On Perpetrators and Puzzlement

We’ve all seen a puzzled neighbor or family member interviewed after some horrific killing or act saying “I don’t get it; he was the nicest guy. Never a problem.”

“Yeah,” I’d snort to myself, “I’d have seen something.”


I went to a liberal Orthodox Jewish school (an oxymoron today) back in Riverdale. Or, as everyone else called it, The Bronx.

The school was, for me, heaven. Latest (1970s era) gear, brilliant teachers, 3-day camping trips complete with art and science teacher hookups, bus tours of Washington, D.C. Some of the most amazing and brilliant people I now realize I was friends with.

I loved the place so much tht when I had my bar mitzvah I had yarmulkes made with the school’s logo. That place, and some of the amazing people in it (Mrs. Ratner, the secretary, the Doyle family, custodians and cooks extraordinaire, and a few others), kept me tethered to (relative) sanity.

Yes, yes, this story has a point. Where was I? Oh, right: heavenly idyllic place, blah blah blah. I had had a real nemesis there, a fellow student “J” whom I’d been with since kindergarten. We hated each other with the fire of a thousand suns. For good reasons on both sides.

Rabbi (later known as Cantor) Stanley Rosenfeld was the assistant principal, handling the Judaic end of things. He was determined to “make us shake hands.” And, in the end, I think he succeeded. At least, neither of us buried our hatchets in the other’s skull.

He invited “J” and I to spend Shabbat at his house (Friday evening through Saturday night). It was an apartment in South Yonkers, right near the Riverdale border. He was a member of one of the less glitz, more prayer, synagogues.

I only remember two things about that Shabbat: (1) that we hid his clothing and he chased me and “J” around the house in his underwear to get his stuff so we could go to shul for afternoon services. I think it was the first time “J” and I were partners in mischief. And, (2), when he caught me he kept twisting my wrist to get me to tell him where his clothes were. Twisted it until it broke. To my memory he was horrified and apologetic and as solicitous a vice-principal as an 8th grader might expect.

Oh, and he raped boys. The son-of-a-bitch was a serial pedophile, child rapist, assaulting his way through several Jewish schools in the Northeast until he was put away, paroled, and jailed again for breaking parole with yet another assault. And now, according to the JTA, it turns out that someone, someone I probably knew, was raped by him.


If someone had interviewed me about him I’d be that gormless, clueless guy, not knowing how close I was to the dragon’s fire.