Special Report: Sexual Molestation
July 13, 2007
Alleged Molester Investigated HerePhil Jacobs
Two alleged victims of sexual molestation by Yisroel Shapiro of Olympia Avenue in Baltimore City filed a complaint June 8 with the Baltimore City Police Department’s Sex Offense Unit. The complaint triggered an investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
The Baltimore Jewish Times did not gain final confirmation of the timeline of the investigation until this week.
Mr. Shapiro, a former bar mitzvah lessons teacher, is being investigated for allegations of sexual molestation of minors. The Jewish Times has read a copy of the filed papers.
On June 11, the two alleged victims said they were informed by the city’s State’s Attorney’s Office that an investigation was going forward. A staff person in the State’s Attorney’s Office familiar with the case confirmed the investigation but was not authorized to release details.
Yisroel Shapiro is the son of the late Rabbi Ephraim F. Shapiro. According to a Jewish Times investigation during the past year, Rabbi Shapiro allegedly molested at least several dozen young boys and girls –– perhaps in hundreds of incidents –– while serving as principal and dormitory counselor at the Talmudical Academy and spiritual leader of the former Agudas Achim Synagogue from the 1950s to the 1970s. Rabbi Shapiro died in 1989.
Local attorney Isaac Klein, responding to a Jewish Times interview request on behalf of Yisroel Shapiro via telephone, said June 21 that although he is not Mr. Shapiro’s legal counselor, “I explained to him I could see no benefit for him to talk to you on-the-record or off-the-record. Don’t call him back. He doesn’t want to talk to you.” Another intermediary several weeks ago was informed that representatives of the Jewish Times would meet with Mr. Shapiro and share the contents of this article, in the presence of people he chose to bring. There was no response to that request.
Last April, two of Mr. Shapiro’s brothers held a meeting with this reporter and two alleged victims of Rabbi Shapiro –– part of a three-hour conversation prior to the publication of the original Jewish Times article on Rabbi Shapiro. In that encounter, the brothers acknowledged that they had one brother who was removed from bar mitzvah teaching lessons because there were some “questions.”
“He was taken away from teaching children,” said one of the brothers. “He sought and was given help. Was that not enough? Would it have been better if [they] had taken him out and shot him?”
In the Baltimore City Police Department complaint, one of the alleged victims, Gary, stated, “[Yisroel Shapiro] would shuckle [rock back and forth in prayer], holding me against himself and leining [chanting Torah] out loud while he was feeling me up and touching me.”
At another point, Gary reported, “I could feel his erection under me. I would try to get off of his lap, but he’d hold me very tightly. ... I must have been doing something wrong. I thought it was my fault. It was very confusing for me as a child. I just wanted to learn.”
Harold, another alleged victim, said that by his second or third bar mitzvah lesson, Mr. Shapiro was putting his hand on his shoulder. By the fourth lesson, Mr. Shapiro allegedly forced Harold to sit on his lap and would inappropriately touch Harold’s genitals.
When Harold alerted his mother about what was going on, she sat in on a handful of lessons at which nothing happened other than teaching. She felt the issue had settled down and stopped joining her son at the lessons; the molestation allegedly started again.
How did it impact Harold? “I stopped being frum [observant] for quite a while until I got married,” he said. “I try to be a trusting person, but in the back of my mind I’m really not.”
When he sees Mr. Shapiro in the community, Harold said he “gets a nasty feeling in my stomach.”
He added, “My relationship with God changed for a while. It’s stronger now than it was then. I’m Jewish, that’s the best way I can describe it. I believe in God.”
David, another alleged victim, said his mother believed her son so much that she and her husband approached Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of Darchei Tzedek, the shul Mr. Shapiro attended. David remembers that his parents were told by Rabbi Horowitz that he would look into the matter. (Rabbi Horowitz declined to discuss this matter with the Jewish Times.) David was allegedly molested at age 7 by Rabbi Shapiro and then at age 12 1/2 by his bar mitzvah teacher, Yisroel Shapiro.
Meanwhile, David’s parents warned other parents of bar mitzvah-age boys about Mr. Shapiro, and he was removed from teaching around this time.
“I don’t remember anything in terms of him sexually touching me,” said Jon, another ex-student of Mr. Shapiro. “But it did impact me that here was this man, who was supposedly teaching me bar mitzvah lessons, [and] instead doing body slams on me [while watching wrestling videos].
“It’s freaky,” he said. “I didn’t like going to him.”
Jon added that because he sometimes had difficulty focusing while they were learning Torah, Mr. Shapiro would allegedly squeeze his inner thigh to get him to pay attention.
“What I noticed was his wife was never around - never,” he said. “We so many times ended up going into his bedroom. To this day, I don’t like to talk to him. I won’t even look at him eye-to-eye when I see him.”
Paul, who co-filed the police report, went to see Mr. Shapiro for bar mitzvah lessons as a 12-year-old Talmudical Academy student. Mr. Shapiro, he said, would pick him up, place him on his lap, and rub his back and legs.
“I remember coming home from my first lesson,” recalled Paul. “My brother, who also had bar mitzvah lessons from him, said, ëDid he put you on his lap like he did with the rest of us?’”
To this day, Paul, now an accomplished area developer and a regular at an Orthodox shul, cannot lein Torah. He attributes it directly to the countless times he was subjected to the back and leg rubs of his teacher.
Like others interviewed for this article, Paul kept the physical contact a secret. But then years passed, and a chance encounter brought him face to face with Mr. Shapiro while in line at the Colonial Village Dunkin Donuts.
He said he reintroduced himself to Mr. Shapiro. He told him he was older now - 18 - and could stand up for himself. “I told him that I know what you did to me as a child,” said Paul.
Paul added that Mr. Shapiro, caught by surprise, denied any intention of molestation.
Seven years ago, Mr. Shapiro and one of his alleged victims would meet. A tape recording was made of the meeting. The Jewish Times was on hand for a replaying of the tape recently. Had he consented to an interview, Mr. Shapiro would have been asked if he had knowledge of the tape recording. Also, since Mr. Shapiro refuses to talk to the Jewish Times, it is not known if one of the recorded voices is actually his.
“He told me he was teaching for 10 years prior to me, and that he put most of his students on his lap,” said a victim’s voice on the recording. “He claimed he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.”
On the tape, Mr. Shapiro allegedly hinted that he had been abused as “a young child” himself, and that he had recently received 1 1/2 years of therapy. “He thought he was OK,” the victim said.
At one point on the tape, the former student said, “A friend even told me that you laid him down and unzipped his pants.”
Mr. Shapiro allegedly responded on tape, “That’s not true. I’m not that stupid. I would touch students’ legs. Sometimes I would do that, but it was not in a sense that I planned it out. As I sit here now, I can tell you I was not fully aware that I was doing something wrong.”
The alleged victim then bluntly asked, “You’ve molested so many children, what makes you think they won’t molest their own children? How many kids in this community did you molest?”
Mr. Shapiro allegedly responded, “Maybe more than one.”
At another point, Mr. Shapiro allegedly said on the tape, “It’s not like I’m a serial killer where I kept records. It wasn’t done to do any harm. I’m not that way.”
In a recent interview, the victim added, “Nothing really came from the meeting other than him confessing or admitting to putting hundreds of children on his lap. ... So he still walks the streets and lives in my community.
“He has since stopped teaching, but so what?”
Still, the victim said that, if anything, he has worked hard to move on with his life, even though the painful memories remain fresh.
“I’m not mad anymore,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m hurting anymore. Every survivor at some point has to move on with their lives.”