The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel? And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper? “Then He said, what have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood screams to me from the earth.”
October 20th 2014
I went to sleep with tears in my eyes for the boy that he was, and the man he became, and his death at age 34. Just as I knew that my body would awake at 3:22 am, I knew that he would reappear in my subconscious during the night hours. Sometime during the night, I found myself at the window watching him fly free, flipping through trees, and playing a riff on an invisible air guitar. His hair was dark as night and glistened under the Edison style street lamp. Joey’s face was animated- blue eyes made smaller by ringed black eyeliner, hands outstretched with nails painted black. He stood under a street lamp, relaxed for a moment, trying to shove his hands into his jeans pockets. A large smile broke his goatee open and for a moment I could feel his joy at being understood. I nodded and smiled and when I opened my eyes again, it was Yoel standing there with Joey’s arms around him. They flew together into the night back into their shared grave.
They have been with me for two days and their story begs to be told. Yosef Deutch was born into the Satmar Community who prayed at the Shul on Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. At the age of seven, he went to the mikveh with his father before Shabbat. To maintain ritual family purity, mainly women used the Mikveh, with their pools of fresh rainwater. Men and boys went to become pure in the large pool before Shabbat. Yosef entered the waters with his father and as he recalled, “my back was turned and someone raped me while I was in the water. And I did not know what happened. I could not make sense of it really.” He could not tell his father or his Rebbe but never returned to the Mikveh again. The mikveh presently has bright lights to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.
At the age of 17 Yoel Deutsch left his family and the insular Satmar Community, changing his name to Joey Diangello. By 2009, he was ready to share his story and joined an organization called Survivors for Justice. Survivors for Justice lobbied state legislators in Albany to change the “statute of limitations” for abuse survivors, so they would have more time to confront the reality of what they had experienced. Joey attended trials of accused abusers and rapists within the Hasidic community. Although he struggled with mental health issues stemming from his rape, Joey Diangello ran marathons, and played in a rock band. He stood out in a crowd with his dyed jet-black hair, his black fingernails, black eyeliner and heavy metal rock t-shirts. He spoke in synagogues about abuse, still proud of his heritage but not proud of the silence and the pain.
Last Shabbat, while I was celebrating my 46th birthday, Joey Diangello, just 34, was discovered dead in his Manhattan apartment. The cause of death has been determined as suicide. In death, he returned to the ultra- Othodox enclave of Monsey, NY, buried Sunday morning in a matzevah (gravestone) that bears his original name Yoel Deutsch
The Lord said to the Rebbe, Yoel's family and his community, “Where is your son Yoel? And they said, “We do not know. Are we our children’s keeper? “Then God said what have you done? The voice of your child’s blood screams to me from the earth.”
Today we cry with God. How did this happen? Why is it still happening? We yell at the Rebbes open your doors to righteousness, open the doors of silence and let us storm your gates and raid your files and arrest your offenders, and you who protected them. We say no to religious hypocrites who say one thing and live another and we ask those who have kept silent in fear to tell your stories to Survivors for Justice and the many other organizations in New York City who exist solely to protect survivors of sexual, physical and mental abuse in the Ultra Orthodox Communities.
Joey Diangello, Yoel Deutsch, I pray for the peace of your body and soul. I promise you that the work you began to help heal survivors of abuse in the Orthodox Community will continue and that, as you wished, the perpetrators will be brought to justice. I pray that your soul will fly free and will be unburdened by the pain of your body and the pain of you soul. Although I wish no more suffering I cannot help but pray that those who steal the comfort and harmony from children will suffer violently, continually choking on their own guilt.
Joey, I know how proud you were of your rich tradition and the Jews who you met outside your original family and so I ask that the Jewish people rise as one this Shabbat and say Kaddish for you. Allow us to state your name and remember, and not forget Joey Diangello, whose Blessed Soul has gone to meet his Maker and whose story has touched so many of us.
Yit-ga-dal ve-yit-da-dash she-mai ra-ba…..
Thank you to Beck Friedman who pointed out some misinformation in the first incarnation.
Hella Winston/ Staff Writer/ The Jewish Week May 20, 2009
Pix 11/Mary Murphy/ October 20, 2014
Survivors for Justice / Orthodox End Silence on Sex Abuse/ Zac Pattburg/ November 28, 2009