Orthodox Jewish sex abuse victim calls for rabbis to confront abuse in communities

Yehudis Goldsobel. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Yehudis Goldsobel. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

As a young girl, Yehudis Goldsobel felt powerless to stop the sex abuse she suffered at the hands of a family friend.

In June this year, almost 15 years after the abuse first began, the 27-year-old saw some of her power restored as her abuser Menachem Levy, 41, a Golders Green father-of-six, was jailed for three years for his crimes.

Waiving her right to lifelong anonymity, Ms Goldsobel has now taken the decision to speak out about her experience in order to tackle the challenges facing victims of abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities.

She said: “We don’t have sex education and we are not taught about abuse. Rabbis don’t want to know the word abuse, they don’t want to think it exists. Ignorance is bliss.

“They don’t want to admit that Jews could do this because Jews are supposed to live a life of goodness.

“I feel until the day the rabbis stand up publicly and say, ‘We will support victims of abuse in our communities and not the perpetrators’, it will continue to go the way it is.”

In her bid to change the “way it is” for Jewish victims of abuse, Ms Goldsobel started charity Migdal Emunah two years ago, offering therapy and advice sessions for victims of childhood abuse and their families across north London.

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Having recently graduated with a degree in psychology, she is now working on an educational programme to roll out in Orthodox Jewish communities to inform children of the dangers and better equip rabbis and community leaders with the skills needed to deal with the issue of abuse.

“I’ve met people who were beaten on a daily basis as children but didn’t realise what was happening,” said Ms Goldsobel.

“Whether emotional, physical or sexual abuse, it all needs to be dealt with. Knowledge, as they say, is power. So if a child is aware of certain things they can protect themselves.”

From the age of 13, Ms Goldsobel was abused by Levy, of Princes Park Avenue, Golders Green, over a six-year period.

The court heard the abuse took place in his car, at his home and even during visits, as a close family friend, to Ms Goldsobel’s childhood home in Stamford Hill.

“He would continually follow me until he got what he wanted,” she said.

“So sometimes it would be easier to give him what he wanted so he wouldn’t torment me.

“He put me in a box. He kept telling me that it was my fault and that there was something wrong with me and that I was making him do these things.”

It wasn’t until some years later, as an adult, that Ms Goldsobel felt able to tell her parents about the abuse she suffered.

She began receiving therapy and, to avoid being labelled a “snitch”, sought assistance in dealing with Levy from local rabbis, rather than going outside of the community to the police.

“I went to see rabbis and they said, ‘We don’t know how to deal with this’,” explained Ms Goldsobel.

“After months of dealing with the rabbis, I got really fed up and so I walked into the police station in May 2011.”

Ms Goldsobel’s decision was met with disdain from friends within the community, many of whom stopped speaking to her for taking her grievances to the police without a rabbi’s blessing and accused her of bringing shame upon her family.

It is an experience she says has left her feeling “disillusioned” with the community she grew up in yet determined to bring change.

“I keep talking to rabbis. Some will talk to me and some will not. Some of them are slowly coming around to what I am saying,” she said.

“Our communities are very secluded. We build walls very high to protect the community but when you’ve got a rotten apple inside, how do you get rid of it if the walls are too high?”

For more information about Ms Goldsobel’s charity, visit www.migdalemunah.com