Rabbi's Alleged Sex Assault Victim Speaks Out: I Saw Him as Father Figure
WEST ROGERS PARK — A West Rogers Park rabbi charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in 2006 wasn't arrested until late last month, despite the fact a state agency substantiated abuse allegations involving the boy and seven other victims in 2007.
Police say they couldn't get cooperation from witnesses at the time, and it wasn't until recently that the boy, now 22, came forward to detectives to seek the prosecution of his alleged attacker.
Now the accuser says he is frustrated and embittered by the slow road to justice in the case. He said he spoke to authorities at the time, although he acknowledged his family did not call police immediately.
He's also upset with members of the Orthodox Jewish community, who he said pushed him not to pursue formal charges. He and his father said community leaders allowed Rabbi Aryeh "Larry" Dudovitz, 45, to remain at a West Rogers Park synagogue and continue working with Jewish families.
"Everyone told me to back off: 'You’re not going to get anything done. It’s just going to stress you out. It’s going to complicate things. It could turn against you,' " the man said in an interview with DNAinfo.com Chicago. "I just want to know the truth — who doesn’t want to know the truth?"
In 2006, the accuser, then 15 years old, and his family worshipped with Dudovitz at a small storefront synagogue, the Moshiach Center, in West Rogers Park. The center — although not affiliated to the greater Chabad-Lubavitch organization — adheres to Chabad messianism, a controversial belief that late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, was the messiah, or savior, of the Jewish people.
The accuser looked up to Dudovitz, who he said mentored him before his Bar Mitzvah, and the two spent lots of time together.
"I didn’t have a really close relationship with my father, and you know, [Dudovitz] was always there," he said.
One night in October 2006, Dudovitz came back with the family to their West Rogers Park home after celebrating the Jewish holiday Sukkot at a mutual friend's home.
The accuser said he and Dudovitz went to the teen's basement room, where they drank beer. At some point, he said he felt sick and planned to go to bed, and he told Dudovitz to sleep on a couch.
But after falling asleep, the accuser said he was awakened by Dudovitz. Court documents allege Dudovitz gave "the victim oral copulation while the victim was sleeping."
'I felt like I was at fault'
Afterward, the accuser said he felt he was to blame for the incident, thinking, how could his rabbi do something wrong? Initially, he didn't tell anyone about what had happened.
"I felt like I was at fault and did something inappropriate in front of my rabbi," he said. "I looked up to him like a father figure. He took advantage of that. I guess that was the hardest thing."
Dudovitz remained close with the teen's family, and for months after the incident, the accuser said the rabbi continued to make advances toward him. Dudovitz allegedly did so again three months later just before the teen left Chicago to attend a Jewish high school in Muenster, N.Y.
"He was standing in front of the bed where it happened," said the accuser, recounting the last interaction he allegedly had with the rabbi. "He was really antsy. As soon as I got down [to the basement bedroom] he just started grabbing me, and, you know, he was telling me how much he loved me, and how much he was going to miss me when I was at school."
The accuser said he pushed Dudovitz away and ran upstairs to his mother. Dudovitz followed, but left the house.
"She cornered me and made me tell her everything," he said of his mother.
Dudovitz, who is out of jail after posting 10 percent of a $100,000 bail, could not be reached for comment. Messages left at Dudovitz's home in the 6400 block of North Albany went unreturned. Dudovitz's lawyer, Richard Kling, declined to comment.
Dudovitz appeared in court Friday, and prosecutors revealed that a grand jury has indicted him on the charges. He is scheduled to be arraigned July 5.
The accuser said his father wanted to call the police at the time of the abuse, but his mother decided to call a rabbi at the boy's school first. His mother didn't return calls requesting a comment.
"Then everything went to s---," he said. "We should have called the cops [immediately] — should've listened to my dad and called the cops."
But authorities did learn of accusations against Dudovitz. The Department of Children and Family Services received a call on its hotline in December 2006 and concluded an investigation on Oct. 5, 2007, that substantiated one serious allegation and seven lesser allegations of abuse involving other children, said spokesman David Clarkin.
Clarkin said he could not release the identities of Dudovitz's alleged victims or provide additional details on the specific allegations. DCFS, however, does pass on its findings to law enforcement.
Police then launched an investigation in 2007, but the accuser's parents "refused to cooperate" with detectives, Chicago Police Department spokesman Adam Collins said last week. Collins said it wasn't until the accuser came forward as an adult that a case could be made to charge Dudovitz late last month.
The police investigation only involved a single victim, Collins said.
The accuser and his father denied the family wouldn't cooperate in the police investigation six years ago. The accuser said he recalls talking to a detective as a teen, and his father said his wife "spent months trying to get the detective to respond to her calls."
Members of the Orthodox Jewish community also were aware of the allegations, the accuser and his father said.
The accuser said he met one-on-one with Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the "chief rabbi" of Chicago's Beth Din, a local Jewish rabbinical court, and outlined the allegations against Dudovitz. He said he also met with other high-ranking rabbis on the council.
Schwartz didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
Rabbi Moshe Kushner, executive director of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, which administers Chicago's Beth Din, initially denied Dudovitz came before the Beth Din, which is supposed to deal with issues of Jewish law and conversions, its website says. The website makes no mention of investigating serious allegations of abuse.
"He had nothing to do with us," Kushner said of Dudovitz.
However, Kushner said Dudovitz's case might have been heard by an independent Beth Din that hears more serious cases, especially those regarding sexual abuse.
But he said Schwartz would be the only rabbi at the council who could answer questions about the Beth Din.
It's unclear if the rabbis ever communicated with authorities or took any action regarding the case. The rabbis, like counselors and school teachers, would be considered mandated reporters of child abuse under state law, said Lyn Schollett, an attorney with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The accuser said he wasn't aware of any action being taken.
"They do their own thing. It’s a problem, especially when it comes to these types of cases in the community. They still feel like Jews are living in the citadels," said the accuser, referring to fortifications in ancient Jerusalem.
"Maybe they felt like they didn’t have responsibility to handle the Dudovitz case. It hurts my tongue to say that. That’s why I want to get to the bottom of it."
The accuser and his father have been told Dudovitz was still a rabbi at the Moshiach Center, an Orthodox synagogue in a storefront at 6738 N. California Ave., at the time of his arrest, but his status there remains unclear. Messages left at the synagogue were unreturned.
Vicki Polin, who runs a nonprofit called The Awareness Center that advocates for victims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community, said she had been in touch with the accuser since he first reached out to her when he was 16, when he found her website. She said the family was conflicted and under a lot of pressure to keep the incident quiet.
"What rabbis usually tell parents in cases like this is, it's better for the kids to go to school and not open any wounds," she said.
Chicago Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, who advocates against the insular practice of not reporting sex crimes within Orthodox communities, said a woman who didn't identify herself called him about seven years ago and told him about Dudovitz.
Soloveichik said the woman contacted him anonymously for advice about whether or not to report the abuse — and said that her son had been acting aggressively after an alleged attack.
'If you don't cooperate, you better watch out'
"In this community," he said, "there is to some degree an implicit reign of terror that if you don’t cooperate [with religious leaders], you better watch out."
Soloveichik said the rabbis of the Beth Din, when it comes to sex crimes, "do not handle it properly.
"The best way to handle it is when a parent feels sure, or even relatively sure, that the child was molested, the parents should call up the authorities," Solveichik said.
But often the pressure from the community, he said, forces the abused to stay silent.
The accuser said when he was 18, he started using drugs to deal with emotional pain. Shortly after, he went into rehab, and then a halfway home.
"I was violated, but I was violated by someone that I put all my trust into," he said.
"It was hurtin’ me. Emotionally, I was a wreck. I mean, I was so young — and I had thoughts of doing, you know, suicide. I won’t forget to this day what I wanted to do."
In May 2012, the accuser said he returned from Israel where he served a year in the Israeli Defense Forces. He is now back living at home in West Rogers Park, and worked at a restaurant until he was involved in an accident while riding his bicycle.
It was during his time in Israel, he said, that he found the "courage" to reconnect with Polin, the advocate, and push the police department to restart its investigation.
"I came back, and I just wanted to correct things," said the accuser, who no longer considers himself religious. "We got it done."
Added his father: "It was a bad situation, and hopefully he’ll be brought to justice and it will be over."
DNAinfo.com Chicago Reporter/Producer Erin Meyer contributed to this report.