Panic in Jerusalem
Parents in a tight-knit neighborhood believe a pedophile ring is terrorizing children. What if it doesn’t exist?
The neighborhood of Nahlaot in Jerusalem is less a single neighborhood than a cluster of smaller semi-distinct neighborhoods that, beginning in the 1870s, grew incrementally as the city’s population expanded beyond the Old City. Batei Rand and Batei Broydes are two of these clusters, each with a few hundred residents. Both are overwhelmingly Haredi and built around semi-enclosed courtyards. The apartments are continuous and are stacked on two levels, the upper one accessible via a shared, wrap-around balcony. Most of the apartments are single-entrance and open into the courtyard, so there is little privacy, and the residents are, for the most part, very poor. Most families don’t own their home, but instead lease it on extremely favorable terms from a charitable organization. Many of the families have been in the neighborhood for generations, and the area, marked by labyrinthine cobblestone alleyways, Jerusalem stone, and gardens, has long been beloved by those that live there.
“It was the most quaint, amazing, incredible, peaceful, loving community,” a former resident recently told me. “A place where religious and secular got along with each other. It was like an example of what Israel could be.”
All of this changed in October 2010, when a 44-year-old man named Binyamin Satz was arrested. Satz is mentally handicapped, and court documents note that he is on state disability, has schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, and “a non-specific eating disorder.” According to his lawyer, Roy Politi, he eats “only bread and cheese, but not when they are touching.” Politi told me that Satz weighs less than 90 lbs. A neighbor described Satz as “very strange, very slight,” with an “extremely pronounced twitch from his shoulder to head.” Politi described Satz as “functioning like a 12-year-old kid.”
When Satz, who had been living with his parents in another section of Jerusalem, moved into his second-floor apartment in Nahlaot in the early 2000s, his father visited his son’s new neighbors. “His father came, he sat down in our living room,” said Malka Lerner, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym. “And he told us, ‘Please accept my son, he is a special boy. He loves kids, he’s very nice to kids. He has no sexual yediah [knowledge]. He’s like a 7-year-old.’ ”
For as long as people can remember, Satz was socially involved with children, who, with their parents’ knowledge, would visit his apartment. How pervasive this was is hard to determine. Politi says, “the whole neighborhood, 30 to 40 kids,” but one parent told me, “no more than five children.” In any case, Politi says his client played chess or balance games with the local kids. Lerner would occasionally find one or both of her sons in Satz’s apartment. “Every once in a while, I would find them in the house, and I would call them out,” she said.
The first complaints surfaced in early October two years ago. Lerner, whose older boys, aged 6 and 7, had showed signs of developmental issues since moving to Nahlaot three years before, received a call from a close neighborhood friend, Noa Klein. “Her son came home crying that someone bit him,” Lerner told me of Klein. (Klein declined to be interviewed.) The boy wouldn’t say where, but when Klein was bathing him that night “she saw a bite on his private parts,” according to Lerner. Klein’s son wouldn’t say “who did it to him, but said it happened after he visited Binyamin Satz.” Lerner urged Klein to go to the police. And on Oct. 11, Klein reported to the police that her son had been bitten on the penis. According to Politi, the police have photographs of the wound, though the police would not make them available to me. Politi, who told me he has seen them, acknowledges that the pictures show a mark but says its cause is unclear. “It can be anything from closing a zipper to a real bite,” he said.
In her complaint—what the investigating officer wrote down on Oct. 11—Klein specifically said that Satz was not the one who bit her child, but that the child had left Satz’s apartment before meeting someone else who bit him:
The kid came home from Talmud Torah [school] at two o’clock and immediately started crying about someone biting him. I asked him, “Where?” and he said, “On my arm,” but there’s no mark. I told him, “Let’s find out who it was and we’ll catch him.” I gave him my hand, we ran outside, and then he told me that he met Binyamin, our neighbor, and he asked for toffee, or that Binyamin asked him if he wants toffee, I’m not sure, and then they went up to Binyamin’s apartment. [Speaking in voice of her son:] Binyamin has a “round thing” on his bed, and whoever stands there for a little bit gets a toffee, and whoever stands there longer gets ice cream, and I didn’t make it [i.e., didn’t manage to stand for a long time on the round thing] so I left there and then someone bit me. So, I asked him [and here she returns to her own voice], “Who bit you? Binyamin?” He answered in the negative. He said: “No, someone else, scary, without a kippah.”
Right now, Binyamin Satz, Benzion Primashelanu, and Zalman Cohen are in jail, charged with sodomy and violence against Israeli children. Six other men have been arrested, questioned on suspicions of the same, and released. A 70-year-old woman named Sarah Vorst was violently beaten by five men in February, her apartment ransacked, and her computer and telephone stolen—according to many because her attackers believed she was a mastermind behind the pedophiles’ plot.
To date, more than 70 children, nearly all from Haredi families in the tight-knit community of Nahlaot, have been interviewed by Social Services and have claimed to suffer severe sexual, psychological, physical, and ritual abuse at the hands of nearly 60 individuals. At least another 50 children have claimed abuse, though they were not interviewed by Social Services. The children have identified the perpetrators either by name or by telling characteristics: the one with the ponytail, the one who exercises, the filmer, the one with a walker, the one who wears a knitted kippah, and so on. Those accused include American immigrants, middle-aged men, elderly women (nearly half of those accused are female), geriatric couples, teenagers, mother-son teams, mentally handicapped individuals, at least one Arab, suspected Christian missionaries, and, more recently, a few prominent members of the community, including a rabbi. Some of those who have been identified by one or more children are unaware, or appear to be unaware, that they have been accused.
We must drop the assumption that there is no way to vanquish Hamas. Terrorists have been defeated before.