April 12, 2024
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Child Molester’s Presence Spurs Clifton-Passaic Community to Action

Clifton—On Motzei Shabbat two weeks ago, the kehillah at Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton had just begun to daven Maariv. Many children were at the minyan with their fathers. Suddenly, the president of the congregation left his seat at the front of the shul and went to the back to speak to a man seated there. The man had dark hair and wore a hat, long, curly peyos, a beard and Shabbos clothing. When the president returned to his seat, Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, the shul’s rabbi, went to speak to the same man. The conversation extended longer than the usual greeting and Rabbi Glasser seemed very serious. As Rabbi Glasser returned to his seat at the front of the shul, the man departed the shul.

As Maariv concluded, word spread through the room that the man they had been speaking to was Stefan Colmer, a criminal who had been arrested, convicted and imprisoned for sexually abusing minors, and the two shul leaders had told him they would call the police to bodily remove him if he did not leave immediately on his own. Colmer had been recognized by a shul member who had been in NCSY with him, and that shul member swiftly alerted the president and the rabbi.

From there the community also acted quickly. Over the course of the next two days, all the community shuls and yeshivot made announcements that Colmer, a felon convicted and imprisoned for molesting minor children and a Level 2 sex offender, meaning that the person has a “moderate risk” of a repeat offense, had returned to the Passaic-Clifton community where he owns a house on a popular block where many children live. Many of the emails posted Colmer’s home address.

Every shul and yeshiva banned him from their property. Individual communities sent out emails with his picture and additional pertinent information with links to his criminal registry page, and the community’s email group, “OurKehila,” also distributed the information. “The community leadership is doing everything possible in coordination with the authorities to ensure the community’s safety. Individuals should not take the law into their own hands,” said Rabbi Berel Leiner in an email to YBH parents.

Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman of Agudas Israel warned his community to be aware of Colmer’s presence and recommended that all community members attend a seminar hosted by Jewish Family Service of Clifton-Passaic and Project S.A.R.A.H., which was held Tuesday, June 14.

The presentation was given by Rabbi Michael Bleicher, JFS’s rabbinic outreach coordinator, and Mrs. Elke Stein, Director of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services with Project S.A.R.A.H. Following the presentation on “How to Keep Your Children Safe,” which included practical skills for families to implement immediately, additional professionals were available to address specific concerns. Over 125 people attended the presentation. “The program was an opportunity for us to share some essential safety skills parents can teach their children,” said Rabbi Bleicher. “Research shows that children become more resilient and more likely to stay safe even when they interact with abusive individuals when their parents open the channel of communication with their children and educate them with skills and tools about personal safety, teaching them the words necessary to discuss their personal safety.”

“I will show his picture to every one of my children in case they see him,” said one Clifton resident, who asked not to be named.

Another parent, who also  requested not to be named, said, “While I am still nervous about the safety of my children, I feel empowered by the presentation. I now have skills I can teach my children to increase their chances of staying safe.”

JFS Clifton‘s materials distributed before the event noted that, above all, “predators need access to your child and time alone with your child” to do harm. Rabbi Bleicher added that Project S.A.R.A.H is also planning their annual day camp counselor training at 10 camps throughout New Jersey on how to create a safe environment for campers and staff. “If anyone is interested in bringing a presentation to their camp or community they can contact us at (973) 777-7638 or email [email protected]. Those interested in further information or tips on staying safe, please visit http://www.jfsclifton.org.”

By Elizabeth Kratz

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