NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The controversial fundraiser that became a divisive issue in the Hasidic community was held Wednesday night in Brooklyn.
As protestors made their presence known, the man at the center of controversy, Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, 53, shook hands and accepted warm wishes at the dinner, which was held to raise his legal funds.
Weberman was arrested last year after a 16-year-old female accused him of molesting her during years of counseling sessions dating back to when she was 12. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of committing a criminal sex act, rape, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
Hundreds of Hasidic Jews packed the hall in Williamsburg on Wednesday night and plunked down money to help support him. Supporters told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey they were hoping to raise $500,000.
In the days leading up to the event, posters in Yiddish and Hebrew had been put up throughout Williamsburg announcing the fundraiser on Weberman’s behalf for those who believed the teen made up the claims in an effort to threaten their community.
A victim’s advocate called the posters “threatening,” saying they insinuate the victim is harming the community.
“The suggestion is that this victim, by going to the authorities and reporting the abuse, is attacking the entire community,” said Ben Hirsch of the group, Survivors for Justice. “I believe one of the posters shows a missile coming down on the community. The missile is, of course, the victim and the community is everyone alongside the accused.”
Others also called the posters an attack on the victim and her family for coming forward.
“The victim and her family have undergone incredible, incredible terrible things done to them by the community to shame her,” protestor Chaim Levin said.
Weberman and his case have become such a lightning rod, protestors said it’s just another example of an insular community turning a blind eye on sexual predators.
“This is a community that unfortunately protects molesters,” said Pearl Engelman, the mother of a sex abuse victim.
“She’s being defamed in a community where she did nothing wrong,” Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg added.
Rosenberg said it’s typical in this community to stay silent about predators out of fear of retribution.
Despite the protest, Weberman has plenty of supporters.
“I know this guy for many years. He’s a wonderful guy, he’s a special guy,” said one supporter at the fundraiser Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes fought back against his critics over the handling of sex crimes involving Hasidic Jews.
Critics say Hynes has accommodated rabbis, who insist on screening allegations before deciding if law enforcement should be involved, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Hynes responded in a newspaper column, saying it was “…absurd to suggest that we cover up or give a break to sex offenders in the orthodox Jewish community.”
The District Attorney said the faithful are free to discuss allegations first with a rabbi, saying “I also expect allegations of criminal conduct to be reported to appropriate law enforcement.”
Hynes’ stance on the issue stands in contrast to how he handled the Catholic church abuse crisis. In 2002, he signed a formal memorandum with then-Bishop Thomas Daily, mandating the church promptly report every abuse allegation.
Hynes, however, insists his current approach in relation to the Hasidic and Orthodox community is both culturally sensitive and effective.
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