Guest commentary by Frimet Goldberger:
Nechemya Weberman is back in the limelight. After a long postponement of his trial, he’s finally reclaimed his celebrity status amongst Chasidim.
We now know—as most of us always did—that sexual predators are everywhere. Indeed, the proverbial piety surrounding the Chasidim does not render their world impermeable to molesters. Yes, Nechemya Weberman shook the Orthodox world at large, and the Chasidic world in particular, out of their “we are the best” stupor. His case pulled the rug from underneath the rebeini tam clad feat, and created a lateral earth plate move of extreme magnitude, revealing some very scary ghosts the community is not quite ready to confront.
But why him? Why, after countless victims have come forward with hair-raising stories of molestation at the hands of chushive yidden; after rebbes, hiding beneath their zadene bekitches, have consistently denied the existence of goyishe problems within their communities; after perpetrators were shipped to Israel with half their peyos and beard missing; and after the DA’s offices (the lone non-anti-Semites left standing, mind you), lured into oblivion by the block vote the Chasidic communities provide, failed miserably to prosecute such heinous crimes; why did Nechemya merit celebrity status?
Ask Pennsylvania State University.
Oh, no! You cannot possibly evoke that comparison, can you? Well, if you will be so kind and allow me to indulge in my own gibberish, I will explain further.
On November 5, 2011, the world awoke to blaring headlines of an unthinkable scandal coming out of Happy Valley: Jerry Sandusky, the retired 67-year-old Penn State assistant football coach—with two championships beneath his dirty belt, and a reputation to match—was arrested and charged on 40 counts of horrendous sexual abuse committed over a fifteen-year period.
America was inconsolable. Not only was Sandusky’s name emblematic of a college football team’s success, and the dramatic effects on the University’s overall ratings it manifested, but it also invoked the image of an altruistic man—a fatherly figure, who, failing to spread his seed biologically, spearheaded The Second Mile, a charity foundation intended to help at-risk children. He and his wife in crime, Dottie, also adopted and fostered several children over the years.
The scandal unfolded gradually, but the shock hit like a tornado. Close friends, colleagues, and former pupils refused to believe their beloved neighbor and former star of a renowned football team was capable of the heinous crimes charged.
And why would they? By all accounts, Jerry Sandusky was a chushive mensch.
One neighbor of 30 years even speculated that the rambunctious kids the sheina family, the Sandusky’s, adopted and had to let go over the years were just looking for revenge—by claiming, of all things, that Mr. Sandusky fondled, sodomized, performed oral sex, etc.!
Harav Joe Paterno, the now-deceased, legendary, and infamous figure Sandusky served under, purportedly told his Chasidim, the Penn State community, on the day the news broke, “…to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.”
The initial charges presented on behalf of eight young victims were so utterly disturbing—particularly the deliberate cover-ups by Penn State rabbonim, whose interest of the sport, and the University’s reputability it ensued, obviously trumped the safety of vulnerable children.
On June 11, 2012, prosecutors opened the trial, accusing Sandusky of 50 criminal counts of sexual abuse. The first victim to take the witness stand recounted years of sexual assault, starting in 1997, when he was a mere thirteen years old.
Ironically, and quite tragically too, Sandusky met this victim through his charity organization; the boy was recommended to Second Mile by no other than his school guidance counselor!
As the excruciating and damning evidence from the June 2012 FBI investigation of the scandal rolled in, one thing was as clear as day: the Grand Rebbe, Joe Paterno, was aware of Sandusky’s crimes for over ten years prior to his arrest. According to Louis Freeh, Paterno and three other top university officials were sitting on critical evidence for years. The reason: fear of bad publicity. As the vice president of Penn State wrote in a 1998 briefing on a mother’s complaint of Sandusky assaulting her son in the university showers, “Is this the opening of Pandora’s box? Other children?”
The scathing report also indicates that Harav Paterno called the shots: In February 2001, Graham Spanier, the University president, Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the University vice president, agreed to report the allegations to the Department of Public Welfare. However, two days later, Joe Paterno advised a different course of action: offer Mr. Sandusky “professional help”! When the now-famous whistleblower coach, Mike McQueary, related the assault he witnessed in the coach’s shower room to Paterno, he not only failed to report the horrific crime to trusted authority for further investigation, but he took the liberty to deliberately cover it up!
Paterno got away with death. He can no longer answer to a court of law; but in the court of public opinion, his celebrity image will always remain mired in his complicity of despicable child abuse at the hands of a trusted chusid—an integral part of the Penn State chasidus.
And this, my fellow readers (are you still here?), is the reason Nechemya Weberman gained celebrity status: he is an indispensable member of Satmar, an altruistic man who spearheaded an organization to prevent at-risk adolescences from straying off the beaten path and into the police headquarter. Above all, he is a chushiver yid who raised a sheina mishpacha, and deserves to be shielded under those dirty zadene bekitches of the rebbes from the purported allegations.
Like Jerry Sandusky, Mr. Weberman has fans who will vouch for his innocence. But unlike Sandusky—whose defense team opened their counter-arguments to the victims’ testimonies by suggesting their motivation for pressing charges is money—Nechemya Weberman has an entire community crying foul on these unfounded and absurd rumors of a get-rich scheme!
Admittedly, the scope of Sandusky’s crimes is vastly different than that of Nechemya Weberman’s: Sandusky has ten victims, while only one victim is accusing Mr. Weberman. (According to Pearl Engleman—the courageous activist from within, who was privy to hearing first-hand accounts—there are at least another two victims too afraid to come forward.)
However, the nature of the allegations, the core values and beliefs of this community, and the severe ramifications for the victims’ well-being, all of which directly contribute to the silence of others, cannot adequately explain the show of unconditional support the Chasidic community has shown for an alleged abuser—something unthinkable for a Penn State chasidus.
Except, of course, the fact that he is a chushiver yid. Which also implies that he still needs shiddichum for his children, his wife needs a reliable source of income, and, let’s not forget, those slutty teenagers desperately need a person to put them in place. Why should they be subjected to the horrors of living in the margins, huh?
Those who have lived this life (or perhaps still do) understand this thinking. Let’s not exaggerate our distance from the not-so-distant past; saying “what the heck is wrong with these people?” when we participated in this behavior at some point, just comes off as self-aggrandizing. Let us instead remember that sfardim are marginalized for being trilingual and eating warm fish on Shabbos instead of kotchenyu. In these communities, it doesn’t take much to become the subject of nebechdom.
Therefore, it is beneficial to everyone if the victim is gaged with a bribe (which she wanted anyhow), and shipped off to Israel.
As for the perpetrator, he will be dethroned and shipped over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Shulem al yisroel.
Back to my thesis: Pennsylvania State University took a hard hit with the Sandusky saga, and got slapped with astronomical fines and severe bans. They were hit badly, and experts say, they may/won’t/will recover from it. However, I suspect a guilty verdict for Weberman will forever alter the pattern of predictable Chasidic behavior; the backstreet treatment of at-risk teens will begin to come apart at its seams.
As for the community, they will survive the second coming of the dinosaurs.
All differences and similarities aside, Jerry Sandusky, sentenced for 30-60 years in prison, and Nechemya Weberman (if convicted) should spend the rest of their lives in prison—in one cell. They can benefit from each other.