"He betrayed our trust and shattered our faith. He ruined Judaism for my daughter. She has to deal with memories no child should ever have."
Lori was born to a Jewish mother but her family didn't practice Judaism or acknowledge her heritage. Lori married a Gentile who was not affiliated with any particular religion. They wanted their daughter to receive religious instruction, so Lori's husband encouraged her to join a temple and enroll their daughter in Hebrew school.
After attending services alone or with her daughter for seven months, Lori's husband accompanied them one evening for services. Lori remembers the rabbi seemed really angry to see her husband there, and he avoided Lori and her family. She found this to be strange because the rabbi had always made a point of greeting her. A few weeks later, Lori again went to temple, this time without her husband and daughter. Before the service, the rabbi stopped Lori in the lobby, took her hands in his and tried to kiss her on the lips. She turned her head and his kiss landed on her cheek. She later noticed him kissing other women on the cheek but never on the lips.
Around this time, Lori and her husband started having communication problems in their marriage. Lori assumed their issues stemmed from not sharing the same religious faith because her husband began to object to the time she spent at temple. Her husband would later admit to her that he felt uneasy about her attending that temple but could not say exactly why. On the advice of a friend in the congregation, Lori spoke to the rabbi about her marital issues and he instructed her to come to his office for counseling, without her husband. The rabbi also encouraged her to conceal the counseling from her husband.
During the first counseling session, the rabbi told her that he was not willing to do couples counseling and gave her contact information for a secular therapist. The rabbi then began to question her in depth about her sex life. When she hesitated to answer, the rabbi explained that he needed to assess her marriage. The rabbi made a passing reference to couples counseling, then focused on divorce and child custody issues, discussing intimate details from his failed marriage and divorce with Lori. The rabbi told Lori that she was in an untenable situation and insisted she decide, within two weeks, whether she wanted to attempt couples counseling or get a divorce. He made an appointment for a second counseling session, telling Lori he wanted her decision then, before he went on vacation. The tone of the rabbi's counseling, Lori recalls, placed her husband in the role of the ‘bad guy' – ‘us' against ‘him'. As Lori was ready to leave the rabbi's office, he held out his arms and asked for a hug. He pulled her into a full body embrace, "for too long," Lori recalls. She felt uncomfortable and pulled away.
Inappropriate actions in public
Between counseling sessions, the rabbi engaged in inappropriate behavior toward Lori when other congregants were present. Before services on Hanukkah, the rabbi walked behind the pew where Lori was sitting and caressed her upper arms, collarbone area, and the back of her neck with his fingertips, in front of her 7-year-old daughter. The rabbi then leaned down, kissed Lori's cheek near her lips and said, "Shabbat Shalom" softly in her ear. As he straightened up, he smiled at Lori's daughter and stroked the back of her head, saying "Happy Hanukkah." Her daughter objected to the rabbi's actions, crossing her arms over her chest and exclaiming, "I can't believe he just did that to you!" While he led the service, the rabbi focused his eyes on Lori, staring at her inappropriately. Lori recalls the rabbi's wife walking past her pew after the service and giving her angry looks, "like she wanted to slap me," and it was obvious she'd noticed her husbands behavior. Apart from her daughter's comment, however, no one said anything to her about the rabbi's behavior toward her. Two days later, Lori went to an adult education class led by the rabbi, while her daughter was in Hebrew school. Lori remembers this class was different than the others she had attended. Instead of leading the class from the front of the room, behind a lectern, the rabbi sat next to Lori – close enough to her that his knees kept brushing hers under the table. Lori noticed the rabbi's hands shaking when he got up to write on the white board.
After the second counseling session, the rabbi gave Lori a hug that turned into another full body embrace, forcing her up against him so she would feel that he was aroused. The rabbi later told Lori how attracted he was to her and tried to persuade her to come to his office at temple that evening, after hours. The rabbi told Lori that he and his wife had discussed what would happen if one of them ever became attracted to someone outside their marriage. The rabbi told Lori that his wife had simply said, "Just don't bring me home any social diseases." Lori recalls that the rabbi left no doubt about what he wanted, saying to her "that which is most masculine in me wants that which is most feminine in you." Lori told the rabbi "No!" She recalls that he panicked, exclaiming, "I could lose my job over this; congregants don't like this sort of thing!" Lori remembers that the rabbi sounded as though he might start crying as he tried to convince her that she had misunderstood him. The rabbi sounded so upset that Lori promised him that she would never tell anyone what had happened. The rabbi then said, "It's always the last detail you forget, the last person you think about, that gets you caught," and Lori recalls feeling as though he were talking to himself.
'I couldn't even pray anymore'
Lori didn't tell her husband about the situation for some months. Since the Hebrew school tuition had been paid, she stayed at that temple to avoid answering questions if she pulled her daughter out before the end of the year. Lori recalls that the rabbi treated her differently after she refused his advances. "I went from being someone special, someone who belonged at temple, to being a problem – something that required damage control." At the same time, even after she told him to stop, the rabbi continued to sexually harass Lori, kissing her and touching her when his wife wasn't around. "It was incredible what he was doing to me, the manipulation, the intimidation; it got to the point where I couldn't even pray anymore," Lori recounts. "The guilt, shame, and pain I felt was overwhelming. I thought at the time that I was the only woman who had experienced this – I was totally alone with nowhere to turn for help."
Lori recalls that after the initial shock began to recede, she started to observe the rabbi's interaction with some of the other female congregants, the stares, the kisses, the inappropriate touching. In one incident, Lori remembers seeing the rabbi place his hand on the thigh of an unmarried female congregant seated next to him and laughingly admonish her for not eating before class, after her stomach audibly rumbled. The rabbi quickly pulled his hand off the woman's leg when he realized Lori was watching him. This occurred in full view of at least eight other adult congregants, while the rabbi was leading a class in a fairly small room, however no one objected to his actions. The congregations silence regarding the rabbi's abusive behavior convinced Lori that no one would believe or support her, if she came forward and reported him. This made Lori feel trapped; unable to stop him from doing it again to another woman.
Lori described being unable to sit through services without having to rush to the restroom to vomit or cry. She lost a lot of weight because she was always nauseated and suffered from panic attacks. Lori remembers itching ‘all over' for a month after the last counseling session. Lori told a friend in the congregation what had happened when the woman approached her in the restroom while she was having a panic attack. This friend then told the rabbi what Lori had said. After staying away from services for a few weeks, Lori and her daughter attended the Bat Mitzvah of a friend. The rabbi approached Lori and her daughter after the service. He grabbed Lori's upper arm and shoved her as hard as he could, nearly causing her to fall, then he knocked her daughter out of his way. Right after the physical assault, the rabbi led the congregants in a blessing, while glaring at Lori from across the room. Lori was bruised and terrified after this encounter and never returned to that temple.
Betrayed and rejected
Lori started attending services at other temples, trying to find a place where she felt safe, but she felt violated no matter where she went. Betrayed by former friends in the first congregation, who chose to support the abusive rabbi, she was unable to form new friendships in the Jewish community. Lori explains that the prayers and songs of the Jewish liturgy became triggers that would cause her to relive the rabbi's abuse and made it very difficult to sit through services. She went into counseling with a female secular therapist and was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Lori enrolled her daughter in an Orthodox Hebrew school and attended services there because of their rules that dictate men and women sit on different sides of the sanctuary; the rabbis weren't allowed to touch female congregants.
A year after she left the Reform temple, Lori was told by an acquaintance in the Jewish community that the rabbi who abused her had been sued by a female congregant for sexual harassment a few years before she joined the congregation. Lori was told that the lawsuit was settled by the temple's malpractice insurance and the Board of Directors hushed up the entire incident. The congregation was not informed and the rabbi was allowed to stay. When she was told of another victim, Lori reported the rabbi's actions to the Reform Denomination. The rabbi resigned from the temple just after he was questioned about the sexual harassment lawsuit. The rabbi was ordered to submit to a complete psychological examination and therapy, if indicated, by the appointed Ethics Committee, but this was reduced to a confidential letter of reprimand after he appealed to his colleagues on the Reform Denomination‘s Board of Trustees.
Religious governing body
After the Reform Denomination's Board allowed the rabbi to evade psychological evaluation and treatment, Lori stopped going to services and she allowed her daughter to leave Hebrew school at the end of that year. Lori recalls feeling betrayed by her religious governing body, "The Reform Denomination failed to uphold their sacred duty to keep the rabbinate safe. It's obvious that they are unable to police their own to prevent congregants from being hurt by an abusive rabbi." Lori arranged for a female teacher from the Orthodox temple to give her daughter private Hebrew lessons, and this remained their only link to the Jewish community for a very long time.
Her daughter no longer wants to attend temple after seeing what the Reform rabbi did to her mother. Lori says, "He betrayed our trust and shattered our faith. He ruined Judaism for my daughter. She has to deal with memories no child should ever have." Lori explains how the abuse affected her spirituality: "I came to temple to find the Jewish heritage I was denied as a child. My first experience with a rabbi was so destructive that I will never recapture the joy I felt when I first began to practice my faith, before I was abused." Lori concludes, "The rabbi's actions have forever contaminated Judaism for me and for my daughter. I will never forgive what he did to my child, or what he did to me."