had sexual
relations with minors, he replied: "Perhaps I will talk about that some other
time." He accused his son Shaiya of being "the only one who is after me.
He has destroyed my life...He wrote this only for the money. He wanted money
from me...Because of him I separated from my wife."
Shaiya's sister, Rivka Hubert, spoke with great anger
to the La'isha reporter about the fact that her brother had revealed the
names of the persons involved, and declared: "We deny everything it says
in the book.At the age of 11, Moisheleh, the strongest fellow in the talmud
torah (school for ultra-Orthodox boys), went up to Shaiya Brizel and said
to him: "Kid, I want you know that your father is not the holy man you think
he is. He is a homo".
The Independent (London) - Sunday February 27,
AT FIRST glance, Chie Brizel, an accountant, seems
to conform to the cruder stereotypes of his profession. He has a clerical
air, reinforced by a large pair of spectacles and an impeccable office.
He lives in a small apartment in Petakh Tikva, between
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He is devout, soft-spoken, orderly, and about as
flashy as a paper-lip. He is not, in other words, the kind of man you would
expect to expose a scandal of religious hypocrisy, crime and sex at the secret
heart of Israel's ultra-Orthodox world.
Mr Brizel, 36, father of three, belongs to a family
that were highly regarded members of the "haredi" (ultra-Orthodox) sect;
his father's uncle was the founder of the Modesty Squad, the shadowy organisation
which imposes moral order. The squad has beaten up haredim who are deemed
to have gone astray, and burned down their homes.
So there was shock and, among the haredim, anger when
Mr Brizel published The Silence of the Haredim, a book alleging that his
father had seduced and sodomised teenage boys in empty synagogues, and that
the Modesty Squad hushed it up because of his family's status.
The ultra-Orthodox regard homosexual sex as a profound
sin. As his father held the elevated position of a Torah scribe, who obeyed
every other aspect of the scriptures to the tiniest detail, and as his alleged
victims were as young as 14, Chie Brizel's accusations could hardly have
been more serious.
His claims were seized on by the national media, who
were only too happy to find further evidence of corruption within the haredim,
whose self- imposed segregation, secrecy and intolerance has long been the
source of resentment among Israelis.
Within three hours of circulating a proposal for his
book, he had five publishing offers. Once the book was out, Ha'aretz, the
country's most staid newspaper, devoted a half-page to it.
Mr Brizel says he produced the book as a form of
self-therapy and saw it as the only way to get the issue into the open. In
the fundamentalist world of the haredim, victims of sexual abuse are usually
too frightened and too alienated from mainstream society to complain to
outsiders. The police are generally distrusted.
"Sex education in the haredi community is so undeveloped
that the victim of abuse has no idea whom to turn to," Mr Brizel told The
Independent on Sunday. "The only person he knows he can talk to is the
perpetrator. We used to get letters to my father from his victims, asking
why he had assaulted them."
Mr Brizel also admits he wanted to expose the hypocrisy
of haredi leaders, who forbid people from owning televisions or mobile phones
and dictate their sexual practices to them.
"My greatest anger is against the community leaders,
not my father. They are the ones who let the show go on. If it had been anyone
else, the Modesty Squad would have broken his arms and legs without a second
He says the author's fee, which he claims was modest,
was insignificant compared with the emotional stress involved in writing
it. Mr Brizel has been ostracised by the haredi community into which he was
born. He is also alienated from most of his family, whom he secretly
tape-recorded in order to gather evidence to back his accusations in case
of a lawsuit.
One senior rabbi told him that publicising the scandal
was "100 times worse" than the allegations against his father. In this benighted
world, it seems the eleventh commandment has acquired a communal dimension:
thou shalt not be found out.
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