Play about Peeping Tom rabbi dismays real-life victims

‘Constructive Fictions’ by AJ Campbell imagines DC’s Barry Freundel, who filmed women undressing, in prison

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Barry Freundel leaves the DC Superior Court House in Washington, February 19, 2015. (AP file Photo/Cliff Owen)
Rabbi Barry Freundel leaves the DC Superior Court House in Washington, February 19, 2015. (AP file Photo/Cliff Owen)

The story of a prominent Orthodox rabbi who was jailed for secretly filming dozens of women in his community as they undressed to take ritual baths has been made into a play, and the real-life victims of Rabbi Barry Freundel are upset that the playwright didn’t bother speaking to any of them first.

“Constructive Fictions” had its premiere performance at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington last week, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Written by playwright AJ Campbell, it imagines an unrepentant Freundel in his cell confronting some of the women he videoed.

Freundel, 64, was arrested in October 2014, and began serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence in May 2015 after pleading guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism.

He is believed to have violated the privacy of at least 150 women, whom he filmed while they undressed and showered at the ritual bath, including members of his Kesher Israel synagogue, candidates for conversion to Judaism and students at Towson University in Maryland, where he taught classes on religion and ethics.

Posted by Constructive Fictions on Friday, July 7, 2017

“There are real criminals in here. No, not like me,” laments the fictional Freundel in the play, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit draped with a prayer shawl. “I am not going to stand here like some weeping goyishe televangelist begging for your forgiveness.”

Campbell, 48, who is Jewish, was raised Orthodox but became secular when she came out as lesbian. Later, after a bout with cancer, she settled on the Conservative movement.

She explained that when she first heard about Freundel’s story it spoke to her.

“I knew when I started reading some of the press accounts,” she said. “I grew up in that world. It was upsetting, but I understood the context.”

Many of Freundel’s real victims were dismayed over the play, discussing their feelings in a closed Facebook group.

Two of the women, Bethany Mandel and Kate Bailey, said they were annoyed that Campbell had not contacted victims, even though she had tried to interview Freundel and was turned down by his lawyer.

Bailey, who has spoken out publicly about the crimes Freundel committed, said “our pain is there for public consumption in a way that no one had any say in.”

“I think about Freundel almost every night when I go to my bathroom at night — oh my gosh, is he hiding behind the shower curtain?”

“It was pretty triggering for everyone,” Mandel said. “People don’t realize it’s actually an emotional thing that affected our lives very deeply.”

“She called Freundel’s lawyer because she wanted to interview him,” Mandel noted. “She felt that it was relevant to talk to him but not to us, which is pretty insulting. She doesn’t seem to have put any thought into our perspective as victims. She didn’t try to talk to any of us.”

Campell said she had made a choice not to contact any victims, the report said.

“I didn’t feel like I could do their individual stories justice. I’m not a reporter…. They can tell their story better than I could, couldn’t they?” she said.

“I don’t want them to be upset, but I think the story in a way belongs to all of us now,” she added, noting that the details of the voyeurism had made international headlines.

However, later during her interview with the Washington Post, Campbell said she would “love to meet” the victims.

“Maybe I could rewrite it with more of their information, if that’s something they would be open to. I wonder what their thinking is.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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