Raped anglo teen brutalized by the system yet redeemed by strangers

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-9-12

Three years ago, coverage by Ya’akov Lapin, followed by some columns I wrote, alerted the Jerusalem Post community to an abomination that occurred in northern Israel. Police arrested an American immigrant teenager in Karmiel for urinating on a lawn in late November, 2009. One police officer beat him in the police car. Two others beat him at the police station. Then, accusing him of possessing hashish, the police had him remanded to the Kishon prison. There, this seventeen-year-old boy was raped repeatedly in his cell by three fellow prisoners, who pierced his ear with a metal wire to mark him as their sex slave. By the time a private attorney Amir Meltzer helped release “S,” just a few days later, a boy’s life was ruined and a family’s Aliyah dream had turned into an ongoing Israeli nightmare.
When I first spoke to the family, they were bereft, feeling lonely, abused and abandoned by the State they had loved so much when they first moved from Miami in 2006.  Fortunately, the broader Jerusalem Post community responded, and showed these people Israel’s other side — what I consider Israel’s true side. Angels from Ra’anana swooped down and brought the family food for Shabbat, week after week. MK Isaac Herzog, at the time a government minister and a regular Post reader, helped. MK Yohanan Plesner jumped in when I met him by chance at a Taglit-Birthright Israel event and pleaded for assistance. A legendary former politician who insists on anonymity virtually adopted the family, aiding generously psychologically, economically, politically. Many others contributed time, money, and expertise, helping the family navigate the medical system and the legal system as their son sought to recover, and sought some justice.
Nothing could undo the damage done. Nevertheless, the community showed that while horrible things may happen in Israel, as in every other country, this special place has a neshama, a soul, that seeks to heal those wounds.
Last October, the three rapists finally were sentenced, after their trial had dragged out, seemingly interminably. Just last week, the cop who beat “S” in the police car was convicted — because an honorable police officer who witnessed the beating testified. The two bullies who beat this boy in the station house with no witnesses and no video camera were exonerated. Still, knowing how difficult it is for any state to convict rogue police officers, the family members felt some closure, some relief.
Then this week, abruptly, “S” stumbled on some news that reopened his wounds. Speaking to the Haifa prosecutor, wondering why the convicted rapists had not yet paid their fines, the victim discovered that their convictions were now on appeal. No one had informed the family of this unsettling fact. No one explained adequately just what is occurring, what the brutes’ chances of success are, and what the next steps are.
“We feel deceived by the whole system,” Lior, the victim’s stepfather, told me on Monday. “We felt a certain amount of comfort. We really did think this was over and suddenly, we are suffering again.” “S” has not slept for the last three nights. He is now experiencing flashbacks again. Lior continues, “He fears these animals will track him down and take revenge on him. Now we feel totally deceived by everybody. All it would have taken was a simple phone call to inform us, to help us understand.” “S’s” mother, Ruthie, adds: “I’m so disappointed, so disgusted. Those animals.…”
Despite all they have endured, this family still believes in Israel and the Zionist dream. Part of what fuels their fight is the desire to make sure no one else ever suffers as they have. Thanks to their efforts, video surveillance has been put into the Kishon prison, and the prison system is more vigilant, especially regarding juveniles. They are now demanding greater sensitivity to victims, some kind of victims’ rights infrastructure — and want some thought given to the special problems immigrants face when victimized by what Lior calls “crimes of this magnitude.” They also want video cameras in all police interrogation rooms. More immediately, they want answers, reassurance, support.
The old cliché that justice delayed is justice denied applies to both the accused and to victims. If the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, can be investigated for over a decade, if trials regarding violent cases can stretch out for years, and be opened again so easily by aggressive defensive attorneys, the system is broken. The justice system must also crack down aggressively on police violence while taking better care of victims. And the medical system also needs fixing, for apparently it is incompetent when dealing with male rape victims.
Remarkably, these wonderful people also still have their souls intact. In the talkback to the Jerusalem Post article about the police conviction, “S” wrote: “Hello I’m ‘S.’ I would like to thank every one for all your support: the Jerusalem Post, people that followed my story, my friends, and most of all, my family. You have all been a great deal of help during [these] difficult times.”
Moreover, his mother, Ruthie, told me that in the days after her son’s brutalization, when she was so angry at God she did not want to light the Shabbat candles, and she kept on asking “why, why, why did this happen to my precious son,” her elderly Holocaust survivor father offered some wisdom. “Take the word lamah,” Hebrew for why, “and add a ‘shin,’” the first letter of her son’s name. “What do you get,” he asked, “’shlemah,’ wholeness.”
The members of this family should not have to heal and become whole on their own. Whoever we are, however we can, we must help.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book is “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight Against Zionism as Racism.”
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Gil Troy: Center Field: Conservative Rabbis should foster Zionism before pushing Aliyah

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-24-09

At its recent annual convention in Jerusalem, the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly launched a campaign to boost Aliyah – immigration to Israel. The slogan “A Call to Action – Putting Aliyah on the Map,” illustrated that Aliyah barely ranks on American Jews’ agenda. With 399 Conservative North American olim (immigrants) in 2008, this campaign has nowhere to go but up. But trying to boost Aliyah among American Jews is like trying to encourage virtuosity among music ignoramuses. The goal, while noble, is out of reach. Before pushing Aliyah, the Conservative Movement should stimulate a more pressing conversation about what Israel and Zionism can mean to American Jews.

Pushing Aliyah usually alienates American Jews – and has distorted attitudes toward Israel and Zionism. Although when I speak about Zionism I neither push Aliyah nor negate the American Jewish community’s validity, questioners frequently accuse me of both. So many speakers before me have pitched Aliyah so aggressively, that as soon as I mention “the Z word” the already alienated questioners become defensive. Actually, many American Jews reject Aliyah as a goal. For them, it is like trying to sell ham in a synagogue.

Moreover, I have experienced particular hostility from some Conservative rabbinical students who bristle during their mandatory year studying in Jerusalem, because of the religious politics. Angry at Israel’s parallel Masorti movement for rejecting gay rabbis, alienated by the fact that a woman cannot feel comfortable wearing a kippah or a tallit publicly in Jerusalem, they yearn for their promised land of Southern California or the Upper West Side. I often respond that many share their contempt for some not all Israelis’ intolerance and oppose the Israeli rabbinate’s authoritarianism. But just as no rabbi wants congregants judging Judaism by the parts that least speak to them, we should not judge Israel by the aspects that most bother us. Still, I worry about how some of these future leaders will teach Israel to their congregants, let alone respond to perceived “pressure” for Aliyah from their movement.

Too many heavy-handed Israelis make matters worse. Coming from a command-and-control culture, too many Israeli speakers have barked too many orders to too many American Jewish audiences, regarding how to think, where to live. Ham-handed American Jewish tour operators are also guilty. One student recalled A.B. Yehoshua haranguing her and her young peers on her first Israel trip. Yehoshua negates the Diaspora as a valid Jewish home – except when it comes to collecting lecture fees from there. American celebrity worship blinded the organizers to the damage Yehoshua’s Israel-or-bust message might cause.

A healthy, constructive approach to Zionism would start by addressing some of the central contradictions between America’s cosmopolitan dream of liberation from Old World traditions and the Jewish commitment to ritual, history, faith, tradition. American Jews also try reconciling love for two Promised Lands, Israel and America.

Zionist thinkers from the past can help. Ahad Ha’am conceived of Israel as a center for Jews without negating Diaspora Jewry. Judge Louis Brandeis was a great American and a great Zionist who explained that being American frequently means maintaining a different ethnic, religious and even national identity. Mordechai Kaplan posited Jewish peoplehood as a touchstone for Jewish unity, Jewish pride in Jewish civilization, and Jewish equilibrium between modern seductions and the call of the past.

We also must stop seeing Israel through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was Yasser Arafat’s central conceit to make almost every conversation about Israel be about the Palestinians. Just as every conversation about America is not about race, so, too, we need a broader multi-dimensional relationship with Israel.

Even more important, we must stop treating Israel and Zionism as the Jewish people’s central headaches and start seeing both as potentially redemptive forces. We need new Zionist thinkers relating to today’s challenges, and today’s Israel. A New American Zionism should begin by critiquing the American Jewish community – and the modern condition. Just as European Zionists in the 1890s built an ideologically-diverse, Israel-based response to their central challenges of anti-Semitism and the fallout from industrialization, modern American Zionists should explore how Zionism can solve today’s problems.

Learning from Israel, building a communal, peoplehood-oriented, Israel-based identity to counterbalance assimilation, alienation, media-sated materialism, excessive individualism, post-modern cynicism, will establish a richer relationship with Israel.

Engaging Israel in many different ways will also revitalize American Jewish Zionism. The Conservative Movement would have much more impact if it dedicated itself to teaching Hebrew, opposing American Jews’ drift away from the Jewish people’s language. A Hebrew revival can open gateways to Israeli culture, professional exchanges, intellectual ties, more emotional and personal bonds. More Hebrew speakers would embrace the key formula for future American Jewish vitality: 2 DW = 1 il, meaning the cost of two Disney World trips for most could yield one Israel trip. Birthright Israel’s happy experiences teach that more interactions with Israel and Israelis, especially in Israel, would not only orient more American Jews toward Israel, it would spark an American Jewish revival by importing more Israeli energy, creativity, chutzpah, and pride. And, of course, we need a spirit of true mutuality – a more robust friendship would benefit Israelis, Israeli Judaism, and Israeli Zionism.

All these approaches will advance American Jews up what the legendary educator Mel Reisfield calls “the ladder of Zionist achievement.” Aliyah is most appealing when it bubbles up naturally, from powerful Israel trips, inspiring experiences with Israelis, and, alas, still in this world, the occasional Diaspora-based trauma, be it anti-Semitism or another alienating force. Once a Zionist revival makes Aliyah a possibility, then the practical help the Conservative Rabbis offered will prove beneficial. But, as with most ideological and educational initiatives, first lay the proper groundwork – and do whatever damage control is required – before rushing ahead.