Bethany S. Mandel
Bethany S. Mandel
Featured Post

Why you won’t see my name on a Freundel-related suit

Blogger Bethany Mandel may have been a victim in the mikveh-peeping case, but she says that doesn't entitle her to victimize the synagogue
Fox News reports on the arrest for voyeurism of Barry Freundel, rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, October 2014. (YouTube screen capture)
Fox News reports on the arrest for voyeurism of Barry Freundel, rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, October 2014. (YouTube screen capture)

Last week, right before Shabbat, I received a call I had been on one hand eagerly anticipating, on the other absolutely dreading. The US Attorney’s office in Washington had some bad news: I’m a confirmed victim of Rabbi Freundel, twice over. He taped me in the preparation room of the DC mikveh both when I took a “practice dunk” in October 2010 and on the actual day of my conversion in June 2011. That second one stings a lot more than the first. To add insult to injury, my case falls outside the statute of limitations for the crime (three years) so my name will never be part of the charges brought against him.

Thankfully, I have a large group of friends who are in exactly the same boat with whom I can commiserate. We understand each other in a way even our spouses don’t. We talk about how this has dealt a blow to our faith, how the whole experience has been beyond mortifying. Video of me getting ready for the mikveh — twice — has been viewed countless times not only by my rabbi but also by strangers in an office in Washington. Did I do anything weird or gross on camera? Did I pick my nose or belly button in front of these people? How many individuals, in addition to my rabbi, have actually seen my naked body? How much of my body was actually visible? These and many other thoughts have tumbled through my mind.

A debate has also formed among us about the merits of a lawsuit. It doesn’t sound like any of my friends ever plan to file one, but there are others who already have. They have filed suit against their school (if they were students of Freundel), against the Rabbinical Council of America (the RCA), against the mikveh and the synagogue, Kesher Israel. Because in US law, criminal proceedings take first priority, it’s not possible to add Freundel to the civil suit (if they intend to) until after the criminal case is closed.

I feel quite strongly that a lawsuit is especially injurious to Kesher and to the mikveh, which have both been victimized by Freundel as well. What good will a lawsuit do? What would it accomplish against two institutions still reeling from the revelations made three months ago? A lawsuit implies that parties could have taken steps to prevent this from happening, that somehow someone besides Freundel could have seen this coming. That, in my mind, is utterly preposterous.

When a shomeret (attendant) in the mikveh first saw Freundel acting suspiciously in the preparation room, she immediately contacted the Kesher board, who in turn immediately contacted the DC Police Department. I can say if I had been on board at the time and someone told me about what Freundel had been up to, I would’ve shrugged it off and attributed it to his well-known quirks. Thankfully I am not on board, and those in charge of Kesher and the mikveh immediately took the behavior to authorities, who also acted quickly and professionally to ascertain what Freundel was up to. The response was out of a textbook, impressively fast and professional, especially given the vagueness of the concerns leveled against a rabbi who had been on the community’s pulpit for more than 20 years. How either the synagogue or mikveh could have handled the situation any better escapes me. They saved countless more women from being violated like I was, and for that I am thankful.

And what of a lawsuit against Freundel, when the time comes where that’s a possibility? Unfortunately Barry Freundel’s finances do not exist in a vacuum. He is a member of a family with a wife and three grown children, who are also victims, if not the biggest victims of this entire situation. I have no idea if they are now or will be an intact family in the future, nor is it any of my or anyone else’s business. If they do stay together as a family unit the entire family needs to rebuild their lives. If the family does not stay together, those victims, above all others, deserve to take him to the cleaners first.

We live in a lawsuit crazed society here in the United States. I’ve had ample opportunity to file a suit, I’ve been contacted by firms trying to file on my behalf. They can save their time. Just because I’m a victim doesn’t give me license to sue other victims. I hope that everyone involved is able to move on and heal after this experience and that institutions crucial to Jewish life in the nation’s capital are able to financially withstand this legal onslaught.

Note: I am a member of the RCA’s committee to review the conversion process. This op-ed is unrelated to that work. Nothing I have written here is in any way informed or motivated by my involvement with it. 

About the Author
Bethany Mandel has worked as a teacher in rural Cambodia, as an online fundraiser at The Heritage Foundation and most recently was the Social Media Associate at Commentary Magazine. A graduate of Rutgers University with a BA in History and Jewish Studies, she is currently a work-at-home mother. Bethany has appeared on CNBC's The Kudlow Report, Huffington Post Live, BBC World's World Have Your Say, and was a regular guest on "Powers to the People" on Talk Radio 1380am WNRR. The Jewish Week picked her as one of its "36 Under 36" in 2013, an annual list of individuals reinventing Jewish life. Her husband Seth Mandel, is the op-ed editor at the New York Post.