Harrison, Of the NEWS Staff e-mail Judy |
updated: Saturday, May 10, 2003
Schwab advocates for those abused by clergy
It never occurred to Charlotte Rolnick Schwab when she
was growing up in Bangor that the words
rabbi and abuse ever
would go together.
As an adult, however, she became both a survivor of and an expert
on the subject.
Schwab, a psychologist living in Delray Beach, Fla., last year
published "Sex, Lies, and Rabbis:
Breaking a Sacred Trust."
It appears to be the first book to explore the topic. She also has
on the role of advocate for the men, women and children
who have been abused by members of
"We need a Megan's Law for clergy," she said in a recent phone
interview, referring to measures
that require convicted sex
offenders to register with local authorities. "We need to know when
rabbi, priest or minister moves from one state to
The decision on whether to report abuse often is more complicated
in synagogues and independent
churches, according to Schwab,
because they do not have the hierarchical structures like
Roman Catholic Church. A synagogue board made up of
congregants hires, disciplines and fires a
She also maintains that leaders in the four main branches of
Judaism - Orthodox, Conservative,
Reconstructionist - have refused to create and disseminate abuse
policies that could
guide synagogues in handling such cases.
Rabbis who head those groups wield enormous power,
in New York, where all but one are based.
"Sex, Lies, and Rabbis" begins with the author's own story in the
first chapter titled, "Sunday, the
Rabbi Assaulted His Wife,"
borrowed from the popular mystery series. Like the detective in
Harry Kemelman's books, Schwab's second husband was a
"As I stood in the hallway between the kitchen and the dining
room of our home, my rabbi/husband
threatened, 'if you tell
anyone about my secret sex life, I'll kill you, and I will be
because I am a rabbi!' Then he repeatedly slammed
me against the wall."
That secret life included visits to sex clubs, thousands of
encounters with prostitutes, dozens of
photographs of his sexual conquests and the names and phone numbers
women with whom he claimed to have had sex, including
congregants and students.
That life was a far cry from the peaceful, quiet and loving
communities of Bangor and Beth
Abraham, the city's only
Orthodox synagogue near where Schwab grew up the fifth of
daughters. Her father and mother were immigrants who lost
most of their family
members to Russian pogroms and the few
who were left, to the Holocaust.
An excellent student, she divided her time between Bangor High
School, Bangor Public Library,
Viner's Music Store and the
Jewish Community Center. During the summers, Schwab
Camp Natarswi, the Girl Scout camp in
After her graduation in 1951, she was accepted by the University
of Michigan, but her parents
refused to allow her to go,
Schwab writes. They were worried that it was too far from home
that she might stray from her religious roots or, worse,
fall in love with a gentile.
A year later, after she had lived with an older cousin and worked
in New York, her parents
relented. Schwab studied English and
psychology at Michigan, then returned to New York
graduation. Within two weeks, she had a job as a
motivational researcher on Madison Avenue and
had met the man
who would become her first husband.
During the course of their 24-year marriage, Schwab earned her
master's degree and doctorate
and established a successful
career as a therapist in Manhattan. Not long after she divorced
first husband, with whom she had a son and a daughter,
Schwab met the Reform rabbi who would
become her second
More than a decade her junior, the rabbi and Schwab were married
just three years, but that time
transformed her into an
advocate for survivors of clergy abuse, an expert on the reluctance
enforcement and religious hierarchies to act on
reported clergy abuse, and a trained but
sympathetic ear for
women like herself.
In addition to telling her own story, she researched more than
200 incidents of rabbi abuse for the
book and studied
hundreds of abuse cases involving non-Jewish clergy.
"Synagogues and churches are losing members because people are
losing faith in them," Schwab
said. "Women and children need
a sacred place to go and pray where they know they can be
in this time of terrorism and war.
"Where is the integrity of these so-called men of God? Where's
the courage and integrity of our
religious leaders? Religious
institutions need to find the courage and integrity to speak up
support the victims of abuse, not perpetrators. Keeping
silent is virtually supporting a perpetrator."
Schwab said the most discouraging and disheartening part of her
research for the book was not
working with survivors, but
talking with leaders in the four branches of Judaism that ordain
The fact that those organizations have taken so few
steps to remove abusive rabbis from
synagogues makes them as
guilty as those who perpetrate the abuse, she believes.
As understandably passionate as Schwab is about her book and its
subject, she is just as adamant
that during her formative
years in Bangor, she always was treated with love and respect by
rabbis at Beth Abraham and the other synagogues in the
close-knit Jewish community. Schwab still
keeps in touch with
her former Bangor High School classmates via e-mail and returns to
regularly to visit family and her parents' graves in
the Jewish section of Mount Hope Cemetery.
For information on "Sex, Lies, and Rabbis: Breaking a Sacred
Trust," visit Schwab's Web site at www.drcharlotteschwab.com.