Many have not wanted to follow the Nechemya Weberman trial in Brooklyn but many have felt compelled to follow the proceedings passionately. How could you miss that trial? Virtually every single media outlet covered the story. Just a few days ago the jury returned their verdict. Mr. Weberman, a 54-year-old unlicensed therapist who is a Satmar Hasid, was found guilty on 59 counts all related to sexual abuse of a girl sent to him for therapy by her school.
Mr. Weberman was designated by the Satmar community and the Vaad Hatznius, its modesty squad, as an expert in treating adolescents who are oppositional and getting them to alter their rebelliousness, to become more like what the Satmar community expects them to be, or maybe what the Vaad Hatznius wants them to be. The girl, now 18 years old, was “treated” by him from the time she was 12 years old until she was 15. In that time he admitted that he saw her one on one behind locked doors, took her away for 12 hours, purchased lingerie using money misappropriated from a charity and, essentially presented himself as an unlicensed, untrained professional while still expecting all to see him as the wronged party.
Unfortunately, there are far too many who do see him that way. Making comments like “He was convicted without any evidence,” or worse “It just shows that a hasid cannot get a fair trial in America” his supporters still believe that he is an angel and did no wrong. Never mind that the evidence is clear – he admitted practice without a license, locking the girl up with him and so forth, along with the fact that according to the District Attorney, there were others who reported having been abused by him. Weberman’s sanctimonious indifference and his supporters virulence makes a mockery not so much of the justice system but what Satmar should be and most often is.
A friend said to me that he is now “embarrassed to wear a yarmulke in public because of Weberman” as if this abuser is representative of anything that Jews and Judaism stand for. It is not that so much though as the fact that those seeking to defend him want the rest of the world to give their community a pass, to believe that all are angels and do no wrong. It is this brazenness that creates a well spring of anger toward people who in one form or another depict themselves as being above the law.
On the media side are a group of optimistic editorialists who suggest that this trial marks a turning point in the insular Satmar community’s approach to dealing with psychopaths, abusers and con artists. Now that “the lid has been blown off” of the secret that child abuse does exist the Satmar world will, according to these individuals, finally realize that it must do the right thing and protect the children. It is a wishful position. Insular individuals and their communities tend to retreat even further when confronted by realities they cannot or will not accept – evidence provided by the fact that one of the two Grand Satmar Rabbis referred to the girl who accused and testified against Weberman as a prostitute.
Perhaps more interesting is the fact that while Weberman’s trial was taking place; in another part of the same courthouse another religious man was convicted of sexually abusing young boys. Outside of child advocates and legal experts that case received only a passing notice from both the media and the Jewish world. I believe that it may be because the other case was of a religious man but not a Hasid. In the religious world outside of Hasidus, there is an increasing awareness of the need to find and prosecute sexual offenders. That man did not get $500,000 of financial/legal aid from his community like Weberman did. There were no rallies to support his offensive behaviors like Weberman had. He was wrong and the community allowed the jury to decide how to handle him.
In writing this I find that I am especially troubled by two aspects of this situation. I know of many Hasidim, Satmar included, who are the type of people who care for others. They run Bikur Cholim programs that are second to none in tending to the sick. They provide assistance to individuals who are ill and give charity beyond measure. I and other family members work with members of the Satmar community and have assisted them in dealing with their range of issues. So I am troubled that within the hierarchy of the Satmar group there appears to be this nagging desire among some to continue to sweep this form of pathology under the carpet. I am also very much disturbed by the ongoing use of unlicensed individuals. We know that molesters prey on the vulnerable. To treat individuals who are in need and therefore vulnerable requires, at a minimum, the basics of ethics and science in providing the correct intervention. Satmar Hasidim are treated by the finest medical physicians. It is about time that they did the same for their psychological needs and stop using individuals whose only diploma is that they are friends with members of the Vaad Hatznius.