Saturday, October 2, 2010
Rabbi sexually abuses student; affair hushed by college
Teacher at religious college in Jerusalem files suit against rabbi for allegedly harassing former student. Teacher claims affair was silenced by college, which reached financial settlement with Takana forum in return for immunity
The psychiatrist who Shlomit (not her real name) visited in the summer of 2007 was shocked to find the 24-year-old ultra-Orthodox woman, who was escorted by her father and one of her teachers, in an extremely fragile mental state.
According to the psychiatrist, the young woman was sexually abused by a senior rabbi at the Jerusalem College for Women, located at the Bayit VeGan neighborhood.
In a statement of claim against the college, Shlomit's teacher, Ishka Buchnik, describes what the young woman allegedly went through, and the institution's attempts to cover up the affair.
The statement of claim was released for publication despite the college's request to impose a complete blackout on the affair's details.
According to the statement, during the 2007 summer vacation, Shlomit arrived at the house of college department director Rabbi Mordechai Kuperman, while in a "delusional and severe emotional state."
Buchnik, who was made aware of the meeting only a month after it took place, arrived at the student's house and was shocked to find her in an extremely dire state. The next day, Buchnik escorted Shlomit and her father to a meeting with the psychiatrist that treated the young women.
Several weeks later, on the intermediate days of Sukkot, the teacher spoke with the student's mother. According to the mother, "Shlomit suffered a psychotic episode due to physical contact with a rabbi in the college, and has already tried to commit suicide twice."
'Was, will always be mentally ill'
According to the statement of claim, Buchnik decided to approach college director Devorah Rosenwasser, but was dumbfounded by the latter's response. "Shlomit was and will always will be mentally ill," the director told Buchnik in conversation.
Meanwhile, Shlomit's condition continued to deteriorate, and Buchnik was forced to alert the psychiatrist, who was away on a family vacation at the time. After examining the young woman, the psychiatrist told Buchnik that "there is a strong probability the rabbi committed sexual assault," and recommended that Shlomit be hospitalized immediately, because there was a fear for her life.
After a joint consultation, Shlomit was placed under personal supervision at Rivka's house – a haredi woman who takes care of women in distress.
According to Rivka's testimony, which was included in the statement of claim, "During the Sukkot holiday, I received a phone call from a psychiatric doctor at the hospital, who asked if I can host in my house a young women who has been sexually abused, and claimed the accusations were true. I saw messages in her cell phone, where she wrote the Rabbi that he ruined her life, and it wasn’t only touching, but much more than that."
In December 2007, Buchnik approached female Rabbi Yehudit Shilat, chairman of Takana – a forum of religious Zionist rabbis fighting against sexual abuse in the National Religious sector.
In July 2009, Shilat appointed a committee to examine Buchnik's claims. The committee included Ramat Gan Rabbi Yaccov Ariel, Head of Yeshivat Ramat Gan Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, Yad Sarah's family center director Dr. Shlomit Lehman and Dean of Sha'arei Mishpat College Dr. Aviad Hacohen.
According to the statement of claim, in September 2009 Shilat informed Buchnik that her complaint was found to be true.
Three months later, Shilat told Buchnik that Takana reached a settlement with the Rabbi and the college.As part of the settlement, the sides did not admit to the claims, but were willing to pay Shlomit a compensation of NIS 20,000 (about $5,400) each. In addition, the rabbi was ordered to retire from his position in the college as soon as possible. In return, the college and rabbi were given full immunity on matters related to the affair.
However, the story does not end there. According to the statement of claim, Buchnik was subject to harassment by the college even before she brought the case in front of the Takana forum.
In November 2007, Buchnik received a harsh letter from the Jerusalem College for Women and the rabbi's lawyer, stating that "my clients informed me that you have been spreading gossip within the college lately, and making accusations of sexual assault that a rabbi allegedly preformed on a college graduate with an unstable mental state.
"Your claims are false and constitute as slander. Spreading these accusations severely damages the reputation of my client," the letter read. The attorney demanded that Buchnik stops her actions immediately, and threatened to take legal proceedings against her.
Meanwhile, the college management summoned Buchnik to a parity committee in order to have her dismissed after 23 years of employment, during which she received numerous letters of appreciation.
According to Buchnik, the college management cancelled the summons once it found out that she was planning to share the details of the affair with the committee.
'Student didn’t turn to us'
In an official statement, the college said, "Buchnik brought to our awareness that a former student claimed she was sexually abused by the said rabbi. This was not the first time the teacher has spoke ill of the rabbi. She never liked him, to say the least.
"Many times before she made harsh accusations against him, and none were proven to be true. We stress that we've told the teacher that our door is open to the student, and that she can come to us with her claims. We also emphasized to the teacher that if the student chooses to come forward, we will act according to the law. Unfortunately, the student never approached us and never complained to us against the teacher.
"Even so, we immediately employed all necessary means to examine the 'complaint,' although it was considered to only be a rumor. When Takana forum decided to probe the affair, we adopted all of its recommendations and implemented them fully.
"In regards to the dismissal, the issue was based on a matter-of-fact circumstance, and was completely unrelated to the affair," read the statement.
Takana forum claimed they reported the affair to the Attorney General's Office shortly after it was made known to them in 2009. However, Justice Ministry officials claimed the true nature of the affair was concealed from the law authorities, adding that the report handed by the forum was partial at most.
Only on Tuesday, following the request of Yedioth Ahronoth, Shilat gave her testimony to Attorney Raz Nizri of the Attorney General's Office.
In addition, Nizri requested that Shilat hands over all the information available to Takana, so that it can be examined along with the findings from Yedioth Ahronoth's investigation.
Takana forum stated in response, "We will act according to the law and within its framework. The forum reports to the elements responsible for law enforcement if the need arises. Due to immunity on the proceedings, we are unable to provide further information."