Los Angeles CA — An event was held last night by parents of the Jewish Community in Beverly Hills who were concerned about the claims being leveled by numerous alleged victims against counselor/director of JEM center Mendel Tevel.
The event was hosted in the home of Esther Abehsera, and was organized by Meyer Seewald, director of Jewish Community Watch. In attendance was Deputy District Attorney and Rabbi Benny Forer, and one of Tevel’s numerous alleged victims who agreed to talk to the crowd without using his name. About 50 people were in attendance, a fairly high number for an event that was announced just four hours before it was scheduled to start. The victim agreed to talk on the condition that people would leave phones and recording devices at the door, with the hope that by telling his story to a large group of people, the charges against Tevel will be taken more seriously because someone agreed to speak in front of a real live audience.
The alleged victim now 23, supported by his wife told the crowd that he was 14 when the abuse occurred. With his wife by his side, he recounted how when he was 14 years old he attended “Shterns” Yeshiva in Upstate New York. He recounted: “when I was 14, I was in Yeshiva. We called it Shterns. Mendel Tevel was my Mashpia (mentor) and teacher. It started out when it became a big thing in school to work out, lift weights. Tevel offered to be my personal trainer, and he would push me to work harder and harder, and one time he in order to make me work harder he would whip me with a metal. hanger. And from then on, If i stopped working out I’d get whacked in the back with a metal hanger. I had marks, I bled, and I had cuts.” He further alleged that the abuse escalated “After a few days of working out with him, he started offering me messages to relax my muscles so that I wouldn’t be sore that day. After a few times he got into bed with me and sat on top of me to give me a message. I hate to be a little bit vulgar but while he was giving me the message he was “dry humping me.” “From there it progressed where every day he tried to get me to go to the mikva before Shachris (prayer service). He offered to go with me personally because I didn’t like to be part of the large crowd that go together. One day it was really cold and it was so cold that there was a layer of ice over the Mikvah and I didn’t want to go in. Tevel came up behind me and started smacking me on my behind, and I realized that Tevel had an erection.” It was in that moment that the victim says he realized that something was “not quite right” with what was going on withl and maintains that he distanced himself from Tevel from that point on.
Last week, on a Facebook group called LA Mommies, a member of the group posted about her concern about Tevel’s past and his involvement with JEM center. In her post (which has since been deleted), she alleged that she was contacted by a concerned parent who had heard that Tevel was working at JEM high school. The thread quickly escalated, and one parent, a mother of three wanted to make sure other parents knew about the allegations against Tevel.
This mother said that she was “deeply concerned,” when she saw a Facebook post by Devorah Wagshul, sister in law of Mendel Tevel about JEM with this caption “Ran by the best directors, Aka Bracha and Mende[l]”, attached was a recent Facebook post by JEM Hebrew High. Upon further investigation, this flyer was found on JEM’s website, the phone number lists Brocha Illulian as the contact person for the program, Bracha Illulian is the wife of Mendel Tevel.
Upon contacting JEM, a woman who would only identify herself as Chelsea said that “We’re safe here, there’s really not an issue, everyone already knows that there’s no issue.” When asked if Tevel was still part of the staff at JEM she said that “There’s no issue, everyone’s safe, there’s nothing wrong. Nothing happened. Everyone knows this, these are false accusations… and, he didn’t do this, to anybody. They’re lying.”
Other attendees of the event recounted their own personal stories of being abused when they were minors. One of them, Mordy Gluckowsky alleges that he was abused by his dorm counselor at a Chabad yeshiva abroad, but when he notified the principal of his school he was expelled two days later.
According to David Smith*, asked that his real name not be used, he was sexually abused by Tevel repeatedly when he was 14/15 years old. David recounts moments where Tevel “whacked him” on his rear with a leather belt; he also recalls multiple incidents of oral sex being performed on him by Tevel. David, who grew up in the Crown Heights community still has the ability to press charges against Tevel for another few months but is reluctant to do so because of what he describes as “strong family pressure and community pressure” placed upon him not to do anything to Tevel. David alleges that he was contacted by a member of the Tevel family and was offered money in exchange for his silence, David says he didn’t accept this offer but is still very reluctant to come forward.
Another alleged victim of Tevel who is past the statute of limitations recounted how Tevel would lure him the basement of his parents’ home by offering him candy, the use of his game boy, and recalls “He would tie me up to the trampoline and would whip me on my backside with a belt, sometimes with my clothes on and sometimes with my clothes off.” This alleged victim’s testimony is very similar to that of other victims who say that aside from the sexual abuse they endured by Tevel, there was a significant amount of physical assault perpetrated against them by Tevel with leather belts in their backside area.
A letter written by members of the Jewish community has already acquired almost 75 signatures within 24 hours. The letter offers support and encouragment to victims of Tevel to come forward. The reason for writing this letter according Seewald was because “we want to show the victims how much support there already is out there, public support for them. There are so many people who are anonymously offering their support, that’s not good enough anymore.” As this story continues to grow, many people in the Los Angeles communities are unsure or uncertain if their children are safe while attending JEM center. Some mothers are alleging that Tevel sometimes goes to the Hebrew High school in Beverly Hills to put on Tefilin with younger teenagers. Other parents expressed concern about Brocha Illulian, Tevel’s wife who would frequently stand near their children’s schools and hands out flyers promoting JEM’s upcoming events.
Seewald, who attempted to alert the Illulian family before Tevel was engaged to their daughter said: “I went directly to Rabbi Hertzel Illulian when I heard that his daughter was getting engaged to Tevel. Rabbi Illulian outright dismissed the possibility that Tevel still poses a danger to children, and when I told him the graphic details given to me by one of Tevel’s victims in which the victim recounted Tevel performing oral sex on him, Illulian asked me if “he [the victim] enjoyed it”. A response that even for Seewald, who claims to have heard about so many similar stories, shocked him. “He tried to blame the victim by implying that because he might have enjoyed it, it was his fault.”
Seewald remarked that the event that “it was revolutionary. For the first time in two years a victim got up and talked to parents for the sake of protecting children even though he knew that people may find out his identity. I’ve never seen a victim empowering so many other people to talk. I hope that people learn from this that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. People should see that coming forward is not just something that will help the public, but it will also help victims heal from their personal trauma.” He ended off by saying that he hopes that this turn of events will set a better precedent for victims of the Chabad community in Crown Heights. “We have almost 70 signatures by now, but hardly any of them are from members of the Crown Heights community, where Tevel committed many of his alleged crimes.” Seewald remarked that this event was a very emotional one for him, and he hopes that the Crown Heights and greater Chabad communities will follow the example set by the people who attended this event and also by the people who signed the letter of support.
*name changed to protect the anonymity of this person
Don’t be afraid of what others will think for taking a stand, End this vicious silence by showing your full name in support of the brave survivors who have come forward already, and for the one’s who are afraid to but might change their mind if they see someone like you proud to support them. Click Here
By Chaim Levin