The Truth About Meyer Seewald and Jewish Community Watch (JCW)
For decades, survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) have had nobody in their community to trust. Child sexual abuse is underreported, under-investigated, and even when it is believed, is under-prosecuted. Especially in faith groups such as the Catholic Church, the local authorities just cannot deal with the intricacies of a closed community. While there are groups like SNAP for Catholics, what was there for abused Jewish children? Unfortunately, the need gave rise to organizations run by the Rabbis of the community (such as CHANA in Baltimore), who had no independence from the communities they were investigating. Self-investigation does not work.
There is a need for an independent organization to investigate and help victims. One that won’t be swayed by the people who love the abusing Rabbi. We need an organization like Jewish Community Watch (commonly known by its initials, JCW). The problem is that the JCW we have is not the JCW we need. JCW has not only failed victims, but by jumping into cases and then jumping out, they have harmed victims as well.
I have been advocating for the safety of children in orthodox Jewish communities on a public level since 2010. I am a survivor of long term childhood sexual abuse that was inflicted upon me for 4 years by my older cousin from when I was 6 to 10 years old. I am gay. I am a survivor of conversion therapy - sometimes referred to as reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts. After undergoing said “therapies” for close to two years after I turned 18, I was able to come out and accept myself as gay and actually focus on my childhood trauma instead of my orientation which I wrongfully believed was a symptom of being abused.
Meyer Seewald called me in June of 2011 to ask me if I was ever abused by a man named Moshe Keller. I had known Meyer in passing for most of my life; we didn’t attend the same schools but we were the same age and went to the same sleep away camp and knew each other casually but never personally. That phone call at first offered me a little hope for the first time that maybe the tides and currents thrashing against victims and those who tried speaking out for us were finally being reversed. Meyer Seewald, the tough kid from the Seewald family, was angry and he made it clear that he wasn’t going to keep quiet. That was the beginning of what would be known as “Crown Heights Watch” which would then morph into Jewish Community Watch.
In the years since that first phone call with Meyer Seewald, I spent countless hours working for and on behalf of JCW. While never in an official capacity, I did a lot of writing on behalf of Meyer, plenty of editing and rewriting of Meyer’s writings, and occasionally some actual investigative work when circumstances called for it. I feel the need to mention all this only because I know that by writing this I am going to be accused of (as I already have been) having an agenda against JCW that is unrelated to the protection of children and nothing could be further from the truth. My purpose for writing this and the reasons I’ve devoted hundreds of unpaid and unacknowledged volunteer hours for JCW is because I believed in and continue to believe in this important and urgent work of protecting children. I never did any of my work with the hope or belief that I’d get paid or that it would be recognized by anyone. Personally, the substance of the work and the knowledge that I was doing something was more than I ever needed.
It is very common knowledge among advocates within this field that working with Meyer Seewald isn’t an easy thing to do. He is often driven by emotion and ego instead of logic and facts. My goal is not to personally trash Meyer but to outline why I believe that in his time as a self-proclaimed leader in this field, he and his organization have done some significant harm to the cause of keeping kids safe. For years, I put aside my personal concerns about Meyer and even about JCW, I also tried to ignore larger concerns that were raised by my friends about JCW and their process for posting people’s names to the wall of shame. I accepted and even, to my great regret, adopted Meyer’s and some others' rhetoric that anyone who questions this important work is an enemy or an obstacle to the safety of children.
In 2014, JCW did some kind of “relaunch” after essentially disappearing for many months. This was being billed as JCW 2.0 and it became pretty clear that they had some new fresh funding behind them. Aside from general concerns about who was actually running their operation on a day to day basis - besides for Meyer Seewald, who had gone on record multiple times at JCW events to say that this work has caused him severe emotional harm and landed him in rehab. Underscoring the critical nature of this work and the fact that this is something that can never be done by one person alone, was Meyer receiving the support he needed? Was he or is he being supervised by anyone at any time?
Other questions about the structure of their organization have also come up but have hardly been answered. Who was on their board during their years in operation? Who was making the decisions about who they would list on their wall of shame? Who are their employees? Are they a replacement for law enforcement? What makes them the arbiter of who is guilty enough to be listed on their now infamous wall of shame? If they chose not to publicize the name of someone they knew was guilty or dangerous are they betraying their responsibility to survivors and communities they promised to look out for?
Most of these questions were being asked by [who I have come to realize] were well intentioned people within the Chabad orthodox community about JCW and were met with severe hostility and aggressiveness at times from myself in defense of JCW. I think that for many of us survivors, our first instinct to protect the only entity or person that we believe finally heard us after years of silence. For many defending JCW, that’s exactly what JCW was for them: a voice, a beacon of hope, a slice in the ice cold silence that has plagued so many of us when trying to make sense of and come to terms with the horrific abuse that we’ve endured. JCW was the first organization to get the “public” (the Jewish orthodox world, specifically the Chabad world), to talk more openly about the issue of childhood sexual abuse, commonly referred to by its’ abbreviation CSA.
Indeed, how could anyone ignore Meyer Seewald’s fiery and sometimes terrifying admonishments to some massive crowds filled with Orthodox Jews who were finally seeming to care about this cancer that so many of us have lived with in silence and shame for most of our lives? “If you touch a child, we will find you and we will hold you accountable!”. Alongside some well respected Rabbis and mental health professionals in the hall of Lubavitch Yeshiva in Crown Heights and subsequently at many similar type events around the globe, Meyer Seewald was putting the Chabad and orthodox community on notice: JCW is back after a brief hiatus and is now stronger and more prepared than ever to hold abusers and those who protect them accountable. This felt like a watershed moment in 2014 and the truth is, in many ways it was, but, the reality of what took place next versus JCW’s version of events is quite different.
To date, questions about their staff members, previous board members and the timeline of those changes remain very unclear and unanswered by JCW themselves. Many staff members have come and gone over a relatively brief period of time but none of that information has been made available on a public level directly by JCW. Though some might wonder why that information is important, aside from transparency reasons, there are practical ones. One of those reasons is that many of JCW’s fluctuating staff members came into contact with victims and their parents, in many cases however, never followed up. For these people, not knowing why they never received a follow up phone call or not even knowing that that person was no longer working for JCW was a crucial piece of information that they did not have access to. To date, I have heard from several people, by several I mean over ten people who claim that they never got called back or followed with by staff members and it caused them great pain and confusion. When confronted with this lack of follow up, among other things, as of yesterday, Meyer Seewald continues to blame old staff members “Oh it could have been (insert former JCW employee's name here)?” Or “I’m not sure because I was getting married during that time.”
How could it be that the organization that promised victims of abuse that they will be heard and helped, actually wasn’t returning phone calls, emails, and following up on some really important cases that they had important knowledge of? How could it be that this organization that in over the course of a few years raised millions of dollars in public funds through Charidy style campaigns continued to literally fail over and over and over again by offering false hope to those who actually reached them or by downright neglecting their responsibility to follow up on important cases? Most people who support JCW will say that it can’t be. I hate to break it to you but it can and it has. I have repeatedly come into contact with - especially more recently as the tensions between myself and JCW have escalated - people who told me that JCW staff didn’t return their calls and follow up when promised. I’ve heard from people who alleged that JCW didn’t pay for their therapy despite promising to. I’ve also heard from people who believe that their cases were negatively affected by the fact that JCW ‘got involved’ in their case but then never followed up. By affected negatively I mean both emotional distress for these people because they couldn’t understand why the premier and only organization dedicated to supporting them wasn’t following up with them. I also mean practically in ways that pertain to child safety and the outcome of those cases. There were and are many cases that JCW has a lot of information about, and for reasons that I have to believe are dysfunctional management and not intentional malice, they have not acted on or taken any action on. If their defense is that they don’t have enough funding than once again we arrive at the same problem that they had before going dark before 2.0 was launched. What has changed since then?
A practical example of this is with a case that was recently brought to my attention involving a prominent rabbi and numerous incidents in Baltimore. At this point in time I am not able to elaborate on specifics of this case but the details were severe enough for me to decide myself to personally put out a public warning notice about a man who at the time was working as a teacher at a prominent school and had been credibly accused of abusing multiple young boys. It was at that time that I was made aware of not only how severe this case was, but that JCW had a lot of information about this case and had been in contact with these parents over two years prior. I also became aware of the fact that JCW was warning people about this rabbi only referring to his initials when they were contacted by concerned people looking for information about him or the camp that he was employed at as a head counselor.
I’ve done what JCW did not do - reach out and offer to connect the parents to resources for rape victims and other people that any responsible organization or someone in my position would connect them to. The parents were so hopeful to have Meyer Seewald on their side and were crushed when one day, he and his organization stopped following up and failed to provide the support that sexual abuse victims need when they are at their most vulnerable.
The morning that I was ready to write a public notice about this Rabbi because of my belief that he poses an immediate and severe threat to minors in his vicinity, I emailed Meyer Seewald and other officials at JCW to ask them how and why it is that no action has been taken on this case for over two years. I genuinely couldn’t understand how a case this severe (for reasons that I still cannot get into but for reasons that I believe JCW had ample information to at least follow through), how even Meyer Seewald could not follow through on. I can hear the answers piling up in my head right now: “I got married. I was on leave. Maureen was supposed to do it. Our lawyer at the time was supposed to do it. We have a heavy caseload and not enough resources.” I have heard and continue to hear these excuses from JCW for their incompetence most recently on their updated FAQ page but I do not see any accountability. An hour after I emailed Meyer and other JCW staff members, the parent of one of the aforementioned victims received a phone call from Meyer Seewald. I believe that this call, was among other things, an attempt at discrediting me on a personal level to this parent and on a more professional level as an ‘advocate’. Aside from refusing to take any responsibility for the fact that JCW had not followed up with this parent in two years, Meyer referred to me as mentally unstable as someone who most ‘advocates’ aren’t willing to work with. He also mentioned that I have been trying to arrange an in person meeting with JCW but that he doesn’t have the time or interest to meet with me because I am clearly with an agenda that isn’t his. I can't speak to his claim about whether advocates are or were willing to work with me. When this fight became public in 2017 I think a lot of people were very put off by it but I do not regret my decision to speak out against an organization that was harming the cause we all claimed to care about. It is true that I had been trying to arrange an in person meeting with Meyer and others at JCW for a couple of weeks since our most recent public fallout and these attempts have all been met with almost no response.
JCW has done commendable work to by bringing this issue to the forefront of the conversation however we must all question what’s gone wrong? How have we as advocates and supporters let vulnerable victims and their families down? What can we do to fix this problem in the future?
I asked JCW outright to commit to working together and moving forward together on the Baltimore cases instead of going to battle with each other in public (yet again), but my requests continue to fall on deaf ears and that is part of why I am publishing this. It is abundantly clear that I have been engaged in a one sided quest for peace with people who don’t even recognize that they have a problem in the first place.
On every level and in every way, Meyer has demonstrated a complete inability to follow through on commitments; to take responsibility for when mistakes occur under his watch; to be compassionate even when the pressure is up; to treat others with dignity and respect even if they’re on another side of an issue. Under his direction, Jewish Community Watch, instead of serving as the bastion of hope that it promised to be for all victims, turned into the arbiter of right and wrong: meaning, that if Jewish Community Watch chose not to act on or publicize a specific case, the Jewish World could collectively turn a blind eye to that case because surely if that case was severe enough, JCW would be on it. Under his direction, JCW failed on their promise to be there for victims over and over again in some of the most heartbreaking and cruel of ways.
I have written records of emails from me to them about multiple people over the course of five years that have written me after they never got a response from Meyer or JCW. I have one personal friend who was promised by JCW that they would cover his therapy bill and while they ended up doing so, it was only after months and months of wrangling and a therapy bill that accumulated close to $2,000 dollars. At every point in that case, myself and my friend received a different excuse and a different answer as to why that bill was not paid with another broken promise that it would be. While it was eventually paid by JCW to their credit, my friend dropped out of therapy because he couldn’t deal with the pressure being placed upon him by his therapist in order to pay out of pocket if he wanted to continue therapy with them while this bill was still outstanding. To be clear, this is but one of many instances that I know of that JCW failed on this promise and they even acknowledged it in their updated FAQ section and in the process attempted to blame one of their many CEOs, David Shapiro, for their lack of payment to other therapists. As of two weeks ago I became aware of two more therapists that are owed money by JCW. Mr. Shapiro was arrested in early 2016 for allegedly stealing from JCW.
About three weeks ago, after months and months of more back and forth with JCW over the issue of Norman Goldwasser - one of many issues with them - I reached a point where I felt I had no choice but to publicize the audio of Meyer threatening me for at that time (2015), challenging JCW in public over the Goldwasser matter. This led to an avalanche of Facebook posts and comments about them by many people. I was accused of trying to damage the welfare of survivors and of many other despicable things that I won’t even dignify here, but my concerns have been proven over and over again since the day that I released that audio. About twenty minutes prior to that audio being publicized Meyer Seewald published a “preemptive” post about this audio and tried to minimize it as just a recording in which he swore too much but the truth was a lot darker: Meyer knew and knows that I know more than enough about JCW to put an end to all of these despicable and irresponsible behaviors and he knew that I was about to start spilling beans. Aside from that post which was eventually deleted by Meyer after we agreed on some kind of “ceasefire,” another post was posted on Meyer’s wall in which he defended his previous post and JCW’s decision not to cut ties with Norman Goldwasser, an unethical, abusive and disgraced therapist who JCW promoted and referred patients to while he served on their board and counseled Meyer and Eli Nash personally.
A brief note about Eli Nash: It’s important to note that Eli Nash served on JCW’s board of directors until as recently as February 2017. It is also noteworthy that during the last public debate about Goldwasser just two weeks ago, Eli published a long and passionate defense of Goldwasser that was masked as him just trying to share his own experiences with Goldwasser - despite the crucial context: his post was directly in response to the mounting questions about Goldwasser. While I believe that he is ultimately one of many on a long list of victims by Doctor Goldwasser, he will have to answer for his actions when it becomes clear the he ignored the warnings about his beloved therapist and continued endorsing and defending him in the face of serious allegations of misconduct that were unrelated to conversion therapy issues.
I am here to demand accountability from those who are, in many cases, the first responders to the tragedy that is childhood sexual abuse. While there are many smaller organizations and individuals like myself who deal with it on a more micro level within what our limits, JCW has established a name for itself as an important organization aimed at combating childhood sexual abuse globally. When any company or organization is failing to accomplish their mission, it’s critical to examine their leadership and evaluate whether their head is failing to lead . In fact, with every day that goes by with Seewald at the helm, the more harm is done to victims as well as communities who are looking for solutions and competent professionals to support them and guide them. JCW is in a unique position to be a driving force behind positive change. JCW has demonstrated over and over again despite several attempts at restructuring, hiring new staff, firing board members, that they utterly incompetent and will continue making the same mistakes over and over again unless there is a fundamental change at its core, that change is unequivocally, the removal of Meyer Seewald from their board and as CEO of JCW. .
To the good people who have invested hundreds of hours of your lives working for and on behalf of JCW, please know that this is not an attack on your work or the mission we all. This letter may actually be beneficial to you one day because the longer that this state of affairs stays this way, the more at risk you are of being pulled into and being held responsible for some of these things. If you are a paid staff member of JCW right now but don’t have a seat on their (currently 3 person board of directors), ask yourself this question: is it possible that in a year from now Meyer might one day blame an error of his own on you without your knowledge or the ability to defend yourself? I can tell you on behalf of more than one previous employee, it most certainly is. I try not to think about all the names of people Meyer has name dropped on me when trying to account for the constantly growing number of mistakes by his organization; I try not to think about them because I have to believe that they were genuinely trying their best but were also pulled into this personality cult of Meyer Seewald and accepted that they will have to shoulder the fallout from whatever mess Meyer decided to make that day. But at the end of the day, every single individual who remains complicit in this situation will not be remembered fondly in history when the questions are asked regarding who knew about this and what they did to fix it.
JCW has suffered through a laundry list of misdeeds at the guidance of Meyer Seewald - it’s time we demand better. As people, as survivors, as parents and even as children, we demand that those who promises to support victims be held to that promise. It is our right and our responsibility to foresee that. If we don’t speak out we are part of the problem. I am speaking out today to demand better, we all should be.
PS. In the last few weeks others have demanded that I produce an alternative or something better in response to my criticism of JCW. That is not my responsibility. I am at a point in my life where I am not in the position to or am capable of creating a new and more accountable JCW and I believe that there are many who actually are capable of doing this but need to step up to the plate. By bringing this to light I am doing my part, I can’t be responsible for pointing out the problem and coming up with the fix too.