AMSTERDAM (JTA) – The umbrella group of Dutch Jewish communities has launched an investigation into accusations that a local rabbi molested children in the United States.
The Organization of Jewish Communities in the Netherlands, or NIK, announced the probe last week of Rabbi Mendel Levine of Brooklyn, New York, who began serving the community of the eastern city of Nijmegen in 2009. The announcement followed an article in De Telegraaf daily recalling accusations against Levine from 2011.
That year, Meir Seewald, a Crown Heights activist against accused child molesters in religious Jewish communities, published an online account of the alleged abuse he says he suffered in 2000 as a boy attending a summer camp belonging to the Chabad-run Gan Israel Camping Network, where Levine had worked as a counsellor.
Seewald wrote that he had approached Levine “about a cut I had in my private area,” adding that Levine “then touched me there inappropriately. As well he used to walk around the mikvah (ritual bath) with my bunkmates with an erection. Many people claimed it was not molestation, but I can tell you for a fact that in that moment it destroyed my life in many ways until this day.”
Contacted by reporters in the Netherlands, Levine declined to comment on the allegations, which according to the Telegraaf are beyond the statute of limitations both in the United States and in the Netherlands.
National, regional and local Jewish community groups “believe that it is important that good and thorough research is made and, if necessary, measures be taken” with regard to the allegations, according to an NIK statement. The NIK added that it constitutes “no judgement on the contents” of the allegations against Levine while they are still being reviewed.
The De Telegraaf article from Wednesday includes testimony by an unnamed second alleged victim of Levine, a Chabad rabbi who is now in his 30s.
“I heard Seewald’s story and I was shocked, it was exactly what had happened to me. In Michigan, 2001,” the witness said. “Camp counsellor Levine took me aside, undressed me and began to rub lotion on my private parts. I wondered what in the world was going on. I’m not looking for revenge but it did give me issues.”
The probe that NIK initiated following the Telegraaf article is not the first one conducted in the Netherlands into Levine’s actions, according to Binyomin Jacobs, a senior Chabad rabbi and chief rabbi of the Inter-Provincial Rabbinate of the Netherlands, which comprises Nijmegen.
“I have thoroughly looked into the matter, and had people in America looking into it as well,” Jacobs told the Telegraaf. “The result was that nothing criminal appeared to have happened.”
But Jacobs also told the newspaper that he was not aware of the existence of a second complainant against Levine, adding that this should prompt a new examination of Levine’s actions.
According to the Telegraaf, Seewald is in possession of a recording of a telephone conversation he had with Levine in which Seewald confronted Levine with his allegations. In the recording, Seewald is heard demanding that Levine withdraw his candidacy to serve as youth director of an Amsterdam synagogue. He also denied the allegations, but then said any touching by him of a child was “out of love” and confesses to having “taivos” – Yiddish for “lusts.”
Levine withdrew his candidacy for the youth director position in 2011, citing “personal reasons.”
Separately, last month a court in Amsterdam ruled that a 30-year-old Dutch Jewish man who is accused of molesting children will remain in custody for the duration of his trial for alleged actions against four children, including rape and sexual abuse.
Ephraim Schrijver, 30, immigrated in 2012 to Israel after being fired from his job as a teacher at the Orthodox Cheider Jewish school in Buitenveldert, near Amsterdam. He was extradited to the Netherlands in 2016.
Schrijver has denied the allegations.