Kal Holczler and Voices of Dignity. Surviving Child Abuse In The Jewish World. (Full Transcript)
The following is my own transcription of the video, "Surviving Child Abuse In The Jewish World," by Kal Holczler and Voices of Dignity. - Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal
KH: I grew up in a town 40 minutes north from the city called New Square. It's a Chasidic, Orthodox, as extreme-it-gets Jewish group of people.
Narrator: The people of New Square are part of a Chasidic sect that originates from a town in the Ukraine called Skver. After the Holocaust, its survivors came to America to rebuild their community, and founded the village of New Square.
KH: When you drive through the streets of New Square, you'll see signs on the right and left. On the right there's a red sign that says "Freuen," which is "women."And on the left you have a blue sign that says "Maner," which is "men." So men and women walk on two different sides of the street.
Just for people to have a context of how different from the community that I grew up in (is) from the rest of the Western World, my grandmother has more than 200 great grandchildren. So it's a huge, huge family.
Narrator: In this insular town, Kal suffered unthinkable abuse at the hands of one of the most powerful people in the community, who he describes as the head rabbi's chief of staff. This man had keys to every public building in New Square, which enabled him to abuse countless victims after hours.
KH: We'd get in his car and he'd drive me to the parking lot of the Refuah Health Center, take me in there, late at nights, lock up the doors, set the alarm, go upstairs and take me into one of the doctor's offices. And pull my pants down.
Narrator: As the number of stories began to surface, Kal's abuser fled to Israel, and was never brought to justice. Kal ended up on the streets, addicted to drugs for most of his adolescence, ending up in a rehab facility. One day he decided he had had enough.
KH: I hit a point where either I was gonna die or my life was gonna change.
Narrator: Kal started Voices of Dignity, dedicated to ending the cycle of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. His organization connects victims to emotional, psychological, and legal support, and provides educational training for children and adults.
KH: It was extremely disturbing and frustrating to see that kids that grew up in my community didn't have a place where they could call if they were being violated, if they were being abused, if they were previously subjugated to sexual abuse. So I started a conversation. Absolutely in the dark. Started figuring out, what is a nonprofit? How do you run an organization? You need a board. Who do you put on the board?
So I had to make a decision, am I gonna be the person who's gonna come out, share my experience, and push towards change, risking being persecuted for not being Chasidic? For not being Orthodox?
And my decision was yes, that the dynamics of the community are extremely, extremely complicated. There are mothers that knew about it and don't want to report, because of what their families are gonna look like, who they're gonna marry, how it's gonna hinder marriage, how they're gonna be shamed. The implications of someone coming forward and standing up for justice and reporting somebody is huge.
Narrator: After fundraising in Manhattan to get Voices of Dignity off the ground, it was time for Kal to create awareness and support where it really counts. So we set out for New Square, so Kal could start laying the groundwork to bring change to the community.
New Square is run by what is called the Va'ad, the committee that makes all the decisions and handles the security of the town. They take extreme measures to separate themselves from the outside world, for fear that it will endanger their traditional way of life. So it is extremely rare that cameras ever make it into the community.
KH: People are stopping and looking and trying to figure out what's going on. They soon might just call it into the radio and have us stopped and interrogated.
(To a passerby) Hey there, how are you doing? How are you? (Shakes hands) Boruch HaShem.
(To the camera) If there's one person that you don't want to see, that would be him. He's kind of the, known in the community as the snitch, or like the messenger, the one that executes some of the 'dirty work.'" We'll see what happens.
Narrator: While has been soliciting support for Voices of Dignity, he has yet to gain the support of his parents, which he needs more than anything in order to make a difference in New Square.
KH: I never had a sitdown conversation with my mother and father where we talked openly about abuse.
(To his parents) There's an incredible beauty to New Square. There's a beautiful element of the Rebbe, the traditions, the Chasidut, type of, the singing and the family life. But then there's a whole 'nother element that is not introduced to the community, because it's so sheltered.
(To his mother) What was your experience when you found out that I was sexually abused?
KH's mother: We couldn't believe that there is such a thing existed. Because we were so pure, and so innocent, and we didn't think it exists. We felt like, this is unbelievable.
KH: Like when I came back and you were like, why didn't you share it with your parents? Why didn't anyone know?Like,’ cause quite frankly I - home wasn't really a place where I felt comfortable coming home to.
(Mother shakes her head.)
(To camera) Just the thought of coming to an authority figure, not only would I not be believed, I would be the one who would be punished.
(To mother) Anything associated with sexuality is repressed. Men and women walk on different sides of the street, men can't look at women until the day they get married, this is not a culture yet where if somebody's being abused outside of the home, that they can come home and talk about it. Or if somebody's being abused at home, that they can go out and talk about it and know they're safe.
(Off camera):Think of the weight of abuse on a child. You'd be terrified to talk about it, not knowing where to place it.
(To his parents):The magnitude of the effects of sexual abuse goes beyond what you can imagine. I sit with people where like, there is not a happy moment in their existence. But for some reason there is this mentality like, if we don't talk about it, the problem doesn't exist. Because I know people inside New Square who for years abused kids, and I speak with their victims that have left, and they still walk around. They still live here. Where is the responsibility of the community?
(To camera): How can we look at the whole issue of sexual abuse and deal with it in a way where we really are changing the culture?We're changing the next generation growing up in a safer world.
Narrator: After an hour of presenting his case, Kal's mom agreed to host meetings for mothers to learn how to identify signs of sexual abuse, an opportunity that she unfortunately never had while Kal was growing up.
KH's mother: I felt very proud that I could share something that I could do for you, as my child, and for the community.
KH: That's what mothers need to know. That it's doable. That you and I, the people that have survived it, are courageous enough to come back, to end the cycle. They're literally building a new world.
Narrator: After a successful meeting with his parents, Kal wanted to show us around his hometown. To visit some of his childhood memories.
KH (with children): Sure. Yes. What is this?
Unnamed child: What's your name?
KH: My name? Holczler.
(To the camera): The funny thing is they're all looking at me and they can't even figure out that I actually grew up just like them. Just like them. Grew up in the same community, speaking the same language. (child gestures to his lapel) Oh that?That's a mic. (child says something in Yiddish)
I definitely feel like an other. I know how they view me, as different than them. So it's - there's that distance, a little bit. (waves goodbye)
Narrator: As we continue to explore New Square, we noticed a car trailing behind us.
Unnamed speaker off-camera: Are we being followed? (KH turns around)
KH: I don't think so.
Unnamed speaker off-camera (to someone in another car) We're working with Kal, he's from New Square, we're went to his mother's house and we're doing -
KH: How ya doing?
Unnamed person in other car: Oh hey, what's up Kal? How are you? (Pause) What's the pictures?
KH: Were you sent to check up on us?
Unnamed person in other car (smiles and gestures): Just checking, you know. They called, they're nervous.
KH: Who called? (person in other car gestures and drives away)
Unnamed speaker off-camera: He's on his phone right now.
KH: Yeah, they're gonna call it in.
(To the camera) Like at the moment, the Ishtahilf, the Shomrim here have been dispatched. Kind of internal cops, the Ishtahilf, the Shomrim. What I don't want to have happen is for them to see me as stirring up trouble in the community, and I definitely don't want the cameras to be broken. That could happen.
Narrator: After being followed around by the internal police, Kal was becoming more and more nervous about putting our safety in jeopardy.
KH: I think we just have people that came out of the school, with like, suspicion, and cameras. It would be a good idea, to, like, go back, and not invoke so much.
Narrator: At this point it had become blatantly obvious that our presence was not welcome. There was no way we could continue filming without escalating the situation. So we decided it was in our best interest to leave New Square as soon as possible.
One month later, we met up with Kal again.
(in car) We're now on our way to go see Gitty Holczler, who's my cousin, who suffered sexual abuse from a family member. And has lived with it ever since.
Narrator: Since Gitty left New Square, Kal is the only family member who she speaks to. And he has been a key supporter in her rehabilitation.
Gitty: Hi there.
KH: How are you?
Gitty (to camera): My uncle basically owned me, he raped me, he abused me, physically, sexually, everything you could possibly think of, and that went on from the time I was nine till 14.
Narrator:Gitty came forward with her story at age 25, to the Rockland County Sheriff's Office.
Gitty: When I started talking about it in public, he actually threatened to kill me. I know for a fact that he has a gun, not licensed. The authorities that have gone to, have not been able to do anything.
Narrator: As is the case with many victims in New Square, the statute of limitations has passed. The statute states that victims of sexual abuse have five years from the time they turn 18 to press charges, so in Gitty's case, there was nothing the legal authorities could do.
Gitty: I don't wake up in the morning without having a really bad nightmare. I would wake up screaming and going crazy.
Narrator: Gitty hasn't heard her uncle's voice in over a decade. But she has agreed to have Kal reach out to her abuser, so that she can finally have some closure.
KH: Have you ever thought of it?
Gitty: Thought of what?
KH: If you saw him. What you would want to tell him.
Gitty:If I would actually want to confront him, what I would want to tell him?
Gitty: No, I - my mind goes crazy when I think like that. So - I have no idea.
(KH starts to dial.)
Gitty: What are you gonna say?
KH: I'm gonna ask him if he has any regret for what he has done. What do you really want to tell him?
Gitty: What I really want to get out of him is, where are the places where he took me?
KH: That will help you with your own closure?
Gitty: That would help me with my closure. I think that would also help me maybe to find proof.
KH: Cause if we have one opportunity to call him, and to keep him on the phone, and I don't know if he's gonna pick up, can we tell him I'm sitting with you?
(Voice on phone):Hello?
KH: Hey, Mendy?
KH: How are you? This is Kalmy speaking. Your nephew. Kalmy Holczler. I wanted to ask you about the accusations, about the stories that has been coming out about you and Gitty.
“Mendy”: I’m not going to discuss anything with anybody.
KH: Would you be willing to talk about it in person?
KH: Do you feel that it is something that is completely made up?Or is it something that has truth to it?
“Mendy”: I'm not even going to discuss it with you.
KH: Knowing as somebody I was -
Mendy: I'm not your uncle.
KH: You're not my uncle anymore?
Mendy: I'm not your uncle anymore so that's - consider me out of the family.
KH: And your children are not my cousins?
Mendy:They don't want to be your cousins. They don't want to be part of the Holczler family.
KH: You feel like you did zero harm to her, do you?
Mendy: I'm not going to talk that way. You are not my judge. You are not my attorney.
KH: Well, thanks for having a conversation with me. (Hangs up.) Wow. Wow.
Gitty: I really feel good right now. This guy couldn't even say once that everything - like -
KH: He was able to talk about everything but discuss anything -
Gitty: Like if nothing would have happened he wouldn't have had a problem saying it.
KH: (In car, to camera)I was really impressed with her willingness to talk about it. The fact that we can talk about it, openly, is a success.
Narrator: Gitty has been seeing a therapist, and is making great progress in managing how the trauma she endured impacts her daily life. Meanwhile, Kal has been moving forward with organizing training sessions for mothers in the Orthodox community.
KH: We're inviting 10-15 mothers in the community, some of them are teachers, some of them are just mothers, that either have kids that have gone through sexual abuse, that are dealing with abuse and don't really know how to deal with it. So we started doing these trainings, we're bringing in mental health professionals and therapists to speak with these mothers. We're giving them information about abuse, signs and symptoms, where to reach out, and that is happening now.
I'm not coming out against the Orthodox world. From any point of view that you could look at it from a Jewish context, what's being done around sexual abuse is wrong. And it is the responsibility of those communities to stop that.
So hopefully with us pushing, presenting options, together with the community we can do something about it.