By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Dealing with sex-abuse allegations can be even trickier than preventing the abuse in the first place. Like priests, rabbis suspected of sexual abuse have been shuffled from one temple to another. Unlike priests, however, rabbis cannot be defrocked, which poses a tricky question that Jews must face: how to deal with the fallen.
For its part, Diamonds organization will soon send a team of chaplains to serve Jewish patients at the 1,500-bed Coalinga State Hospital, a recently constructed facility for sexually violent predators. Californias first new mental hospital in 50 years focuses not on curing its patients but preventing relapses a more realistic goal, practitioners say. At the same time, Diamond admits, nonviolent turnaround cases like Heschels present an equally serious dilemma: After seven years of seeking treatment, telling his story and raising awareness about sex offenses, should Heschel be allowed in the pulpit?
Beit TShuvahs founder, Mark Borowitz, doesnt hesitate. He says that the Torah commands believers to forgive those who make a genuine tshuvah, or repentance, through admitting to their crimes and ensuring the crime will not happen again. In practice, that means rehabilitation programs such as 12-step, through which Borowitz himself, a former convict and author of a best-selling addiction memoir, The Holy Thief, says he found salvation.
But salvation, in a religious sense, is one thing. In a medical sense, it means something else. We dont say that word in 12-step programs, says Borowitz, when asked if Heschel is cured. We say recovered.
Still, not everyoneis comfortable with phrases like recovered as applied to child-porn felons like Heschel, and other sex offenders. Vicki Polin, a trained social worker who runs a Jewish version of a sex-offender registry, The Awareness Center, raised the alarm after discovering in December that Heschel had started an Internet-based addiction-counseling service.
Allowing [Heschel] to provide counseling to others with sex addictions is totally inappropriate, Polin posted on her Web site in December. To allow him to advertise in Los Angeles Jewish Journal is horrifying.
Heschel is obviously torn about whether to defend himself, reasoning that the community itself must decide if he should be forgiven, or simply resign himself to the unlikelihood that he will find universal acceptance.
Had I robbed a bank or been guilty of second-degree murder, I would have served my sentence, been on probation, and then been free, says Heschel in a rare moment of frustration. My reality is that having viewed these images of child pornography, I am considered a sex offender for life.
That is why Heschel offers his services discreetly over the phone, mostly to Orthodox Jews on the East Coast who have also suffered from Internet porn addiction. Heschel says that if his callers werent allowed to remain anonymous he knows them only by their client number most would never come forward at all. Borowitz credits Heschel with bringing nearly two dozen individuals into Beit TShuvahs Sex Addicts Anonymous program.
As with alcohol or drug addiction, Borowitz says, the best sexual-addiction counselors are those who are in recovery themselves.
Nevertheless, Heschel says he misses having the rabbis pulpit, and regularly sends out his résumé without success. When I send my résumés, its my curiosity, he says. Is this group willing to accept someone who has made genuine tshuvah?
After much agonizing, the synagogue where he worships decided to do just that, and allowed him to become an elder. For Heschel, it was a moment of bliss.
And what about his recent date over coffee?
I was surprised at how empathetic she was, Heschel says, turning upbeat. It turned out to be a five-hour date.