Rabbi Barry Freundel was arraigned and pleaded guilty this afternoon in Superior Court of the District of Columbia to 52 counts of misdemeanor voyeurism and could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of 52 years of incarceration and ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
Sentencing was postponed until Friday, May 15.
During the hearing, Freundel appeared red-faced and kept his head bowed low and made no eye contact with more than a dozen victims who packed the second-floor courtroom. Freundel appeared in court wearing a black fur hat, a rumpled and dirty black suit, a black and gray tie and a black and gray kippah.
The government requested that Freundel be monitored and made to wear an electronic ankle bracelet. Judge Geoffrey Alprin asked Freundel, “Are you going to make me look stupid and flee the jurisdiction prior to sentencing?” In a loud voice, Freundel responded, “Absolutely not your honor.”
The judge took him at his word, calling him Rabbi Freundel, and released him on his own recognizance until his May sentencing.
An on-the-record discussion was held as to when Shabbat begins on May 15. The court was satisfied that the 1 p.m. hearing would be concluded prior to sundown.
During sentencing, the victims falling within the statute of limitations will be permitted to deliver victim impact statements. Those who were videotaped outside the statute of limitations can give relevant conduct statements.
“I didn’t expect it to be over. I am glad it is,” said Jeffrey Shulevitz, husband of Emma Shulevitz, one of Freundel’s victims. “The rabbi was a brilliant man, and he used it to harm people instead of making the world a better place,” Jeffrey Shulevitz said.
Victim Stephanie Doucette said, “I continue to be profoundly shocked and upset by Rabbi Freundel’s outrageous conduct which violated the security, trust and belief of so many women. His sentencing must reflect the extent of his extreme conduct and the profound psychological and spiritual damage he has caused.”
David Haynes, managing attorney at the Cochran Firm in D.C., that is involved in a possible civil case against Freundel, said, “Rabbi Freundel’s plea today in Superior Court is the first step in achieving justice for his victims and will also be an important element in establishing liability in the related civil cases, which will focus on why the synagogue and the other defendants did not prevent or stop Freundel from using their facilities for his illicit purposes for such an extended period of time despite his strange conduct and the many prior complaints about him.”
There have been allegations made about Freundel’s conduct, but none touched on his videotaping of women using the mikvah.
Kesher Israel Congregation’s board of directors issued a statement following today’s arraignment. “As we seek to move forward and heal as a community, we await the judge’s decision on sentencing. The scope and duration of these horrible crimes are still hard to completely comprehend. While the guilty plea is a difficult moment for our community and for individual victims of these crimes, Kesher is grateful for the diligent work of the Metropolitan Police Department and the team at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in handling this matter.”
The statement continued, “Despite this great betrayal by Rabbi Freundel and our communal pain, we have seen a community that has come together and whose members have leaned on one another for support. As we move forward, we will continue to grow stronger and are committed to ensuring that our community remains a warm, welcoming, and safe place to gather, worship, and learn.”
The board of directors at The National Capital Mikvah, where Freundel videotaped the women, also issued a statement. “We are saddened to see a Torah scholar cause his own downfall. We are also relieved and hopeful that this will mark the first step on the path to closure for the victims, for us, and for our community.”
According to a tweet from WTOP-AM, Freundel is expected to move out of his synagogue-owned home within two weeks.
Elanit Jakabovic, president of Kesher Israel, went on Facebook to urge everyone to be considerate.
“I want to humbly remind myself and my friends that victims of this crime, direct and indirect, reside all around us. Our friends who happen to be family of the perpetrator are around as well. We are each processing and dealing and healing from this in our own ways. The community of Facebook is a double edged sword, where we take advantage of crowd-sourcing and listening and understanding, but all of this also has the potential to be extremely hurtful and painful, even if it’s not our intention. Let’s keep this in mind as we work through and process today and the days that will follow. I wish all of us individual and collective strength to continue moving forward together and eventually find ways to move on from this horrible, no good experience. Our friends who happen to be family of the perpetrator are around as well. We are each processing and dealing and healing from this in our own ways. The community of Facebook is a double edged sword, where we take advantage of crowd-sourcing and listening and understanding, but all of this also has the potential to be extremely hurtful and painful, even if it’s not our intention. Let’s keep this in mind as we work through and process today and the days that will follow. I wish all of us individual and collective strength to continue moving forward together and eventually find ways to move on from this horrible, no good experience.”
Geoffrey W. Melada is Editor-in-Chief and Suzanne Pollak is senior writer at Washington Jewish Week