Menu JTA Search

NPR: Sexual abuse in Chasidic community

NPR is airing a 10-minute segment on sex abuse in the Chasidic community.

Here is a link to the audio.

There is also a print story online.

Here’s an excerpt on the stories of Joel Engelman and Joe Diangelo, two men in their 20s who left the Orthodox community. NPR returns with them to their old Brooklyn community. Diangelo says he was raped in a mikvah when he was 7, Engelman says he was sexually abused by a rabbi who was a teacher in his elementary school:

"See the Hebrew sign?" he says, pointing. "You go downstairs, and that’s where the mikvah is."

The mikvah is a bathhouse usually used by women for ritual cleansing. But in some Hasidic communities, like this one, fathers bring their young sons on Friday afternoons before Shabbat begins. Twenty-one years ago, when he was 7, Diangelo recalls going to the mikvah with his father to find the place packed with naked men and boys.

"And I was in the tub, and I had my back turned, and somebody raped me while I was in the water," he says. He takes a shaky breath. "And I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t make sense of it, really."

Diangelo says he never saw the man who abused him. These days, monitors are posted by the bath to stop any sexual activity. But back then, the boy was on his own. He told no one but began refusing to go to the mikvah. He left Orthodox Judaism when he was 17. He changed his name from Joel Deutsch and cut almost all ties with his family and friends.

Now, Diangelo wears black leather and mascara. He plays in a rock band and takes refuge in the heavy-metal lyrics of Metallica.

"There are so many songs, you know. They have a latest song, which is called ‘Broken, Beaten & Scarred,’ and one of the verses is: ‘They scratched me, they scraped me, they cut and raped me.’ " He laughs wearily. "And that’s my life right there. When I listen to it, it gives me strength."

For these two men, this is a tour through aching secrets and violent memories. Diangelo and Engelman are unusual because they let their names be used. But they believe that sexual abuse is woven throughout this Hasidic community.

For Engelman, the loss of innocence came at school.

"This is it, right here," he says.

NEXT STORY