By Christopher Alessi
All three rows of spectator seats at the Kings County Supreme Court were lined with ultra-Orthodox Jewish men wearing black yarmulkes. Some were praying, while others whispered nervously as the court waited for convicted child molester Baruch Lebovits to be ushered into the room to face his sentencing.
“This is called tension,” Mark Meyer Appel, an advocate for Jewish children, mouthed from the back row.
When the spectators seemed about to burst with anticipation, Lebovits was marched into the courtroom in handcuffs. A police officer uncuffed him and led him to his seat next to the defense attorneys. He sat down nonchalantly, staring straight ahead as if in a trance, and seemed to take no notice of the packed gallery behind him.
As the sentencing procedure got under way, the calm and measured Justice Patricia M. Di Mango, called the abuse victim, Yakhov, to come forward and make a statement.
Last month, a jury unanimously concluded that Lebovits had sexually molested Yakhov eight different times when he was 16 by putting the teenager’s penis in Lebovits’s mouth. Since then, Yakhov has struggled with drug addiction, going in and out of drug rehabilitation. He admits that he led a life of crime, stealing from synagogues to pay for his drug habit.
Now 22, Yakhov has long hair and a goatee. The only feature that marks him as part of the orthodox community was his black yarmulke. When called by the judge, he got up from his second-row seat in the gallery next to his parents and confidently walked over to the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Miss Gregory. She gently patted his back, smiled, and encouraged him to begin his prepared remarks to the court.
“This process has been challenging, but rewarding,” Yakhov said. Swallowing his nervousness, he added, “I feel every day that Baruch Lebovits is in prison is a day kids in our community are safer.”
On the other side of the courtroom Lebovits was unresponsive, staring blankly ahead.
After the statement, Di Mango allowed Yakhov’s father, Abraham, to make a prepared statement to the court. Unlike his son, he had a traditional Hassidic beard and the customary long, dark coat. He stood next to the prosecutor’s table and stammered through the opening sentence of his speech in a thick Yiddish accent.
His passion rose with each word he spoke. Abraham quoted scripture, but also Shakespeare, declaring, “Truth is inconvertible.” In the most dramatic moment of his speech, he spoke directly to Lebovits, demanding, “Where is your soul?” He added, “You never showed any remorse.” As he wound down his 10-minute monologue, Abraham took to task those in his own community who have cited the Jewish law of Mesirah to caution against reporting sexual offenders to the secular authorities. “There is nothing in the Bible or the Talmud that tells us this man shouldn’t be punished,” Abraham said.
As he sat down, he looked behind him and made eye contact with Appel, the advocate in the back row. “How’d I do? Good, right?” he whispered. Appel shot Abraham a big smile and a thumbs-up.
Following the statements, the defense attorney, Arthur Aidala made a final impassioned plea for his client, calling Lebovits a generous man, “financially, of spirit, and of soul.” “In my religion, you would call Baruch Lebovits a saint,” Adaila said to audible gasps of horror.
As the judge prepared to deliver her sentence, she reiterated the arguments of each side, while continually reminding the court that the jury had convicted Lebovits “beyond a reasonable doubt.” As she reached the climax of her speech, her voice rose for the first time in three hours, quaking with emotion.
“Courts must send an unequivocal message that abusing and harassing children will not be tolerated,” Di Mango boomed.
With that, Di Mango handed Lebovits the maximum sentence for each of the eight counts on which he was convicted. He faces between 10 to 32 years in prison.
On the right side of the court, the Lebovits family lowered their heads in shame and wept.
On the left side, the victim’s father could not hide his broad and infectious smile. He reached out to touch everyone in his reach. And, again, said of his speech to everyone whose hand he grabbed, “It was good, wasn’t it.”
*NOTE: A previous version of this story was published using the victim’s full name. Per the request of a representative of the victim’s family, only the first names of the victim and his father appear in the current version of the story.