This past Thursday, the 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, marked 14 years since I first told someone about the abuse perpetrated against me from the ages of 6 to 10. I am now 28 years old and I have been telling my story for almost half of my life but have yet to get my day in court.
In March of 2013, I traveled to Israel to press criminal charges against Sholom Eichler, a first cousin who sexually abused me over the course of four years. While most of the abuse occurred in New York where we both grew up, the last incident took place in a hotel in Jerusalem in 1999. Previously in 2011, I attempted to press criminal charges against Eichler in Brooklyn but the district attorney refused to bring charges against him for reasons that still remain unclear. Right around the time of my 23rd birthday, I filed a civil lawsuit against him which would ultimately result in a $3.5 million dollar judgment in my favor against Eichler. To date, I am still unable to collect on this judgment because a few months after the filing of this lawsuit, Eichler moved to Israel with his wife and child.
After consulting with an attorney, Rebecca Shwartz, from the organization Min Hameizar — an organization that helps sexual abuse survivors navigate the Israeli court system — and discussing the details of this case, it became clear that under Israeli law I had criminal legal recourse against Eichler because the statute of limitations for the crimes that he committed against me in that hotel room fell under a statute of limitations that I was still in. According to the statute of limitations in Israeli law today, to bring a case of sexual abuse against a “close family member” which includes a first cousin, one must be under the age of 38. In March of 2013, when I filed my complaint against him, I was 23.
On March 21st of 2013 Eichler was arrested and charged by the Jerusalem Police. That day, for the first time in my life I felt a sense of hope and vindication. I felt heard. At the time, I mistakenly believed that the Israeli Justice System would help me find the justice that I so desperately needed and continue to need. However, what took place immediately after Eichler’s arrest would haunt me in ways that I have yet to fully understand or process until this very day.
Never in my life had I imagined that the process of filing criminal charges against someone who raped me with a pen when I was 8 years old could be so traumatizing. At no point was I warned that after filing the criminal complaint against him, I’d be summoned to the Jerusalem police station and ushered into a room and instructed to sit in a chair that was directly across Eichler with less than a foot of distance between us. I had no idea that after sitting down in that chair and being forced to look directly at the man who wreaked so much havoc on my young life, that the police would bark at me to “tell him what he did to you.” Later I would learn that this process is standard process used by Israeli law enforcement but at the time, I found myself frozen and horrified that I was suddenly in a room with three police officers, facing the man who abused me, and I was to start recounting all the details of how in the most brutal of ways, Sholom Eichler raped and molested me over the course of four years.
It took me a minute to process what was happening but I immediately started talking. I went into great detail and told Sholom Eichler directly to his face some of the terrible things he did to me. I was forced to wait for the translating officer to translate what I said to Eichler in Hebrew and then wait a little longer so that they could manually type what I was saying into their computer before we could continue. After what felt like a century, Eichler looked me square in the face and said that I was lying and that those things never happened. I don’t remember how long this ‘confrontation’ lasted but I remember running out of that police station feeling like I wanted to just scream at the top of my lungs from anguish. I couldn’t believe that this was actually a process sanctioned by law enforcement.
Eventually I returned to New York to try and build my life as this case was pending, but before leaving Israel I attempted on multiple occasions to reach and talk to the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s office. I still recall being shocked that the task of just getting someone to answer the phone in that office felt herculean. Nevertheless, I made sure that they had all my contact info back in the States so that they could follow up with me about how they would proceed. I never did receive that follow up call and to my knowledge, the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office has not tried to contact me since. Eventually the writing on the wall became clear that the case was closed but it would be years until I found out why.
A few months ago, while working with Kan broadcast journalist Yuval Agassi, the Prosecutor’s office told Agassi that they ultimately decided to close the case because of hityashnut which in English means that the statute of limitations had run out. When we heard this, my lawyer and I were both very perplexed as to why they would give us such a reason when in fact I was well within the statute of limitations when I filed my claim (and remain within that statute until I am 38). Moreover, why would they put me through such a harrowing process only to realize that they couldn’t actually prosecute this case? None of this made sense when I found this out, and the more I learn about how my case was handled the more confused I get and the more I wonder whose side was the prosecutor’s office on.
After the Kan segment aired in June, their office turned over the case materials to my attorney, in which we found out that in March of 2013, the same office that couldn’t be bothered to return my calls notified Eichler that they were closing the case. By law, this office was required to notify me in writing about their reasons for closing the case within 30 days of their decision but they never did. At the same time, they managed to notify Eichler’s attorneys almost five years ago.
Last week, after a two week visit to Israel to prepare it, we formally filed an appeal of this decision and I hand delivered it to the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s office. My lawyer summed up this case very accurately in her successful letter to the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office that demanded we get a chance to file this appeal. This letter is what ultimately led to the prosecutor’s office agreeing to accept our appeal:
…Min HaMetzar is a voluntary organization that works tirelessly for victims of crimes in the Haredi sector, speaking up for victims to Israeli society in general and the Haredi society in particular, to law enforcement, and to the judicial system, and acts to create a more protected and healthy society in terms of dealing with, as well as awareness prevention of, sexual assault incidents. This is done to bring justice for the victims and to help the authorities bring about social order.
Finally, when the lid that covered sexual assault incidents in the community has at last been taken off and awareness in the sector is finally growing and reporting increasing, after struggling so hard to reach this stage, how can we declare ‘Our hands did not shed this blood,’ when a person who allegedly attacked minors is still walking among us? Or where a victim of sexual assault is walking around without recognition by the community from which he was cast out, after he had the audacity to open his mouth, without recognition from the authorities, only because of preference of procedure over substance?
I hope that the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s office will do the right thing and finally pursue the criminal case against Mr. Eichler. I hope that maybe for the first time, the office charged with protecting victims of abuse will stand up for me, a victim of horrific abuse by an individual who has used every loophole available to him in order to evade facing any type of prosecution. The evidence against Eichler is overwhelming and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure that I get my day in court. As statistics tell us, most cases never make it to a police station let alone a prosecutor’s office and very rarely does it ever get heard in court; my case will not be one of those cases because the law is on my side, on the side of the helpless and powerless 10-year-old boy who was assaulted on Israeli soil in 1999.