Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

On the Rabbi's Knee

ShareThis

Even before David Framowitz first found himself alone with Rabbi Kolko, the outlines of his young life had seemed like something out of Dickens. His father, Alfred Szmuk, a public-school teacher, had died when David was 7, leaving his mother, Naomi, not yet 30, to care for him and his younger brother, Jeffrey. For a few years, the family stayed in Toronto; Naomi supported them by teaching Hebrew school. Then Naomi was introduced to Saul Framowitz, a highly Orthodox Borough Park man who had recently lost his wife and only son in a traffic accident and was left with three teenage daughters to raise alone. Within months, there was a courtship and a small wedding, and the widow and her two boys moved in with the widower and his three girls, sharing a three-bedroom, third-floor walk-up in Borough Park.

It was the autumn of 1969, and as the rest of the world seemed to be hurtling headlong into the future, 12-year-old David felt as if he’d been flung back in time. He was taken aback by the bobbing sea of black hats, the women with wigs and long, dark dresses, the way the whole place screeched to a halt on Friday night. It was here that thousands of Hasidic refugees from Europe had chosen to repopulate the people, steadfastly preserving the shtetl life that had almost been destroyed. Any sense of the modern world was ferociously held at bay—no movies or TV or pop music, even newspapers were suspect. The community’s views on sex were perhaps most jarring. Boys were trained never to lock eyes with a woman who wasn’t related; some were taught not to touch their genitals when they washed.

David and his brother were sent to school at a strict Hasidic yeshiva where everyone spoke Yiddish. David stayed through the end of the year, but hated it. “I told my parents that I was not going back there.” He’d tried fitting into the ultra-Orthodox mold but hadn’t made many friends. The next year, he was enrolled at a new school—Torah Vodaath. The founder, Rabbi Lipa Margulies, had made a name for the school by cherry-picking top talent, paying his teachers more, and working them harder. “He’s single-minded,” says Rabbi Nosson Scherman, a former teacher there. “He’s obsessed with his school.”

Torah Vodaath seemed for a time to be a good fit for David. “It was more what I grew up with in Toronto,” he says, “a more normal school, where they had Hebrew lessons or Torah, but they also had English, math, and social studies.” A few of David’s classmates lived on his street. Soon after the start of the school year, Framowitz says, “I met some kids from the school, and they said, ‘We have a lift,’ and I said, ‘With whom?’ and they said, ‘One of the teachers lives here, and he’s gonna give us a ride.’ ” After the first attack in the Plymouth, Framowitz says, he tried to avoid Kolko. He tried not walking down his block. “But how many blocks can you skip to go around to get to school,” he asks, “before other kids started to wonder?” Some days, he’d be late and miss the bus, or it would be freezing, and he couldn’t come up with a reason not to get into Kolko’s car when the rest of his friends were piling aboard. Sometimes, it would be a Sunday, when the school day ended early, and he was playing with his friends.

“Here, I’m going home,” Framowitz says Kolko would say. “I’ll give you a ride.”

“No, no, no, I’m here. I’m gonna catch the bus with my friends.”

“No, come, we’ll go for a ride home.”

“You’re a young boy, and you get scared,” Framowitz says. “What happens if you don’t go with him? He’s a rabbinic authority in the school. He’s the teacher. Will something happen that will cause you to get into trouble because of him—because you didn’t show up to go with him on the ride?”

The abuse, Framowitz says, became ritualistic: Kolko would coax him into his car, place him on his lap, and fondle him. Kolko would keep his own pants up, ensuring that his genitals would never touch the boy—a line, perhaps, the rabbi was afraid to cross. Facing forward, David had no view of Kolko during the act. “Did he ejaculate? I have no idea. Was he getting there? I have no idea. I was 12 years old.” Even avoiding Kolko’s car wasn’t a solution: Framowitz says Kolko would corner him after recess at school and rub against him.

Framowitz thought the end of the school year would bring an end to the abuse. But that summer, his parents sent him to Camp Agudah—run by Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization—and Kolko was a counselor. When Framowitz saw him, his heart sank. After one baseball game, “he pulled me into the woods, just past the center field, and pushed me up against a tree and started rubbing against me,” Framowitz says. Other times, he says, the incidents were more fleeting—Kolko would wait until he and Framowitz were alone and rub his knee against Framowitz’s groin.


Related:

Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising