Orthodox Jewish rape survivor buried by community that shunned him

By Mary Murphy (WPIX 11)
October 20, 2014

MONSEY, N.Y. (PIX11) – The marker on the freshly-dug grave in the Monsey Cemetery had the name “Joel Deutsch” in Hebrew, the name 34-year old Joe Diangello was given at birth in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Diangello had walked away from the Satmar Hasidic community — and his name — at age 17, ten years after suffering what he said was a brutal sexual assault in a mikvah bath on Marcy Avenue.

“I think when that person raped me, he murdered my Jewish soul,” Diangello told PIX11 Investigates in early 2009, when he finally started going public with his story.

Diangello was buried Sunday by members of the Hasidic community, not long after he was discovered dead in his Manhattan apartment by a social worker.

His close friends who became his true support system in recent years, after Diangello’s family rejected his new lifestyle, said he would not have wanted a Monsey funeral.

Diangello certainly stood out in a crowd, with his dyed, jet-black hair, black fingernails, and heavy metal t-shirts.

The cause of death was listed as a drug overdose, but many friends insisted to PIX11 it must have been accidental, since Diangello had been taking a more positive outlook on life.

He was running marathons, working as a medical biller from his apartment, and enjoying Yankee games.

Still, his life was one filled with pain.

“Joe was a troubled young man,” said Lonnie Soury, a co-founder of Survivors for Justice. “But he struggled with tremendous courage.”

Soury added, “He was rejected by the Hasidic community, because he stood up…because he talked about his sexual abuse.”

Soury pointed out that Diangello would “really go after and expose the rabbis that protected abusers for the last thirty, forty years. He’s a real hero.”

Diangello lobbied state legislators in Albany to change the “statute of limitations” for abuse survivors, so they could have more time to confront the reality of what had happened to them.

He attended the trials of accused abusers and rapists within the Hasidic community, watching a former counselor named Nechemya Weberman get sentenced to 103 years in prison, convicted of raping a female student when she was just 12 years old.

Diangello paid a price for leaving the community, often getting hissed at on the streets of Williamsburg, if he was seen anywhere near his old neighborhood.

His story was one of intense trauma.

Diangello had taken PIX11 to the shul on Marcy Avenue in 2009, explaining that he used to go to the mikvah with his father, starting when he was 7 years old.

“It’s supposed to cleanse your soul,” Diangello explained to me about the mikvah bath.

Instead, when Diangello entered the bath before his father, he said that’s when the assault happened.

“I just felt this unbelievable pain,” Diangello recalled. “I fell under water.”

Diangello added, “It felt like my whole spine crumbled.”

The young man struggled with mental health issues and spent time in the Bellevue psychiatric ward.

Diangello was proud of himself, when he started to pursue healthy outlets, like running.

Joey Diangello became my friend and was wonderful about texting, just to say hello.

I invited him to a Mother’s Day dinner this year with my family in a Brooklyn restaurant, and he happily shared a meal with us.

We were glad to be with him, enjoying his mischievous sense of humor and his amazing blue eyes. But I knew that Joey still carried his pain around.
He made a remark about taking Xanax, an anti-anxiety medicine.

The last time I heard from Joey was a text he sent on September 17.

He wanted to let me know that his childhood friend, Joel Engelman—another abuse survivor—had married. I knew he was happy for Joel.

When I asked him if he attended the wedding, he responded in typical, Joey Diangello style,  “I didn’t. I have a no wedding or funerals thing. Especially on an NFL Sunday. But I saw the video.”

Rest in peace, Joey Diangello. You traveled this world with a brave soul—and left us better for it.