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On the Rabbi's Knee

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For years, he says, he’s been happy—but he knows he’s been affected by the abuse. “I’d tell myself, It wasn’t my fault, I’m not going to let this ruin my life,” he says. “You keep yourself busy and go to work and have a normal family life. But it’s always there. It’s like a nightmare that never goes away. No matter how hard I try to push it away, his face is always there.”

Framowitz knows it won’t be easy to win the lawsuit. The three-year statute of limitations is the greatest obstacle. Others have tried circumventing it and failed. Most recently, an upstate man named John Zumpano sued a priest for allegedly repeatedly abusing him throughout much of the sixties, arguing that he was too mentally damaged to bring a case until now. The state’s highest court refused this argument. But the decision showed others one possible way around the statute: If after the abuse, a defendant keeps his accusers from suing by intimidation, the statute could perhaps be voided. Margulies’s alleged threats of reprisals against young victims, Herman argues, meet that standard.

The $20 million price tag ($10 million per plaintiff), Herman says, is an appropriate figure given Framowitz’s pain and suffering. (Herman’s latest settlement, in a priest case, was $5 million.) But money isn’t all Framowitz and Herman are after, they say. They’d like Kolko dismissed from the yeshiva and kept from working with children again. They want the yeshiva to establish a fund for victims who resurface in the future. And they want the yeshiva to publicly accept responsibility for its negligence, which in all likelihood would mean disciplining or dismissing Margulies. While Kolko’s chances of returning to the yeshiva are clearly in jeopardy in light of his suspension, people who know Margulies say it’s doubtful he’d ever loosen his hold on the institution he created. “Margulies is angry and bitter about this,” says one longtime supporter. Like the powers-that-be in the Catholic Church, this source says, Margulies “doesn’t get how this crime is viewed by this society with such abhorrence. He still believes the issue can be managed, when the proper response would be to meet it head-on.”

The day his lawsuit was announced, David Framowitz visited the street in Borough Park where he and Kolko first met. He hadn’t been there in years. In the car, he saw men with black hats and payes, women with forties fashions. He noticed a familiar toy store on a corner and shook his head. “Nothing’s changed here,” he said. “They’re in their own little ghetto. It’s hard for them to believe that such things happen.”

He was silent for a time, then he turned toward me.

“So, you have pictures?”

At a red light, I handed him three snapshots of the rabbi, taken a few mornings earlier outside his house in Midwood. Framowitz stared at them.

“Huh. Huh. That’s him. The face.”

The only difference, he said, was the hair—once so red, now all white.

We arrived on the street where Framowitz had lived—57th between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Avenues. He pointed up to the third-floor balcony of a small redbrick building. “Same house, same everything,” he said.

But when we got to Kolko’s old block, there was new construction where Kolko’s house once was. “It’s not there anymore,” he mumbled, crossing the street. “It’s not there.”

Framowitz, silent for 35 years, now couldn’t stop talking.

“If they’ve known about this for 20 years or 25 years, why the cover-up? If there’s even an iota of people thinking or knowing about Kolko, why is the guy still teaching children? Why hasn’t anybody filed a complaint with the police? And why isn’t anybody filing a complaint with the D.A.’s office? If they want to take care of it the Jewish way, fine. But why haven’t they done that? Why aren’t people standing outside the yeshiva demonstrating? For one person getting a ticket in Borough Park, look what they did! They rioted in the streets! Jewish kids are getting harmed, and no one’s outside this school demanding an investigation? I don’t understand it. I should have done this years ago. But if I can still save some kid . . . ”

He trailed off.

“He who saves one life is like saving the world. That’s what the Torah says.”


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