Rape and violence in Satmar
IsraPost has always looked out for Jews in any community. This story was presented to us in order for us to run it in its entirety. We have done no independent fact checking as to the accuracy of the claims found within the article, and we will not print the picture of the accused that was presented to us for this article, as he is innocent until proven guilty. However, we feel that to NOT tell this story might lead to others who might get hurt to keep it to themselves, and therefore, insofar as this might serve as a warning, we feel it prudent to put in print.
This is a story of a religious Yemenite family that lived in the town of Monroe, NY. Specifically in “Satmar Town”, or, “Kiryas Yoel.” There, they were stripped of their identity, and their heritage by the Satmar Chasidim. Yocheved Ma’uda is a Yemenite woman who lived among these Chasidim, and when she witnessed what was going on to her Yemenite people living in Kiryat Yoel, she took it upon herself to confront what she felt was an atrocity, often at her own peril. Yocheved’s daughter, Shlomit, was sexually assaulted. There was an indictment issued in this case, and it turns out that the accused is one of Kiryat Yoel’s own Satmar Chasidim. The charges are pending, but the town of Kiryat Yoel has, until now, successfully blocked the investigation into this matter being conducted by the legal authorities for the state of New York. Yocheved feels that she is being targeted personally for her work on behalf of these Yemenite jews living in Kiryat Yoel.
This is her story:
Shlomit Mauda is 15 years old. Her dark eyes and radiant black hair proclaim her Yemenite-Jewish heritage, and her soft voice reflects hundreds of years of cultural subservience during which her ancestors learned to acquiesce in order to survive. Early last May, in Howell, NJ, just outside Lakewood, where she lives with her parents and eight of her 14 brothers and sisters, she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 35-year-old Satmar chassid, who had been pursuing her since February from Monroe, NY, where he resides and the Mauda family lived until the fall of 2005. He also allegedly kidnapped and molested her in Brooklyn.
The alleged perpetrator, Levi Danziger, has been arrested and charged in Monroe (forcible touching), Brooklyn (assault, sodomy, unlawful imprisonment, endangering the welfare of a child, and first-degree sexual abuse), and Howell (sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a minor through sexual
Even more disturbing to Shlomit’s family is the conviction that she was not the victim of a lone predator, but, rather, they say, of a community whose leaders were determined to punish them. “They targeted my daughter as a way of getting back at me,” says Yocheved Mauda, Shlomit’s mother.
Culture Clash - The story is not only one of an immigrant minority trying to survive among a larger group intent on forcing conformity. It is also the case of a woman operating in the public arena in a community where women, as a rule, do not even drive, much less assume leadership. Without consciously trying, Mrs. Mauda has become a community activist, working tirelessly for her people who have been deprived of their culture, language, and, all too often, she says, their children. She stresses that she, in no way, blames the entire Satmar community for either her experience or that of any of the Yemenite Jews with whom she has worked. Rather, she says, she understands the fear on the part of many good Satmar chassidim who do not want to be ostracized from a community which, at its best, is warm and supportive. “There are many good people in Satmar who know I am right, but they are scared to do anything because the community would turn against them, too,” she says.
Numbers - She maintains there are still dozens of families and single children without their parents in Monroe, where the Satmar population is about 15,000. According to some statistics, the number of Yemenites may be as low as 80 individuals, but others, including Mrs. Mauda and the semi-official Yemenite Jewish Federation of America, say the number is much higher.
According to the president of the Federation, Dr. Ephraim Isaac of Princeton University, Mrs. Mauda is unique because she has taken on the Satmars in Monroe itself. “Yemenite Jews in Kiryas Joel do not know what their rights are. Their passports are taken away by Satmar leaders and they are threatened with punishment if they attempt to leave,” he says.According to Mrs. Mauda, the threatened punishment is usually of a spiritual nature. “The Satmars tell the Yemenites they will go to hell unless they stay in Monroe and do what they are told,” she says.
Saviors or Oppressors - Yocheved Mauda, now 48, arrived in New York from Israel in September 1989 with her two oldest sons. Her husband, Rabbi Gabriel Mauda, remained at home in Kfar Saba with the couple’s remaining four children. Her mission was to find a place where her family could live a religious life, make a living, and send their children to a suitable yeshiva. Rabbi and Mrs. Mauda’s parents came to Israel along with the first wave of Yemenite immigrants shortly after the state was established.
As opposed to many other Yemenite families in Israel who have thoroughly assimilated, the Maudas remained poor, but religious, and Mrs. Mauda left Israel for the US because she and her husband were finding it difficult to find appropriate yeshiva for the children. “In Israel, children with peyos are made fun of in the religious public schools, which we had to use for financial reasons,” she says.
In Brooklyn, she and the children were steered toward the Satmar community, which had a reputation for working with Yemenite Jews. Depending on how the relationship between the Satmars and the Yemenites is viewed, the Chassidim can be seen as either the community’s saviors or oppressors, or perhaps a little of both.
Harsh History - The history of the Jews of Yemen is replete with periods of relative prosperity intermingled with terrible oppression. A tiny minority in a Muslim country, Yemenite Jews were at best tolerated dhimmis, second-class citizens who were supposed to be protected but often were not. Between June 1948 and September 1950, the vast majority of Yemenite Jews went to Israel, where many of them and their supporters complained about their treatment at the hands of non-religious Israeli officials.
Among the complaints is the accusation, for which there is some documentation, that the early Zionists pressured pious Yemenite children to relinquish their religious heritage. Among those who watched the Israeli government’s treatment of the Yemenite Jews with horror, was the anti-Zionist Satmar community.
The Satmars’ hostility toward Israel stems from their belief that Jews have no right to establish a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah. This religious tenet prompted the Chassidim to travel to Yemen and do whatever possible to convince the remaining Yemenite Jews that going to Israel meant giving up their souls.
Brainwashing - In most cases, the Satmars could not compete with the better financed Jewish Agency, but, often enough, their arguments were convincing. Some Yemenites maintain that the Satmars used “brainwashing” techniques that were very successful on a naïve community that was used to bowing to authority figures. "Brainwashing” is an accusation used by both sides.
While Mrs. Mauda maintains that some Satmar leaders use it as a technique to convince easily persuaded Yemenites to do their bidding, the Satmars claim “the Zionists” use it to convince Yemenites to move to Israel. “For Satmars like Yitzchak Chaim Freund, "Zionist" is a curse word. He tells the Yemenites, 'The Tziyonim make you frei,’ not religious,” says Mrs. Mauda.
Relationships - Before 1991, emigration from Yemen, whether to the US or Israel, was virtually impossible. During that time, the Satmars developed a growing relationship with the Jewish community, visiting them and bringing items that were almost impossible to come by in Yemen. The Satmars also did whatever possible to woo Yemenites from Israel to the US. Many Yemenite Jews in Israel were promised schools, housing, and a ariety of benefits, away from the “godless Zionists.”
Mrs. Mauda says she had never heard of Satmar until she arrived in the US in September, 1989. She says that when she and her sons were presented to the Satmar community, they were immediately welcomed to Monroe, where a large enclave of Satmars have established their own incorporated Village of Kiryas Joel. Because she had lived in Bnei Brak for awhile, she had the advantage of already speaking Yiddish, the lingua franca in Kiryas Joel. Mrs. Mauda also speaks Hebrew and Yemenite Arabic, the dialect spoken by most Yemenite Jews.
Homesick - Shortly after her arrival, Mrs. Mauda was sent to meet with Rabbi Yitzchak Chaim Freund, whom she identifies as “the big macher with the Yemenites in Satmar.” Others in the community identify him as the “Satmar coordinator assigned to the Yemenite community.” He is the head of “The Organization for Saving Jews of Yemen.” Repeated calls to Rabbi Freund for this article were not returned.
Mrs. Mauda says that as soon as she met him, he told her about two teenaged Yemenite sisters who were staying in his house and were very unhappy. According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund wanted them to stay in Monroe, and the girls wanted to go back to their family in Israel. “He told me, If they go to Israel, they will become irreligious. They must stay by my house to stay religious,” she says.
Surrogate Parents - Mrs. Mauda says she asked Rabbi Freund if the girls’ parents wanted them home, and, she says, he told her, no. "He showed me letters from the father who asked for help, especially help to get his daughters into school but the parents didn’t know how much the girls wanted to go home to them. Freund told the parents the girls were happy,” she says.
According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund’s intention was to arrange marriages for the girls. “It was very hard for me to see the girls crying all the time, but I didn’t know the parents and I thought this is what they wanted,” she says. As a result, she says, she became a surrogate mother to the girls, in addition to her own two sons. “Freund became like a father to the two girls, but that meant their real mother and father became nothing,” she says.
A New Life - With Rabbi Freund’s help, Mrs. Mauda found work as a seamstress and was able to secure an apartment, even though she had no credentials. By December 1989, she was able to send for her husband and the other children, and they all settled in Monroe, where her husband was employed by the Satmars as a teacher.
Although the Satmars had promised her assistance in obtaining a Green Card, which would allow them to work legally in the US, when they did not follow up, she secured working papers for herself and her husband without any help. In the US, the Maudas had eight more children, and, in 1996, became citizens. Until 1992, she says, everything was “great.” “The children were in the Satmar school, we had Green Cards, and the community was nice, just like one big family,” she says.
Change in Policy - Her problems had their genesis in 1991, when Israel decided it wanted to bring the last remnant of Yemenite Jews to the Jewish State. Yemen, however, was not interested in doing anything to promote aliyah, and most Yemenite Jews were far too cowed by the dominant Muslims to speak on their own behalf.
A deal was made that would enable the Yemenites to come to the US and then secretly to travel on to Israel. The Satmars cried foul, arguing that they deserved at least the same right as the Jewish Agency to sponsor Yemenite Jews. The Jewish Agency argued that Satmar had nothing in common with the Yemenites and knew nothing about their “mentality or culture.”
Yemenite Party - To prove otherwise, leaders of the Satmar community turned to Mrs. Mauda. She was asked to host a contingent of Jewish Agency personnel as well as some American government officials to show how well Yemenites were able to live in the Satmar community. “A few days before Tisha b’Av, I had to make lunch for 50 people. I had to show them that we eat Yemeni foods and that we were very happy,” she recalls. It worked. The visitors found pious Yemenite Jews, eating Yemenite foods, speaking Yemenite Arabic, and living happily with their Satmar sponsors. When the Yemenite Jews began leaving Yemen, many of them came to the US under the sponsorship of the Satmars.
Fundraising - According to Mrs. Mauda, this arrangement was fraught with problems. To begin with, the newcomers all came under student visas, which mean they were unable legally to work. According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund and his group devised jobs for them, usually involving fundraising. “Yemenite children were forced to pose without shoes, with very poor clothing, and the Satmars took their pictures. Then they went out fundraising, telling people they were giving money to help the Yemenites.
They made millions of dollars in the Syrian-Jewish community and other Sephardic communities, where good-hearted Jews wanted to help the poor Yemenites. Even irreligious people gave them money for this cause. But none of the money ever went to the Yemenites. It went to Freund,” she says.
According to Mrs. Mauda, when the Satmars collected money ostensibly for the Yemenites, they told potential donors that $5,000 per month would house, clothe, feed, and educate a family. When Yemenite Jews were sent out to do their own fundraising, they were allowed only five to ten percent of the take, she says.
No Money - Usually, she says, the Yemenites saw no money. Instead, she says, Rabbi Freund’s group took everything and then paid for the Yemenite family’s rent and electricity, leaving them to scrounge for money for food on their own. "If they didn’t like the way a Yemenite was behaving, or if the Yemenite wanted to do something they didn’t like, they threatened to shut off the electricity. That brought people back into line,” she says.
Although many of the newcomers were promised by their Satmar handlers that they would be helped to obtain legal working papers, according to Mrs. Mauda, the Chassidim in charge of the Yemenites not only refused to help them, but actively made things more difficult. "It was easier to get a Green Card while they were still in Yemen than it was to get Freund to help them once they were here.
The State Department understands the meaning of "asylum" and it usually takes no more than three years to get a Green Card. There are Yemenites whom the Satmar brought here 10-15 years ago who still do not have Green Cards. Freund’s group doesn’t want them to have it because they don’t want the Yemenites to be independent,” says Mrs. Mauda.
The realization that the Yemenites in the community had no freedom of movement disturbed her. They were controlled, she says, by maybe a half dozen leaders, primarily Rabbi Freund, who had assumed responsibility for the community’s Yemenite project. Slowly, she began serving as an advocate, especially for Yemenite children who had been separated from their parents and wanted to go home.
To the Satmar leaders’ consternation, she became familiar with the local Monroe police, the Orange County Child Protection Services (CPS), and even the FBI, and managed to reunite several parents with their children.
Religion and Money - Asked why Satmar leaders such as Rabbi Freund were interested in gaining control over Yemenite children, Mrs. Mauda says the answer is twofold. First, she says, there is the religious aspect. “The Satmars want everybody to be Satmar. If you love Israel or want to speak Hebrew, that’s it. You’re going to Gehennom,” she says.
There is also a financial interest, she says, explaining that when the Satmars manage to place foster children in the community, that translates to about $600 per month per child from government-underwritten foster care stipends, more if the Satmars can come up with a disability or two. "If they can free the child for adoption, there is even more money for them from parents who can’t have children and want them,” she says.
Sterilization - Mrs. Mauda knows of one case in which, she says, she was instrumental in keeping the children with their parents, an outcome which so enraged the Satmar handlers, they retaliated by taking the woman to a physician and arranging for a tubal ligation, which left her sterilized. The physician whom Mrs. Mauda named has medical records showing that the woman requested the procedure. Mrs. Mauda claims the woman had no idea what she was getting herself into.
“The woman speaks no English. The Satmars took her to the doctor, and had her sign the papers that said she wanted the procedure. It wasn’t until she showed me the paper last year that I could explain to her how it was that she never became pregnant again,” says Mrs. Mauda.
Tragic Decision - One of the first families to come to Monroe after 1991 was Shalom Nahari and his four children. The Naharis had left a serious tragedy behind in Yemen. Their eldest child, a 13-year-old daughter, had been kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to a Muslim. According to Mr. Nahari, when he went to the authorities to try to regain his child, he was imprisoned. Upon his release, he fled to the US with the remaining four children.
The mother, Kadya, who was pregnant, refused to leave without her eldest daughter, opting to stay to try to win her child’s freedom. Upon their arrival in the US, the Nahari children, who were at that time 7, 5, 4, and 2, quickly found their forbiddens on posters asking for donations. The Satmars placed Mr. Nahari in a Satmar yeshiva in Monsey and the children, according to Mrs. Mauda, became the responsibility of Rabbi Freund.
Where Was the Money? He in turn asked Mrs. Mauda to accept the children in her house and invite Mr. Nahari to be with his children on Shabbat. Although, by that time, Mrs. Mauda had eight children and was pregnant with her ninth, she agreed. "The children came in with only the clothes on their back. Where did all that fundraising money go?” she asks. Mr. Nahari says that while the children were in the Maudas’ care, the Satmar leaders in “charge” of the Yemenites, wanted him to relinquish custody of his children and divorce his wife, who was still in Yemen. "They didn’t think she would come".
They tried to brainwash Mr. Nahari into thinking he should leave this wife and get another one. They wanted to give the children to Satmar families,” says Mrs. Mauda. Outraged, Mrs. Mauda says she sent Mr. Nahari to tell Rabbi Freund that he did not want any other wife. “I told Mr. Nahari he has to tell them he wanted the mother of his children,” she says.
Meeting the Chief Rabbi - When she tried to get the Nahari children into the local Satmar School, the United Talmudical Academy (UTA), she says she began to understand how the Satmars used their institutions to further their own ends. Following Rabbi Freund’s instructions, Mrs. Mauda had placed her own children in UTA, using the sponsorship of a school official with whom he was close.
For the Nahari children, however, Mrs. Mauda made an appointment with Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the elder son of the late Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum. Although Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum is in a dispute with his younger brother, Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, over control of the Satmar Empire, there is no question that Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum is the Chief Rabbi of Kiryas Joel. Mrs. Mauda recalls that Rabbi Teitelbaum greeted her and the Nahari children warmly; however, he insisted the decision concerning their education be made by Rabbi Shalom Meir Eckstein, who serves as an advisor to the Kiryas Joel Board of Education.
Tnaeim (conditions) - According to Mrs. Mauda, at her first meeting with Rabbi Eckstein, he insisted the children had to be tutored at home in Yiddish and other subjects before they could be admitted. She promptly retained a tutor for the children, but, she says, when she brought them back a few weeks later, Rabbi Eckstein had new conditions. "He wanted me to agree to three conditions: each child had to be given to a different family; the parents would have to agree not to see them anymore, not even for a visit; and even I must never ask about them again,” she recalls.
Her reaction was outrage. “The only time I give tanaim is before a wedding, and I’m not making a wedding with you,” she told him. “These are not my children. I am only taking care of them until their mother returns. Their mother is going to want them back.” Reached by phone, Mrs. Eckstein said Mrs. Mauda “knows what happened,” and that her husband would have no comment of his own.
CPS - For her part, Mrs. Mauda remembers Rabbi Eckstein shrugging his shoulders and saying that the children would not be admitted. This was no small matter, although she did not know it at the time. As Mrs. Mauda would later learn, if she did not get the children into school, Rabbi Eckstein or Rabbi Freund could call Child Protection Services and tell them that the children were being neglected. The charge might have the children removed from her home and placed in foster care, which was the Satmar leaders plan for the Nahari children. "That’s the way they operate,” she says.
Another School - Fortunately, not far from Kiryas Joel, another school was opening, one in which half the student body considered themselves followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, while the other half followed Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum. Mrs. Mauda made inquiries and then called UTA, telling them if they did not take the Nahari children, she would place them in the new school. "I didn’t want anyone to say I went against Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, but I had to get the children into school,” she says. Rabbi Eckstein changed his mind, she says, and Mrs. Mauda enrolled the Nahari children.
Slurs and Beatings - The way Yemenite children are treated in Satmar schools is an issue Mrs. Mauda refers to regularly. She has no problem producing several Yemenite teenagers who report that they and their Yemenite classmates are regularly referred to as “shvartzes,” a Yiddish term used derogatorily to mean “dark ones.” "And then the rest of the children follow their teachers,” says Zachary Nahari, now 23. He also describes real beatings perpetrated, he says, by teachers. “This is not a potch or a spanking. The teachers put you across a table and use a rubber stanchion,” he says.
Reunion - In March 1992, three months after Mr. Nahari and the children moved to Monroe, Mrs. Nahari arrived in the US. She had used the months in Yemen to do whatever she could to retrieve her kidnapped daughter, including pleading with the local imam, but it was all to no avail. When she realized she was in danger of losing the baby she was carrying, she gave up and left. Mrs. Mauda brought Mr. Nahari and the children to greet her at the airport, and, one week later, Mrs. Nahari gave birth to a baby boy.
The Naharis moved into an apartment in Monroe, and Mrs. Mauda rejoiced that her job was over. "The mother was back, and I could enjoy their being together,” she says.
Underestimating - According to Mrs. Mauda, two weeks later, the Naharis received notice from Child Protection Services that a case had been opened against them. "Freund must have called CPS even before the mother arrived. His group told CPS Mr. Nahari made sex abuse against his children and that he beat them. CPS didn’t know the children were with me all along and that the father saw them only on Shabbat in my house, but Freund did. He just never thought I would go against him,” she says.
By listening in the community, Mrs. Mauda says she soon discovered that the Naharis accusers wanted to give the children to a childless woman in Monsey, first, probably, as a foster child and then, perhaps, for permanent adoption. Mrs. Mauda does not want the woman’s name released. Working tirelessly with the Naharis and the family court, Mrs. Mauda managed to make CPS officials understand that there was no way Mr. Nahari could be guilty. The CPS case was closed and the Naharis kept their children.
Death Threat - According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund and his colleagues were not amused. “When they heard I killed their case, they had the woman they had planned to give the children to call me. She told me she and Freund knew where my two oldest sons were in yeshiva and that they were going to kidnap them and then come and kill me,” she says.
Terrified, Mrs. Mauda locked herself in one of the rooms in her house along with her six children who were then at home. She was afraid to call the police because the Satmars would then accuse her of being an informer. The laws against mesirah, or informing, are mentioned in the Talmud. During periods when Jews were at the mercy of ruthless gentile rulers, informing against another Jew or handing him over to the authorities was considered a particularly heinous crime. It put not only the individual at risk, but frequently the entire Jewish community.
Many authorities have ruled that, in the US, the concept no longer applies. (this sin't exactly the most objective nor accurate statement - J.I.) "I was pregnant, and I held my children close to me and began to pray to G-d. I was so scared,” she says.
She stayed like that for about half an hour, until she heard the door to the house open.“I heard people going from room to room in my house. I thought the children and I were going to be dead,” she says. The relief at discovering it was only her husband coming home was short-lived. She then called her sons yeshiva to make sure they were all right, and was told that her 16-year-old had just been picked up by “some people.”
She remembers losing consciousness, but she doesn’t recall being taken to the hospital. She knows it happened, however, because, three days later, she woke up in the Intensive Care Unit at Good Samaritan Hospital. In fact, the people who came for her son were just friends, but, says Mrs. Mauda, at the time; she could imagine only the worst. She says when she called the woman who threatened her, the woman seemed surprised. “I didn’t know you’d be so frightened,” Mrs. Mauda recalls her saying.
Not Through - The small victory she had won on behalf of the Nahari children was not the end of the battle. "Freund wanted me to stay away from the Naharis, but I wouldn’t. I knew the minute I backed off, they would take the children,” she says. By this time, Mr. Nahari had left the yeshiva and was working as a mashgiach in a local store, but, according to Mrs. Mauda, his entire salary went to Rabbi Freund who, she says, had promised to use the money to pay the Naharis’ rent and electricity.
Even so, according to Mrs. Mauda, the landlord agreed to give the Naharis a lease only if she co-signed it. Mrs. Mauda says tried to arrange for some people to give those donations, but, she says, Rabbi Freund convinced “everyone” not to give. "He told anyone who wanted to give the Naharis money to give it to him instead because he takes care of the Yemenites. He promised he’d pay their rent with it and get them what they need, but he didn’t do it,” she says.
Withdrawal of Support - Finally, the Naharis’ landlord took Mrs. Mauda to a beit din, because, she says, the rent on the Naharis’ apartment had not been paid. "Now Freund showed his true colors. He turned against me and my family because we were trying to help the Yemenites, and he doesn’t want anyone to help them,” she says. Inch by inch, the Kiryas Joel support system Mrs. Mauda had relied upon for the Naharis broke down.
A Nahari child who needed help with homework was told he could not receive it. According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund then accused her of working for the Jewish Agency and trying to “brainwash” Yemenite Jews into going to Israel. “He did that so the entire community would turn against me and would no longer help either the Naharis or me. It was the worst thing he could call me, and, of course, it wasn’t true,” she says.
Ultimatum - Finally, she says, Rabbi Freund gave the Naharis an ultimatum: Either break off relations with Mrs. Mauda or leave Monroe. Although it might be logical to consider it a blessing for a Yemenite family to leave the confines of the strict Satmar community, there is a definite downside. Besides missing friends (even Mrs. Mauda is careful to insist that she never accused the entire Satmar community of working against the Yemenites), the evicted family must find lodging.
A large apartment in Monroe can be had for $400 a month, according to Mrs. Mauda, a price that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere. Faced with that dilemma, Mrs. Mauda tried to cut back on her relationship with the Naharis, but it was too late. In 1997, UTA informed the Naharis that their children would no longer be welcome at the school. "Without school, they couldn’t stay there, so they left and went to Brooklyn,” says Mrs. Mauda.
Using the System - She explains that throwing children out of school is a tactic used by Satmar either to get rid of families or, in the case of the Yemenites, to get their children. According to Mrs. Mauda, after children are expelled from school, a leader of the Satmar community will call CPS and insist that a case be opened against the parents for neglect.
Once a parent is found guilty of neglect, CPS often turns to the religious leaders of the community in which the family resides for consultation on placing the children. In the case of the Yemenites in Kiryas Joel, the spiritual leaders are often the very Satmar leaders who filed the complaint against the parents in the first place. "Once they get CPS involved, Freund’s group tells the case workers the parents abuse the children, give those drugs.
CPS then asks Freund where they should place the children, and sometimes the parents never see their kids again,” says Mrs. Mauda. Even out of Kiryas Joel, the Naharis’ experience in the US has been, at best, mixed. Zachary Nahari, who blames the Satmars for following his family to Brooklyn and continuing to harass them, knows at least two families, with 15 children each, who called it quits and went back to Yemen. Another family, after the Satmar initiated one-too-many CPS cases against the parents in an attempt, he says, to get one or more of their 11 children, escaped to Israel.
Eviction - According to Mrs. Mauda, in 2002, Rabbis Freund and Eckstein finally decided they had had enough of the Mauda family and began making efforts to have the Mauda children expelled from school. At the same time, she says, her landlord was approached and told to evict the family. “The landlord told me he was going to sell his house and I must leave. I told him I knew the law was going to be with me on this issue, and he got scared and backed off,” she says. She also managed to find sufficient community support to prevent the expulsion of her children from UTA, she says.
Elisha - She believes that, at the same time, these Satmar officials, unable to expel her children or evict the family, turned their attention to her 16-year-old son, Elisha, who was, in 2002, studying at a yeshiva in Borough Park. Out of the blue, I received a call from his rosh yeshiva who told me Elisha was having trouble and he would have to leave,” she says. She says she was stunned. “Everyone knew he was a good student with no problems. Why did he suddenly have to leave?” she says.
She says that when she pressed the rosh yeshiva, he admitted some Satmar leaders in Monroe had told him that if he did not expel Elisha, no one in Kiryas Joel would ever donate to his school again. "I told the rosh yeshiva, you can’t do this, and, in the end, he let Elisha stay,” she says.
Loshon Hara - Undeterred, she says, the Satmars eventually went to the rosh yeshiva themselves and accused Elisha of spreading loshon hara, speaking badly about “someone,” presumably another student.
“When the rosh yeshiva called him in, Elisha didn’t know what he was talking about. He denied everything,” says Mrs. Mauda. Shortly after Yom Kippur, however, two boys from the yeshiva, who Mrs. Mauda is convinced were instigated by the Satmar leaders, cornered Elisha, beat him badly, and fled. The police found him on the street and took him to the hospital. After being accused of loshon hara, Elisha was loathe to give the police his assailants’ names and, instead, simply went home, where his father home-schooled him.
"No yeshiva would accept him after that,” says Mrs. Mauda. Today, Elisha is married and the father of two. He attends a kollel part-time and works with disabled children. He is hoping to get his high school equivalency degree and attend college so that he can become a special education teacher.
Staying in Kiryas Joel - Despite this experience, the Maudas were disinclined to leave Kiryas Joel. There was the issue of friends with whom they were close, her conviction that too many Yemenite families in Kiryas Joel needed her assistance, and the lack of money. Rabbi Mauda had suffered an accident and was no longer able to work outside the home. His disability insurance and the money Mrs. Mauda earned from babysitting constituted the family’s sole income. When Elisha’s experience did not persuade the family to move, Mrs. Mauda is convinced Rabbis Freund and Eckstein focused on Shlomit who, in 2003, was 12 and in the sixth grade. "Freund and Eckstein told the school they had to expel my daughter".
Freund is seen as an expert on the Yemenites, and Eckstein’s brother, is the Rosh HaKohol, a major leader. Freund and Eckstein told the principal Shlomit had a boyfriend and that she liked the Internet. I told them she never had a boyfriend and the only computer she used was the one in their classroom, but they said she had to leave the school,” says Mrs. Mauda.
Scare Tactics - Mrs. Mauda refused to accept the expulsion, and, she says, the school backed down, allowing her to enroll the child in seventh grade. But, after Passover, when it was clear Mrs. Mauda was still heavily involved in advising the Yemenites in the community, the school once again insisted the child had to leave. Mrs. Mauda and Shlomit recall the principal summoning them into the office and just yelling. “She said I don’t study, I do what I want, I come and go as I please, and I don’t listen,” says Shlomit, who denies any of that was true.
One particularly frightening episode took place when the principal called Shlomit to the office by herself. According to Shlomit, when she smiled at the rabbi, he became enraged. “He asked me why I was smiling, and I told him it was a mitzvah to smile. He said he was going to smack me and wipe that smile off my face,” she says. He didn’t strike her, she says, but he clapped his hands hard in front of her face. "Then he started asking me about my home. He wanted to know why my mother "butts in" and tries to help the Yemenites. He asked me if my father was afraid of her,” she says. Shlomit says that when she answered, “I don’t know,” the principal once again threatened to slap her.
The rest of the conversation went no better, she says. The principal, she says, asked her what she was doing wrong in school, and when she replied, “You must know because you told me to come here,” he accused her of being chutzpahdik. When she told him she did not know how to answer, he told her to keep quiet.
Name-Calling - In school, her relationships with the children were also deteriorating. She recalls one child bringing in pictures of naked women with Mrs. Mauda’s head superimposed on the models’ bodies.“I thought the pictures were real and I got very upset,” Shlomit says. “Then the school accused me of bringing in the pictures and they called my mother and me prostitutes.” The word the school officials used, according to Shlomit, was “zonah”, a term she had never heard before. She thought they were calling her a “zanav,” the Hebrew word for tail. “I kept looking behind me to see what they were talking about. I wanted to look in the mirror,” she says.
One Last Year - Shlomit was ready to leave the school, but her mother was not. “Money was a problem. I didn’t want to leave my friends, and I certainly didn’t want to leave the Yemenites who had no one else,” she says.Mrs. Mauda consulted a friend from Brooklyn who, while not a Satmar chassid herself, has worked as a teacher and counselor for many schools. At a joint meeting with the friend and Mrs. Mauda, the principal once again backed down, however, he told them, eighth grade would be Shlomit’s last year at UTA.“I couldn’t think more than one year at a time. I was just glad she was going to school,” says Mrs. Mauda.
The year was a disaster. According to Shlomit, the children taunted her mercilessly about supposed boyfriends and even accused her of being pregnant. The school’s administration informed Mrs. Mauda that even if Shlomit completed the year, she would not be allowed to attend graduation and would not receive a diploma.
In the spring of 2005, the school told Mrs. Mauda if she wanted Shlomit to return after the Passover break, she would have to see a Satmar therapist.Mrs. Mauda says she was certain Shlomit did not need psychological help, but, in principle, she had no objection to calling in a therapist. "But I didn’t want a Satmar therapist. I was afraid they would brainwash my daughter,” she says.
Instead Mrs. Mauda called on Dr. Mark Seglin, a West Orange-based, certified psychologist whom she had frequently consulted when Family Court required an expert opinion concerning the suitability of a parent’s regaining custody. "The Satmars said, no, I must use their psychologist, but I said why I can’t use my own therapist?” she says.
No Consultation - A specialist in adolescent issues who frequently works with delinquent children, Dr. Seglin, who saw Shlomit several times, says he was “shocked” by the Satmars’ behavior towards him and her. "The school wouldn’t return my calls. That has never happened to me before. Usually, schools are delighted to consult with therapists when decisions have to be made about a child’s education and treatment. I wanted to learn what kind of behavior they had seen so we could work together to help Shlomit if necessary,” he says, adding that, at the time, he saw nothing in Shlomit’s behavior that would warrant therapy.
Mrs. Mauda believes the school did not return Dr. Seglin’s calls because they did not want conditions to improve. “They wanted us out,” she says, “and they were using the issue of which therapist I was going to use as an excuse.”
When Shlomit showed up for finals, she recalls the principal telling her to “take the test at home and then throw it in the garbage.” Although the school would not allow Shlomit to pose in the class graduation photo, she did receive a diploma after the friend of Mrs. Mauda’s who had intervened earlier told them Dr. Seglin might call in the authorities if the child did not graduate. During the summer of 2005, UTA officials told Mrs. Mauda that for any of her children to return in the fall, they would all have to be seen only by a Satmar therapist.
Messages left for UTA by The Jewish Voice were not returned. In 2004, Joel Petlin, an administrator in the Kiryas Joel school district, denied that the Yemenites were being abused.
Mr. Petlin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his bureau, which runs English-as-a-second-language programs for Yemenite Jews, would “be the first line” in catching any kind of “funny business.” "They’re welcomed, they’re brought into the school system, they’re given places to live, food to eat, and every resource is made available to assist them in their resettlement,” Mr. Petlin told JTA. “People are free to choose to stay or go.”
Lakewood - In the fall of 2005, the Maudas finally took the hint and moved to Lakewood with the nine of their children still at home. Two of their married children also relocated to Lakewood. Unfortunately, she says, Satmar followed her. She believes Rabbi Freund’s organization called Lakewood’s schools, rabbis, and synagogues, warning them about the Maudas. "I tried to explain that all I wanted to do was help the Yemenites, but the people believed the Satmars,” she says.
In fact, Satmar itself has a very small presence in Lakewood, but, according to the friend who had intervened on the Maudas’ behalf with UTA, the schools and community in Lakewood tend to be wary when anyone in authority calls with this kind of information about a child. Nevertheless, eventually, Mrs. Mauda found schools for the children despite what she calls “Freund’s best efforts.”
Continuing the Work - She also refused to abandon the Yemenite families who had no one else to turn to. In December 2005, Mrs. Mauda became involved with Saana Alnahari, a 27-year-old Yemenite woman whose husband, Youssef, she says, was “brainwashed” by the Satmars into signing his wife into a mental hospital and seeking sole custody of their seven children so that they could be turned over to Rabbi Freund’s organization. According to a report in the Times Herald-Record, which services upstate New York, including Kiryas Joel, Mrs. Mauda and Rina Birnbaum, an Israeli attorney who has become an advisor to Yemenite Jews in the US, came to Mrs. Alnahari’s aid, rescuing her from the hospital, where she was confined to a psychiatric ward for six weeks, and shuttling her to the New York State Police to file complaints and to Family Court where they helped her petition for temporary custody while the family waits for a trial.
Accusations - According to the Times Herald-Record, in their filings, Mrs. Alnahari, Mrs. Mauda, and Ms. Birnbaum claim Mr. Alnahari conspired with Satmar leaders to commit Mrs. Alnahari to a psychiatric ward and place the couple’s two-month-old baby and six other children with various families while she was away. According to the Times Herald-Record, Mr. Alnahari told police he committed his wife because she suffered from post-partum depression and had threatened suicide. He said he placed the children in other homes only temporarily so that she would not be overwhelmed when she returned home.
Neither the Times Herald-Record nor The Jewish Voice and Opinion were able to obtain the paperwork that should be necessary for commitment to a mental hospital. Moses Wetriol, head of public safety in Kiryas Joel, says the fact that Mrs. Alnahari was in the hospital for six weeks “speaks for itself.”With the help of Mrs. Mauda and Ms. Birnbaum, Mrs. Alnahari quickly regained temporary custody, even though it took a visit from the police to secure the release of the infant from the “foster home” found for the child by the Satmars. It was unclear whether this “foster home” had won state approval.
Working for Israel? According to Mrs. Mauda, Rabbi Freund told the court that she (Mrs. Mauda) was an agent of the Jewish Agency who was trying to spirit Mrs. Alnahari and her children to Israel.
At the end of July 2006, Mr. Witriol made the same accusation, telling The Jewish Voice and Opinion that the Israeli government pays Mrs. Mauda $10,000 for every family she sends to Israel. Mrs. Mauda says she is tired of this accusation, which, she says, some Satmars have routinely used against her since 1992, and is completely untrue.
Asked about the accusation, Michael Landsberg, head of the Jewish Agency Aliyah Delegation in North America, confirmed Mrs. Mauda’s denial. He said Mrs. Mauda has no relationship with the Jewish Agency and that the agency had never given her money.
Near Riot - Nevertheless, the accusation does not go away and neither does the animosity held by some Satmars against Mrs. Mauda for what she sees as activism and kindness for the oppressed and they see as unwarranted and unwelcome intrusion. This past winter, according to the Times Herald-Record, the presence of Mrs. Mauda and Ms. Birnbaum in Mrs. Alnahari’s basement apartment drew dozens of Satmar men who surrounded the building and, according to Mrs. Mauda, scared the life out of the women.
"To me, it looked like an army of thousands, all in black,” says Mrs. Mauda. When they banged on the door, one of Mrs. Alnahari’s sons opened it before the women could stop him. Mrs. Mauda quickly called her husband on her cell phone so he could hear what was happening. When Rabbi Mauda heard the men demanding that his wife come into the street, he called the state troopers. “I was sure they were going to kill me,” she says.
According to New York State Police in Monroe, when the police came, they saw some of the men carrying torches and Mrs. Birnbaum’s car set on fire. Most of the Satmar men fled when the police came, but three of them, who allegedly had forced their way into the apartment, were charged with felonies. Israel Grunhut, 27, Isaac Weinstock, 29, and Israel Rolnitsky, 44, all of Kiryas Joel, were reportedly held in Orange County Jail in Goshen until each posted $25,000 cash bail. According to Mr. Witriol, the charges were eventually dropped, “because nothing really happened.” The State Police had no comment on why the charges were dropped.
Asked why the men had stormed the apartment in the first place, Mr. Witriol says Mrs. Mauda incited them. “She saw them walking near the building and told them she was going to call the police and that’s when they all came to the apartment,” he says. Mrs. Mauda, who says she never spoke to the men until they tried to break into the apartment, is convinced they were sent by Rabbi Freund. In order to leave the apartment, the women needed a police escort. They had to call a non-Jewish car service because none of the Satmar-owned businesses would help them.
Targeted - On Monday, Feb. 27, 2006, Mrs. Mauda again came from Lakewood to Monroe to help Mrs. Alnahari with the children. Because she was in Kiryas Joel, Mrs. Mauda missed the traditional Yemenite "khenna" ceremony that was held that evening in Brooklyn for her future sister-in-law. Instead, Mrs. Mauda’s 16-year-old son, Shmuel, Shlomit, and a friend of Shlomit’s from Lakewood represented the family. When the ceremony was over, about midnight, the three teenagers traveled to Kiryas Joel, where Mrs. Mauda was staying. The teens used the private bus service run by the Satmars between Brooklyn and Monroe.
On the way, Shlomit realized that while her friend was dressed modestly, it still might not be appropriate for Kiryas Joel. After conferring with the bus driver, a former neighbor whom they knew from Kiryas Joel, the youngsters decided to stop at a 24-hour Wal-Mart to purchase a button-down shirt for the friend. Their plan was to call for a car service to take them to Mrs. Alnahari’s apartment afterwards.As they were getting off the bus at Wal-Mart, Shlomit remembers the driver telling someone on the other end of his cell phone, “The Mauda children are at Wal-Mart.”
Levi Danziger - About 2 am, after purchasing the shirt, the three teenagers left the store and, in the pavilion outside, saw a Satmar chassid whom they did not know. According to Shlomit, he smiled at them and said, “You are Mauda. Do you need a ride? I have the time. Where do you want to go?”It is not clear if, even in retrospect, she realizes how dangerous it was.
At the time, she says, it seemed perfectly natural. “He was Satmar. He had a black suit and he had peyos and a beard. Why should we have been afraid?” she says. Her mother frowns. “Yes, she had been insulted and badly treated in school, but it never occurred to any of us that there was any physical danger. We never talked about the possibility. The children were always sheltered,” says Mrs. Mauda. According to Shlomit, the chassid, Levi Danziger, 35, went into the Wal-Mart and bought a small ball “just so he could show he had a reason to be there, that he wasn’t there just because someone told him to come after us.” The youngsters called Mrs. Mauda to tell them where they were and that they had a ride.
When he escorted the teens to his van, Shmuel sat in front with the driver and the two girls sat in the back. According to Shlomit, Mr. Danziger was “very friendly.” He asked them what their mother was doing in Kiryas Joel, what was going on in the house of the Yemenite woman, and what her mother’s plans were. He asked them where they lived, and they not only gave him their addresses, they told him they would be going to a wedding in Brooklyn on March 1, and they gave him that address, too.
Gradually, his conversation with the girls became laden with overtly sexual references. For example, at one point, he asked Shlomit why the family left Kiryas Joel. When she told him it was because of the names people were calling her, he took out $20 and told her he would explain to her what it was for. According to Shlomit, when they finally reached the Alnaharis’ apartment, he reached around to the back and managed to grope her. She says she was stunned and, at the time, not even certain what had happened.
When they got out of the car, Shmuel, who had been on his cell phone during most of the trip, says he was not aware that anything untoward had happened. Shmuel says he gave Mr. Danziger his and his mother’s cell phone numbers, because the chassid said he might be able to give Shlomit’s friend a ride back to Lakewood the next day. Shlomit says she did nothing to try to prevent the proposed ride for two reasons: She was confused and she was pretty sure her friend would be leaving before the chassid would come to the house. When Mrs. Mauda came outside to bring her children in, Mr. Danziger rode off.
Information - But the next day, while Mrs. Mauda was in court with Mrs. Alnahari, Shlomit says Mr. Danziger called while she was babysitting for the Alnahari children in Monroe. He told her he had some very important information about her mother and demanded she meet him outside. She asked him to tell her the information on the phone, but, she says, he insisted it had to be in person. Shlomit says she reminded him she could not go into his car, and, she says, he promised he would stay in the vehicle and speak to her through the window. But, she says, when she met him in order to find out what he had to say about her mother, he began yelling at her, “People are watching. Get into the car.”
Frightened, she says she did as she was told. “I get confused when people yell at me,” she confesses.This time, she says, he drove off to a wooded area, where, despite her cries of protest, he fondled her.When he finally took her back to the apartment, she says, he told her if she told anyone, he would kill her and her mother. Embarrassed, she told no one what had happened and, she says, she did her best to forget the incident.
Abduction - But on March 1, at the wedding, which she attended with her mother, a relative came up to Shlomit and told her someone was waiting for her outside. "I don’t know why I went outside, but I didn’t even remember I had told him where the wedding was,” says Shlomit. This time, she says, Mr. Danziger grabbed her into the van, locked the child-proof doors, and, behind buildings somewhere in Brooklyn, sodomized her.He ended the session, she says, when her frantic mother, who had found his number on her cell phone, began calling every five minutes. The number was on her cell phone, because, when Mr. Danziger had called Shlomit to make the appointment to give her “information,” he had called her on the only number he had for her: her mother’s cell phone. But when Mrs. Mauda called him from the wedding, Mr. Danziger reportedly responded, “I’m not in Brooklyn. I’m in Monroe.” "How do you know where I am?” Mrs. Mauda says she screamed.
A Man’s Voice - Desperate, Mrs. Mauda called her husband, who was home in Lakewood with the younger children, and told him to call the cell phone number. When Mr. Danziger heard a man’s voice on the other end, Shlomit says, he became frightened and delivered her back to the wedding with an ominous warning: “If I don’t hear from you every day, I’ll know you told someone, and then you and your family will be in real trouble.” At this point, Shlomit did not even know his name, but, she says, because she believed he would hurt her family, she did as he told her. She says she is certain no one at the wedding saw her leave or return. Following Mr. Danziger’s instructions, she went directly to the kitchen and told anyone who asked that she had been there all the time. "I knew something was wrong, but Shlomit wouldn’t tell me anything. She was too scared of Danziger,” says Mrs. Mauda.
Stockholm Syndrome - Although in retrospect it seems hard to believe, Shlomit called Mr. Danziger every day, as per his instructions. Dr. Seglin says it’s not as hard to believe as it may seem. The Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological disorder in which victims may protect their abusers, is not uncommon in cases of both physical and psychological abuse, he says. "Emotionally bonding with an abuser is actually a strategy for survival for victims of abuse and intimidation,” he says.
According to Dr. Seglin, in Shlomit’s case, the only “protection” she afforded Mr. Danziger was keeping quiet about the abuse and the enforced daily phone calls. "She felt that she and her family were in physical danger and she didn’t know how to escape from the situation since she believed he would kill her and her mother,” he says.
No Accident - According to Shlomit, her conversations with Mr. Danziger have led her to believe that he was not at that Wal-Mart by accident. “He told me he had been sent by someone,” she says, adding that he also told her that Rabbi Freund “does what I do to teens.” "We have the best jobs,” he allegedly told Shlomit. He also made certain that it was she who always called him. “That way, if the police find out, I can say it was you who was driving me crazy,” he allegedly told her.
Pick Up - On May 2, Shlomit was hurrying home from school because her family was hosting the brith milah of a new nephew. Although she was with two friends, she stopped short when she saw Mr. Danziger’s van. "I was too scared to move, but my friend asked him, "Who are you?" He screamed at her, "Why do you care? She’s my sister. Go away." They ran, and I wanted to scream, "Come back," but he grabbed me and put me in the van,” she says. According to Lakewood police, the girls who were with Shlomit have corroborated this. Shlomit says he had a mattress in the back of the van, and, after driving around Lakewood, he finally stopped in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Howell, and sexually assaulted her.
Pills - Afterwards, she says, he forced “something” down her throat. She says she had no idea what it was, but, she says, Mr. Danziger told her, “You’re on drugs and you’re hyperactive.” "It hurt my throat. It burned,” she says. Then, she says, he continued driving. At 8pm, she says, she told him she felt sick, and he drove to one of Lakewood’s kosher restaurants. Leaving her in the car, he bought himself some dinner and brought her some water” .He told me he was locking me in the car,” says Shlomit. While he was gone, she says, she managed to open the glove compartment of the car and, for the first time, learned her assailant’s name.
Telling No One - At about 10:30pm, he dropped her off near her home, telling her again that he expected to hear from her everyday. "When I came in the house, everyone was crying. My friends had told my family what they knew and everyone wanted to know what happened, I told them nothing had happened, but I felt sick,” she says.
According to Shlomit, the only one she spoke to was her cousin, Yiftach Melamed, who was visiting from Israel. After completing their IDF service, Mr. Melamed, 23, and his friend, Danny Peer, came to the US. Shlomit says Mr. Melamed is one of the few people she can talk to openly.
A few days after the incident, she told Mr. Melamed she had “eaten something bad, but don’t tell my mom.” "I was embarrassed for my mom to know and I thought Danziger would kill us if he found out. I didn’t know how he would find out if I told her, but I thought he would. I didn’t even tell Yiftach for a while,” she says. According to Mrs. Mauda, Shlomit was sick on and off for the next month, complaining chiefly of stomach pains.
DYFS - On Fri., May 3, one day after Shlomit’s incident with Mr. Danziger, Mrs. Mauda received a visit from a representative of the NJ Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), telling her an anonymous complaint had been filed against her by someone from the Satmar community in upstate New York.
The caller, whom the DYFS agent would not name, had accused Mrs. Mauda of giving her children heroin and neglecting them. "The DYFS agent told me the guy filing the complaint told them Shlomit was on drugs and she was hyperactive,” says Mrs. Mauda. Fortunately for the family, when the agent came, Shlomit was feeling fine and looked fine.
The agent met the other children and, Mrs. Mauda says, was pleased with what she saw. "I explained to her that I had been a witness against Satmar in many custody cases and that this was revenge against me.
DYFS understood and closed the case,” says Mrs. Mauda. For days afterwards, she says, she received calls from concerned friends in Monroe. “They kept saying, what happened? We heard you were arrested. We heard you were in jail. They told me they heard about this at the synagogue, but I know what happened. Freund told them, because he tried to open the case, but he did not succeed,” she says.
Telling - Shavuot this year fell on June 1. Too sick to participate with the family, Shlomit remembers going to her sister’s home in Lakewood and curling up in a ball. Once again, the only person with whom she agreed to speak was Mr. Melamed. This time, she says, he asked the right questions, and she told him everything. He then told his aunt and uncle.
Mrs. Mauda took her daughter immediately to Lakewood’s Kimball Medical Center, where she was found to be suffering from a massive urinary tract infection, consistent with sexual assault. Mrs. Mauda then reported the rape to the Lakewood Police who took all the information and, according to the police “a great deal of unspecified evidence.” This, in turn, was passed on to the Howell Police because the actual assault took place at the Wal-Mart in Howell. In Monmouth County, rape is defined as “sexual assault.”
(This last part appeared under the authorship of Suzanne Goldberg – J.I.):
Therapy - Shlomit is now in therapy with a female colleague recommended by Dr. Seglin. According to Shlomit, they talk a lot about the Stockholm syndrome. The therapist, who asked to remain anonymous, says there is no doubt in her mind that Shlomit was stalked, abused, and finally raped. Police in Howell, Monroe, and Brooklyn all say that Shlomit, whose story has never varied, is credible.
While the authorities are aware of Mrs. Mauda’s belief that Mr. Danziger was sent by the leaders of the Satmar community - and there may be some evidence that he admitted this to Shlomit - none of the police conducting the three separate investigations were prepared to say if that is where any of the cases are heading.
Mrs. Mauda says she is convinced the timing of the DYFS complaint against her was not coincidental. “Danziger gave Shlomit drugs the night before, and then Freund called DYFS so they would find drugs in her system and accuse me,” she says. She also recalls that Mr. Danziger mentioned something about Shlomit’s being “on drugs and hyperactive,” the very words used in the accusation that was given to DYFS. Asked why DYFS did not submit Shlomit to any testing, Mrs. Mauda says, “Because, Baruch Hashem, she looked fine on the day the agent came.”
Inadvertently responsible? One authority who is not ready to dismiss Mrs. Mauda’s conviction is Dr. Seglin. He remembers that, in late 2005, a few weeks before the Mauda children’s bus trip from Brooklyn to Monroe, he was asked by Mrs. Mauda to interview a Yemenite family on a custody issue. On that occasion, Mrs. Mauda and Shlomit were also present. "Shlomit’s English was better than anyone else’s in the room, and I was impressed not only with how articulate and bright she was, but also with how intuitive she was. She really understood what was going on,” he says.
When he wrote his recommendation to the judge, he suggested allowing Shlomit, despite her youth, to explain the situation. Now, says Dr. Seglin, he can’t help wondering if the Satmars saw that note and decided to discredit Shlomit as best they could.
Seeking protection - The Mauda family has responded to Shlomit’s ordeal by becoming very protective. “ We are afraid whoever sent Danziger will try to hurt her again,” says Mrs. Mauda. She says going public is part of the family’s plan to protect her. On Aug 5, Shlomit’s story was carried in the weekend edition of Yediot Achronot America. Messrs. Melamed and Pe'er have, at the family’s request, appointed themselves Shlomit’s bodyguards.
They drive her to her therapy appointments and generally keep an eye on her. Shlomit smiles shyly. “I like them, but I hope it won’t be necessary for too long,” she says. The family’s fear of retribution and his own concern for his cousin’s safety, prompted Mr. Melamed to seek counsel from Michael Wildes, who is not only the mayor of Englewood, but also a prominent immigration attorney. Mr. Wildes says he is “well-versed in protecting those in need of a safe harbor.”
Not a regular story - On the other hand, Mr. Witriol, Kiryas Joel’s head of public safety, discounts the entire story. Claiming to be a “neutral person,” Mr. Witriol, who also served as a police chaplain in Newark, says Mrs. Mauda was known “for always abusing her kids.” "Shlomit accused her parents of abusing her, and then she turned to Danziger for help,” says Mr. Witriol. “This is not just a regular story of him grabbing her and raping her. Of course, I could be wrong.”
Not a victim - Not that Mr. Witriol believes Shlomit is an innocent victim. “Shlomit slept around with all the delivery people in the village. Just ask all the Mexican delivery people,” he says. Mr. Witriol maintains that the Mauda family left Kiryas Joel because “the Yemenite community threw her out.” "There was trouble with her kids. The teachers fought with the mother. They all told her, this is not the place for you,” he says, adding that Mrs. Mauda “tries to split up Yemenite families.” "She has told wives to leave their husbands,” he says. Asked if he knows anyone who can corroborate his charges, especially the accusations concerning Shlomit, Mr. Witriol only says “everyone here knows it.” To prove his point that Mrs. Mauda is unstable, he says three of her children are divorced. Asked what that has to do with the rape of a 15-year-old girl, he says, “It shows this is not a normal family.”
According to Mrs. Mauda, only one of her five married children is divorced. That son, who lives in Israel, is now remarried, she says. Mr. Witriol says the real problem is that Mrs. Mauda and Rabbi Freund are involved “in a power play”, but, he says, he thinks there is very little likelihood that Rabbi Freund may have sent Mr. Danziger to hurt Shlomit. For one thing, says Mr. Witriol, they belong to separate groups. Mr. Danziger follows Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, and Rabbi Freund is associated with the group supported by the elder Rabbi Teitelbaum’s wife, he says. It was unclear if this means Rabbi Freund is a supporter of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum or if there is, perhaps, a third group. (Indeed, there is – precisely the followers of the “alter” [=old, old timer] Rebbetzin, who altogether reject Moishe Teitelbaum, Aaron and Zalman’s father. Affiliation with this fringe group is not always obvious though. Monroe residents can by and large be counted as Aaron followers, whether or not they actually accept him in their heart of hearts. – J.I.)
Fighting fear - Mr. Witriol says he is convinced Mr. Danziger will be acquitted - which is more of a statement than Mr. Danziger’s attorney, Anthony J. Fusco, of Passaic, was willing to make. Through his office, Mr. Fusco acknowledged that he was representing Mr. Danziger, but he would make no comment. Mrs. Mauda says Mr. Witriol’s statements show what is wrong in the Satmar community, especially among its leadership. "Everyone’s scared to go up against Rabbi Freund, but if the whole world is scared, who is going to help the people who are being abused?” says Mrs. Mauda.
The article ends here, with many questions left unanswered. How the case against L. Danziger turns out will probably take more than too much time. The bigger question is how the public opinion/reaction will play itself out. I have long maintained that of the more bitter fruits borne by current Orthodox Judaism’s fragmentation and compartmentation is the ensuing unaccountability of entire communities. Unfortunately, more often than not, rabbis and leaders consider groups other than theirs quasi non-existent, and won’t get involved with issues happening in other groups. As Jews, however, we are warrants for each other (ישראל ערבים זה לזה). In this particular case we are especially guilty if we sit idle, as our Yemenite brothers are exposed to political dirty tricks unknown to them. They are strangers in a strange land, vulnerable to extortion and exploitation at the hand of malevolent elements. This part far outweighs the sexual assault.
The initial accolades Satmar received on behalf of their efforts to help the Yemenites were more than deserved. Sadly enough, their claims about the Zionists and the Israeli establishment’s treatment of Teimani Jews are by and large true, even if exaggerated. This is however no license for them to victimize and usurp their protégés.
Just as a side note – I have been hearing of the Yemenites’ mistreatment for a while now, and those I spoke to all told me about this attitude in Satmar. As a sad irony, I personally know the victim’s family as well as two of the suspect’s siblings. The story sounds perfectly plausible to me (although some passages in the article definitely trigger eyebrow-raisings). The broader issue at hand is how the general public relates to the behavior of one sect. Will we silently encourage Satmar to continue their hideous conduct (not only in regard to the Teimanim) just as that entire community, through their silence, enabled the abuse of Yemenites?
Will we ever reach a point where we all stand up and declare that the buck stops here? Regardless of one’s political/sectarian affiliation, I believe one must do everything in his power to stop this crime against unsuspecting victims. You can print this article here and distribute it, or otherwise raise awareness. Please forward this to as many people as you can.
I'd like to conclude with the words of pastor Martin Niemöller, who survived Nazi concentration camps:
"When they came for the Jews, I didn't speak up because I wasn't Jewish. When they came for the Gypsies, I didn't speak up because up because I wasn't a Gypsy. When they came for the communists, I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up to."
© Joseph Izrael 2006