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On the Rabbi's Knee

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Early on, Framowitz says, he tried telling his mother about Kolko, but she didn’t know how to respond. The new marriage wasn’t going well; his mother had miscarried—a potential replacement son for his stepfather, to help make up for what the accident had taken away. “It was just terrible pressure,” Framowitz says. “One time, she picked herself up, with me and my brother, and she took us down to Manhattan and we stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights. With all the problems in the house, I couldn’t force myself to make this into a big issue. And my stepfather just couldn’t understand it. He couldn’t see how a rabbi, a respectable rabbi, would be doing such things, so I must be making up these stories to get attention.”

After a while, Framowitz just stopped talking about it. “I wasn’t getting anywhere. They weren’t defending me. So I said, Okay, I have to suffer. For family harmony. I’d tell myself, I just want to be a normal kid, but I can’t. I can’t do anything, because I’ll get into trouble. I can’t get into trouble because I can’t cause more upheavals in the house. So just be quiet, and it’ll go away.”

Yehuda Kolko first caught the attention of religious authorities as early as the mid-eighties, after a major sexual-abuse scandal rocked the ultra-Orthodox world in Brooklyn. A Hasidic psychologist named Avrohom Mondrowitz had been accused of not just molesting but having intercourse with four boys in his care, ages 10 to 16, some of whom he allegedly took away on long weekends. He was indicted in 1985 but decamped for Israel. In the wake of the case, several prominent rabbis in Brooklyn decided to field complaints about rabbis and others accused of molesting kids. The rabbi chosen to look into Borough Park, who spoke to New York on the condition of anonymity, says Kolko’s name came up repeatedly.

This rabbi wasted little time empaneling six rabbis to informally hear Kolko’s accusers. Kolko’s alleged problems, according to this rabbi, stemmed from his summers at a camp not far from Camp Agudah that Kolko apparently had an ownership stake in during the eighties. According to a former counselor at the camp, who also wishes to remain anonymous, it was an open secret among counselors that Kolko was misbehaving with several campers. A dozen kids had individually come to different counselors, the former counselor says, to complain that Kolko woke them at night, offered them rides in a golf cart, and then let them steer if they sat in his lap. Others said he’d visit them at night and touch them in inappropriate places. But these counselors were 18 or 19 years old, unsure of how to handle the claims, the former counselor says. Only after the Mondrowitz case broke a few years later did some of the former campers and counselors come forward. The panel of six rabbis heard the campers’ stories and sympathized, according to the rabbi who convened the panel. But, he says, “there was no mechanism in the community to stop Kolko from teaching, except to go to the cops.”

As the six-rabbi panel knew, rabbinical-court proceedings have no real power to substantiate abuse claims or punish abusers. Going to the police is largely frowned on in the ultra-Orthodox world; the notion of mesira, dating to the days of the shtetl, equates going to outsiders with treason. So instead, the teenagers and their families decided first to try to persuade Margulies, Kolko’s boss at Torah Temimah, to force Kolko to sell his stake in the camp and resign from the school. At a preliminary meeting with some of Kolko’s accusers, Margulies asked whom they had as witnesses. “Each name he dismissed: ‘This one is in a fantasyland, this one is a thief, you can’t trust any of them,’ ” the source recalls Margulies saying. “And he was not going to do anything about it.”

The group, along with parents and former campers from Camp Agudah, then tried summoning a beit din to rule on Kolko. They demanded Kolko not be there so the victims would feel comfortable telling their stories. But when the proceeding began, he was there, so they left. Then Margulies is said to have started a second beit din. According to Framowitz’s lawsuit, Pinchus Scheinberg, the powerful rabbi who was close to Margulies, contacted several of Kolko’s alleged victims, listened to their complaints, and told them that what happened to them was not abuse—that there needed to be penetration and that because there was none, their claims were not actionable. Then, the lawsuit says, threats followed. One father allegedly was told by Margulies over the phone that if his boy continued to complain, the safety of the rest of his children could not be assured. Both beit dins were halted, the victims never went to the police, and for years, Margulies told others who inquired about Kolko that the rabbi and the school had been exonerated.


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