Sunday, August 11, 2013

Unabashedly Public

Over the last three years, as I’ve written and spoken about some very personal experiences in my life, I’ve received much praise for my bravery, encouragement from others who were motivated to share their stories and come forward, and my voice has never felt louder or more powerful than ever. When I was younger, I used to have nightmares in which I was attempting to scream at the top of my lungs, I was trying to scream about the pain I was feeling, the injustices that I suffered, and the way they were ignored. Today, I no longer have that dream anymore.

Ever since I found my voice and started writing publicly, there hasn’t been a single day that’s gone by where I looked back and regretted my decision. Whether it was talking about being sexually abused for 4 years during my childhood, undergoing so called conversion therapy to try and become straight or shedding light on other people’s plights and raising awareness through them, it’s always been more rewarding than regretful. Some people have chosen to judge me and label me as a “professional victim,” but as far as I’m concerned if that’s what it takes to get said people to talk about these issues that otherwise go ignored, I’m happy to be a professional victim.

I have many detractors out there, some of whom I know but most of whom I don’t know. It pleases me to know that I’ve earned detractors because that means I was part of the important process that forces people to confront issues that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about because they elected to ignore them. Whether it was about the student in Chicago who was put on notice and threatened with expulsion for going public about her past as a rape survivor; the guy who grew up orthodox and got married even though he was gay; the lack of education in many ultra orthodox communities; and many others, I’m proud that I was able to contribute at least one bit in lending a voice to the voiceless.

I don’t represent any group of people, I am an individual who made a decision to share parts of my personal life with the rest of the world in the hopes that someone would benefit through them. I am so thankful to all my supporters and to all the people who constantly encourage me to write more, the ones who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and I truly do hope that there will come a time where no one ever feels like they’re screaming on the top of their lungs but can’t be heard.

Lots of love.

Chaim Levin

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Allegations Against Employee at JEM Center In Los Angeles Spark Uproar

8/6/13


Los Angeles, CA --  An event was held last night by Jewish parents in Beverly Hills who were concerned about the claims of abuse leveled against counselor/director of JEM center Mendel Tevel. The event was hosted in the home of Esther Abehsera and was organized by Meyer Seewald, director of Jewish Community Watch. In attendance were Deputy District Attorney Rabbi Benny Forer, and one of Tevel’s numerous alleged victims that agreed to talk to the crowd without using his name. About 50 people attended the event that was announced just four hours before it was scheduled to take place. The victim agreed to talk on the condition that people would leave phones and recording devices at the door, with the hope that by telling his story to a large group of people, the charges against Tevel would be taken more seriously because someone agreed to speak in front of a real live audience.


The alleged victim now 23, told the crowd that he was 14 when the abuse occurred. With his wife by his side, he recounted how when he was 14 years old he attended “Shterns” Yeshiva in Upstate New York.“When I was 14, I was in Yeshiva. We called it Shterns. Mendel Tevel was my Mashpia (mentor) and teacher. It started out when it became a big thing in school to work out, lift weights. Tevel offered to be my personal trainer, and he would push me to work harder and harder, and one time he in order to make me work harder he would whip me with a metal. hanger. And from then on, If i stopped working out I’d get whacked in the back with a metal hanger. I had marks, I bled, and I had cuts.” He further alleged that the abuse escalated “After a few days of working out with him, he started offering me messages to relax my muscles so that I wouldn’t be sore that day. After a few times he got into bed with me and sat on top of me to give me a message. I hate to be a little bit vulgar but while he was giving me the massage he was “dry humping me.” "From there it progressed where every day he tried to get me to go to the mikva before Shachris (prayer service). He offered to go with me personally because I didn’t like to be part of the large crowd that go together. One day it was really cold and it was so cold that there was a layer of ice over the Mikvah and I didn’t want to go in. Tevel came up behind me and started smacking me on my behind, and I realized that Tevel had an erection.” It was in that moment that the victim says he realized that something was “not quite right” with their connection and maintains that he distanced himself from Tevel from that point on.


Last week, on a Facebook group called LA Mommies, a member of the group posted her concern about the allegations in Tevel's past and his involvement with JEM center. In her post (which has since been deleted), she alleged that she was contacted by a concerned parent who had heard that Tevel was working at JEM high school. The thread quickly escalated, and one parent, a mother of three wanted to make sure other parents knew about the allegations against Tevel.


This mother said that she was “deeply concerned,” when she saw a Facebook post by Devorah Wagshul, sister in law of Mendel Tevel about JEM with the caption “Ran by the best directors, Aka Bracha and Mende[l]”, attached was a recent Facebook post by JEM Hebrew High. Upon further investigation, this flyer was found on JEM’s website, the phone number lists Brocha Illulian as the contact person for the program. Bracha Illulian is the wife of Mendel Tevel.




After calls to JEM center, a woman who would only identify herself as Chelsea said that “We’re safe here, there’s really not an issue, everyone already knows that there’s no issue.” When asked if Tevel was still part of the staff at JEM she said that “There’s no issue, everyone’s safe, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing happened. Everyone knows this, these are false accusations... and, he didn’t do this, to anybody. They’re lying.”  

JEM Center, which was founded by Rabbi Hertzel illulian in 1984, was once connected to Chabad but has since separated from the movement and operates independently.

Other attendees of the event recounted their own personal stories of being abused when they were minors. One of them, Mordy Gluckowsky alleges that he was abused by his dorm counselor at a Chabad yeshiva abroad, but when he notified the principal of his school he was expelled two days later.


According to David Smith*, he was sexually abused and assaulted by Tevel repeatedly when he was 14/15 years old. David recounts moments where Tevel “whacked him” on his rear with a leather belt; he also recalls multiple incidents of oral sex being performed on him by Tevel. David, who grew up in the Crown Heights community still has the ability to press charges against Tevel for another few months but is reluctant to do so because of what he describes as "strong family pressure and community pressure" placed upon him not to do anything to Tevel. David alleges that he was contacted by a member of the Tevel family and was offered money in exchange for his silence, David says he didn’t accept this offer but is still very reluctant to come forward.


A third alleged victim of Tevel who is past the statute of limitations recounted how Tevel would lure him the basement of his parents’ home when he was around the ages of 6 and 7 years old by offering him candy and the use of his game boy. “He would tie me up to the trampoline and would whip me on my backside with a belt, sometimes with my clothes on and sometimes with my clothes off.” This alleged victim’s testimony is very similar to that of other victims who say that aside from the sexual abuse they endured by Tevel, there was a significant amount of physical assault perpetrated against them by Tevel with leather belts in their backside area.


A letter written by members of the Jewish community has already acquired almost 75 signatures within 24 hours. The letter offers support and encouragment to victims of Tevel to come forward. The reason for writing this letter according Seewald was because “we want to show the victims how much support there already is out there, public support for them. There are so many people who are anonymously offering their support, that's not good enough anymore.” As this story continues to grow, many people in the Los Angeles communities are unsure if their children are safe at JEM center. Some mothers are alleging that Tevel sometimes goes to the Hebrew High school in Beverly Hills to put on Tefilin with younger teenagers. Other parents expressed concern about Brocha Illulian, Tevel’s wife who would frequently stand near their children’s schools and hands out flyers promoting JEM’s upcoming events.


Seewald, who attempted to alert the Illulian family before Tevel was engaged to their daughter said: “I went directly to Rabbi Hertzel Illulian when I heard that his daughter was getting engaged to Tevel. Rabbi Illulian outright dismissed the possibility that Tevel still poses a danger to children, and when I told him the graphic details given to me by one of Tevel’s victims in which the victim described Tevel performing oral sex on him, Illulian asked me if “he [the victim] enjoyed it”. A response that even for Seewald, who claims to have heard about so many similar stories, shocked him. "He tried to blame the victim by implying that because he might have enjoyed it, it was his fault."

Seewald remarked that the event "was revolutionary." "For the first time in two years a victim got up and talked to parents for the sake of protecting children even though he knew that people may find out his identity. I’ve never seen a victim empowering so many other people to talk. I hope that people learn from this that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. People should see that coming forward is not just something that will help the public, but it will also help victims heal from their personal trauma.” He ended off by saying that he hopes that this turn of events will set a better precedent for victims of the Chabad community in Crown Heights. "We have almost 70 signatures by now, but hardly any of them are from members of the Crown Heights community, where Tevel committed many of his alleged crimes." Seewald said that this event was a very emotional one for him, and he hopes that the Crown Heights and greater Chabad communities will follow the example set by the people who attended this event and also by the people who signed the letter of support.

*name changed per victim's request







Update on Tuvia Perlman

On Tuesday, I published a Facebook post about a man named Tuvia Perlman, who worked as a teacher and a choir director in Milwaukee after mo...