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By Judy Harrison, Of the NEWS Staff e-mail Judy
Last 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 taken

on the role of advocate for the men, women and children who have been abused by members of

the clergy.

"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 a

rabbi, priest or minister moves from one state to another."

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 the

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,

Reform and 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,

especially 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 author

Harry Kemelman's books, Schwab's second husband was a rabbi.

"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 exonerated

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

pornographic photographs of his sexual conquests and the names and phone numbers of 500

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 six

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 attended

Camp Natarswi, the Girl Scout camp in Millinocket.

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 and

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 after

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 her

first husband, with whom she had a son and a daughter, Schwab met the Reform rabbi who would

become her second husband.

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 of law

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 safe

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 and

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 rabbis.

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 the

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 Maine

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.

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