Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Case of Rabbi Moshe Eisemann - Vineland, NJ

The Case of Rabbi Moshe Eisemann
(AKA: Moshe Eiseman, Mose Eiseman, Moshe ben Meir HaLevi

 - April 29, 1994 (Iyyar 18 5754) 
 

 Rosh Yeshivah, Beis Meir - Vineland (Yeshiva of Vineland) - Vineland, NJ


Rabbi Moshe Eisemann, who was the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the Yeshiva of Vineland, NJ was accused by his granddaughter of child molestation.  The incidents of abuse occurred in the 1980s.  Rabbi Moshe Eisemann of Vineland was first cousins to Rabbi Moshe Eisemann who is connected to Ner Israel Rabbinical College and High School in Baltimore, MD.  Both Eisemann's have been accused of being sexual predators.
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Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:  



2005
  1. A Story of Survival - Surviving Incest (05/16/2005)
  2. The Day The Torah Was Molested (01/21/2005)
  3. Chassidus Ashkenaz Restored: HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l -- 9th Adar 5759, His Fiftieth Yahrtzeit (03/02/2004)
  4. A Disagreement with Reb Moshe Eiseman 

2013
  1. Breaking the code of silence - Sexual abuse scandals are continuing to rock ultra-Orthodox community, as victims come forward (02/20/2013)

Background History of Vineland, NJ
  1. Vineland 


Also see:
  1. Case of Aron Goldberger
  2. Case of Rabbi Moshe Eisemann (Ner Israel)
  3. Case of Eliezer Eisgrau
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A Story of Survival - Surviving Incest
© (2005) By Survivor of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau

Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau and Rabbi Boruch Neuberger

The reason I am telling my story is because I want people, especially rabbis, to realize that when allegations of child abuse are made by a child against a parent, (regardless of whether the allegations are true or not) it is an indication of a serious problem in the family. When abuse is covered up and denied it is usually handed down to the next generation. Cutting off the family member who dares to expose the family's pain and shame does not make the problem go away. My family and I needed help and the rabbi's failed us. My family and I still need help and the rabbi's are still failing us. If I had a child who said I had sexually abused them, whether I thought I had or not, I would realize that there was a serious problem in my relationship with that child. I would do all I could to help my child understand what had happened. I would get my whole family help.

When most people in the orthodox community look at my family they see a normal family. Everyone is religious, married with kids, seems happy, and appears not only to be functioning well but also contributing to their community.

I come from a very large orthodox family. Most of my early childhood was spent in a small town on the east coast. My father met and married my mother there while he was a student at her father's yeshiva. My grandfather's yeshiva was in a remote area jewishly and otherwise, and we were very isolated. We did not go to school and had no contact with children outside of the family.

My father was physically abusive and sexually molested me repeatedly while we were living near my grandfather's yeshiva. I was also molested by some of the students in the yeshiva. I don't remember their names. My father stopped abusing me when we moved to Baltimore and he started teaching.

My grandfather was also inappropriate with me. He exposed himself to me once when I was three. When I was seven he had a serious discussion with me. He told me how lonely he was and ask me if I thought he should get remarried. At that age he told my sister and I that he loved one of us more than the other. I was sure it was she who he loved more than me.

I know that my grandfather physically abused my mother, (although she will insist that her experience was not abuse). She would get hit, for example, if she couldn't keep the baby from crying. My mother is the oldest of ten children. Her mother died of an illness when she was fifteen. She said that my grandfather always hit his children too much, but after her mother died it got worse. She told me that her brothers would try to protect her. My mother's brothers are the only safe men who I remember having close contact with in my childhood.

My father was physically abused by his mother. She would hold his nose to force him to swallow foods that he d. She would beat him with a broomstick. He was a troubled teen and was kicked out of more than one yeshiva. He told me that my grandfather rescued him, "pulled him from the garbage can." He shared with me his first encounter with my grandfather. He said that when my grandfather was speaking to him he raised his hand to make a point, and my father instinctively ducked under the table. He thought he was going to be hit.

My grandfather also rescued Aaron Goldberger. He had been expelled from a yeshiva for "homosexual behavior." Knowing his background, and despite many warnings, my grandfather allowed Goldberger to marry his daughter. Years later Goldberger was convicted of molesting his own children and lost custody of them as a result.

I was a troubled child and an angry teen for obvious reasons. I was also extremely depressed. My mother would tell me repeatedly that I had nothing to be sad or angry about and that I should put a smile on my face.

When I was in the fourth grade I discovered by that I needed glasses. A classmate had a pair and I tried them on just for fun. When the room jumped into focus I realized that I needed glasses. I told my mother who said, "No you don't need glasses, you see well enough." Her response was typical.

When my fifth grade teacher sent a note home asking my parents to get my eyes checked they finally took me to an eye doctor. The doctor assured my mother that he could see by the shape of my pupil that I was nearsighted but she was still unconvinced. She told me that I was getting glasses not because I needed them but to get the teacher off her back. My sister taunted me "you don't really need glasses you just want attention."

As a child I often wondered what I could possibly do to become real in my parent's eyes. I remember watching other children in school and wondering what it was about them that I was missing that allowed them to exist, and have real needs and feelings. I thought there was something inherently wrong with me.

When I was sixteen I left home to go to school in Israel. When the Gulf War broke out my parents forced me to come back home and refused to let me return to Israel. When I was eighteen I ran away from home and went back to Israel. My father came after me. He told me that the only reason he could think of that I could possibly have run away was that I had lesbian relationship with a friend whom I had met and become close to while in school there.


Aviva Weisbord, Phd
My father said that he wanted to help me and would take me to see a psychologist if I came home with him. He took me to his friend, Dr. Aviva Weisbord, who agreed to see me as a favor to him. (Apparently he had helped her with one of her children who had been having problems.)

Dr. Weisbord should never have taken me on as a client due to her obvious conflict of interest. She allowed me to come to her house during the course of therapy and sleep over. She violated confidentiality by meeting with my parents against my wishes. She violated confidentiality by telling people that I had been a client of hers and that in her "professional" opinion my father had not abused me.

During the course of my treatment with Dr. Weisbord she and I both realized that I had been sexually abused. She kept asking me about my uncle, Goldberger, whom I had contact with as a young child. I did not remember any specific instances of him abusing me. I did not tell her about my father. She was very willing to believe that my uncle, a convicted offender, abused me. But I knew she would not believe me about my father. She made it clear that she trusted and respected him. At some point she realized that I was hiding something. She told me that there were serious boundary issues in my family. That there were things that I wasn't sharing with her, and that she did not want to hear. She told me that she was ending our relationship and sending me to someone else.

My next therapist would not speak with my parents at all, and when my father found out that I was talking about the abuse he told me that I had to stop seeing her. He threatened to take her to a bais din for "convincing me of things that never happened." He told me that I was heading down a dangerous path. That reading books on the subject of abuse was putting ideas into my head. He told me that he was the only one who really loved that and me if I wasn't paying my therapist she would throw me out onto the street. That was the day I left my parents home.

I had nowhere to go. In desperation, I called a woman whom I had met only once, Hinda Goliger, and she invited me to come live with her. Many people including my parents, tried to pressure the Goligers to throw me out so I would be forced to go back home. The Goligers refused to bow to pressure. They promised me that their home would always be a safe place for me and it was. They were truly there for me when no one else was. They believed in me, and I will always be grateful.

The abuse by my father and others left me with many issues. But even worse than the actual and abuse was the revictimization that I encountered from my family, and community, when I tried to reach out for help.

No one would believe me that my father or my grandfather had done these things. My siblings were very angry with me and treated me like I had some horrible disease. My mother told me that she knew that nothing happened to me and that basically I was saying these things to get attention. One of my uncles told me that saying that my grandfather abused me meant that I d the Torah. Another Rabbi who I spoke with, after asking me for my grandfathers name, told me that it was my imagination that I had been sexually abused and that I should just forget about it and get married and everything would be fine. Once again I was being given the message that I was not real. My memories were not real. My feelings and experiences were not real.

During this time one of my brothers, then in his teens, forced a six-year-old in the neighborhood to expose herself to him. He threatened to hurt her if she didn't comply. The child's mother told me about the incident. She told my mother about it too. My mother's response was that she needed to talk to my brother about staying away from s, and that my father needed to learn with him more often.

I told my therapist about the incident. She informed me that what my brother had done was considered sexual abuse and that she was mandated to report it. I begged her not to. I knew that my family, who were already very upset with me for saying that my father abused me, would think that I had reported it. She finally agreed to ask her Rabbi, R' Menachem Goldberger, what to do. Rabbi Goldberger. told her to make the report which she did.


Torah Institute of Baltimore
Another Rabbi who I turned to for help was Rabbi Moshe Heinemann.

I did not know how to approach him. I decided to ask him a halachic question that had been bothering me for a while. It was a question that one of my aunts had asked me when I told her what my father had done to me. I asked him if I was allowed to marry a kohen if my father abused me. I was hoping that he would hear the inherent pain in my question and offer to help me. He asked if it happened before or after age three. I said after. He then told me that if I decided to say that it never happened then I could marry a kohen but if I said that it did happen then I couldn't. End of conversation. That was the only time that I spoke with Rabbi Heinemann about this, or anything else. Some years later parents of a child in the Torah Institute went to ask Rabbi Heinemann about the allegations against my father. He told them to disregard what I said as I was, "crazy and not frum."

I went to other Rabbi's for help and I was told, "we know sexual abusers exists in our community but we know that your father is not one of them."

I already felt inherently damaged, and traumatized, as a result of the sexual abuse but the way my family and the rabbi's were treating me made the pain unbearable. Like all survivors of trauma I needed to talk about what happened to me in order to process it and heal. I needed (and still need) my truth to be heard. My family did not understand this and accused me of trying to hurt them by telling people about it.

I thought that because no one believed me I must be crazy. I wanted to believe that my family was right and I was sick or evil but deep down I knew that I wasn't and that I was remembering these things because they had happened to me.

I was in a tremendous amount of psychological pain. I often begged God to remove me from this world. I wanted to die to find out the truth. And I wanted to escape the pain. I attempted and was hospitalized. During my hospitalization I was diagnosed with a dissociative disorder (that I have since recovered from) whose only known cause is severe and repeated trauma in early childhood. I was also diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder.)

While all this was going on I was teaching preschool at the Torah Institute. The preschool director was shocked when I told her that I was quitting because I was suicidal and needed to be hospitalized. She simply couldn't believe it. She said that I was doing a great job teaching and that she thought I was the most `together' of all my sisters. I told her that my family specialized in seeming `normal' and `together' and that I was good at it, but I was tired of pretending to be ok. I needed help.

At first the director said that she believed me that my father had sexually abused me. She told me that she knew more than one rebbe at the Torah Institute with sexual issues. She wanted to be supportive but at the same time she begged me to consider the damage that speaking about my experience would cause my siblings. She told me I could ruin my sister's chances of getting a shidduch if I didn't keep quiet.

She offered to let me stay with her for a couple of weeks while I waited for a bed to open up on the dissociative disorders unit. During this stay she changed her mind and told me that although it was obvious to her that my parents had caused me severe emotional damage, she just couldn't believe that my father had physically molested me.

During one of my many hospitalizations Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer came to visit me. I told him about the memories that I had of my father molesting me. I told him that I hoped my family and everyone else was right about me and that somehow my mind was playing cruel tricks on me. It was easier for me to believe that I was crazy then to believe that my father did these things to me. I wanted my family back.

Eventually, I rented my own apartment and applied for another job in a new preschool that was opening up in the community. I was hired as a teacher for the three-year-old class. A few weeks before the start of the school year the director informed me that some people in the community threatened not to send their children to her school if I was going to be teaching there. They told her that there must be something wrong with me because I had moved out of my parents home. This woman, not knowing that there was a connection between us, asked Dr. Aviva Weisbord for advice. Dr. Aviva Weisbord told her not to let me teach but to give me a job in a back office so that no one would know I was there.

I became completely disillusioned with yidishkeit because of the way I was being treated by the community and my family. People who should have been helping me were calling me crazy and evil. I wanted nothing to do with any of it anymore. I stopped keeping shabbos and kosher. I had to find a new way to relate to God. I also had to find a new God. One who had not allowed me to be abused in a yeshiva and by people who were supposed to be frum and uphold the Torah. A God who was all knowing and all loving and believed in me and wanted me to heal. I had to leave yidishkeit to find this.

I explored other religions. I spoke to priests, ministers. I came back to Judaism, mostly because I missed shabbos. I had to come to the realization that my parents and the Rabbi's who hurt me did not own God or Judaism and that their behavior had nothing to do with Torah. Although I am now shomer mitzvoth, to this day I can never completely trust a rabbi. And I doubt I will never feel completely safe or comfortable in the frum world.

About eight years after my conversation with Rabbi Hopfer my father became the principal of the Torah Institute. I had received excellent help in the trauma disorders day hospital at Sheppard Pratt and had with much effort pulled my shattered life back together. The chronic depression and psychological pain that I had carried around with me for as long as I could remember slowly dissipated as I worked through the traumatic memories. I was in school. I was working. I met and married a wonderful man. I gave birth to a baby. I was very happy. Every day felt like a miracle.

I was very concerned when I heard that a former student had accused my father of child abuse. I had thought/hoped that his abuse had stopped with me. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe the reason the abuse stopped when we moved to Baltimore was because my father had access to other children.

I told a parent of a child in the school that I was concerned that my father was not safe around children. It got back to my siblings and they went to Rabbi Hopfer for advice. Rabbi Hopfer told my siblings to give me an ultimatum. I was to promise never to talk about what my father did to me, or they would cut me out of the family. I told them there was no way I could ethically promise that.

I wrote Rabbi Hopfer a letter asking him why he had not contacted me before he gave my family this advice. He did not respond. Some months later I called him up several times, and finally he called back. I asked him why he had not contacted me before telling my family to cut me off. He became very defensive and angrily asked me why I believed that my fathers other accuser was credible? Why had I not bothered to check it out?

I told Rabbi Hopfer that I had checked it out and that although I was not in the room and could never know what really happened to this student, that based on my own experiences with my father I believed that it was possible that he had abused again.

I told Rabbi Hopfer that I wished that he and my family would also admit that they were not in the room when my father was abusing me and could never be completely sure what my father had done to me.

I asked him again why he had not contacted me. He said he had already spoken to me eight years earlier when he had visited me in the hospital.

Me: I am a different person now, in a totally different place then I was eight years ago. I was going through a serious crisis then. A lot has changed. I think you should have realized that and called me. Do you remember our conversation in the hospital?

Hopfer: No.

Me: So you made the decision to break up a family based on a conversation you had eight years ago that you don't remember?

Hopfer: I made my decision then that you were not credible and I stuck with it.

Me: I think you should have contacted me. Why don't you believe me about my father? Do you think I am crazy or evil?

Hopfer: No, but your siblings say that your story is inconsistent. First you said your uncle abused you, then your grandfather, then your father.

Me: When I first started dealing with this, I did not want to believe that my father abused me. Like you, I would rather have believed just about anything else. My therapist at the time wanted me to think it was my uncle.

Hopfer: Your own therapist doesn't believe you.

Me: The only therapist I worked with who is unethical enough to break confidentiality and speak to you about what she believes and doesn't believe about me, is Dr. Weisbord and she is also a friend of my father.

I'm trying to understand why you would advise my family to do such a terrible thing? What good could this possibly accomplish?

Hopfer: They have too choose between you and your father. They can't be loyal to both of you. They can't stand seeing the pain you are causing him.

Me: I wonder why you and my family are so focused on my fathers pain, which I didn't cause, yet no one seems to worry about my pain. I have lost my entire family because of this. And you have ruined any chances of my family taking any responsibility in dealing with this. Any chance of healing our relationship. If they want to cut me out let them at least own their own decision. Don't you realize that they take your advise as a psak, as da'as torah?

Hopfer: Yes. I realized that.

Me: would you consider changing your ruling.

Hopfer: No, I still think they have to choose.

Me: Is it because you don't believe me, that my father sexually abused me?

Hopfer: Yes, I don't believe that he did that.

Me: How can you be objective about this considering that you trust my father so much? He has taken over your shiurim for you when you are out of town. He has taught your children. Don't you think it would have been more responsible to send my family to someone else for advice about this? Someone who is not so close to the situation?

Hopfer: I believe that I made the correct decision.

In the end my father is still the principal of an elementary school. If the Rabbi's in Baltimore care at all about the safety of the children in their community they would insist that my father be evaluated by a professional who is trained to evaluate potential offenders. If they continue to try to "protect" him and demonize, discredit, and isolate me, they are continuing to perpetuate a tremendous evil for themselves and their community. They share some of the responsibility for the horrors I went through and they will be responsible for any new victims of abuse by my father.

I am still treated like I do not exist by my family. I don't know which of my siblings are married, and I have not been told of any births or s that have occurred.

I am still looking for a rabbi who is willing to stand up for me and challenge Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer to take a second look at what he is doing to me and to my family. Whatever the outcome, it would help me heal my relationship with Judaism to know that there is someone representing Torah who is willing to stand up for what is right.

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The Day The Torah Was Molested
© (2004) By Naomi
 Jewish Survivors of Sexual Violence Speak Out - January 21, 2005

She stands in shul shabbos
After years of absence
Facing the open ark
Doors spread wide
Like angels wings
The people and the room
Slowly disappear
All that remain are the ark and the voices.
The ark and praying voices.
Suddenly She is a little
In her grandfather's yeshiva
Watching from the doorway of the women's section
Because she isn't allowed in
The people in the yeshiva slowly disappear
All that remain are the ark and voices
The ark and screaming voices
The Torah watches in horror
The Torah hears in sorrow
the little s silenced pain
As her grandfather takes her into
The bathroom and undresses.
As The bochorim (students)
Sneak her upstairs
And tear her soul to pieces
The Torah sees it all
Then the yeshiva is abandoned
Nothing remains but a mound of crushed wood
And piles of torn holy books
Cascading down broken stairs
The Torah is shipped away
Her memories buried in its parchment
This week in the synagogue
Miles and years away
She sees the Torah again and remembers
What it witnessed
She is so very angry
So badly hurt
I thought you were protective of your people
Why did you stand by silently
And watch what was done to me
I've been waiting for you,
The Torah answers
It was I
The same Torah who lives in this synagogue today
I was there in that yeshiva
From the time you were born
and I saw it all.
As I am Truth
I swear you will not be forgotten
I will BEAR WITNESS.
Until then
Wrap yourself in me and I'll hold you
Tell me why
1993
Tell me Tatty, why did you do this to me?
My stomach turns over at the thought
My holy of holies, you made impure
You violated.
Tatty, you're my father, why did you do this to me?
Who can understand a man
who would violate his own daughter?
I can't get it out of my mind.
I myself
I feel so awful and gross
Like your hand is still between my legs
and there is nothing I can do about it.
I feel a helpless rage
desperately trapped in your abuse.
I'm afraid to get married.
How can I trust any man when my own father violated me like that?
I want to run through the streets screaming crying and shouting
don't hurt me don't hurt me I'm a child!
Love me! protect me!
don't touch my privates
get away!
I'm a blazing churban.
A pile of charred debris.
A broken self.
A destruction that began
when you started touching me.
Manipulating my young body.
destroying my soul.
You d me Tatty. You raped me.
How could you?
What should I do with this broken,
burnt little who's tears are drowning me
as she cries for someone to save her?
She feels you still
hurting her down there.
I you for what you did to her
to me.
I want to kill or die . . .
The Day The Torah Was Molested
© (2004) By Naomi
 Jewish Survivors of Sexual Violence Speak Out - January 21, 2005
http://jewishsurvivors.blogspot.com/2005/01/day-torah-was-molested-by-naomi.html

She stands in shul shabbos
After years of absence
Facing the open ark
Doors spread wide
Like angels wings
The people and the room
Slowly disappear
All that remain are the ark and the voices.
The ark and praying voices.
Suddenly She is a little
In her grandfather's yeshiva
Watching from the doorway of the women's section
Because she isn't allowed in
The people in the yeshiva slowly disappear
All that remain are the ark and voices
The ark and screaming voices
The Torah watches in horror
The Torah hears in sorrow
the little s silenced pain
As her grandfather takes her into
The bathroom and undresses.
As The bochorim (students)
Sneak her upstairs
And tear her soul to pieces
The Torah sees it all
Then the yeshiva is abandoned
Nothing remains but a mound of crushed wood
And piles of torn holy books
Cascading down broken stairs
The Torah is shipped away
Her memories buried in its parchment
This week in the synagogue
Miles and years away
She sees the Torah again and remembers
What it witnessed
She is so very angry
So badly hurt
I thought you were protective of your people
Why did you stand by silently
And watch what was done to me
I've been waiting for you,
The Torah answers
It was I
The same Torah who lives in this synagogue today
I was there in that yeshiva
From the time you were born
and I saw it all.
As I am Truth
I swear you will not be forgotten
I will BEAR WITNESS.
Until then
Wrap yourself in me and I'll hold you
Tell me why
1993
Tell me Tatty, why did you do this to me?
My stomach turns over at the thought
My holy of holies, you made impure
You violated.
Tatty, you're my father, why did you do this to me?
Who can understand a man
who would violate his own daughter?
I can't get it out of my mind.
I myself
I feel so awful and gross
Like your hand is still between my legs
and there is nothing I can do about it.
I feel a helpless rage
desperately trapped in your abuse.
I'm afraid to get married.
How can I trust any man when my own father violated me like that?
I want to run through the streets screaming crying and shouting
don't hurt me don't hurt me I'm a child!
Love me! protect me!
don't touch my privates
get away!
I'm a blazing churban.
A pile of charred debris.
A broken self.
A destruction that began
when you started touching me.
Manipulating my young body.
destroying my soul.
You d me Tatty. You raped me.
How could you?
What should I do with this broken,
burnt little who's tears are drowning me
as she cries for someone to save her?
She feels you still
hurting her down there.
I you for what you did to her
to me.
I want to kill or die . . .

_________________________________________________________________________________



IN-DEPTH FEATURES
Chassidus Ashkenaz Restored: HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l -- 9th Adar 5759, His Fiftieth Yahrtzeit

By Moshe Musman, based on the writings of Rabbi Aharon Surasky and Rabbi Sholom Meir Wallach
Part III
Simchas HaTorah in Frankfurt

. . . In the last few years before the final curtain descended on German Jewry, the community experienced a degree of spiritual revival and there was much that could be achieved. Where possible, Rav Yechiel directed bochurim eastward to learn. One such talmid was HaRav Moshe Eisemann, zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Vineland (a cousin of the Baltimore mashgiach), who went to Ponevezh. Other talmidim were sent to Yeshivas Mir and other major yeshivas in Eastern Europe. There were other talmidim who also went on to achieve greatness in Torah and yiras Shomayim, while others grew into upright ba'alei batim, fully committed to regular Torah study as well as meticulous mitzva observance. . . .

--------------------- 

IN-DEPTH FEATURES
Chassidus Ashkenaz Restored: HaRav Yechiel Schlesinger zt'l -- 9th Adar 5759, His Fiftieth Yahrtzeit

By Moshe Musman, based on the writings of Rabbi Aharon Surasky and Rabbi Sholom Meir Wallach
Part III
Simchas HaTorah in Frankfurt
Despite the time and the energy which Rav Yechiel invested in the discharge of his duties as rav and poseik for Kehal Adass Yeshurun, his main joy lay in teaching the Jewish youth of Frankfurt, in the yeshiva and elsewhere. It was in this area that his influence was most noticeable and most enduring.

The yeshiva had been founded by HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch's son-in-law, HaRav Salomon Breuer zt'l. He was succeeded at its head by his son HaRav Joseph Breuer zt'l, who later led Kehal Adass Yeshurun in Washington Heights, New York, and who greatly admired and respected Rav Yechiel.

The elder Rav Breuer's shiur followed the pattern of the yeshivos of his native Hungary, lasting for long hours, and dealing intricately with the topic being learned. It demanded thorough preparation and attention on the part of the talmidim. Rav Yechiel was well qualified for this regimen, though he also introduced an element of the Lithuanian style lomdus, which proved highly popular. One talmid recalled that he occasionally spent half the shiur delving into a single comment of the Maharsha!

As he showed his talmidim how to reflect, analyze and examine the components of every topic, they discovered a new sweetness in their learning and developed new enthusiasm. They watched their rebbe become fired by the Torah he taught; they saw how the veins on his forehead stood out; they caught his excitement. Rav Yechiel also repeated to them the thoughts and insights of the great roshei yeshiva in the Torah centers to the east. Yiddish was studied in the yeshiva, in order to facilitate the students' comprehension of the Torah of the roshei yeshiva, to which Rav Yechiel attached great importance for, as he told them, "There can be no Torah life without a connection to gedolei Torah."

The most succinct way of summing up Rav Yechiel's contribution to the chinuch of his talmidim in Frankfurt is that he injected a powerful dose of vibrant Yiddishkeit into their lives. The yeshiva and community were of course strictly Orthodox, but the local youth had no vision of the full Torah life that their rebbe had experienced in the yeshivos of Hungary and Lithuania, and which he now came to embody for them. Now there came an opportunity to live not only by the orderly ticking of the regulated Jewish way of life, but to beat in unison with its very heartbeat.

In the last few years before the final curtain descended on German Jewry, the community experienced a degree of spiritual revival and there was much that could be achieved. Where possible, Rav Yechiel directed bochurim eastward to learn. One such talmid was HaRav Moshe Eisemann, zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Vineland (a cousin of the Baltimore mashgiach), who went to Ponevezh. Other talmidim were sent to Yeshivas Mir and other major yeshivas in Eastern Europe. There were other talmidim who also went on to achieve greatness in Torah and yiras Shomayim, while others grew into upright ba'alei batim, fully committed to regular Torah study as well as meticulous mitzva observance.

The most symbolic expression of the new spirit which Rav Yechiel infused was the Simchas Torah dance the last year of the yeshiva in Tishrei 5698 (1938) in which he led his talmidim around the beis haknesses, despite the disapproval of some of the members -- to whom such conduct was so unheard of as to seem undecorous and ungenteel. This caused a real stir in Frankfurt.

Rav Yechiel was nicknamed Die Schwartzer Rov (the black rabbi). One of the "innovations" which earned him this title was his teaching that a chosson should not give his hand to his own kallah before their wedding. In general, although he personally accepted many stringencies upon himself, he demanded no more from his talmidim than faithful adherence to halocho, particularly in areas where a degree of laxity had become acceptable. His own conduct -- the selfless dedication to spreading Torah and to fulfilling mitzvos, which his talmidim had constantly before them -- may well have been the medium which conveyed his message most powerfully.

Reb Michoel Isaak recalled the time when a trip to Denmark for kashrus supervision necessitated Rav Yechiel's making a twelve hour train journey overnight, spending all of the following day supervising, returning by train that very night, and only reaching Frankfurt in the early morning. Yet nonetheless he arrived in the yeshiva on time and delivered his regular shiur, for its full duration and in all its customary depth.

Another talmid, Reb A. Rimon, remembered when several talmidim were sitting with Rav Yechiel while his father, HaRav Eliezer Lipmann Schlesinger, who suffered from foot ailments as an old man, was seated at the head of the table. The bochurim saw their rebbe suddenly leave his seat and bend down over his father to arrange his feet more comfortably.

Another example of his wholehearted dedication to mitzvos was his practice during the summer days which he spent resting and recuperating in a village not far from Frankfurt. Since there was no kosher minyan there during the week, Rav Yechiel made the trip back into town each evening -- a matter of walking and then spending an hour on the train -- for mincha and ma'ariv with a minyan. He would then spend the night in his own home, and after shacharis, travel back again to the village.


Wide Vistas and Keen Foresight
Rav Yechiel was a man of broad vision and he undertook harbotzas Torah in its widest sense. He did not limit his efforts to his talmidim in the yeshiva but worked to provide all groups of the Orthodox youth with as much spiritual preparation for their futures as he could.

He led a group known as Torah Umussar for young men who worked during the day. He delivered a nightly shiur to them which was aimed at covering as much material as possible, in order to give them as good and broad a grounding in Torah as possible.

One of the members of Torah Umussar recalled the strong desire which he and his friends had to participate in these shiurim, each and every one of which was precious to them. Even many years later, he still remembered their deep disappointment when their beloved teacher did not come to deliver the shiur one evening. Another talmid remembered the shmuessen which Rav Yechiel used to deliver to them. These formed the basis of their outlook upon life and introduced them for the first time to the idea of learning Torah for its own sake.

When the Nazis attained power in 5693 (1933), and began their gradual but systematic persecution of the German Jews, it was natural that the first to feel the impulse to get up and leave would be the youth whose lives lay ahead of them, while the older generations, were inclined to hope that things would eventually improve.

Chareidi youth in Germany was then organized in Zeirei Agudas Yisroel and Ezra. These organizations decided to set up No'ar Agudati, whose purpose was to prepare its members for aliya to Eretz Yisroel. The headquarters of the new group was in Frankfurt in the same building in which the Schlesingers lived, and members were expected to interrupt their work or studies elsewhere and to move there, where they would receive training in the pursuits they would be taking up.

Rav Yechiel built a relationship with the No'ar Agudati, being accepted by them as their halachic authority and spiritual guide. He aimed to introduce them to the idea that they needed spiritual, as well as physical, fortification for life in Eretz Yisroel and that a year spent learning there in a yeshiva would go a long way towards providing them with the tools they would need. In the framework of the training provided, members accepted this year of learning upon themselves. His halachic guidance included teaching them the halochos of kiddush Hashem, because of the uncertain future in Europe and elsewhere. Later on, in Eretz Yisroel, his involvement in the spiritual absorption of his landsmen continued.

Managing such an array of activities and responsibilities, each of which singly would have been enough to fully occupy most people, was only possible because Rav Yechiel's approach was that he was merely trying to live up to his obligations. He had originally accepted the post in Frankfurt because he felt a responsibility towards the youth in his country of birth. What prompted him to take on additional burdens was the conviction that if there was any way in which he could draw others closer to Torah, he had a positive obligation to do so, together with the determination to do his very best to live up to all such obligations. Because of this, his influence spread and was felt far beyond his own city. Leaving Germany purely for personal reasons was therefore an unlikely option; Rav Yechiel felt unable to take such a step without asking the godol hador for guidance.

It had always been clear to Rav Yechiel that his sojourn in Frankfurt would only last until his oldest son reached an age when the law of the land required him to attend school. He was unwilling to place him in a framework that included far more secular studies than the absolute minimum that was compatible with a Torah education. He was not against the school there, but he wanted more for his own children. This was what he had told HaRav Yosef Yonah Horowitz, the av beis din of Kehillas Adass Yerei'im, when he had inquired of Rav Yechiel how long he planned on staying in Frankfurt.

When his son reached school age, Rav Yechiel attempted to open a cheder type talmud Torah in Frankfurt but the time was not opportune due to the steadily worsening situation. Rather than send him to the existing school, he kept his son at home, and he asked several of his talmidim to learn with him privately until he would be able to organize a full cheder. This was in the fall of 1938 (5698), only a few months before Kristallnacht. The press of subsequent events prevented these plans from being realized.

Despite his foreboding regarding the future, Rav Yechiel was still reluctant to leave without getting Reb Chaim Ozer's approval. This was not forthcoming. Rav Yaakov Rosenheim also had a hand in the matter, fearing that there would be a sharp spiritual decline in the yeshiva and in Frankfurt in general were Rav Yechiel to depart.

Eventually things became so bad that he was hardly able to engage in any religious activities at all, and by that time Rav Yechiel himself was in danger. Reb Chaim Ozer now gave his consent to leave and the question of where to go came to the fore.


The Gathering Storm
Although Hitler ym"sh, had been crusading against the Jews for years and his party had come to power in 5693 (1933), some years passed before it became generally apparent that things were just not about to blow over. In April 1938 a meeting was held between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Nazi leader which yielded the Munich Agreement, granting Germany further territory in return for a pledge that there would be no further territorial demands. Chamberlain was proud of his policy of appeasement and hailed the agreement as ensuring "peace in our time." He was widely believed, though just eighteen months later Hitler cast the agreement aside when the German army invaded Poland, beginning the Second World War.

However, even at the time of the Munich meeting, Hitler's real ambition was fully understood by Rav Yechiel, who approved the agreement in a conversation with some bochurim, saying that it bought time: "Boruch Hashem -- if there had been a war he would have killed all the Jews." Those who heard him smiled and were convinced that his view was extreme. In retrospect, of course, he was tragically prophetic.

Antisemitic incidents sharply increased in the course of that year, and though Rav Yechiel felt that the entire kehilla should leave the country, there were many who still believed that there was no immediate danger and communal life went on. At this point, Rav Chaim Ozer would not permit Rav Yechiel to interrupt his activities and abandon the community.

One day, Rav Yechiel was travelling by train and studying a sefer in German entitled Chukei Ho'avodoh, by Rav Moshe Findling z'l. A Nazi officer noticed the book and confiscated it. When he saw the title, he yelled, "The Laws of Labor?! Underground communist literature!"
The Rosh Yeshiva was taken to the nearest police station and arrested for possessing subversive anti-government literature. It was only the next morning that his family realized that something was amiss and, after making inquiries, they found out what had happened. Rav Yechiel was released only after a concerted effort was made on his behalf with the authorities.

One day during Succos 5699 (1938), the last in Frankfurt, German hooligans attacked Rav Yechiel's succah with stones while the family was eating in it. One stone penetrated the sechach and only by a miracle did not hit someone. The Schlesinger's gentile maid went with the stone to the police station and said, "Herr Chancellor certainly doesn't want this!" but needless to say, her complaint went unheeded.

Rav Yechiel did not show the slightest sign of fear as the rocks came in, saying, "Lo ye'une latzaddik kol ro."

Rav Yechiel still insisted on sleeping in a succah, though he moved up to a neighbor's rooftop succah that was out of the range of projectiles.

Less than a month later, the infamous Kristallnacht took place, when hundreds of botei knesses and thousands of Jewish shops and businesses all over Germany were despoiled, burned and razed. Many Jewish men were arrested and in the morning, equipped with lists of names and addresses, Nazi officers continued to round up prisoners. These lists were headed by the names of religious and communal leaders.

Rav Yechiel left his house as usual on that morning and made his way to the shul. As he passed the beis haknesses, which he saw was going up in flames, he joined a group of Jews who were attempting to rescue the sifrei Torah from the burning building. Their efforts were to no avail, for a wall of fire blocked any approach. From behind, they heard cries of distress. The shamash had been among those already arrested that morning and his wife was beside herself with her distress and was refusing to leave her home, which adjoined the burning beis haknesses. Disregarding the flames, Rav Yechiel went inside and brought her out, saving her life.

Then Rav Yechiel went home. He wanted to go to the yeshiva, saying, "I know that it's dangerous for Jews to be seen in the streets today, especially those who look like rabbis, but I reached the conclusion that if even one talmid shows up today, it's worthwhile taking the risk in order to teach him." The truth is that people did not realize the full extent of the danger at that time.

Mrs. Schlesinger said that she did not want him to go alone and she would accompany him. As they approached, from a distance, the man in charge signaled to them that there were no classes that day.

On the way home, they passed a large group of Nazis who had congregated in the street. There was also an SS officer who was racing back and forth on a motorcycle. Any male Jew who came into their clutches suffered blows or worse.

Mrs. Schlesinger walked in front of her husband, trying to shield him from view. Miraculously, the two passed right by all the Nazis without incident. Mrs. Schlesinger said later that cannot understand how they managed this.

Rav Yechiel took his young son with him (to avoid yichud) to stay for a while at an almono who lived nearby. (HaRav Schlesinger today still remembers that they learned parshas Noach together there.)

From there they went to Mrs. Schlesinger's mother's home, and the rest of the family joined them.

Mrs. Schlesinger had sold her bedroom furniture in anticipation of leaving, and she received 300 marks for it. She kept the money in her morning dress, and it was in this dress that she left and it was exactly the amount necessary to get to the border.

In fact, just two days earlier, word had come from Rav Chaim Ozer allowing Rav Yechiel to leave. He had been considering whether to go to America or to Eretz Yisroel but in view of the immediate danger into which he had been plunged, how to get out of Germany now became the burning question.

Miraculously, contact was established with Rav Yechiel's sister, Mrs. Guggenheim, who lived in Basel, Switzerland. Her late father-in-law, Saly Guggenheim, had served as the Yugoslavian Consul in Switzerland and his family was still in possession of the means to enable the Schlesingers to get out of Germany and into Switzerland. They were told which border crossing to reach and were promised that the passports would be sent there.


From the Lion's Jaws
Escaping from Frankfurt was the next hurdle. It was difficult enough to find an empty taxi in which to travel, for many Jewish families whose heads had been arrested were now hiring cabs, trying to relocate for their own protection. The Schlesingers passed up the first available taxi, as its driver appeared more sympathetic to their oppressors than to them and he could well have delivered them to the nearest police station.

The driver that they found spoke strongly against the Nazis, which made them somewhat at ease. Rav Yechiel took the precaution of lying down on the floor of the car, shielded from sight by his children, since any male Jewish adult who was seen outside was arrested.

The family was already out of the city when they realized that one of the children was missing. He had been taken out earlier by a nanny for a walk and had not been at home when the others made their hasty departure. A decision had to be made about what to do. Cold logic dictated that having come thus far, the family should go on and find some way to have the child brought to them later on. However, Rav Yechiel was firm in his resolution that they continue together or not at all.

Returning to the city was unthinkable and, given the situation, it would be next to impossible to find yet another taxi to go back and bring the child. Then the driver remembered a friend of his who drove during the night hours and who was just then rising in order to begin his work. The driver reached the man at his home, gave him directions and the relevant descriptions for intercepting the nanny and her charge on their walk in the street, and told him where to bring the child in order to meet up with them. Things went quite smoothly, but only when this mission had been accomplished did the journey continue.

There was more danger further on. While waiting at a level crossing while a train passed, a Nazi officer interested himself in the family excursion, explaining how difficult it was to travel on the crowded roads just then. This too turned out for the best, for the officer did not suspect anything and he even gave the cab driver instructions as to the best way to travel, thus making his own amazing contribution to the escape.

Finally, late that night, the Schlesingers arrived at their destination: the town of Freiburg on the Swiss border. Mrs. Guggenheim was there to meet them. While Rav Yechiel and his rebbetzin had to wait until their new passports arrived, his sister took the children away with her in her own car, relying on the vehicle's diplomatic markings to ensure smooth passage past any guards. However, a policeman noticed that the car had arrived without passengers and was now full and he signaled her to stop. She ignored the order and drove on.
The following day, the Guggenheims received a visit from a policeman who was searching for the illegal arrivals. Mrs. Guggenheim tried to pass the children off as her own but when the policeman called the oldest Schlesinger child over and asked him to identify himself, the boy burst into tears and the truth emerged. The policeman declared, "I have been ordered to return the children to Germany. Though I have been in the police force for forty years, I would prefer to resign rather than to carry out such an order."

Mr. Guggenheim promised that the children would be out of the country within a fortnight and the policeman accepted his word and left. Mr. Guggenheim's mother arranged for them to stay at a chareidi boarding school in France.


In Hiding
Although the false passports gained Rav Yechiel entry into Switzerland, it was still prudent to lie low, lest the forgery be discovered upon close inspection. His brother-in- law, Reb Yechiel Guggenheim z'l, who was always at the forefront of the efforts to save the family, at times even endangering himself, found the Schlesingers accommodation in a village near St. Galen. Moreover, that place was in quarantine at the time because of an outbreak of cattle disease. This gave them a good chance to escape detection. Even under the trying circumstances, Rav Yechiel's trust in Hashem did not waver and he also adhered to all his customary halachic stringencies as best as he could.

So that he would resemble the picture on his passport, he was forced to shave. Though this caused him great anguish and some tears, he did so. He was careful to leave extremely long sideburns to ensure that he would avoid the transgression of shaving the corners of the beard, though this gave him a rather strange appearance. He managed to arrange a minyan for tefilla in the village and as Pesach approached, he invited a guest in as tenth man, so that there would still be a minyan. During the escape, he stressed that while he would do anything and everything permissible, he would not transgress the ruling of the Shulchan Oruch and declare himself to be a gentile, whatever the circumstances. Since this bordered on the Torah's prohibition against idolatry, there could be no question of leniency.


There were relief organizations in Switzerland that offered unconditional financial assistance to refugees. However, Rav Yechiel refused to accept anything from them, preferring to subsist frugally on whatever he had managed to bring with him from Germany of his own. He only agreed to take a loan from his brother-in-law. With the help of the Sternbuchs of Zurich, a legal temporary visa was eventually procured for the family and arrangements were made for the children's return from France.

While they were in Switzerland illegally, Rav Yechiel and Mrs. Schlesinger stayed at the home of the Sternbuchs for a time. Rav Yechiel did not want to stay long since, as he correctly suspected, the Sternbuchs gave their own bedroom to the Schlesingers while they hosted them.


Eastwards or Westwards?
Rav Yechiel's subsequent destination had been the subject of much thought, long before his sojourn in Switzerland. It seems that while still in Germany the matter had been resolved, though perhaps not finally settled.

Practically speaking, there were two possibilities: either the United States or Eretz Yisroel. HaRav Elchonon Wassermann knew Rav Yechiel from the latter's years in the yeshivos and he highly valued his character and his talents as an educator. Contacting his friends in America, Reb Elchonon had suggested Rav Yechiel for a position in Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg.

Through the efforts of HaRav Pinchos Teitz zt'l, high level diplomatic activity had been initiated in order to have American visas issued in haste to the family by the American consul in Frankfurt. From Vilna, Rav Chaim Ozer also gave his consent to this move. In the event, it seems that the visas did not arrive before the family was forced to flee Germany but at some stage during their stay in Switzerland, the option became viable again.

The other possibility was to go to Eretz Yisroel, where Rav Yechiel already had conceived the idea of establishing a yeshiva of his own. A bold, clear vision of what had to be done in order to bolster Torah chinuch among the young generation in Eretz Yisroel was certainly necessary, in order to even entertain the idea of opening a brand new institution in the conditions that prevailed there at that time. Yet Kol Torah did not yet exist, whereas Torah Vodaas did.

It seems only reasonable to assume that the family was assured of some means of support in Eretz Yisroel (though preliminary attempts made in Switzerland to raise funds for the new yeshiva were not successful), yet leaving any material considerations aside, the choice was still not straightforward. Even if we concede that the position in America may not have been a certainty, it was more certain than anything in Eretz Yisroel. Given the possibility of obtaining a position as a marbitz Torah in a large, established yeshiva situated in a major Jewish center, that was also materially well-established, the choice seems to have been visionary, perhaps even prophetic.

Yet it would be a complete mistake to imagine that Rav Yechiel was a dreamer of the type that harnesses everything to the pursuit of a hoped-for goal, even when there is no realistic plan of how it is to be achieved.

In general history lehavdil, such examples are numerous, and it is often the fate of the visionary to dash himself against a harsh and unsympathetic reality. Though it may transpire that the visionary was accurate in what he perceived, it falls to others, who are more well grounded, to seize the idea at some later time and develop it along more solid lines.

Gedolei Torah, in contrast, are pragmatic in their deliberations and in the decisions they make. They are inspired -- but at the same time, they keep two feet on the ground. Anyone who has ever discussed a problem at length with a godol beTorah has seen how a situation is examined exhaustively, from all points of view, all of which are taken into account in the answer.

When we examine the factors which were crucial in arriving at his decision, as Rav Yechiel himself enumerated them to his nephew HaRav E. G. Schlesinger of London, we discover that his plans for opening a yeshiva were not foremost among them. His prime concern was to make the right choice for the chinuch of his own family. He had been unwilling to enroll his oldest son in the Jewish school in Frankfurt because of the time spent there on secular studies, and he wanted something better for his children. He felt that it would be best for them, both in Olom Hazeh and in Olom Haboh, that they grow up with Torasom umnosom. This was, however, his personal desire for his own children.

He discovered that the situation in America was similar, while in Eretz Yisroel, there were chadorim that taught virtually only limudei kodesh. Another consideration which he mentioned was the opportunity to escape the need to conform to the gentile week with the Sunday holiday when, as Rav Yechiel put it, there was a whiff of idolatry abroad in the street. At the time he contacted HaRav Elchonon Wassermann about whether he could bring up his children to Torah in America. HaRav Elchonon answered, "In America no, but in Brooklyn yes."

Ultimately, the choice was not even his own. While still in Germany, Rav Yechiel had asked his brother-in-law, Reb Moshe Jacobson, to put the situation to his rebbe, HaRav Dushinsky, who was by then serving as rav of Yerushalayim, and to obtain his advice. His rebbe's verdict was: Eretz Yisroel.

Though the destination was clear, the deliberations had not yet ended. Since he had a chance for immigration visas to the United States, Rav Yechiel was loathe to make use of the valuable immigration certificate to British mandate Palestine that had been arranged for him. Legal entry to Eretz Yisroel was impossible for the vast majority of European Jews, except the few who could obtain certificates. Assured of a refuge across the Atlantic, Rav Yechiel was no longer in a life-and- death situation in Europe, as so many others were who had nowhere else to go. How could he make use of a certificate for Eretz Yisroel, when it could be the means of enabling another Jew to escape from almost certain annihilation? Although he fully intended staying in Eretz Yisroel, he nevertheless opted to forgo the certificate and enter on a tourist visa, on which basis he hoped to secure a permit for permanent residence, though this involved him great hardship. All the authorities were understandably skeptical that a German Jew would come temporarily and later return to Europe. They were reluctant to issue a tourist visa, but somehow they got it.

Thus it was that a few days after Pesach 5699 (1939), Rav Yechiel and his family set sail from Marseilles on an Italian boat, bound for Eretz Yisroel, holding tourist visas. In fact they were not sure if they would stay in Eretz Yisroel or continue on to America. It was only the first minute that they set foot on the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel that Rav Yechiel turned to his wife and told her that this was their permanent place.

End of Part III


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Rabbi Dov Wolowitz
A Disagreement with Reb Moshe Eiseman
http://www.shemayisrael.com/ravaharon/rwolowitz.htm

. . . I had some of Reb Aharon's talmidim, who were so big. There were stories told.  I don't know if this is a nice story. I looked at it like a giant. When Reb Aharon said his shiurim, my chavrusa  and I used to hureve over. He'd put up maareh mekomos, and you had to study them all over Shas in order to be able to hear his shiur.  To chazer over the shiur, to understand the shiur, it was mind-boggling how big a shiur he said. 

I remember once in the middle of a shiur, when he said his Torah, he was like fire. And one of his best talmidim, Reb Moshe Eisenman, olav ha shalom from Vineland, a Yekkeh  got up and said, "But Rosh Yeshiva, dos iz nisht pshat.[8]" He was meyashev a shvere Bach[9]. He said, "Rosh Yeshiva, dos iz nisht pshat in der Bach[10]."

The Rosh Yeshiva looked at him and started to scream. He said Du vais nisht vos du redst![11] You don't know what you're talking about! You don't understand! You don't know!" He told him over pshat again and Moshe Eisenman put his head down. He was mekabel and then raised his head up and said, "But Rosh Yeshiva, doz iz fort nisht pshat in der Bach.[12]"

This went on back and forth and finally Reb Aharon said to him, "Du bisht nisht kain Yid. Du bisht a Terk[13], a shikker. Du vais nisht vos du redst! Er is nisht kain Yid. Heib em oif nem em arois fun bais ha medrash.[14]"

He was so full of fire over his Torah, they had to escort Reb Moshe Eiseman out of the bais medrash. I mean, it took him about ten minutes to compose himself. We thought maybe he would have, G-d forbid, an attack. That's how red he was, red as a beet, and to catch his breath after this incident, it took him about three or four minutes. He finished his shiur, and of course, after the shiur, he called in Reb Moshe Eiseman into his room. He was calm and he called him in.

"Ant shuldikt mir," he says. "Ich hub gornisht gemeint[15]. When I say Torah, there's nothing that's more important than it.

Reb Moshe Eiseman said, It's all right, but iz fort nisht pshat in de Bach[16].
And they carried on again! They were at each other again!
But this was what Torah is. 

Some people I've told this story to, they don't exactly appreciate that Reb Aharon got so angry, but I looked at it and saw that Reb Aharon was fire. When it came to Torah, there was nothing else. When somebody said something that he felt was a shtuyot, there was nothing to stop him. It was detrimental. It was terrible. It was the worst thing in the world, and not many people can appreciate this, but I saw it, and I appreciated it.

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Vineland
Virtual Judaism - December 16, 2013


VINELAND, city in southern New Jersey, 30 miles (50 km) from Philadelphia. The Jewish community of Vineland dates back to the early 1880s, with the establishment of immigrant colonies outside of the city limits. Synagogues were prohibited within city limits until toward the end of the first decade of the 20th century. The first such colony was Alliance, founded in 1882 in Salem County by the Alliance IsraĆ©lite Universelle (France) and the Baron de Hirsch Fund (Belgium), three miles out of Vineland, followed by others with biblical names like Carmel. In nearby Cape May County, the Baron de Hirsch Fund established Woodbine in 1891, which was incorporated by 1903 as an all-Jewish borough. Some settlers embraced the *Am Olam ideology of return to the soil as a means of salvation for the oppressed Jews of Russia. Men like Moshe Herder, H.L. Sabsovich, Sidney Bailey, and Moses Bayuk envisioned in well-balanced rural communities the basis for creative life. Subsidies were provided by philanthropic organizations in Western Europe and the United States – Alliance IsraĆ©lite Universelle, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Baron de Hirsch Fund – as well as American Jewish leaders such as Jacob Schiff and Myer S. Isaacs, who hoped to create viable communities on the principles of self-help within American society. In each colony the fabric of life developed, including at least Orthodox synagogues and religious schools, as well as an array of clubs, fraternal orders, and debating and athletic groups.

An early necessity was manufacturing to supplement farm incomes. The soil was poor, the 10–15 acre lots inadequate; markets were distant, and the settlers untrained in agricultural methods. Subsistence depended on the sewing machine, especially in Carmel, Rosenhayn, Norma, and Brotmanville, as well as Woodbine, where industry was subsidized from the outset. Although the Jewish population grew slowly to about 3,500 in 1901, it dropped to 2,700 by 1919. To some extent this reflected growing American urbanization, as well as the second generation's struggle for better educational and economic opportunities. Among their sons who achieved prominence were Jacob G. Lipman, an agronomist and dean of Rutgers' College of Agriculture; Gilbert Seldes, author, critic, dean of the School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania; and Benjamin M. Golder, Philadelphia congressman. Some moved to New York or Philadelphia, but many settled in Vineland proper, operating stores or small factories. Arthur Goldhaft, a distinguished veterinarian, founded the Vineland Poultry Laboratories. During the 1960s, the Jewish community peaked at just over 10,000 people, with five synagogues in the city and another six in surrounding communities. The largest influx to the community was from several hundred survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, drawn to the area from large cities such as New York and Philadelphia with offers of assistance in the establishment of poultry farms and a quiet country life. These immigrants formed the Jewish Poultry Farmers' Association and a free loan society, as well as several diverse congregations. A Jewish day school, founded in 1953, supplemented the established congregational schools. Community life has included Zionist organizations, B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, Hebrew Women's Benevolent Society, Jewish War Veterans, and participation by Jews in all civic and political activities. The Jewish Community Council, which is today Jewish Federation of Cumberland County, was established in 1924, has been active in local, national and Israeli affairs, and has helped to maintain the community's vibrant Jewish life. Notable residents of national acclaim include Miles Lerman, founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Ben Zion Leuchter and Magda Leuchter, a local newspaper publisher and founding chairman of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL); and Esther Raab, a tireless Holocaust survivor and educator, upon whose life are based the play Dear Esther and the film Escape from Sobibor. Samuel Gassel served as borough commissioner and mayor of the City of Vineland; I. Harry Levin as municipal judge in adjoining townships; Dr. Tevis Goldhaft as chairman of the Board of Education; and Stanley S. Brotman as presiding senior judge of the U.S. District Court. The population in 2005 was 1,800.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

P.R. Goldstein, Social Aspects of the Jewish Colonies of South Jersey (1912); A.D. Goldhaft, The Golden Egg (1957) J. Brandes, Immigrants to Freedom (1971).
[Joseph Brandes /
Kirk Wisemayer (2nd ed.)]

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Breaking the code of silence
Sexual abuse scandals are continuing to rock ultra-Orthodox community, as victims come forward
By Andrew Friedman
Jerusalem Post - February 20, 2013

The last time Nanette Eisgrau spoke to her father was in 1994. She was 19 years old, and her father – Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau, the principal of the Torah Institute of Baltimore – had found out she had been seeing a secular-trained (but Orthodox) therapist to deal with the emotional fallout from the sexual abuse, she says she endured as a child, inflicted by her father and maternal grandfather.

“My father forced me to perform oral and anal sex repeatedly between the ages of three and seven,” Eisgrau recounts to The Jerusalem Report during a conversation at her home in a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in Israel. “My grandfather also exposed himself to me, and touched me in my private areas.

“But when I confronted my father about it, he threatened to sue the therapist I had been seeing. He said she had convinced me of things that never happened. There was no fatherly attempt to hear my pain or to try to work through the issue together, just total denial; and he blamed me for trying to ruin his life.”

Following the confrontation with her father, her siblings demanded that she stop “telling stories” in public; and when she refused, the family sought the advice of Rabbi Yakov Hopfer, a respected authority in Baltimore’s Orthodox community, but with no secular training as a psychologist or family counselor.

After brief conversations with Nanette Eisgrau and a psychiatrist who treated her for crisis management following a suicide attempt several years later, Hopfer determined that her accusations were baseless. He advised the family to cut off all contact with her, saying they had to choose between their father and sister – and he advised the community to do the same.

“I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder, but it was such a shanda [shame] for them, they just couldn’t deal with it,” she says now. “My mother continued to talk to me for a while after I was cut out – we even tried joint therapy together for a while after I tried to kill myself, but she denied that I had any baggage or any reason to be in treatment.

“What they have done to me since is a lot worse than even the original abuse. They cut me off in the most complete way I can imagine.

What’s even worse, I don’t think it’s only about me. They’ve made an example of me for the rest of the community to make sure that nobody else speaks out about abuse.”

When Manny Waks went public in July, 2011 with allegations that he had been repeatedly molested by staff members at Chabad’s Yeshiva College in Melbourne in the 1980s, the news sent tremors through the Australian Jewish community. Three years earlier, the community was scandalized by accusations that a female school principal from Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox Adass community had sexually molested dozens of students, and that the community had closed ranks when police got wind of the story. Eventually, police believe, the woman was spirited quickly out of Australia to prevent legal authorities from launching a full-scale investigation.

Like in the Baltimore case, Waks informed rabbinical authorities of the abuse, but they, too, advised him not to seek professional counseling and forbade him from reporting the abuse to the police. And like Eisgrau, Waks, too, paid a heavy price for his decision to go public.

“I’m not observant anymore, so the rabbis don’t have terribly much power over me,” Waks tells The Report. “But they have tried hard to silence me by making my family suffer: My parents are 100 percent dedicated to Chabad and its teachings, but my father isn’t allowed to have analiya in shul anymore.

Several longtime study partners have abandoned him, either because they feel I have betrayed the community, or because they fear a backlash from the community for supporting my case.”

The Eisgrau and Waks cases are only two of a slew of sex scandals that have rocked Orthodox Jewish communities around the world in recent years.

In Israel, prominent Zionist rabbis such as Mordechai Elon and Shlomo Aviner have been accused of sexual misconduct; and in the United States, modern Orthodoxy’s flagship Yeshiva University was rocked last year by allegations that rabbis there had abused students in the 1980s, and that others had failed to report the abuse to police or child welfare authorities. And in January, both the massive 103-year prison sentence handed down against Nechemia Weberman, a member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hassidic community who was convicted of abusing a teenage girl, and the reported rape of a five-year-old ultra- Orthodox girl in the Israeli town of Modi’in Illit, and the subsequent cover-up, sent shockwaves around the globe. But they, too, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Abuse and cover-up stories have been reported from Ramat Beit Shemesh to London, from Lithuanian-style yeshivas such as Baltimore’s Ner Yisrael and Melbourne’s Kollel Beth HaTalmud, from within Hassidic groups including Chabad and Satmar, and from elsewhere.

In Israel alone, support organizations that deal with sexual abuse receive thousands of requests for assistance from ultra- Orthodox communities every month.

According to Magen, a Beit Shemesh-based organization that focuses on preventing child abuse and encourages people to seek professional counseling and to report sexual offenses to civil authorities, there are strong cultural explanations for the fact that the vast majority of offenders do not get caught, but it isn’t because people don’t want to deal with this phenomenon.

“Nationally, about 2 percent of the population reports child sexual abuse cases to law enforcement officials,” David Morris, the group’s founder and chairman, tells The Report. “In the Orthodox world, that number appears to be far lower – in 2010, Beit Shemesh recorded the lowest proportion of abuse reports in the country, followed by Bnei Brak and Beitar Illit. There are several explanations for this, including strong social mores attached to sexual matters, and because of a strong social contract to deal with the issues facing the community ‘in house.’ “Traditionally, religious Jews really believed that sex abuse was just not a problem in ‘our’ communities, so strongly that any suggestion to the contrary was dismissed almost out of hand. That position is no longer tenable, and nobody who wants to appear serious would make that claim anymore.”

Morris adds that rabbis who are asked to adjudicate sexual abuse claims often have serious conflicts of interest with regard to those claims. “Some of this has to do with the multiple roles that a rabbi has in a religious community. Many times, an individual can serve as the principal of a school, the rabbi of a synagogue, the head of a local charity fund and a halakhic authority for the whole community.

So when a parent complains that his child has been abused, which of those authorities is receiving the complaint? Add in to the mix a strong desire on the part of the rabbinic establishment to maintain control of communal issues and you’ve got a recipe for at least the appearance of cover-ups,” Morris notes.

But, at the same time, Morris asserts that there are signs that grass-roots activity is beginning to combat the phenomenon. Not only have victim-support organizations cropped up in virtually every Orthodox community in the world, run by Orthodox lay people and mental health professionals, but Orthodox people themselves are taking advantage of their services.

Morris says that in 2011,the first full calendar year after Magen was founded, reporting from Beit Shemesh rose by 43 percent. In cold numbers, more than 200 victims of abuse have come forward to tell their stories, and they have identified more than 100 perpetrators, and there is an increasing trend to report abuse.

“There is a scourge that is affecting our communities and our children are at risk.

People are sick and tired of pretending these issues don’t exist, and they no longer have confidence that community rabbis can deal effectively with their problems on their own.

Community rabbis do have an important role in investigating these issues – they can calm down the community, can educate parents about child protection, encourage people to come forward, protect them from backlash and provide counseling for victims and families.

“People here are scared. They want abusers fired from their jobs as teachers and yeshiva rabbis, and they want criminals to go to jail. Moreover, people are saying loud and clear that they want professional help for their psychological trauma. More and more, people are saying ‘no’ to the suggestion that untrained rabbis can act in the place of trained social workers, mental health professionals and of police investigators.”

Nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in Australia, and nowhere has it had more of a positive effect. Manny Waks says his pleas in the 1980s for help and justice went unheeded, and he says the current community leadership of Chabad continues to criticize him and to ostracize his family. But his campaign to encourage victims to break their silence has begun to bear fruit. Two of the individuals that Waks originally accused are now on trial in Melbourne, and multiple victims have stepped forward to testify in these cases.

Perhaps even more significant has been the response by Australia’s official rabbinical bodies. Whereas Waks says that Chabad officialdom has continued its “campaign of intimidation” against him and those who cooperate with him,” the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and other official rabbinical organizations, which are dominated by Chabad rabbis, have made a series of strong statements encouraging people to report sex crimes to the police.

Furthermore, there are signs down under, even from within Chabad circles, that previously held norms may be changing. Take for example the mid-February announcement that New South Wales police had opened an investigation into the Chabad-run Yeshiva Center in Sydney for alleged sexual abuse at the school in the 1970s and 80s. The day the investigation was announced, the yeshiva issued an official statement condemning the abuse and encouraging victims to report their experiences to the police.

While there is no question that instances of sexual abuse have skyrocketed in recent decades, mental health professionals are split when it comes to explaining the phenomenon.

One Israeli psychiatrist tells The Report that there was little hard data that would allow mental health professionals to draw up policy recommendations to combat the phenomenon.

The psychiatrist also points out that the details of abuse were different in the Orthodox world than in the general population. For instance, he notes, Orthodox abusers were more likely to molest boys than girls, probably due to the fact that they had fewer opportunities to abuse girls. He compares this phenomenon to prison: It is a well-known phenomenon that men engage in homosexual acts in jail not because they are gay but because men are the only sexual outlets available.

On the other hand, he also notes that in Orthodox societies, women are essentially exempt from much of the “benign” sexual harassment (such as inappropriate comments) to which women are often exposed in secular circles. Solid data on this topic was almost impossible to come by, says the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that many of his patients are ultra-Orthodox and he did not want to compromise his ability to treat them.

What is clear, however, is that mental health professionals say sex abuse has reached “epidemic” proportions, in Israel and abroad. In Jerusalem alone, the Crisis Center for Religious Women has handled more than 72,000 cases since its establishment in 1992. According to Debbie Gross, the center’s founder and director, there isn’t a single community in Israel that has not been affected by this phenomenon.

There are many factors to explain why sexual abuse has grown so fast, Gross tells The Report. A major factor, she says, has nothing to do with Haredi social norms – pornography.

“Thirty years ago, when people went looking for pornography they found pictures of naked ladies,” Gross says. “That would almost qualify as family entertainment today.

The porn that’s out there today is violent; it features sex with animals and with children, and most of all, it is readily available. Sexuality, then, becomes identified with aggression and predatory behavior, and people can become addicted. Once that happens, they feel a need to act out the fantasies they’ve watched in pornographic movies.

“The second thing that’s changed is that in years gone by, no one talked about boys being victimized. So more often than not, their trauma went undiagnosed and untreated, and they in turn became abusers. So you might have had one person abuse 300 kids during a teaching career. If ‘only’ 10 percent of those victims grow up to be abusers, but each of children, you’re looking at a lot of people,” Gross says.

When trying to deal with this problem, experts are split on how the war against sexual abuse should be waged. Whereas Magen’s David Morris says that rabbis must be taught that they do not possess the skills or the knowledge to correctly ascertain on their own whether abuse has taken place, or the ability to treat victims of abuse, Gross feels it would be a mistake to lay all the blame at the feet of the rabbinical leadership.

“You cannot blame the rabbis alone,” she says. “How about we talk about the police and the media role in all this? I’ve accompanied many women to the police, helped them file complaints – only to read about their cases in the next day’s newspaper. True, the reports don’t reveal names, but they can feature so many details that it’s easy to figure out who the victim is. So victims walk away feeling violated again, and sorry that they’ve reported the issue.

“If we want victims of abuse to come forward, we have to create a situation in which his or her privacy will be totally respected.

That would go a long way towards encouraging people to speak up,” Gross says.

Gross adds that civil authorities in Israel and abroad must readjust their thinking if they are to craft policies that could seriously address the issue. “We tend to look at this issue as a criminal one, but I’d suggest that the correct way to look at it is as a health issue,” she says. “It’s an epidemic, like any other epidemic.

Compare sex abuse to swine flu: We were worried about a mass outbreak of swine flu, but health officials around the world took responsible measures to prevent it.

“Sex abuse is similar. I don’t believe we can stop it completely, but we can teach people how to build safer environments for children.

Our staff and volunteers have been giving workshops for Orthodox parents, teachers and school administrators all over the world.

We give them tools to make schools safer – for example, you’ve got to make sure there are teachers on duty at the boys’ bathroom every recess period. You’ve got to have teachers or parents patrol the school during break time and after school. Remember, predators do not want to get caught, and if they know people are watching, the chances go down that they’ll be able to abuse,” says Gross.

Although there are no signs that the epidemic is subsiding, there are signs that ultra- Orthodox communities are beginning to act.

One Haredi man who spoke to The Report on condition of anonymity said the issue of protecting children is a topic of conversation today in all parts of the ultra-Orthodox world.

Another said people are talking openly with their children in a way that they would never have done even five years ago.

The ultra-Orthodox establishment, too, has started to turn to professional organizations to deal with the phenomenon. Gross says she now gives regular workshops to rabbis and schools in all Haredi neighborhoods in Israel, at the behest of the communities themselves.

“Obviously, there is no more sensitive or painful subject for a community to deal with,” Gross says. “It’s taken religious communities a long time to wake up to the reality they are facing, but it’s happening. It is our responsibility to make sure there is an infrastructure in place to deal with problems when they arise, or even better – to create a situation in all communities in which sexual abuse simply cannot thrive. It’s a slow process, but I’d have to say that it’s happening.”

Rabbi Yakov Hopfer responds: “Ms. Nanette Eisgrau’s accusations were made known to police and local social services authorities at the time. She also consulted with many psychologists, none of whom took her seriously. At the time, I advised her siblings to maintain contact with her, and to be understanding and kind to a young woman who clearly had many problems. I also suggested that Ms.

Eisgrau attend therapy sessions – with a therapist of her choosing – with one of her sisters, and that they agree to follow whatever advice he or she gave. They went for that counseling, and the therapist strongly recommended that Ms. Eisgrau put her issues behind her and get on with her life. She refused,and only then did I advise the family to break off contact.

“Sexual abuse is a vitally serious issue, and I take these allegations very seriously.

Moreover, professionals in the state of Maryland are legally obligated to report abuse to the relevant authorities. This was done in this case, by more than one professional, and we have taken action in other cases where action was warranted.

But not all allegations are true.”
 

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