Footsteps Board Now in Crosshairs of OTD Activists

The sexual assault accusation that was leveled on an off the derekh (OTD) member of Footsteps, as reported here previously, has now morphed into a new campaign: to purge the Footsteps leadership of any influence by those who are not zealous enough in pursuing to the newly updated strict standards of sexual propriety being hailed by the activists.

Whereas the original campaign was directed against the accused –whose identity was (subsequent to our reporting) revealed by The Forward to be “Mike NY”– in an effort to get him expelled from Footsteps, the current campaign is directed toward and against the organization’s directorate itself, including a member of the organization’s board of directors –Shulem Deen– and its executive director –Lani Santo. The impetus for this new campaign can be traced to the sexual assault accuser’s initial statement in the Off The Derekh Facebook group that imputed some blame to the Footsteps organization:

[Mike NY] brutally and viciously raped me, with significant force, and causing serious bodily injury with complete disregard for my very explicit lack of consent. He did so to at least 6 other OTD/footsteps members before me. And the reason why he wasn’t stopped, the reason why I had to go through this horror; was because people behaved like a bunch of sweeping under the carpet frumies.

The implication here is that Footsteps had known about Mike NY’s allegedly improper sexual conduct, but preferred to dig its head and in the sand and pretend it wasn’t happening, akin to the way that Agudas Israel and other haredi organization reacted to accusations of sexual molestation in its ranks a few years back.

The accusing woman (A.B.) was first acquainted with Mike NY not in a Footsteps-organized event, but in an event organized by the meetup.com “OTD Meetup” Group. Also, none of the six women who allegedly reached out to the accuser after she had made her sexual assault campaign public had notified or lodged a complaint with a Footsteps officer prior to the incident. According to The Forward report Footsteps first learned about the sexual escapades of Mike NY in the week following the incident, sometime between Sep. 4th and and Sep. 7th:

Debra Fine, the chair of Footsteps’ board of directors, wrote in a September 14 email to the Forward: “No Board member or social worker was ever informed in advance of these current allegations that the accused had exhibited this behavior before.”

Ban Bauman –leading the crusade against supposed sexual impropriety

That did not stop an avalanche of outrage over the incident and a desire to heap the blame on Footsteps. Out of the chaos of the initial furious and passionate reaction to the allegation by the masses, emerged an informal leader in the campaign to attain justice for A.B.: Ban Bauman. In subsequent comments to A.B.’s Facebook post, Bauman and others urged a campaign to flood Footsteps’ board and executives with emails and phone calls in rebuke over its inaction and to urge it to make amends. A list of board members’ emails was posted in the thread for this purpose. One woman identified herself as a frequent donor to the organization and threatened to cut off donations over what she believed to be the organization’s complicity in the incident.

In the midst of the fervent uproar, Footsteps directorate struggled to find its balance. There just wasn’t much it could do to appease the angry masses clamoring for blood. Mike NY had not been charged with a crime, nor was Footsteps in a position of “mandatory reporting” to authorities to facilitate such a charge. Most importantly, according to the narrative of events reported by the alleged victim herself, there was no rape or chargeable offense: she had acquiesced to the events that occurred that night without any resistance, verbal or otherwise. Most of the other women that Forward interviewed for its article likewise did not make a claim that Mike NY violated them against their express wishes, though it does seem from the reports that Mike had a penchant for sleeping around, was persistent in achieving his goal, and may not have been astute in picking up signals of displeasure or unreadiness by the women he courted.

Nevertheless, apparently in response to the overwhelming pressure for action, the organization revoked Mike NY’s membership a few days later. It accused him of violating the rules of the organization’s private Google Group when he posted, in his defense, screenshots and a textual exchange between himself and A.B. that demonstrate that their tryst was not only consensual but amiable. In an unprecedented move, Footsteps announced Mike NY’s membership termination in an effort to placate the ranks, to little avail.

With the calls for action spreading and growing louder, a sanctimonious contest ensued, with the leaders of the movement and the ones most strident on the topic assuming instant stature among their peers. Behavior characteristic of a Mccarthyist witch hunt could be observed. A new target was identified in the personage of Shulem Deen, a member of the Footsteps board of directors who is also a member of the Footsteps beneficiary body.

Deen is the author of the acclaimed bestselling memoir All Who Go There Do Not Return (published March 2015), considered by critics to be the best and most accurate exemplar of the OTD memoir genre (rivaled only by Feldman’s Unorthodox). Prior to the book’s publication he had been one of the first popular bloggers on the subject (Hasidic Rebel) and later the founder of the website Unpious.com, a repository of an assortment of OTD-themed literature from multiple authors. His appointment to the Footsteps board following his book’s publication only further fomented envy on the part of some elements within the OTD community and others loosely affiliated with the OTD community who were vying for the esteem community’s esteem.

Pesach Sommer

Deen’s dalliances with Hasidic or ex-Hasidic women, ones that had not initially drawn any critical attention, suddenly were brought to the fore by his detractors around two years ago (following the release of his book). An Orthodox Rabbi by the name of Pesach Sommer sent Deen a stern rebuke via email over the matter. In the letter he accused Deen of sexually exploiting young, vulnerable, and fragile women decades his junior, as young 22-23, who came to him “for advice”. Sommer repeated a tale that he had heard or embellished of Deen “throwing such women out of the bed in the middle of the night”. He demanded that Deen confess, issue a mea culpa, and resolve not to sin any further. If not, threatened Sommer, he would expose Deen’s misconduct in the media and his career would be ruined. Sommer refused to name any specific complainant or reveal his source.

Shulem Deen, object of the OTD radical left’s witch hunt

While Deen does not deny engaging in trysts with Hasidic women in various stages of breaking away from their marriages and communities, he categorically denies the charge that he has manipulated, exploited or mistreated women in any way. “It’s absolutely false and defamatory… accuse me of something I did, not of something I didn’t” he quipped in a private message to a friend, obtained by HasidicNews (HN).

Undaunted, Deen not only refused to apologize over the slanderous reports, but filed a harassment report with the police over Sommer’s blackmailing message. Sommer subsequently recanted, labeling his initial message “clumsy” and promising to withhold the publication of any disparaging reports.

Batya Ungar Sargon

These old allegations against Deen, still simmering, are being revived by his detractors, newly emboldened in the aftermath of the popular outrage over the A.B. sexual assault complaint. Others outside of the Footsteps sector are collaborating with Bauman’s effort to take down Deen and others whom they view as either tainted by sexual impropriety or not sufficiently ardent in the witch hunt for sexual assailants. Rumors are swirling that the aforementioned R. Sommer along with Batya Ungar Sargon (Opinions editor at The Forward) along with some operative at Project Makom have formed a cabal to attempt to defame Deen and get him ejected from the Footsteps board. Af of now, however, the board is holding fast in support of Deen.

Bauman, Ungar-Sargon and their ilk assert the veracity of the allegations made in the Pesach Sommer letter to Deen. They believe that Deen was guilty of improprieties a long time ago but had mustered his masculine power to suppress the charges against him when they first surfaced, and had yet to face his day of reckoning for his misdeeds. The Bauman faction sees the A.B. sexual assault scandal as the perfect opportunity to purge the Footsteps leadership of the likes of Deen whom they see as promoting a culture of violence against women.

 

Luzer Twersky

Luzer Twersky –a preeminent OTD actor currently working on the documentary One of Us— is another putative target of the OTD radical left. He rose to the defense of Footsteps in an acerbic FB post against Bauman’s initiative after he and others collaborated with the Forward article. Sidestepping the politics on the substance of the “culture war” –on whether the Footsteps milieu is leaning excessively pro-masculine or pro-feminine– he insists that Footsteps should not be expected to respond harshly and decisively to the complaint of a member by instant retribution against the target of the complaint. “A large organization with a lot on the line should not be expected to respond [to the A.B. sexual assault accusation] in the same reactionary and sanctimonious way as an individual with no dog in the fight might”, Twersky opined when contacted by HN for this article. Twersky, too, is rumored to be in the crosshairs of the OTD radical left’s Robespierrian reign of terror.

Critics note that an enticing motive of power-seeking and self-aggrandizement is in play here. Bauman, a virtual nobody prior to the A.B. incident, feels empowered by dint of his heft in having successfully elicited a remorseful response from Footsteps’ executive director Lani Santo to the A.B. incident, to pursue the matter further thus compounding his relevance, esteem and adulation by the Footsteps masses who have uncritically rallied in A.B.’s sympathy and are in thrall to the OTD radical left’s assertion that sexual assault culture is pervasive in the OTD and Footsteps sector.

 

Deborah Feldman

Deborah Feldman, author of the acclaimed Unorthodox (and the flopped sequel “Exodus”) also promotes this narrative. Presently sojourning in Germany and far removed from OTD and Footsteps politics, she nevertheless took the effort to comment on the recent event in an email message obtained by HN:

To be frank, rape culture was established at footsteps pretty early on, and it was clear that no efforts were to be undertaken to combat it, given a) the overwhelming male majority b)males in positions of power c) the impossible task of rooting out misogyny in a group of people seeking freedom from religious restrictions without sacrificing the male privilege that was always part of that package
Addressing rape culture at footsteps would require a massive overhaul of the entire organization, and that’s not in the interest of the current power structure. I’ve always advised women to stay away, and try and get by on their own, or form small independent groups for support.
Feldman had had her own vendetta with Deen. At the time of her ascendancy following the publication of her first book, Unorthodox, she was courted by Footsteps to assume a position on its board of directors and help the organization attract donors, but she declined so long as Deen was on the board. Deen had written a critical review of her book at the time and was considered a powerful literary rival of hers for influence in the OTD community at the time.
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8 Responses to Footsteps Board Now in Crosshairs of OTD Activists

  1. Berl Baalchov says:

    Bathe Unger sargon was with weberman against the otd. She is left on pro Palestinian issues but not when it comes to sex abuse than she is more right wing than you Jacob.

  2. Trump & Deen Hasid says:

    Shulem Deen has never reviewed Feldman’s book al he did is bad mouth it like all the hasidim he has since taken it down form his blog so i assume he is not proud with that bitter saga where he selfishly and very ugly in my mind fought Feldman as a liar.

    I forgave him for it but it was not very professional conduct of him and i hope he has learned the lessons from it. The fact is it bothered shulem deen very much that Deborah Feldman was a better book a more successful book, as her book was on the NY Times bestseller list his was not. He is a better writer than her but she had a better story to tell.

    Shulem Deen was always and will always be the leader of the OTD community i hope he will listen now and enact anti abuse policy in Footsteps now.

    We will always love you Shulem and respect you Shulem do the right thing!

  3. Pearl Kelly Reichman says:

    The pigs run footsteps, they do not help any woman only if you pleasure the men in top of that madhouse.

  4. Mark says:

    The MAIN reason I thank g-d went back to TRUE YIDDISHKEIT, was because the weeks I spent at FOOTSTEPS was HELL. They don’t help anyone. They are abunch of EGOISTICK A——S

  5. The Jewish Daily Forward says:

    Apologizes for those Footsteps OTD abusive men PIGS that they are still Hasidic don’t know any better think women love to be grabbed by the pussy as Trumps said.

    Footsteps should be CLOSED DOWN NOW for giving up such a lame excuse.

    WOW!

  6. Rvk says:

    Regardless of the fact that this article was written to protect the men listed, it was helpful for me to see that I’m not the only one who had sexually exploitative/abusive experiences with a person named here.

    They are fucked up. Avoid them all.

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