Sima Yumash – An Orthodox Victim Of Childhood Sexual Abuse – Tells Her Los Angeles Story

Jewish Community Watch (JCW) names the abuser as Rabbi Sholom Dovber Levitansky:

Sholom (Dovber) Levitansky has been added to the Wall of Shame due to his alleged sexual abuse of a number of female minors.

Multiple victims came forward and revealed to JCW that they had been abused by Levitansky. After an investigation by JCW’s investigative team that spanned 18 months and following a review by JCW’s board, it was determined that public exposure was warranted and necessary.

Levitansky, aged 38, lives in Sherman Oaks, California and is the director of Jewish Hospitality/Congregation Bais Avraham.

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Who helped cover up for the abuser in the following story? According to 27yo Sima Yumash, it was Rabbi Avraham Union, Rabbi Gershon Bess, R. Berish Goldenberg (all of the RCC), R. Yosef Shusterman, and social worker Debbie Fox.

Please see my related story on R. Aron Tendler for another example of how the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) handles rabbinic sex abuse. See also my story on R. Abner Weiss.

Sima Yarmush is the daughter of Rabbi Boruch Rabinowitz, a Chabad shaliach (emissary of the rebbe) at the Living Torah Center at 1130 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Rabbi Sholom Dovber Levitansky (I don’t think Sholom Dovber is actually a rabbi, I believe he flunked out of yeshiva, but in deference to his prominent Levitansky family, people called him “rabbi”) worked as an assistant at the center. When Sima Yarmush told her father about what Sholom Levitansky had done to her, Rabbi Rabinowitz asked Sholom who admitted what he had done. Rabbi Rabinowitz immediately fired him and told the wider Los Angeles community about the predator.

KosherDelight.com contains this decade out of date information about the Living Torah Center:

Living Torah Center
1130 Wilshire Boulavard
S. Monica, CA 90401 USA
Tel: 310-394-5699
Fax: 310-453-1936
Email:
Website:
Rabbi Boruch Rabinowitz, Director
Rabbi Sholom Levitansky, Associate Director

Apparently, Sima was not the only girl that Sholom Levitansky abused. After he was fired from working in Santa Monica, Sholom Dovbear Levitansky went to work in a rabbinic capacity in Florida, then Palm Springs before ending up in Sherman Oaks.

Here are some highlights from Sima Yarmush’s talk about her childhood in the Santa Monica Chabad community of the Living Torah Center and how Rabbi Sholom Dovber Levitansky, the son of Rabbi Levitansky of the Chabad in Simcha Monica at 1428 17th St
Santa Monica, CA, groomed her and then abused her, starting at age 14 and ending when she was 17 and able to get away:

My parents [Chabad shluchim aka emissaries] were told about a social worker [Debbie Fox] who at the time was working at Aleinu Family Services at the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Blvd. I met with the social worker Debbie and told her everything. She promised me and my parents that she would help us and she would get four rabbis from the halachic [Jewish law] advisory board involved. Four Los Angeles rabbis were assigned to my case. Rabbi Yosef Shusterman of Chabad of North Beverly Hills, Rabbi Berish Goldenberg of Toras Emes, rabbis Gershon Bess and Avrohom Union of the RCC. A hearing was scheduled.
You might be wondering why I didn’t go to the police and press charges. I didn’t go for many reasons. I’ll share a few. I was 18, unmarried, and terrified of the public finding out I was sexually abused. The idea of fighting a legal battle with a man who repulsed me was terrifying. For some reason, I had this very strong… faith that these prestigious Los Angeles rabbis would certainly help me notify the public about the dangerous man. Wrong.
The meeting with the rabbis was very emotional for me. It was the first time I was openly talking about the sexual abuse I had endured. The social worker, Debbie, and I sat down with the rabbis. There was a mehitza between us and the rabbis… I told them everything…
The rabbis then told my family that everything will be taken care of and that we should not mix in. That we should leave all matters of the story of my abuse to them. They will take care of everything.
To make a long story short, my family got absolutely no backing nor support to show our community that the allegations were true. I was not offered any help or support. Until this day, not one of those rabbis has called me to ask me how I am doing. They simply sent me off that night with random blessings that I should heal and be well…
At one point after the meeting, being that we were shluchim, my parents had a private meeting with the Chabad rabbi who was at the meeting [R. Yosef Shusterman]. We had this huge community that was about to fall apart. He told my parents that they had absolutely no moral, legal, ethical or halachic reason to say anything about the abuse to anybody. He also told my parents numerous times to tell our community that this rabbi would be leaving for personal reasons and not to disclose the real reason.
I later learned that my abuser was sent to therapy by the rabbis, and that one rabbi in particular [R. Berish Goldenberg] took him under his wing to guide him. My abuser told everybody he is resigning from his position at our shul and went on to live in a different community, becoming a serious danger to the people around him there. The community that he moved to was not informed and had no idea about any of this. The rabbis who knew about the abuse did not warn the community…
My parents began telling my beloved shul members that my abuser was indeed fired and had to go because serious allegations of sexual abuse had come to their attention. They told everyone the truth — that the rabbi molested girls. Yes, we found out it was not only me.
My family got a whole variety of reactions from my community. Some families didn’t believe my parents. Some families blamed my parents… Some families boycotted our shul. Some families even went to the California Chabad headquarters to try to get my parents fired as Chabad shluchim [emissaries].
Meanwhile, as soon as my molester’s family heard that my parents were telling people that their son was fired from our shul because serious allegations of child sexual abuse had come to their attention, they called my parents liars.
One of the other shluchos called my mother to tell her that she is no longer welcome to bring other women to the only women’s mikveh in Santa Monica.
It was my parents who were warning others about a sexual predator who people were getting upset at…
I don’t cry because I was sexually abused. I cry because the people from my childhood who I cherished the most were not there to support me. I cry because important rabbis did not support me. I cry because I stood up for the truth and all I received in return, for the most part, was ambiguity and silence. So almost ten years have passed since I came forward to the rabbis, and I refuse to remain silent any longer.
After my abuser moved to another city, he opened up an organization and a website, offering a whole variety of rabbinic services including tutoring, counseling, Shabbat dinners, holiday parties, which provided him with access to children and teens. He recreated the perfect environment for himself to continue [molesting].
Meyer Seewald called my abuser asking him about the allegations. Meyer asked him if he ever apologized to any of his victims. The conversation was short. He denied everything. My abuser called [R. Berish Goldenberg], the one who took him under his wing, who in turn called Meyer, perturbed at the possibility of JCW exposing my abuser. For a short while, my abuser’s website was down and when it was back up again, it was updated with the word ‘Adult’ strewn all over the place.

Sholom Levitansky’s family’s Santa Monica Chabad (1428 17th) was the site of many child molestations. An older kid would recruit younger vulnerable kids into playing what he called “the privacy game.”

This older kid was never charged with any crime and he’s now an adult and still at large in the Los Angeles Jewish community (though not a rabbi and not in any position of authority).

A. asks: “Why is Debbie Fox still allowed to practice as a social worker? She’s a mandated reporter.”

Comment: “Because the victim is above 18. Legally, the adult is on her own. A mandated reporter is for children. There is nothing anyone can do if the victims themselves don’t come forward. The social worker has her hands tied in the back.”

Here is a common reaction I hear around Orthodox Los Angeles: “So angry that after so many years, the same people continue to victimize people in the community they allegedly lead.”

In the past, I often burned out covering these rabbinic sex abuse stories.

A Jew tells me: “I completely understand. I hate to think about the bad guys anymore at this point. I spoke with someone very involved in this case, though. And I basically realized that this issue – sexual abuse of children – is the tipping point. Screwing over righteous (would be) converts and agunot is upsetting, but has never been quite enough to get people to revolt. This, though, this is bad. It’s time for some change, in my opinion. Or as Meyer Seewald so eloquently pointed out, it is appalling that people here have shown more outrage at the prospect that they were given some questionable / not kosher meat (allusion to Doheny Meats) than that their own children are being molested and abused.”

A Youtube comment:

I was present at this event but just re-watched it here. What an incredibly intelligent, articulate, communicative and strong young woman Sema is.

Question: what’s the statute of limitations on pressing charges against the perpetrator and holding Chabad of Southern California–who obliterated your parents sole vocation, life’s purpose and source of income–not to mention turning the other cheek & destroying lives; and to Toras Emes whose head mentored, enabled and reassigned the abuser to a mere 18 miles away to an unsuspecting Sherman Oaks public, accountable?

The Catholic Church sold a LOT of property to pay for reparations to the children its priests sexually abused. Isn’t it time Cunin’s SoCalChabad Empire does same? There’s a Jewish boys school on 3rd street West of LaBrea that used to belong to the Catholic Church. It’s one of the properties they sold to free up cash for reparations. Every time I drive past it I think, “this Cheder made possible by the Catholic Diocese; this is the Cheder that Catholic Abuse Built”.

Another Youtube comment: “I have no words to describe my feelings after watching this lady’s amazing story, I am just so heartbroken that she was made to suffer so much. And I am angered. I am even more angered at the rabbis who chose not to do anything but sweep this under the rug. I really wish the molester Sholom Dovber Levitansky answer for what he has done. A a big apology from the community is owed to this courageous woman. I am shocked that rabbis who are involved in and head the RCC, regarded with an obligatory prestige in their Kashrus certification and which seems to have a monopoly on Gerus in LA was able to just sit by and do nothing upon hearing the name of the accuser.”

Melanie posts to Youtube: “I feel such pain and anguish listening to Sima, your courage is a blessing. Boruch Hashem you have a wonderful supporting family who have stood up for you. The Rabbis who were involved should be totally ashamed, they should resign or be fired from their positions as they have NO credibility or moral ethics. People who shamed your parents or shunned any of you should hold their heads in shame. I wish I had your courage to tell my story that I have lived with for over a decade. May Hashem Bless you your family and all who have supported you.”

Andrew posts to Youtube: “I am very moved and grateful to Sima for her determination to prevent further abuse. It is, unfortunately, very typical of our communities that victims and whistle-blowers are punished. Although the conduct of this ‘beis-din’ is reprehensible, it is unfortunately not surprising. Sima is blessed that her family supports her. There are many other victims who are shunned by their families. It also sounds like her family and their Chabad House will be ok. I suggest it would be worthwhile for criminal charges to be pressed against the perpetrator. I think that would make it less likely for him to ever be in a position to have access to more potential victims. There is certainly a mitzva to report him to the authorities, as the prohibition of mesira does not apply here in any manner.”

Chayale Mendy posts to FB: “Silence only creates a thicker smokescreen for abusers to find new victims and to evade the consequences for their crimes. This woman is a true hero. May all the bent and broken be lifted upright and be placed among the leaders of our nation.”

Chaya Esther Ort posts to FB: “I am so impressed and moved by the courage, bravery, and honesty of this beautiful young woman. I am likewise impressed by the successful efforts of JWC in supporting and encouraging victims of sexual abuse, and providing a forum for them to share their experiences. I am utterly mystified that rabbis, community leaders, friends and neighbors would protect and support perpetrators of sexual abuse. Anyone complicit in covering up abuse, enabling abusers to escape being exposed or moving to other communities, intimidating and ostracizing people who report abuse is as bad as or worse than the actual abuser, since it can be argued that the abuser is sick. May Hashem bless Ms Yarmush, and all the victims of sexual and physical abuse with safety from harm, and healing from trauma. And thank you to Meyer Seewald and JWC for bringing this issue out into the open.”

Miriam Hendeles posts to FB: “Unbelievable. What a brave and courageous woman. So sad that she suffered so much. She has such presence in the way she delivered her message. Clear. Direct. So important. Wow.”

A post to Youtube:

I see what she means. The abuser’s picture or name does not appear on his website, he added the word adult to all of the services said to be offered, and only uses his first name in a reference to himself (“Ask the Rabbi”) http://jewishhospitality.org/home.html
G-d bless this woman and give her and her family health, long life and all kinds of brachos and protection. She looks like she indeed has inherited her grandmother’s DNA including the courage and strength.

Benny Forer posts: “Thank you for your amazing courage and bravery. Shame on those that committed the crime, covered up the crime, and passively encouraged crime. Those Rabbis should be deeply ashamed of their actions.”

Here is video from Sunday night’s Jewish Community Watch event.

Heidi posts:

I am so impressed and moved by the courage, bravery, and honesty of this beautiful young woman. I am likewise impressed by the successful efforts of JWC in supporting and encouraging victims of sexual abuse, and providing a forum for them to share their experiences. I am utterly mystified that rabbis, community leaders, friends and neighbors would protect and support perpetrators of sexual abuse. Anyone complicit in covering up abuse, enabling abusers to escape being exposed or moving to other communities, intimidating and ostracizing people who report abuse is as bad as or worse than the actual abuser, since it can be argued that the abuser is sick.

After highlighting so effectively the importance of outing abusers, it was surprising that Ms Yarmush did not mention the name of her abuser, or his website. If anyone knows of any rationale for failing to mention these things, i would be interested in hearing it.

May Hashem bless Ms Yarmush, and all the victims of sexual and physical abuse with safety from harm, and healing from trauma. And thank you to Meyer Seewald and JWC for bringing this issue out into the open.

NHMusic posts to Youtube:

What an amazing & courageous woman!
It is extremely sad & scary how many survivors have been and are currently being shunned by those they have turned to for support/help – as well as those who have had their experiences ignored/belittled.

As someone who grew up & currently live in a religious community in NJ it scares me how sexual abuse is ignored/ barely acknowledged as something that occurs on a daily basis -let alone exists. I can only hope that the JCW-JCW events makes its way down to NJ to raise awareness and tell survivors the importance of coming forward and telling their stories as well as, not to be ashamed for they are the true heroes/heroines.

Shlomo posts: “Unfortunately I can relate to every word you are saying. Your pain, your feelings of abandonment by the “Rabbis” and friends you grew up with, your hesitation to come out in public for many reasons you mention and more. The incredible indifference of our “Rabbis” is inexplicable or defensible at any level. Do not stop now or ever. You are courageous beyond belief. You must continue. This is just a beginning for you. Chazak Chazak Venischazaik. And thank G-d for the courageous people behind this organization.”

The Jewish Journal does not name any of the rabbis in its story:

The Journal is not printing the rabbi’s name because he has not been charged with these allegations in court, but among the Los Angeles audience during Seewald’s recent visit, the rabbi’s name was well known — so it goes in the close-knit Los Angeles Orthodox community.
Sima Yarmush, now 27, gave her own testimony to the community at the event, accusing this rabbi of numerous acts of molestation. She was 14 at the time.
Yarmush began by telling her story about growing up in Chabad, her bubbe (an Auschwitz survivor), her stifling shyness as a little girl and then about that aforementioned rabbi — how he took her under his wing, charming her and the whole community before, she alleged, abusing her sexually.
When she was 18, after coming home from a year in Israel to attend seminary, she said she decided to speak out and take action. Yarmush was assigned four rabbis who conducted a beit din (rabbinical court) and, for the first time in her life, she recounted the events in explicit detail; the rabbis, separated by a mechitzah, listened to her story with clasped hands. Finally, one of the rabbis asked her, “Who did this to you?”
That incriminating question with only one answer.
Finally, she thought to herself, after four years, the moment has come. And as she opened her mouth to answer the question, a Chabad rabbi interjected, “Let’s hold off on saying the name.” Furious and voiceless — yet again — Yarmush said she disobeyed the rabbi and spoke up.
“They simply sent me off that night,” she recalled. Her alleged molester got off scot-free, was sent to therapy and relocated to a nearby Chabad community in the Los Angeles area, she said…
Although JCW has not been sued for libel or defamation, it isn’t without flaw. In August 2012, Seewald immediately responded to an allegation made by an autistic boy, who falsely accused a Crown Heights special education teacher of sexual abuse. As a result of his entry into the JCW database, the man lost his job and was publicly shunned — before Seewald repealed the entry. But by then, the damage had been done and JCW’s integrity was compromised.

How did this event damage JCW’s integrity? How does the Jewish Journal know that the allegation was false? The Jewish Journal sides with the powers that be.

As for not naming Rabbi Sholom Dovber Levitansky because he has not been charged in court, the Jewish Journal has no problem publishing all sorts of negative things about people who are not charged in court. One example, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz in 2008.

Sholom Dovbear Levitansky is the son of the pioneering Chabad shalich Avraham Levitansky, who died in May of 2007:

Jewish Journal: Rabbi Avraham Levitansky, one of Chabad’s first West Coast shlichim, or emissaries, died in his home on May 27, following a long, undisclosed illness. He was 67.

Levitansky headed Santa Monica’s Chabad for 23 years. He was the first shliach brought to the West Coast in the mid-1960s by Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin. Cunin, the director of Chabad on the West Coast, was the first person the Lubavitcher Rebbe selected to appoint other emissaries.

Levitansky was originally brought to California to help launch Chabad’s Talmud Torah. He also helped launch Chabad’s first Gan Israel day camp and helped establish a program to help children in public school receive a Jewish education.

In 1970, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson asked for 70 new Chabad centers to be built for his birthday, Cunin committed to opening 12. He appointed Levitansky to open one in Santa Monica, or “Simcha Monica,” using the Hebrew word for happiness instead of the Spanish word for saint.

“Rabbi Avraham Levitansky was a dear, personal friend of mine for more than 50 years. He was my schoolmate, my comrade in arms, and more than anything else, he was a real brother to me,” Rabbi Cunin wrote in a statement to The Journal.

Levitansky’s synagogue was the first Chabad in Santa Monica and he later brought in Rabbi Boruch Rabinowitz to help. Fifteen years ago Rabinowitz opened another center, The Living Torah Center, which now operates a pre-school.

On February 7, 2007, I blogged:

Rav Adlerstein said that about a decade ago in Fairfax, an Orthodox woman repeatedly left and returned to her abusive non-observant husband. Finally, he murdered her.

Rav Adlerstein did not mention any names or further details, but I will.

The Jewish Journal published on January 30, 1998:

Six years ago, the Orthodox Counseling Program (OCP) of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles began a hot line to help women such as Ilana. But at the time, OCP’s Dr. Michael Held staunchly refused to talk about the hot line. “If something is difficult to accept and you splash it all over the front page,” he said, “people will clam up, and you’ll find yourself farther away from the people you want to help.”

Instead, Held and his staff quietly worked behind the scenes, meeting with many of the more than 100 practicing Orthodox rabbis in Los Angeles, and their efforts have paid off.

…What opened the community’s eyes, sources say, was the 1993 murder of Rita Parizer, 36, an Orthodox wife and motherwhose strangled body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a garageowned by her husband, Shalom, at 325 N. Orange Grove Ave. Rita previously had reported a marital rape but refused to press charges, LAPD Det. David Lambkin said. In August 1994, her husband was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to lifein prison.

“More than anything, the Parizer case brokethrough the community’s denial,” said Shirley Lebovics, a licensed clinical social worker who is observant and a domestic-violence expert. “It made rabbis stop and say, ‘This can happen. This is frightening. This is real.’”

Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek, however, said, “Abuse has nothing to do with one’s moral upbringing, but with the [generational] cycle of violence.” Tendler speaks about the phenomenon in a new videotape produced for the Jewish community by the National Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

“When I counsel couples, I tell the woman, in front of her intended husband, that if he ever raises a hand to her, she should pick herself up and leave until the problem is resolved,” Tendler said. “And if a woman is unsafe, it is incumbent upon every rabbi to pull out all the stops, including saying from the bimah that a man is not welcome in the community, because he abuses his wife.”

Rita Parizer went for help to the Orthodox Hotline and was seen by Dr. Michael Held and Mrs. Shirley Lebovic who did not report to the authorities the abuse Rita suffered at her husband’s hands.

Dr. Held worked as a psychologist at YULA. Later he was hired by Shirley’s husband as the director of a home for orthodox children with developmental problems called Etta Israel. As for Shirley Lebovic, she’s in social work.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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