Like in the Weberman trial, Luzer Twersky was a victim of sexual abuse within his Hasidic community, and he tells the truth about modesty committees.
The Weberman trial verdict just came in: Guilty on 59 counts. But the Hasidic community’s “modesty committees” make any sort of progress almost impossible.
I can’t imagine what the victim at the center of the Weberman trial is feeling right now as the jury has finally returned, finding the Satmar Hasidic leader guilty on 59 counts of sexual abuse of a minor. And I know her situation was completely different from mine, but here’s what we have in common:
We were both victims of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community. We were both molested by trusted counselors we were brought to because we were rebellious children. We both experienced shame at the hands of the so-called “modesty committees,” formed to regulate people’s masturbation practices, and we will both never be the same.
But I did not prosecute my predator. That’s because of the complicated, maddening, perhaps “Stockholm Syndrome”-like relationship I have with my abuser.
I was born to a Hasidic family in Brooklyn, the fourth child of 12. My father is a Rebbe. Not a Rabbi, a Rebbe. Yes, there’s a difference between the two.
A Rabbi is a nobody. Anybody who studies the Bible and Talmud can be a Rabbi. In fact, even if you haven’t studied shit, no one can stop you from calling yourself Rabbi Jane. But a Rebbe is different. He is a spiritual leader, someone with a direct line to God, a holy man. The Rabbi is the guy you ask if the milk is kosher. The Rebbe is the guy you ask to ask God whether you should have heart surgery.
My mother is a Rebbetzin. The woman whose godly job is to deliver food, clean clothes and babies. When all that is done — and by “that” I mean once the babies have been delivered — her job is to keep them quiet and at bay so the Rebbe can have his alone time with God and talk about the meaning of life.
Our home didn’t have a TV or a radio. We didn’t know who Madonna was and never heard of science. I never heard of Santa, Sinatra, “Star Wars” or cheeseburgers. Among other things that were missing from my childhood: English, American history, world history, Coca-Cola, bacon, Thin Lizzy and Macaulay Culkin. You get the idea.
My molester was my counselor, hired by my father. He came highly recommended. He was a Yeshiva teacher, and his father could best be described to be to the Hasidic sect of Bobov what Carl Rove is to Bush. His father basically owned tens of thousands of Hasidim. He pulled the strings, and they danced.
To a broken and unloved child of a family of 12, he seemed like a godsend. He told me what I’ve always believed — that I was special. “Your parents don’t understand you,” he’d tell me. “They think you’re a bad kid. The truth is you’re just too creative for them.” He gave me an exercise that I will never forget. He asked me to take a piece of paper and write about myself, my fears, my joy, things that made me happy and things that made me sad. I only managed to write down one sentence: “I’m a child who loves to be special and I love special things.” That was all I wrote.
He was the first person who was ever kind to me. He also sexually abused me.
The first time David touched me, we were sitting in the undressing room of the mikva (a ritual bath where men go to cleanse themselves before prayers and the Sabbath by immersing themselves naked in a body of water). I handed in my one-sentence homework. He sat me on his lap, patting my thighs and said softly, “You really are special. I think you’re special.” He hugged me tight and began playing with my penis.
We talked more as we undressed. I told him about how cruel my father was and showed him all the bruises on my body. He didn’t say anything when he caressed the belt bruises on my bald ass.
I had a very rough childhood. My father is a good person, but a terrible parent. My mother is both a terrible parent and a terrible person. They beat me on a daily basis and never told me they loved me.
Granted, I stole from them, misbehaved, and they didn’t get their money’s worth in paying my tuition either because I spent my days at school staring at the ceiling. But this story isn’t about my parents. This is about the sick irony that occurs when a criminal and a predator is also the human being who is kinder to you than anyone else in your young life.
The abuse from David lasted for three years. Three years of having only one person who paid any attention to me. Every time my parents kicked me out of the house I would go and stay with my molester, and I just wished he’d adopt me and rescue me from my unloving parents.
Feeling love (or feeling pleasure, which I did not) does not somehow negate abuse. It does not somehow diminish the evil of the act of molesting a young innocent. It is an act of survival and an act of honesty.
It was 1999, and I was 14 years old when I got a phone call at school from my mother. “Come home. We need to talk” is all she said. I was in trouble again.
Some time had passed since me and David spoke. I changed schools, and we more or less fell out of touch. My father hated David, believing David was responsible for the hatred I had towards him, and barred me from talking to him.
When I got home, I found my parents sitting on their separate beds. Their faces looked very serious and worried. I thought someone had died.
“What was the nature of the relationship between you and David?” my mother asked. “We’re asking because he was found this morning in the mikva with a young boy in a very compromising position.” My mother said.
I almost fainted.
They saw my face turning white, and they started sobbing. “OY GEVALT!” my father shrieked. My mother was sobbing uncontrollably.
They decided to call and ask that David be removed from the classroom and be barred from tutoring. The response they received was “You’re a little Rebbe, we’re a huge sect with immense power. Shut up, or we’ll kill you.” Case closed.
But then someone suggested we talk to the Va’ad Hatznius. They are the “modesty committee” which has been brought up so much in the Weberman trial. A self-appointed group of people whose job it is to police the community’s masturbation practices.
If your daughter is seen in see-through tights, you get a threatening phone call telling you to make sure that doesn’t happen again or all your kids will be expelled from their schools and no one will marry them, or they’d tell you that they will spread a rumor that your daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, thereby practically guaranteeing that she’ll never marry a decent Hasidic man.
The reason for that is because your daughters revealing tights make men horny, which would cause them to masturbate, which makes them spill their seed, which would anger God, who would then strike random people with cancer. So, really, the modesty committee is just trying to eradicate cancer.
My father called a car service and asked them if they had a car with dark tinted windows. He didn’t want a man of his stature to be seen in front of the Va’ad Hatznius’ office with his son.
The Va’ad Hatznius’ office was located in a back room of what was referred to as “Avreichim Synagogue” in Williamsburg. We met with two men in a cramped study. One was a hot-headed screaming man with a slight pot belly, long blonde beard that almost looked bleached a high-pitched hoarse raspy voice that sounded like it was about to be lost at any moment from so much yelling. The other was a timid short man with a goatee. They were classic good cop, bad cop.
“Listen, Luzer! You have nothing to worry about! We are gonna go, we are gonna break down the doors at the Bobover Rabbi house! And we’re gonna make sure this pervert never leaves his home! You hear me? You have no idea what we are capable of! No one fucks with the Va’ad Hatznius! You hear me? Trust me! We are gonna teach this guy a lesson!? the bad cop boomed, trying to show me a taste of what Bobov will get from him.
Nothing ever came of that meeting.
David continued to teach at that school and later became principal at another school.
Years passed by. I went away to study in a Yeshiva in London and continued to cause trouble. I continued asking inappropriate questions about the existence of God, started smoking and defied the elders.
In 2005, I got married. Like everyone in my community, I had an arranged marriage and was engaged after a two-hour meeting with the girl. By 2008, I was divorced. I no longer believed in God and left my religion, community and family.
Child abusers do what they do by taking advantage of children’s natural trust of adults, and their need to be loved — perpetrators profile the kids they molest on this basis. I guess I do have Stockholm Syndrome, because in a way, I still love David in some form, even to this day. But taking sexual advantage of a weak child in any capacity is unequivocally wrong and should be punishable (as Weberman will be) by up to 25 years in prison, if not more.
Like religion, just because it feels right, doesn’t mean it is right.