Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Never Did Post About Nechemya Weberman

         This post is in honor of Faigy Mayer.  Three years ago, I attended the sentencing for Nechemya Weberman.  Faigy asked me how it went.  I promised her a full report.  I never wrote it.  Here it is, I know Faigy will never read it.  But here it is.

                   Tensions were high.  I got to the courthouse bright and early.  I looked around me and I saw a very mixed crowd.  Behind me was a man with a yarmulke reading Likutei Mohoran (the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov); he was reading them and reciting the words silently, like a mantra.  In front of me was a long-haired man reading a physics book.  I thought I recognized him from Facebook, but I didn't say a word.  I was not here to socialize.  Across from me, I saw members of the media gearing up, preparing for the sentencing.  I saw a group of people who all seemed to know each other hanging around the media presence.  They were having a friendly chat with each other.  I sat there quietly, waiting for us to be called in.

                   The wait was long.  Finally, the doors were opened.  We were slowly herded into the room.  It was so crowded, that they eventually closed the doors and stopped letting people in.  My seat was toward the back.  It was so crowded, there was barely any room for everyone.  A very irate marshal began to speak.  He warned us that if we left, we would not be allowed back in.  We were to shut off all electronics; any violators would be immediately removed from the courtroom and be prosecuted.  The media was especially instructed to not photograph the plaintiff.

                   The judge was running late.  In the meantime, I got into a conversation with the woman sitting next to me.  She was a third-year law school student.  I could tell by the crucifix on her necklace that she was not Jewish.  She confirmed for me that she was Armenian Orthodox.  Her interest in the subject was because she had interned a few summer's ago in family court's child abuse division.  During her internship, the case of Yudi Kolko violating his parole.  I was familiar with the case, so I discussed it with her.  This case made her very interested in the subject of rabbis who are accused of molesting children, so she had been following this trial.

                 It was a cold winter day, but the courtroom was so crowded, that we were all sweating bullets.  Tensions were building higher and higher.  Nechemya Weberman had been found guilty of all charges.  This was the sentencing.  We were all excited to see how the court would handle it.  The judge was running almost an hour late when the irate marshal came out again.  He demanded total silence and decorum during the proceedings.  He must have been warmed about what a circus this could potentially be.

                  "All rise!"  Finally, the judge came.  There was barely any room to rise without bumping into anyone.  But we all rose.

                  Weberman was led in by a marshal.  He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and was in handcuffs.  I might have caught a few hisses as he entered; but most of us took the warning for decorum seriously.

                   It began.  The plaintiff was given a chance to speak.  She stood up.  This was my first time laying eyes on the plaintiff.  She was tall, blonde, willowy, young, sweet looking, but clearly robbed of her innocence long ago.  I am still moved to tears when I picture her face that day.

                   She faced the gallery.  She read a letter that she wrote.  In that letter, she delineated how Weberman had ruined her life.  Her life was in shambles.  She and her (recently married) husband had to move out of two different communities because of the shame--that she was suing Weberman--and for their safety.  She still gets nightmares when she thinks about what he did.  She can't even look at herself in the mirror anymore.  She pictures the hot wax he would pour on her (apparently making her reenact scenes in porn films).  She still hates her body.  She still hates herself.

                   Her prose was absolutely heart rending.  The more she read, the more her voice began to crack.  She still stood her ground.  She still read.  But then, she began to burst into tears.  She continued to talk about how no amount of therapy will be able to completely cure her.  As her speech crescendoed, she turned to Weberman and implored him "how do you live with yourself?"

                    Nechemya Weberman had his back to me, so I could not see his face.  But from what I could see, he appeared rather stoic.  The rest of the room was clearly moved.  Even the judge appeared to be holding back some tears.

                   After the plaintiff finished, the judge asked Weberman if he would like to respond.  He tersely answered "no," possibly on his lawyer's advice.  After all that, not even an apology?  I was incredulous.  But from the looks of most of the people surrounding me, I wasn't alone.  Many people looked like they wanted to smack him.

                   The lawyer spoke in the most professional manner possible.  He expressed his qualms with the way the trial was handled--all on the testimony of one girl.  I don't remember most of what he said.  I only remember that he closed off his statement by saying that his client maintains his innocence, and his client plans on appealing.  A shockwave went through the gallery.  Even the judge looked moved by his temerity.  If decorum didn't prohibit it, I would have asked the lady sitting next to me "have you ever wondered what the word 'chutzpah' means?  You just witnessed the epitome of it."

                    The judge then handed down the sentence.  I don't remember the breakdown.  I remember that it all added up to 103 years.  Quite hefty.  What Weberman did was so egrigious, that the judge was clearly trying to use him as an example (as was the beleaguered DA Charles Hynes, whom many of us thought was too soft on Hassidic abusers).  The judge capped off his sentence with a very harsh reprimand for Weberman, and he gave his blessing to the plaintiff, wishing her well in her recovery and her life.

                     I left the courtroom fraught with emotion.  On the one hand, justice had been served.  On the other hand, Weberman had clearly not learned his lesson.  He would be spending the rest of his life in jail.  But he was clearly not sorry.  And the community that gave him asylum wasn't either.  I saw this whole thing as a good start.  We have a long way to go, but at least we got a good start.

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