Members of the haredi community in the capital’s Nahlaot neighborhood are
calling it “The Holocaust.” At least 10 pedophiles molested more than 100
children for six years, reaching nearly every family in this close-knit
One mother couldn’t figure out why her two sons would get
hysterical every time she left the house, begging her not to go. They were
chewing their clothes to pieces and having uncontrollable outbursts. She
brought them to different doctors and psychologists to try to determine what was
wrong, but no one could figure it out.
Then community doctors started
seeing strange marks, possibly indicative of abuse, on many of the
children. Finally, one young boy was injured in a way that was
unmistakably sexual abuse. He was the one who finally broke the silence,
and talked about the horrific abuse happening in the
Members of the community call this “the
“Rivka,” a mother who lives in Nahlaot, walked through the
deserted courtyards of the haredi Batei Broyde neighborhood on Tuesday with a
reporter from The Jerusalem Post. She talked about the devastating effect the
pedophiles have had on Nahlaot, both the haredi area of Batei Broyde and the
mixed area, where she lives.
“This is like a little shtetl in downtown
Jerusalem,” she said. “These are the holiest, kindest, best people, people who
have devoted their lives to Torah. All of a sudden, it’s like they go from that
to being the epicenter of the largest pedophile ring in Israel’s
“These people aren’t lawyers, they’re not politicians, and
they’re in a situation that’s so much bigger than anything they can
The long rows of apartments in Batei Broyde were built more than
100 years ago, and the area is one of the original neighborhoods built outside
of the Old City. Thousands of tourists pass through the courtyard each
year to see the neighborhood’s Old World charm and picturesque stone archways in
the middle of the downtown Jerusalem bustle.
“If you go house by house,
almost every family was affected,” said Rivka.
A haredi mother from Batei
Broyde who asked to remain anonymous said six families have left the
neighborhood due to the abuse scandal. In a neighborhood where each family has
seven to 14 kids, the decisions to leave have left large holes in the community,
In one family that left, out of 10 children, every single child
“They would recruit and threaten babysitters, ones who had
been molested for years,” explained Rivka. “They would tell them ‘if you
don’t bring the toddlers that you’re babysitting for, we know where your bedroom
is and we know where your parents are and we’ll come and kill you.’”
that the man she believes is at the head of the pedophile ring, S, recruited
some older men who had mental challenges or were considered “a little off” by
the community. These men were considered largely harmless, and were even invited
to meals by the parents of the children they abused.
She said S used
these men to threaten kids on their way home from school, forcing the children
to go to apartments where the pedophiles had access. Some of the suspects were
able to make copies of keys, and memorized the schedules of the parents to know
when apartments were empty.
In July 2011, the community went to the
police and began making complaints. Almost immediately, the police
understood they were dealing with one of the largest pedophile abuse scandals in
the country’s history.
Today, there are more than 80 children who have
made official complaints, but they have named at least 110 children who were
Six men were arrested over the course of the summer, but police
were only able to gather enough evidence to indict three of them, Binyamin Satz,
Bentzion Primishelanu and Zalman Cohen. The three men will remain incarcerated
until the end of the legal proceedings against them.
The other three,
including S, considered by the neighborhood residents to be the mastermind of
the pedophile ring, were incarcerated for a number of weeks and then released
due to lack of evidence.
On January 8, an additional three suspects were
arrested. One was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and the remaining
two were given a restraining order and forced to leave Jerusalem for two months.
A 10th man who police were investigating was found dead in his apartment at the
end of December. Police classified his death as a suicide. Rivka
explained that his apartment was where children allegedly went to watch movies
the pedophiles had made of them.
The Committee for the Rights of the
Child, headed by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), toured Nahlaot on Thursday
in a show of solidarity with the neighborhood.
The committee also held a
special meeting examining the pedophile scandal two weeks ago at the initiative
of Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), who said the residents turned to him after
they felt the police investigation was not making progress.
“The past is
what the police are investigating, ” Maklev said on Thursday in a statement
released by the committee. “We are interested in the present – that the
reality of everyday life returns to the routine.”
Now that the years of
secrecy have been broken, the community wants to begin to heal. But what is most
terrifying for the children and their parents is that at least three of the
pedophiles are still at large in the neighborhood, threatening families who have
already suffered abuse.
Police have stressed the difficulties of
testimony from children. A concerned parent who asks their child if a
certain person hurt them has immediately tainted the investigation, and may have
rendered the child’s testimony inadmissible in court. Similarly, a parent who
promises their child a candy bar after three hours of grueling testimony with a
police investigator is considered to have offered their child a bribe, and thus
disqualified their testimony.
“The State Attorney’s Office said that the
parents destroyed the investigation,” said Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel
Ben- Ruby, who added that the families only came to the police after they had
done their own informal investigation.
“This is the price the parents and
kids are paying, this is the price of silence,” said Ben- Ruby. “It hurts me for
these poor children, that they suffered this for years because of parents that
preferred to keep it quiet, sweep it under the rug, go to the rabbis and take
care of it themselves.”
But parents complained that the police never gave
them this information, and never told them to stop talking to their children or
how to approach the issue.
“It’s the job of the police to protect the
community,” said Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, a community leader in
“Maybe it could have been better, but now you’re getting full
cooperation. Trying to blame the community is a disrespect to a community that’s
been hit hard.
“It’s like what MK Uri Maklev said [at the committee
meeting two weeks ago]: It’s not that the haredi families didn’t know this was
going on, they didn’t know things like this could go on.”
Not only are
the pedophiles still walking around the neighborhood, but they’re threatening
the families who complained. One of the pedophiles threatened to kill Rivka
while she was with her children last week. Others who are leading the fight in
the public sphere through blogs and the media have also been
“This is the biggest sex offender in Israel’s history. He
masterminded the systematic rape of over 100 kids, and he’s just sitting there.
Can you imagine how terrifying this is?” asked Rivka.
The social services
have been struggling to provide therapy for more than 100 kids of destitute
families. Many families were barely making enough money to survive before
the abuse, but now, they are faced with therapy for five or six kids at a cost
of more than NIS 1,000 per week.
“The kids are under house arrest,
instead of the people who should be under house arrest,” said Rivka, gesturing
to the empty courtyards. “People are raising 10 kids in two rooms, and
the kids are not allowed outside, ever."
“This was so devastating for us,
we were so depressed when it first came out,” said Rivka. “It was really a
mourning process for a neighborhood we loved, and an illusion of purity and
goodness. We thought to raise our kids in this beautiful village in the
city, but it’s like someone has poured a bucket of ice cold water over
But there are rays of hope in the community’s struggles. Sara
Mannheim, an art teacher in Nahlaot, is trying to provide art therapy for some
of the haredi women in the neighborhood. She is currently overseeing a large
mural of the Seven Species, which six mothers work on at a time.
premise of the Seven Species is that this is the most treasured thing, and the
most treasured thing to us is our children,” said Mannheim. The first
thing to be completed on the mural was the sky overlooking a rebuilt Jerusalem.
“The sky is filled with light and hope for the future, because that’s the
message,” she explained.
Mannheim is also trying to organize activities
for the children – art therapy, psychodrama, drumming, swimming – something none
of the parents in the neighborhood can afford, but which can help the children
reclaim their self-confidence and independence. She’s also working on two-day
trip to the north and a psychodrama for the mothers.
“Parents know they
have to be strong for their kids,” she said. “We have to hope, everyone says
this will scar them for life... but we need to hope. This is the culture of the
The community of Nahlaot is currently working to set up a
legal defense fund and raise money for activities for the children.For
inquiries into ways to support, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.