Wednesday August 1, 2012

While the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal has commanded the attention of people across the country, a cover-up in another community has been revealed largely by two men.

Former Baltimore Jewish Times reporter Phil Jacobs began finding instances of child molestation by Rabbis within a close-knit Orthodox community outside of Baltimore in 2007. His work is the focus of "Standing Silent," a new documentary film by director Scott Rosenfelt. The film chronicles Jacobs' investigation of this issue in Baltimore and also takes him to Brooklyn, N.Y. and Jerusalem.

"Standing Silent" is the final film screened as part of Con gregation Knesset Israel's 26th annual Berkshire Jewish Film Fes tival. Rosenfelt will speak following the film's showing at the Berkshire Jewish Film Fes tival on Aug. 13.

"I think as a society it is important for us to show this (film) and make people take collective responsibility for things," said Margery Metzger, chairwoman of the film selection committee.

Jacobs' coverage of the issue began by chance, according to a March feature story in the Wash ington Post. (Jacobs could not be reached for comment in time for this story.) An abuse victim himself, he was approached by another victim in a support group who asked Jacobs to report on his story.

That contact resulted in an occasional series in the Baltimore Jewish Times; beginning with "Today, Steve is 25," it recounts "Steve's" experience of abuse by three different men -- a rabbi's son, a yeshiva school administrator and an attorney -- when "Steve" was between the ages of 11 and 15.

Jacobs and Rosenfelt knew each other through Jacob's brother. When Rosenfelt learned that Jacobs would be reporting on this issue the two agreed to have Rosenfelt create the documentary while Jacobs worked on the investigative journalist side.

As Jacobs continued to report on this issue, he expected to receive support for the victims but instead found a willingness within the Orthodox community to keep quiet about the abuse, according to the film's synopsis.

A social worker by background, Metzger said she is well aware of the reality that children are sexually abused and the simple fact that some members of a community -- regardless of faith -- refuse to believe that.

"I think that some people are just naive, and they can't fathom people doing something this horrendous," she said.

"Standing Silent" has appeared at many Jewish film festivals in the United States in the past year. Rosenfelt and Jacobs have attended as many screenings as their schedule permits as well as post-screening discussions.

"We've had numerous people come up (following a film discussion) to speak about abuse they suffered," Rosenfelt said. But there has also been dialogue about "people wishing the community could police itself."

Rosenfelt wants to raise the questions of abuse beyond any one religious community. During a telephone interview, he said he would like to see the film screened by wider audiences , and he is negotiating the release of the film in select United States cities, as well as on DVD and online.

Documentary film is a departure for Rosenfelt, whose credits as an independent producer include the comedy "Home Alone," "Mystic Pizza," which introduced Julia Roberts, the Michael J. Fox classic "Teen Wolf," and "Extremities," starring Farrah Fawcett.

Rosenfelt explained he hopes the film will elicit change -- a sentiment befitting the film's tagline and religious verse, "Do not stand idly by while your brother's blood is being spilled."

"I would hope people become much, much, much, more aware (of the issues it raises of abuse within a faith) -- whether it is Judaism or Catholicism or -- of the pervasiveness of this," Rosenfelt said.

"We just have to understand better and we have to believe kids more. There needs to be a greater awareness of this. It is pervasive."

Carrie Saldo can be reached
at www.carriesaldo.com.



Berkshire Jewish
Film Festival:

What: ‘How To Reestablish
A Vodka Empire'

When: Monday at 4 p.m.

n

What: BJFF: ‘Free Men'

When: Monday at 8 p.m.

n

What: Series of short films

When: Aug. 13 at 4 p.m.

n

What: BJFF: ‘Standing Silent'

When: Aug. 13 at 8 p.m.

Where: Lenox Memorial
High School,
Duffin Auditorium,
197 East St., Lenox

Information:
(413) 445-4872, ext 25