Monday, November 16, 2009

A Wedding and a Suicide

It should have been a joyous occasion. But for one young man, the night of his wedding brought back haunting memories of being molested as a young student. The orthodox Jewish world was reeling from reports that a young newlywed committed suicide by jumping off a hotel balcony two days after his wedding in the early morning hours. No one could come up with a plausible reason why a man with a winning personality and a promising future would take his own life. Surveillance videos were a crack in the idyllic picture, as were troubling phrases in police communications such as "emotionally disturbed". It was getting harder with time to dismiss the tragic occurrence as an accidental fall.

Now it turns out that Motty Borger may have been tormented by memories as molestation that haunted him as he started out life as a married man. The New York Post reported as follows yesterday on the troubling case.

A Brooklyn newlywed who jumped to his death from a hotel balcony the night after his wedding was tormented by memories of being sexually molested as a Jewish student, sources say.

After joyfully singing and dancing at their lavish celebration in Williamsburg on Nov. 3, Motty Borger, 24, bared his secret anguish to his bride, Mali Gutman, the next day -- and the revelation caused a strain, a source close to the family told The Post.

"That entire day he discussed it with her. He told her the story of his life, how he felt so awful and he couldn't go near her," the source said. The couple had met just last July, after a matchmaker set them up.

"When he got married, he realized he couldn't face up to it, and he told his wife that he needed help."
The Post reported that Borger had confided in close relatives that he had been molested in yeshiva as a teenager, but that law enforcement had never been contacted. So now, a young groom is dead and a young bride is devastated at a time that should have been a new beginning. There are all too many cases where molestation is swept under the rug. Kids act out by rebelling against religion and authority. They are ostracised and labelled as bad kids. Meanwhile, the molester enjoys respect, dressing in the garb of religiosity that was cast off by the abused child.

It's a mistake that religious communities have made all too often. The Catholic church has also had its rash of scandals. the Witnesses have also had a rash of abuse incidents that were handled "in house". Then there is the matter of the Amish, who have a tradition of confessing before the congregation in exchange for a few weeks of being shunned. This leaves those who report rape and other abuse being punished worse that the perpetrators.

What are the common denominators between Amish, the Witnesses , Catholics and orthodox Jews who do not report offenses? In all cases there is an authority structure based upon religious law. People who have established a separate community feel that calling in the government is compromising their separateness. In some cases, they feel that canon law, or religious law is somehow diminished by allowing it to be superseded by those of criminal courts. At least as strong as all these reasons combined is the feeling that the community is shamed by "airing dirty laundry" in public. Victims are made to feel that they are "damaged goods. This feeling can even extend to the family of the victim.

There are serious problems with handling such matters within a community.

1) There are no private jails or system for administering capital punishment.

2) Most communities lack the organisation and resolution to adequately supervise the punishment and rehabilitation of abusers. It is one thing to adjudicate a marital or business dispute. Hard core crime is beyond the scope of a subculture with no state of its own.

Child molesters and rapists need to go through the criminal justice system. If it turns out that Motty Borger was molested with no action taken in government courts, then it can realistically be said that his molestor was also a murderer. A single act of molestation can have a ripple effect that stretches out for generations and blights a whole family. Failing to prosecute molesters shows the victim that he or she is unimportant. It leads to cynicism if the perpetrator enjoys honour and respect in the community. When other people see that molestors get a free pass and their victims are thrown out of the community, it does not just create the appearance of injustice but the worst sort of injustice itself.

To distance a community from the cultural mainstream is a valid choice. In the best of circumstances, this is a way for religious minorities to preserve their traditions. But molesters and other criminals sometimes see the reluctance to involve the government as an opportunity to ply their trade. People like that should be "blown out of the water". They should find themselves in regular criminal court. Because their use of religious garb and manners is just a trick to cover their criminal proclivities.

There is a community that has taken the proper stand, cooperating fully with criminal authorities whenever necessary. Rabbi Ron Yitzhak Eisenmann heads a congregation in Passaic, New Jersey that has been on the cutting edge in dealing with sexual abuse and molestation. The Jewish Week reports as follows on efforts made in that community.

"On the night before Yom Kippur in September, Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman stood before his Orthodox congregation, in a room crowded with men wearing black hats and women wearing sheitels, and moderated a panel discussion among five Orthodox Jews who said they had been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of other Orthodox Jews. The rabbi regularly uses his pulpit to preach against the evils of sexual molestation.

On another recent day Michael Lesher, an Orthodox lawyer and author, welcomed four young Orthodox Jews into his home, two men and two women, who told him their stories of sexual molestations committed by Orthodox Jews. For more than a decade he has served as the legal “advocate” for sexual abuse victims and as “their voice,” since first handling a custody case that involved a sexually abused child.

Also not long ago, Brochie Neugarten, an Orthodox mother who works as a purchasing manager, described to a friend her plan to establish an organization that will offer financial support to victims of sexual abuse in the community. Neugarten became an activist a few years ago, after someone she knows became the target of a molester.

The efforts by Rabbi Eisenman, Lesher and Neugarten, rare steps against sexual abuse in a religious community, took place within a few blocks of each other in Passaic, a middle-class suburb with a growing haredi community 10 miles west of Manhattan in northern New Jersey."

In that community, the congregation is notified from the pulpit if a known molestor moves into the community. People are told to go straight to the police with allegations of abuse and molestation. There is no opportunity to misuse religious sensibilities to protect deviant behavior.

If this communal policy becomes the norm all across America, then perhaps lives can be saved. Could prompt action in the Motty Borger case have saved him years of private anguish? A victim of abuse needs to hear that the shame belongs not to them but to their abuser. This is justice.

There are too many people who hide a private agony, anger and shame that should not be theirs. A justice system in our community that punishes the victim and accords respect to the perpetrator is not a justice system at all. It has nothing to do with divine justice, nothing at all to do with G-d's kingdom on earth. In reaching out to the victims of abuse and in punishing the perpetrators, we are reaching out to G-d Himself. There is no time to waste. None at all. How many more will die? How many good people will leave our communities? Sphere: Related Content


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Anonymous said...

The problem is rooted in that to most rabbis pedophilia was a foreign and strange concept. They didn't understand nor could fully accept that someone would actually practice it. Nor did they grasp the consequences to the victim.

Publication of stories like this brings it into reality for them.

Unfortunately it took stories like this to bring the concept home.