By Anthony Weiss (Forward.com)
Published November 21, 2007, issue of November 23, 2007
More than 20 years after he fled sex abuse charges in Brooklyn, Abraham Mondrowitz is sitting in an Israeli prison. And an Israeli judge has ordered that for now, that is where he will stay.
New York City police have accused Mondrowitz, a member of the Gerer Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community, of molesting hundreds of boys when he was a teacher and counselor in Brooklyn during the 1970s and '80s. He was arrested in Jerusalem last Friday after America's government requested his extradition for trial.
At an incarceration hearing last Sunday, Jerusalem magisterial judge Shimon Feinberg ordered that Mondrowitz be held in prison until November 27 while the American government updates its extradition request. The judge also ordered a report on whether Mondrowitz should then be allowed to serve house arrest.
Anti-abuse activists hailed the news of Mondrowitz's arrest at a press conference Friday, but Michael Lesher, a lawyer for six of Mondrowitz's alleged victims, expressed concerned that Mondrowitz was placed under house arrest.
"He does represent a flight risk. He does represent a public danger," Lesher told the Forward. "I hope the court would take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Mondrowitz does not escape justice."
The extradition proceedings are a major new development in a case with a long and tortured history. In 1985, Mondrowitz was indicted in Brooklyn on five counts of sodomy and six counts of sexual abuse, but he fled the country and settled in Israel. The Brooklyn district attorney's office attempted to extradite him, but that proved impossible under Israeli law at the time: The charge of sodomy did not then fall under the Israeli definition of rape.
Israel's legal definition of rape changed in 1988, but when Charles Hynes took over as Brooklyn district attorney in 1990, his office dropped extradition efforts, stating that the crime had occurred before the change in law and that the law could not be applied retroactively.
Lesher and anti-abuse activist Amy Neustein mounted their own campaign to pressure Hynes's office, contacting politicians and the media. Over the past year and a half, several articles and television programs brought new attention to the Mondrowitz case.
Lesher and other activists argued at the Friday press conference that the delay in extradition was political, not legal. They also said that Hynes had not pushed the case because he didn't want to antagonize Brooklyn's politically powerful Orthodox Jewish population.
The United States is now attempting to extradite Mondrowitz under a new, broader extradition treaty with Israel that went into effect this past January, making extradition possible for all crimes with a penalty of more than a year. According to a spokesman, the Brooklyn district attorney's office promptly filed its extradition request with the State Department after the new extradition treaty went into effect. The Justice Department formally requested Mondrowitz's extradition from the Israeli government in September.
The Israeli judge expressed concerns this week over trying Mondrowitz for charges that were filed more than 20 years ago. Lesher argued that it is standard to stop the clock on the statute of limitations when the suspect flees the jurisdiction in which he was charged, as Mondrowitz did. He called the timeliness issue, which Mondrowitz's lawyers had raised in court, "the reddest of red herrings."
The judge stated in his ruling this week that in addition to the extradition request, Mondrowitz had been found in possession of child pornography films. In Israel it is illegal to possess child pornography.