From an apartment in a fervently religious section of Baltimore sits a nonobservant Jewish woman working fervently herself on a project that has become the center of her life and is making an impact — for good or bad, depending on whom you ask — in the Jewish community internationally.
Vicki Polin, 44, created and runs The Awareness Center, an organization devoted to the issue of sexual abuse in the Jewish community. Essentially a one-woman operation, the center exists only on-line, through its Web site, www.theawarenesscenter.org, and over the phone. Polin and her board members, who include prominent rabbis and professionals knowledgeable about issues of sexual trauma, consult with people who turn to the organization for help.
All sorts of Jews, from all over the world, contact The Awareness Center for advice, counseling and referrals, says Polin, who puts in 60 to 80 hours a week on the project.
She says the Web site is visited by about 15,000 people each month — victims of abuse, called “survivors” in the sexual trauma community, their family members, rabbis, lawyers, law enforcement officials and others concerned about the issue.
Vicki Polin, a counselor specializing in sexual violence, noticed years ago that there seemed to be no Jewish resources for sex abuse victims, and she was uncomfortable referring them to Christian organizations, which she felt might proselytize them or be unable to speak to Jewish issues.
Before relocating to Israel in 2001, she attended Neve Yerushalayim, a women’s college in Jerusalem, and saw that people who had been sexually abused had no place to turn.
“All these young women started telling me what happened to them,” Polin said. “I started seeing what a problem it was.”
A Chicago native, she moved to Baltimore in 2002 and, in 2003, launched the nonprofit International Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, now known as The Awareness Center. The organization’s goal is to provide resources to victims and educate the general community, but Polin, an incest survivor herself, has also drawn controversy for posting information on alleged offenders, including many prominent rabbis, on the center’s Web site.
“Our goal is education. It’s not just about, ‘Get this guy, get that guy,’” she said, explaining that many in the Orthodox world do not watch TV or read secular news, but have gained information from the center’s Web site.
After she, together with a volunteer board of directors, began posting information on offenders, “survivors started saying, ‘Why don’t you have my story?’ The same (victims) were talking about the same (offenders), and we started putting the pieces together.”
Although more than 250 rabbis worldwide support The Awareness Center, critics have accused Polin of “lashon ha’ra,” derogatory or damaging speech against another person, which Jewish tradition condemns.
“In some places, we’re seen as heroes and in some we’re seen as crazy or vindictive,” she said.
After Polin received allegations against rabbis by a group that turned out to be linked to al-Qaida and was anti-Semitic, she posted resources on abuse for Christians and Muslims as well. She also works with groups like The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and, in addition to running the non-profit almost single-handedly, regularly testifies in court on behalf of victims of sexual violence.
The goal is not just to educate and reach out to victims, Polin said, but also to help abusers. “There’s no proven treatment for offenders. We don’t know what to do, how to stop them,” she said.
Broadcast on May 1, 1989, the show was titled “Mexican Satanic Cult Murders,” and during one segment Oprah presented a woman under the pseudonym of “Rachel” who was undergoing long-term psychiatric treatment for multiple personality disorder.
“As a child my next guest was also used in worshipping the devil, participated in human sacrifice rituals and cannibalism,” Oprah told her audience. “She is currently in extensive therapy, suffers from multiple personality disorder, meaning she’s blocked out many of the terrifying and painful memories of her childhood. Meet ‘Rachel’, who is also in disguise to protect her identity.”
“Rachel” said she had witnessed the ritual sacrifice of children and had been a victim of ritualistic abuse. “I was born into a family that believes in this.”
“And this is a — does everyone else think it’s a nice Jewish family?” asked Oprah, introducing “Rachel’s” religion. “From the outside you appear to be a nice Jewish girl…. And you are all worshipping the devil inside the home?”
“Right,” said the disturbed “Rachel.” “There’s other Jewish families across the country. It’s not just my own family.”
“Really? “And so who knows about it? Lots of people now.”
“I talked to a police detective in the Chicago area….”
“So when you were brought up in this kind of evilness did you just think it was normal?”
“Rachel” said she had blocked out a lot of the memories, but she remembered enough to say “there would be rituals in which babies would be sacrificed.” She later added, “Not all Jewish people sacrifice babies…. It’s not a typical thing.”
“I think we all know that,” said Oprah.
“I just wanted to point that out.”
“This is the first time I heard of any Jewish people sacrificing babies, but anyway — so you witnessed the sacrifice?” said Oprah.
“Right. When I was very young I was forced to participate in that, and…I had to sacrifice an infant.”
The phones at Harpo started jangling with hundreds of irate callers objecting to Oprah’s blithe acceptance of “Rachel’s” claims about Jews practicing devil worship. Television stations across the country — New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland, Washington D.C. — were inundated with furious calls. Within hours, Jewish groups rose up in condemnation, and Oprah’s show because a national news story. “We have grave concerns about both the lack of judgment and the insensitive manipulation of this woman, who is clearly mentally ill, in a manner which can only inflame the basest prejudices of ignorant people,” Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism told The New York Times.
Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way, a leading civil liberties organization, met with his board of directors in Washington, D.C. “There’s been a lot of concern about so-called trash television,” he said after reviewing the transcript of Oprah’s show. “She was the one who introduced the religion. I don’t think she introduced it to convey any correlation between the woman’s Jewishness and what she saw, but nevertheless Oprah did do it and that was careless.”
This wasn’t the first bad publicity Ooprah had ever received, but it was brutal because she was being criticized for offending sensibilities of race and religion, which she had always appeared to champion. It was an especially sorry position for a woman who had put herself forward as a “poor little ole nappy-headed colored chile” from the lynching state of Mississippi as a not-so-subtle reminder of the viciousness of bigotry. She now felt misunderstood by her accusers, but she also recognized that her career was in jeopardy.
“We are aware that the show has struck a nerve,” said Jeff Jacobs, then COO of Harpo Productions. He pointed out to the press that Oprah had said on the air that “Rachel” was one particular person talking about her particular situation. “And she was identified at the top of the show as being mentally disturbed,” he added, not commenting on why such a person would be allowed on the show in the first place. Recognizing the danger of a national boycott of The Oprah Winfrey Show and the potential loss of sponsors, which could spell financial ruin for everyone, Jacobs quickly offered to meet with Jewish leaders in Chicago to try to salvage the situation, but neither he nor Oprah offered a public apology. When reporters called, Jacobs said Oprah was “traveling” and “unavailable for comment.”
…Feeling battered by the bruising she was taking in the nation’s press over her devil-worship show, Oprah remained close to her condominium at Water Tower Place when she wasn’t working. Serendipitously, she happened to meet Harriet Brady (nee Bookey), another resident, in the lobby. Mrs. Brady, then seventy-two, was well known in Chicago’s Jewish community as a philanthropist. She approached Oprah to introduce herself, and then said kindly, “I think I can help you.”
Within hours she was on the phone to her good friend Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, a federal judge whose contacts extended into every segment of society. He agreed to help, and for the next week Judge Marovitz and Mrs. Brady worked on Oprah’s behalf to assemble a group of representatives from the region’s Jewish community to meet at Harriet Brady’s condominium to try to quell the raging controversy.
Oprah arrived at the meeting on May 9, 1989, with Debar DiMaio and two Jewish members of her senior staff, Jeffrey Jacobs and Ellen Rakieten. They sat down with Michael Kotzin, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Chicago; Jonathan Levine, midwest director of the American Jewish Committee; Barry Morrison, director of the Greater Chicago/Wisconsin Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; Rabbi Herman Schaalman, president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis; Maynard Wishner, resident of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; Judge Marovitz; and Mrs. Brady.
Oprah was sufficiently contrite and vowed never again to broadcast a show on devil worship. She agreed to reach out to B’nai B’rith, which fights anti-Semitism and racism, whenever her show focused on those subjects, and she promised to exercise better judgment in selecting her guests. The two sides came together over the next three days to work out two statements to be delivered to the press, which had been covering the story nearly every day. Oprah and her executive producer said, “We recognize that The Oprah Winfrey Show on May 1 could have contributed to the perpetuation and historical misconceptions and canards about Jews, and we regret any harm may have been done. We are aware of community and group sensibilities and will make every effort to ensure that our program will reflect that concern.”
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community leaders, ADL representative Barry Morrison said, “We were all satisfied that Oprah Winfrey and her staff did not intend to offend anyone and that Oprah was genuinely sorry for any offense or misunderstanding. During the meeting, constructive recommendations were made and there was an extensive exchange of information which led to a greater understanding of Jewish perspective on the part of Oprah and her staff.”
Not everyone was pleased with the outcome. “It’s an inadequate response to the harm that may have been done on that broadcast,” said Phil Baum, associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress. “It’s not our sensitivities she ought to be concerned about. It’s a question of the integrity of her show. This apology cannot possibly reach anything like the people [7,680,000 homes, according to the A.C. Nielsen Company] who were exposed to these statements.”
Oprah refused to make an apology on her show or publicly comment on the program or the statements, but privately she embraced her two major defenders and kept Mrs. Brady and Judge Marovitz close to her for the rest of their lives. Both were invited to all her parties, and because of them she became more involved in Jewish causes.
The following is an excerpt of the May 1, 1989 Oprah Show. Vicki Polin confirms that she was “Rachel.” Yori Yanover sent me this first (5/10/05).
OPRAH: As a child, my next guest was used also in worshipping the devil, participated in human sacrifice rituals and cannibalism. She says her family has been involved in rituals for generations. She is currently in extensive therapy, suffers from multiple personality disorder, meaning she’s blocked out many of the terrifying and painful memories of her childhood. Meet “Rachel,” who is also in disguise to protect her identity. You come from generations of ritualistic abuse?
“RACHEL”, Was Used In Satan Worship Rituals: Yes, my family has an extensive family tree, and they keep track of who’s been involved and who hasn’t been involved, and it’s gone back to like 1700.
OPRAH: And so you were ritually abused.
“RACHEL”: Right. I was born into a family that believes in this.
OPRAH: Does everyone else think it’s a nice Jewish family? From the outside, you appear to be a nice Jewish girl?
OPRAH: And you all are worshipping the devil inside the home?
“RACHEL”: Right. There’s other Jewish families across the country. It’s not just my own family.
OPRAH: Really? And so who knows about it? Lots of people now.
“RACHEL”: Well, I talked to a police detective in the Chicago area, and several of my friends know, and I’ve spoke publicly before, and…
OPRAH: So when you were brought up in this kind of evilness, did you just think it was normal?
“RACHEL’: I blocked out a lot of the memories I had because of my multiple personality disorder, but, yes. I mean, it’s like if you grow up with something, you think it’s normal. I always thought something…
OPRAH: So what kinds of things? You don’t have to give us the gory details, but what kinds of things went on in the family?
“RACHEL”: Well, there would be rituals in which babies would be sacrificed, and you would have to, you know…
OPRAH: Whose babies?
“RACHEL”: There were people who bred babies in our family. No one would know about it. A lot of people were overweight, so you couldn’t tell if they were pregnant or not, or they would supposedly go away for awhile and then come back…
“RACHEL”: The other thing I want to point out not all Jewish people sacrifice babies. I mean, it’s not a very typical thing.
OPRAH: I think we kind of know that.
“RACHEL”: I just want to point that out.
OPRAH: This is the first time I heard of any Jewish people sacrificing babies, but anyway–so you witnessed the sacrifice.
“RACHEL”: Right. When I was very young, I was forced to participate in that– in which I had to sacrifice an infant.
OPRAH: And the purpose of sacrifice is to what? Is to bring you what? What are you sacrificing for?
“RACHEL”: For power…
OPRAH: Power. And so were you ever used? Were you ever used yourself?
“RACHEL”: I was molested. I was raped several times.
OPRAH: What’s your mother doing in all of this? What’s her role in all of this?
“RACHEL”: What is– I’m not exactly- -what her role is– I haven’t, you know, recovered all of my memories, but her family was extremely involved. You know, she brought me to it. Both of my parents brought me to it.
OPRAH: And where is she now?
“RACHEL”: She lives in the Chicago metropolitan area. She’s on the human relations commission of the town that she lives in, and she’s an upstanding citizen. Nobody would suspect her. Nobody would suspect anybody involved in it. There’s police officers involved in it. There’s, you know, doctors, lawyers, Indiana chiefs involved in it.
OPRAH: Are you kidding?
“RACHEL”: I mean, it’s not the person, you know, who looks scummy that’s involved in it. It’s someone who looks normal.…
OPRAH: Were you raised with a sense of right and wrong, “Rachel?”
“RACHEL: Yes. I mean, it’s like we, I had both. I mean, to the outside world, everything we did was proper and right, and then there were the nights that things changed, that things just got turned around. What was wrong was right, and what was right was wrong. That’s what helps to create some of theto develop MPD.
OPRAH: Multiple personality disorder.
“RACHEL”: Right, right.
OPRAH: I know a lot of people are shaking their heads here, and I’m sure that when you go back home, I mean, everyone’s going to try to make you look like you’re crazy.
“RACHEL”: Oh, definitely.
“RACHEL”: They do that all the time.
OPRAH: It’s very difficult to believe, so how is it that you come to believe these people, Tina?
Ms. GROSSMAN: Well, I’ve treated over 40 survivors of ritual abuse. Adult patients with multiple personality disorder, and from many states in this country as well as Canada. What we’ve seen and heard and gone through in the abreactions which is the remembered experiences of that- we are hearing the identical same things from these adults. Okay. These are not children that are three years old, and you can, as an adult, perhaps rationalize that this is fantasy material. These adults are saying things. They have never met each other before. They are describing identical rituals, just the same as, since I’m Jewish, you could go to New York or California and describe a seder in one state or another and, as a Jew, you would recognize it. This is the belief system in evil and the power that evil gives you, and so it has these certain rituals, so they are very similar with all of the survivors.
OPRAH: See, but I am very surprised because the Jewish faith is the Jewish faith. and worshipping the devil is not a part of the Jewish faith. I mean, Jewish people do not worship the devil.
Ms. GROSSMAN: But before there was Christ and before there was a system of one God, there was Paganism- and it still exists in the world, and in many cultures, you still find the belief that there is strength and power in the actual consumption of human flesh or animals’ flesh.
OPRAH: Now in your family. did you all call it worshipping the devil, “Rachel?”
OPRAH: Or did you…
“RACHEL”: I don’t know.
OPRAH: It was just evil. these things you did.
“RACHEL”: It was– right.
“RACHEL”: Well, I said it was evil, and they said it was good. There’s a book that I had just come across called [Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural by Howard Schwartz, New York, Oxford University Press, 1988] which is a book of Jewish mysticism and supernatural, and there’s a lot in that book that relates to what I endured when I was a child.
OPRAH: I want to stop right here, though. because you know how people build prejudices. I want to make it very clear this is one Jewish person, so don’t go around now saying to people, you know, “Those Jewish people, they’re worshipping–’. This is just one person. Okay.
“RACHEL”: Most Jewish people do not do what my family did.
OPRAH: Okay. Thank you very much.
“RACHEL”: I mean, I don’t know very many other Jewish people who would do what I did.
OPRAH: But you know how people hear one thing, and then go off and they say, “I heard on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ today that…”
To this day, Vicki stands behind what she said on Oprah (she intentionally twisted some minor details on Oprah to disguise herself and her family.) She now says she can only trace her family back to the 1800s.
If you Google ““ritual abuse” Oprah,” you will see how many anti-semitic websites used Vicki’s appearance as fodder to perpetuate the myth that Jews sacrifice children.
On May 11, 2005, I speak by phone to someone close to Vicki Polin’s family.
This source is someone Vicki likes and respects.
My source says: This is my opinion, but it is the opinion of her family. That the claims were unfounded. I think she was led to make those claims through the investigator she had worked with (Jerry Simendl) who wanted to prove a theory of suppressed memory syndrome. And her therapist Tina Grossman. They had a theory they wanted her to prove and they found her to be a susceptible person to suggestion.
A lot of us have questions we want to answer about our lives. They had a theory that repressed memory is a big thing. As most people of Jewish background would attest, most people who survived the Holocaust saw horrible atrocities too, but they don’t have these repressed memories in the same fashion.
Luke: Vicki claims she had five abortions as a result of being impregnated by her father.
Source: I’ve known Vicki since she was about ten years old. I can’t say that in those early years, I was a best friend of the family, but I’ve been around for a while. Neither I, nor her sisters, saw evidence for that. I don’t think that something like that would be hush-hush.
Luke: She claims her family is part of a cult that goes back to the 1700s of ritual abuse.
Source: Honestly, I think it is all bulls—. She makes accusations about her aunts and uncles as well. I’ve known them for as long as I’ve known her. I never had an inkling that anything like that could’ve been happening. It’s possible that it happened and I was oblivious but [members of Vicki's family] were they completely oblivious? If they had any clue that something like that could’ve been happening, could they stand idly by? I don’t think so.
We saw the show. There was no mistaking who that person was. I got in the car and went down to talk with her. I said we need to have a cup of coffee. We had a cup of coffee. She completely denied being on the show. I said, I know it was you. I watched the show. She told me all these stories. I don’t understand where that came from. Has she ever given us any kind of proof or validation that it was true? Not one bit.
Luke: Was she a stable girl as a teenager?
Source: As stable as any other teenager.
A sexual predator is obviously a horrible person. A person who sacrifices baby is a whole other animal. She’s made claims in the past that go way beyond sexual predators. I don’t doubt that she believes this.
[Vicki is not a responsible person. A member of her family] said to her pointblank — ‘Give me some evidence. Give me some idea why you said all these things.’ To the best of my knowledge, Vicki never came forward to say this or that. She basically said, ‘This is what I believe. You’ve got to believe it or don’t believe it.’
Luke: Did Vicki confess that was her on the Oprah show?
Source: I don’t know if she ever said yes, but it was an accepted fact that it was.
After that, [her sister] was really pissed off at her. They couldn’t talk without ending up screaming at each other.
I questioned everything. Maybe they are all part of this cult and I was suckered in to provide whatever they need. I did meet with Vicki, Jerry and Tina to find out… In those meetings, they said, we have accounts of this and that. But nothing hard and concrete ever came out. I said, ‘Give me something that I can latch on to.’ Nothing was presented. That’s why I had to dismiss it as not true.
When I was a little kid, I would lie in my bed and stare at my closet door, which was open two-or-three inches. The more I’d stare at it, the more I was convinced that the door would open and the bogey man would come out. Those were the types of answers that I got too — that she feels this way or that way.
Feelings are one thing. They may be right or wrong. We have to go beyond just feelings.
If there was any validity to any of these things, the whole world should know about it. Back in 1989 and 1990, I did all the research I could do and I found that it wasn’t true.
If you talk to leaders of most of the major religions, few of them would condone some of the things she has said as a policy of religion. There are always going to be the goofballs here and there…
Vicki’s definitely a brilliant woman. She knows how to use the system. She knows how to do what she needs to do. She’s not just a flake. She knew how to turn some heads.
Over the past ten years, I’ve had little contact with Vicki. She doesn’t have much contact with [her family].
I told Vicki that if anything she told me was true, I’d divorce my wife and take my kids to the other side of the world. There is nothing more disgusting than that possibility. I pleaded with Vicki – help me save these kids. But she wouldn’t give me anything beyond what we had already heard. She would not elaborate. Just to say that these people are horrible. Did she ever contact me again to say that she was worried about the kids? Not one time.
Unfortunately, I had to keep a close eye for years. I never saw any evidence of that. To the contrary.
But she’s become a watchdog for the community, huh?
Maybe someone who made those claims, got her name out there, got her publicity, be it bad or good, made their place in life, has to live that story, and stay with that story to maintain her credibility. We all do things at an earlier age that we regret…
Luke: Vicki often says she’s on the edge of death with her [health] problems.
Source: She’s been dying for the last ten years. She’s been on the verge of one surgery or another. She’s been about to kick the bucket for a long time. Her claims are always followed up a couple of days later with a request for cash.
Luke: She complains that she needs money for surgery and her family won’t help her.
Source: When was the last time she had a paying job?
Luke: She’s been on disability for ten years?
Source: Forever. If you research Illinois’s public aid and her past record, she is no stranger to the system.
Luke: She knows how to work the system.
Source: She really knows how to work the system. That’s why in our eyes she lost credibility because she knows how to work the system.
On the day she went on Oprah, she got a lot of attention. Was it credible? I don’t know. I asked her specifically. I asked Tina, Jerry. Give me something. They were giving generalities. ‘We’ve done research and we know that these things do occur.’ Well, is it something she experienced or something she fabricated? ‘This is the way she feels.’
Here’s Vicki’s letter to the ADL in the summer of 1989. I publish it verbatim:
July 18, 1989
To whom it may concern:
In my eyes and the eyes of other Jewish Survivors of Ritual Abuse, you attempted to discredit us the same way the Revisonism Movement trys to discredit the fact that the Holocaust occured.
I feel you owe each and every Jewish Survivor of Ritual Abuse an apology. I believe the Jewish Community needs to take it’s head out of the sand and open it’s eyes!!! Incest, Child Sexual, and Ritual Abuse happens in Jewish Families. Jews are not exempt from perpetrating these crimes.
I understand that you feel that Oprah Winfrey was being Anti-Semitic by bringing up the issue I was from “A Nice Jewish Family”. I believe she was as shocked as you were. Our society believes the myth that Jews can’t be pedophiles, or abuse their own children. This is a “MYTH”, they do abuse children. There are even those who practice cannibalism, and perform human sacrifices. Believe me I saw it with my own eyes. I’ve come to the point in my life were I feel I need to bare-witness. I have and will continue to until I’m sure what I had to endure as a child is believed by you and others like you. I will do what ever is possible so what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else!
CC. Oprah Winfrey, Believe The Children, Det. Simandl, Dale Griffin, PhD., Many Voice’s, Voice’s In Action, Inc., Healing Hearts, YWCA-Women’s Serv. NOW-National Organization of Women, Fr. James Labre