‘Peeping Rabbi’ Victims Weigh In On Sentence
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‘Peeping Rabbi’ Victims Weigh In On Sentence

Emotional court sentencing leaves victims and synagogue members satisfied.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

At Rabbi Barry Freundel’s sentencing last Friday in a Washington, D.C., courtroom, 28-year-old Kate Bailey wore an orange cardigan to symbolize the prison uniform she hoped he would soon wear.

Along with about 15 other victims, she stood next to the rabbi and read a prepared statement detailing his abuses.

“I was nervous [that] I’d become emotional, but I was just angry,” said Bailey, who converted under Rabbi Freundel in 2008. She spent three to four hours a week doing clerical work for him at his home office without pay, where she was often alone with him in the house. In 2009, Rabbi Freundel called her to say she needed to go in the mikvah, or ritual bath, again to complete her conversion ritual because there was a problem with her first visit. She later found out that she had been recorded.

In the courtroom, she refused to look at the rabbi, though other victims addressed their comments directly to him. “I didn’t look down at him once,” she said. “I had nothing left to say to him.”

Bailey was among the 70+ victims and their family members who crowded into the main courtroom. An additional 30 or so were in an overflow courtroom. Orange blouses, scarves and sweaters signaled their solidarity in advocating prison time for Rabbi Freundel.

Rabbi Freundel was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison for videotaping dozens of nude women at the ritual bath associated with his former congregation, Kesher Israel. The rabbi, now 64, was arrested last October and charged with six counts of voyeurism.

“You repeatedly and secretly violated the trust your victims had in you and you abused your power,” Senior Judge Geoffrey Alprin of D.C. Superior Court said at the sentencing, the Washington Post reported. Alprin also fined Freundel more than $13,000.

Prosecutors were seeking a 17-year prison sentence for the rabbi.

“It’s not as long as we asked for, but I’m satisfied,” said Bailey. “I’m happy his crimes are being taken seriously.”

Bethany Mandel, another of Rabbi Freundel’s victims who testified at the sentencing, said she thought the sentence was fair.

“A lot of us worried that he would only be given a year,” she said. “We wanted this crime to be taken seriously, not for our own sake, but because if sexual crimes of this nature go largely unpunished, people will be more hesitant to press similar charges in the future.”

Congregation Kesher Israel, where Rabbi Freundel served for 25 years before being fired in December, released a statement on Friday pronouncing the sentence a turning point.

“Today’s decision turns a page in this dark chapter for our community,” the statement read. “Despite our pain, our community is moving forward."

Elanit Rothschild Jakabovics, president of the Kesher Israel board, told the Jewish Week in an email correspondence that social services and support groups are still being offered at the synagogue. “We still have a long road ahead and the wound still hurts, but I’m confident we can continue down this path of healing, unity, and communal growth,” she said.

The congregation is in the process of hiring an interim rabbi, she said.

Rabbi Freundel will appeal the sentence he received for 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism, according to his lawyer, Jeffery Harris, who said the sentence was “illegal.”

“I think the sentence is harsh but more importantly is illegal in that consecutive sentences are not permissible based on the law and the facts,” he wrote to the Jewish Week in an email correspondence. Rabbi Freundel was sentenced to 45 days on each of 52 counts of voyeurism to be served consecutively, which comes to 2,340 days in prison, just under than six-and-a-half years.

According to the guidelines on concurrent and consecutive sentences in the District of Columbia Sentencing and Criminal Code, convictions arising out of the same act or course of conduct are considered one conviction for the purpose of sentencing. However, separate and distinct events can be sentenced consecutively. According to the code, offenses that take place at different times or in different places are considered distinct events.

“I would be surprised if the court imposed a consecutive sentence when it was impermissible,” said Patrice Sultan, a Washington, D.C., defense attorney. Though she noted that there is a “gray area” when it comes to consecutive sentencing, deference is left to the court. “If multiple crimes were committed on multiple different dates, the court has discretion to run the sentences consecutively,” she said.

In addition to the 52 women Rabbi Freundel filmed while they were completely naked between March 4, 2012 and Sept. 19, 2014, he recorded an additional 100 women since April 2009 who were not part of the criminal complaint due to the statute of limitations.

Harris’ argument that all 52 counts should be considered one offense “could potentially undermine the argument that the other 100 victims fall outside the statute,” she added in an email following the interview.

At the mikvah, the rabbi used between one and three cameras, hiding the devices in a digital clock radio, a tissue box holder and a small tabletop fan, and aiming them at the toilet and shower in the mikvah dressing room, according to the prosecution’s memo explaining its sentencing recommendations.

According to Mandel, there was a smattering of applause in the courtroom after the sentence was read.

“It was more a collective exhale of relief,” she said.

In addition to his crimes, Rabbi Freundel videotaped himself engaged in “sexual situations” with “several women” who may not have consented to being recorded, according to the memo.

The prosecution’s memo also notes that Rabbi Freundel surreptitiously videotaped a domestic violence abuse victim in the bathroom and bedroom of a safe house that he had established for her.

“I thought I saw a holy man of God, a man whom I could trust to protect me from outside evils, but I have come to see the blackness which hid beneath the garments,” the victim said in a court document. “The dreadful symptoms I once banished have returned. … I dare not look at myself unclothed in a mirror, for it is a glaring reminder of what was taken and stolen.”

When this victim’s statement was read out loud in court on Friday, the judge visibly shook his head in dismay, said Mandel. She said it was the only time during the sentencing that the judge showed emotion.

During the sentencing, victims shared how Rabbi Freundel had taped them after advising them to seek refuge in the mikvah after traumatic life events. Karin Bleeg, 32, told the judge that the rabbi encouraged her to use the mikvah when her grandmother died and then recorded her, according to the Washington Post.

“This wasn’t just a camera in the mikvah,” said Mandel, who said she has since counseled several victims who have turned to her for support. “He violated women when they were most vulnerable. Six-and-a-half years does not seem like a lot if you really knew everything he did.”

In the statement Mandel read before the court, she called Rabbi Freundel a “sociopath” who “won’t stop” until he is “forced to.”

Though executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America Mark Dratch declined to comment on Freundel’s sentence, he said that the new conversion committee, created to prevent future abuses, will publish its findings at the end of June. Rabbi Freundel used to be in charge of the Council’s conversion policies.

Though the sentencing afforded closure to some, Bailey said the “ordeal” has caused her to question her place in Orthodoxy.

“It wasn’t just about voyeurism — this whole experience highlighted vulnerabilities in the Orthodox system. The way women are treated, the way converts are treated — so much work is needed,” she said. “Maybe it’s just not for me anymore.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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