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Ex-yeshiva teacher faces sex assault charges in NJ

Thursday - 5/9/2013, 7:25pm  ET

Yosef Kolko, 39, right, walks with an unidentified man, near the Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River, N.J., Thursday, May 9, 2013, during a break in his trial on sexual assault charges. Testimony continues in the trial of the yeshiva teacher accused of sexually abusing a boy at a summer camp where he was a counselor. Prosecutors say the boy's parents were pressured by members of their Orthodox Jewish community to drop the charges and let a rabbinical court deal with them. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

BY KATIE ZEZIMA
Associated Press

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) -- A former yeshiva teacher is on trial in New Jersey on charges he sexually abused a socially awkward boy whose family members, prosecutors say, were ostracized by their Orthodox Jewish community for taking the allegations to civil authorities.

Rabbi Yosef Kolko, 39, met the boy in 2007 at religious school-run summer camp in Lakewood where he was a counselor. The boy was 11 at the time, and authorities say abuse continued until early 2009.

Kolko has denied the charges, which include sexual assault and child endangerment.

The boy's father, a rabbi, testified Thursday that during a car ride back from his son's therapist office, the boy said he had been sexually abused.

The next morning, the father said, he called Kolko. The two met and the father told Kolko he needed to attend therapy and stop working with children. The father wanted to bring the matter to a group of rabbis who had "experience dealing with these issues," he said, and did not intend to make the allegations public. The father recorded the conversation at his wife's urging.

Kolko did not dispute the allegations, the father said. At one point Kolko told the father he had nothing to say to him, which the father took as an admission as guilt, something Kolko's lawyer disputed.

Later, the father and Kolko went to the home of a prominent Lakewood rabbi, where the father said Kolko was contrite and looked "close to tears." The father said the rabbi took the allegations seriously.

The Associated Press generally does not identify accusers in sex crime cases and is not naming the father to protect the son's identity.

The boy's father wanted to bring the matter to a rabbinical court. After a few months he was unsatisfied with how the case was being handled and that Kolko was not following his recommendations and still teaching. After hearing Kolko was planning to return to the summer camp, the father called the head of the camp and Kolko, who told him to talk to a Brooklyn rabbi.

"I was more concerned that he was still at his jobs," the father said. "And I felt that children are being endangered."

In July 2009, the father decided to bring the case to Ocean County prosecutors. He said that if the allegations had been dealt with appropriately through rabbinical channels, he probably would not have gone to the police.

"Going to law enforcement is not, at this time, common within the Orthodox Jewish community. Even when it's necessary it's considered unusual," the father testified. "Particularly with some people who might believe that the alleged molester is innocent would give the person going to law enforcement a very hard time.'

Prosecutors said the family was ostracized by the Orthodox Jewish community.

A flier was circulated in Lakewood, a community with a large Orthodox Jewish community, saying the boy's father had made a mockery of the Torah and committed a "terrible deed" by taking the case to state prosecutors, the Asbury Park Press reported.

The family has since moved to Michigan.

The boy's former therapist also testified Thursday, saying the boy told her in late 2008 he no longer needed help with his social skills because he had made a new friend, Rabbi Kolko.

"He's my best friend. He's the only one who understands me," Dr. Tsipora Koslowitz recounted the boy telling her.

The boy took the witness stand Wednesday on the first day of the trial, testifying how he wanted to remain close to Kolko, even though his actions made him uncomfortable, because Kolko was his friend and he had no friends in school or camp.

The boy described a series of encounters with the rabbi, who would pick him up in his car, including molestation and oral sex and occurring in such locations as an empty classroom, a storage room, Kolko's car and the basement of a synagogue, the newspaper reported.


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