The Shomrim: Gotham's Crusaders

They patrol Jewish neighborhoods with taxpayer money—but don't always clue in the police

One e-mail Lesher received came from Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, an officer of the Orthodox Union, one of the oldest Orthodox organizations in America, best known for its kosher certification on food.

"My question to you as an Orthodox Jew," Schonfeld wrote, "is what compelled you to write an article in the secular press trashing our fellow Jews? Especially in a media which is notorious for its hatred of Orthodox Judaism? Why couldn't you keep your comments to yourself? If you needed to unburden yourself, write in the Jewish Week for G-d's sake which would be all too glad to print an anti-Ortho diatribe. Haven't we Jews ever learned that when we spill our laundry in the non Jewish public it only comes to haunt us?"

Clearly upset, Schonfeld went on: "Your article may prove to be one of the most treacherous acts of mesira in modern times."

Background photo by Mert Sener
Luzer Twersky says he was victimized by a rabbi who later was caught by Shomrim in an other molestation incident that was never reported to police.
Emily Berl
Luzer Twersky says he was victimized by a rabbi who later was caught by Shomrim in an other molestation incident that was never reported to police.

Schonfeld's invocation of mesira, the religious prohibition on betraying another Jew to government authorities, touched on something at the heart of the ongoing debate inside the Haredi community, not only about how it treats sex abuse, but about how it will relate with the city and country around it.

In Talmudic commentary, mesira is a crime against the community, punishable by death, without any form of trial.

To many, the concept is an artifact of another time, when Jews reasonably feared the actions of prejudiced regimes.

But in the Haredi community, which largely came to the United States after World War II, suspicion of the outside world remains strong.

"They tend to look at the U.S. government as just another government that's hostile to them," Blau says.

Indeed, it is partly the prohibition on mesira that encourages Brooklyn Haredim to call the Shomrim rather than the police. And it is mesira that Haredi rabbis invoke to justify the ban on reporting child abusers to the secular authorities.

"Mesira was applied centuries ago, in anti-Semitic societies," says Blau. "If you acknowledge that American society is democratic and not fundamentally anti-Semitic, mesira is a non-issue."

Haredi rabbis aren't convinced. After decades of carefully building communities walled off from the secular city around them, communities built on Jewish law and respect for rabbinical authority, communities so self-sufficient that they have their own police forces, it's not clear what these communities will become if the outside is let in. So even as more rabbis acknowledge that in certain cases it is the right and lawful thing to call the police on a fellow Jew, many still insist on their authority to determine when to do so.

The death of Leiby Kletzky at the hands of one of the Borough Park's own caught the community in freeze-frame, in the midst of this transition. And close to the center of the picture, because of their role as enforcers of the community's internal rules and its protectors from external threats, stand the Shomrim.Like Luzer Twersky, who doesn't want to publicly identify the Shomrim member who kept his abuse as a boy quiet, even the harshest critics of the Shomrim see the volunteers patrolling the neighborhood as just a part of a bigger problem.

"The problem isn't the Shomrim," Hirsch says. "But the Shomrim are a symptom of the problem the community is still grappling with. And because of the role they play, they systematize that problem, too."

Blau agrees: "The emergence of the Shomrim reflect a community that doesn't believe they're going to be protected by the police. Is that belief going to change? We don't know."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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40 comments
Natebahny
Natebahny

Oooh! I'll give you such a hit!

#Handmade #Soaps
#Handmade #Soaps

I'm a Brazilian and really love the Jewish people .Those are good people God people .

Shsg11219
Shsg11219

Loser (luzer) is a self hating Jew who will do anything for attention.He would even sell out his own mother for an article in the papers or a little publicity.

The shomrim do a superb job, and the neighborhoods they patrol have a lower crime rate than ther other Brooklyn area's.

Jonathan Scheiner
Jonathan Scheiner

if they have a list of community abusers that is obscured from the police on the advice of local "rabbonim", then they are all enablers of abuse- shomrin and "rabbonim."

Dick L.T.
Dick L.T.

I remember an ugly incident many years ago, during my youth, when many of the adult men of the Haredi community in Borough Park gathered in front of the local precinct station house in protest of some incident, lost on me after so many years, which the Hasidim believed the NYPD had acted improperly or was not doing enough to rectify. It might have been about street crime, residents getting mugged and robbed, not sure. Anyway, the protest got very boisterous and some of the officers removed their name tags and badges and engaged the crowd with truncheons and fists. Not a pretty sight to be sure. I don't condone the private patrol withholding information that essentially shields criminals, but one can understand mistrust of Caesar's authorities well beyond Cossack pogroms of yore.

jacob katz
jacob katz

i was there it was 1979 i was 12 it was about crime .. and the fact they were closing another precint sam cohen was assemblyman at the time right before dov hikind

ShulPunk
ShulPunk

Silence and shame are an effective way to perpetuate a self-isolating community. When the victimized boys grow up, a fewleave, but most stay on and invest the energy their pain elicits to createstrong social bonds that keep their demons at bay and their tattered sense of self-worth at least mimimally intact. Whenever there is a hierarchy that is justified and ruled by the belief in a supreme timeless being, everything it's leaders do becomes transitively justifiable. A logical consequence is the abuse of the most vulnerable followers by their more powerful leaders. Get over it. It's nature's brutish way and g-d has absolutely nothing to do with it. The alternative to living in such a religious sheltering community is to live in the secular wasteland of hopeless unbelievers. And it's cold out here.

JusticeforAll?
JusticeforAll? like.author.displayName 1 Like

How is this community different than any other fundamentalist religious community operating a parallel legal system and being exempted from following the law of the land? Sounds remarkably to the way Sharia Law is enacted in England. When will lawmakers and law enforcement step in to make sure that there is indeed equal justice for all in America.

Btnaughton
Btnaughton

Bargain or not, they sweep the misdeeds of their own under the rug. That's taxpayer funded discrimination. I cry foul.

ConcernedCitizen
ConcernedCitizen

But the article is right that molestation cannot be tolerated in any way, shape or form.

ConcernedCitizen
ConcernedCitizen

Shomrim is a real bargain for taxpayers - $130k a year may be what 2 officers cost - and Shomrim reduces crime far more than 2 more police offiers would. It makes sense - 100 volunteers available most of the time easily trumps 2 police officers working 8 hour shifts.

Thor
Thor

I see they left out the part in their homenade video where a rabbi is picking up a prositute, and the Shormrim gang are jumping out of the bushes to turn him over to the police, or the scene where a rabbi is picking up young boys to molest them.

ibivi
ibivi

No one is above the law. Rabbis who molest children no matter their standing in the community should be reported to police promptly. Hasidic communities are too insular. Selfishness is against God. Corrupting children is selfishness. Any rabbi would know this.

Benny
Benny

Shomrim is NOT above the law..Shomrim keeps thieves,crooks,gangsters,molesters,rapists,pocketbook snatchers,and dangerous people off our neighborhood streets..Shomrim stand up for the NYPD and its citizens,thats why they are so liked by the NYPD....Before the summer Shomrim had 4 members shot because they chased a child molester..Shomrim put their lives on the line to save people like you and me and our kids...Shomrim is a group of the men who CARE about others and they do take molestation cases very seriously...My son was a victim of molestation and Shomrim were the ones who caught the man and brought him to justice..Please study Shomrims history before you make negative comments...This man Luzer Twersky is a very disturbed man from the community and his stories are very well known to be dishonest and more of illusinating....

Btnaughton
Btnaughton

I remember that story and have been thinking since that day that civilians are not equipped properly to apprehend criminals. That being said, withholding facts from the NYPD (especially about predators) should preclude the organization from receiving taxpayer funds. If offenders are from "outside their community" (read as not within their religious sect), NYPD will probably be called in. However, if the offender is one of their own, things are more likely to be handled in house. I'm fine with that, except for my tax dollars going towards it. You can't have both sides of the coin. Tax dollars are state. Separation of church and state. Anyone heard of it? I believe the guards hearts are in the right place, but if they're receiving tax money, they have to call things down the middle. No favorites. Anyone with a problem with my view may email me at BTNAUGHTON@LIVE.COM

B. T. Naughton

Btnaughton
Btnaughton

I think you have added to my point, with the MORAL obligation part. When you protect a group of criminals by not notifying the proper authorities of the crimes committed you subvert your own credibility. My point is that ALL criminal activity should be reported. If you allow fellow church members a pass, and not others, that is a form of discrimination whether you would like to admit it or not. I am not a religious person, nor am I a bigot. People should be judged by the content of their character, and nothing else. Criminals should be judged by judges, not neighborhood patrols. Thus the Shohrim have a MORAL obligation to allow all crimes to be prosecuted, not just the ones they see fit to turn over to the PROPER authorities. If they are either unwilling or unable to be non-biased in this reguard, then they shouldn't receive tax money.

Yossi
Yossi

There is NO state and religion here..The city does not give money to a religious group to fight crime..The city is helping a group of people who happen to be orthodox jews with a heart for other people including christians,muslims...Shomrim got a few thousand dollars to be better equipped to HELP yes HELP its boro park,willamsburgh citizens and YES they include all religious citizens...Just some writer who decided to call this RELIGIOUS..Getting criminals off the street in any community is NOT a religious thing, its a MORAL obligation and the NYPD is very proud of Shomrim in every community they operate from

Fran Sylvania
Fran Sylvania

"So when he goes before the rabbis, the accused will often say he may have done terrible things, but he's a religious person, and he's changed. The belief that people can change, that plays a large roll in these decisions." *role*

PowerfulLady
PowerfulLady

I am so elated that this article came about. I am sick and tired of the Jewish communities thinking they are better than everyone else. Who are they to make the decisions whether to involve the police? They come to this country and then they complain and don't trust the system so why are you here? Isn't this against the law if you are aware of a crime and don't report it you are at fault? If this was a non-Jew let's say a Latino, black Asian green or purple we will all be in prison. They preach God, however they are the largest undercover pedophiles, molesters . And why don't they share their long list of molesters with the police? The fact they made videos depicting Latinos and blacks as criminals is crossing the line. We should all boycott these fake police and ask that taxpayer money be distributed to reputable organizations. The only thing I see here is Jewish protecting protecting their own. I say go eat a ham and cheese sandwich and stop acting like you are all high and mighty....

benny
benny

You make me laugh...The government can spend $825.00 for a hammer and $376.00 for a toilet seat and waste billions on Global warming and trillions on unwarranted wars and you have a problem with a few thousand dollars to a group who give their lives to save your and others.? I dont think you are a Powerful lady ,i think i see a very weak lady here who is just full of a hate to a great Powerful organization who patrol our communities in the sake of our kids....

Josep
Josep

Sorry to tell you but Shomrim do work in conjuction with the NYPD and NYPD prefers when some crimes do get solved by the Shomrim rather then get them involved...Shomrim is a highly respected organization who are available 24/6 to assist any fellow neighborhood person may it be jewish,latino,or chineese..They answer every call and they do it at NO cost to any NY citizen..So why do u have a problem when NYC allocates a few dollars to help them with Radio equipment to help any person.?Believe me if you would walk down 13th ave. or Lee ave. and a junkie crook tries to ROB you this junkie better not been seen by Shomrim..

Moshe
Moshe

I see the bigots are out today. Whatever your attitude towards the Shomrim -- 'go eat a ham and cheese sandwich'? Seriously?

The Jewish community isn't perfect, but we've done quite well for a community that has to co-exist with people like you. Never again, scum.

All American
All American

What gives these people the right to have their own police force which will only harass non-jews in their neighborhoods. For everyone that lives where these vermins patrol, please call 911 if harassed by these people. What if White Catholics had their own patrols and picked on Jews that walked through their neighborhoods? Would that be tolerated?

Moshe
Moshe

'Vermin'? People like *you* give us the right.

Narrowing
Narrowing

I know Luzer personally since he's a lil kid. He's always been rebellious. This is just another one of his shenanigans to get back @ society & blaming the whole world for his problems.

PowerfulLady
PowerfulLady

@ Narrowing stop protecting disgusting pedophiles unless you are one yourself!This is a great article so everyone can know how pitiful Jewish Rabbi's are as much as Catholic pedophile priests

Luzer Twersky
Luzer Twersky

Glad to have you "narrowing" it down for us, and me.

Rosie
Rosie

Great story. The fact that they're volunteers, and supposedly saving the NYPD money, isn't worth much if they're actually making people (kids!) less safe and prosecution more difficult. Right?

D.
D.

These communities want to operate outside the civil authorities, similar type organizations also operate in Israel, with a similar set of problems. None of this should in anyway be supported with public funds and legal action should be taken against these groups if they fail to cooperate or notify the police in their area of jurisdiction.

mi shomer et hashomrim?
mi shomer et hashomrim?

While I appreciate the questions this article raises, some more investigation into facts might have helped it feel more substantive. For example, the Shomrim's ridiculous claim that it doesn't keep statistics. Than how do we know it is an effective use of taxpayer money at all? Is there really no record at all beside the words of their PR people as to whether or not they stop any crimes or have any effect? You say there are other community policing organizations. What are their budgets like? Do they compare to the Shomrim budgets? How many volunteers does the Shomrim have? Is it an all-volunteer force or are there paid employees, even if just in the office?

Superman
Superman

Michael Lesher get a life. The Shomrim are an ALL VOLUNTEER group that helps the NYPD do their job. They are the eyes and ears of the community. So big deal they get a couple of dollars from the politicians to buy 2 way radios to patrol with but look at all the money they are saving the city. Look at the crime rate in the neighborhoods they patrol. I know some gentiles who won't move out of the jewish neighborhoods because they feel safe there.

Arielle
Arielle

What a great article. As an Israeli, I can tell you that the very same problem exists in Israel. The ultra-orthodox community does not trust the secular police and very often sexual and other abuses go unreported. I also dislike the mind set of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who would always trust "one of their own" before they'd trust a "goy". Unfortunately, that kind of mindset probably caused the death of Leiby Kletzky. The haredim need to realise that they are not as special as they think they are (despite what God supposedly told them), that the "goyim" are people just like them and that the police is there to help.

Clip Job Rules
Clip Job Rules

2 lessons I take from the article. 1. It is newer generation of immigrants in general not just Mexicans that are not into the Melting Pot idea to the detriment of us all. 2. Chronic sexual abuse by religious authority is not caused by anything particularly Catholic but a combination of fundamentalism and relating to the first issue religious organizations that are above the law.

Jessie Hymietown Jackson
Jessie Hymietown Jackson

NYC could save even more money if shomrim were given guns and allowed to kill anybody commiting a crime.

Master Moser
Master Moser

I know I don't need to point out the barbarity of your comment, but I will anyway.

coolguy
coolguy

Hey lets all pile a bunch of hate on the Jews here. That'll stop the problem.

Aaa
Aaa

NYPD saves a lot of $$$ for keeping SHOMRIM to patrol instead of them.

dirty harry
dirty harry

white people wanting to lynch blacks, tho this time it's ok cause the white lynch mobs are jewish.

 
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