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Lamm told the Forward on December 7 that Finkelstein was forced out of Y.U.’s high school in 1995 following accusations that he had inappropriate contact with students by wrestling with them in a high school office. But Y.U has not confirmed that explanation.
Finkelstein had risen to the principal’s position after a life spent almost entirely within Y.U.’s family. He attended Y.U. high school and then went on to Yeshiva College, graduating in 1967, one year before taking an office job at the high school. He graduated from Y.U.’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1972.
In those days, former students say, Finkelstein was known as the “office boy.” He was “very tall and thin,” recalled Steven Winter, who attended the high school from 1966 to 1970.
“He walked around with a severe facial expression and played the role of disciplinarian,” Winter added, “but [the staff] all did that; it was the cultural norm.”
One former student told the Forward that Finkelstein wielded a lot of power and that he was emotionally abusive even in the early 1970s. The man, now 57, said that his parents complained about emotional abuse to Rabbi Samuel Belkin, then president of Y.U., but the report only made Finkelstein’s bullying worse. “He thumbed his nose to all of them and kept doing what he wanted to do,” said the former student, who left halfway through his junior year because of the abuse. Belkin has been deceased for decades.
Interviews with former students who attended the school between 1968 and 1995 portray a man who tyrannized students psychologically, physically and sexually. According to these former students, his favorites could do no wrong — though they might be pulled into his office for wrestling bouts. Those to whom he took a disliking could be threatened with expulsion for the most minor of infractions: a haircut that Finkelstein did not like, or being in the gym when they were not supposed to be.
“What could potentially have been a great experience turned into a tortuous and anxiety-filled [experience], because you never knew if that was the day you were going to commit some sort of infraction that was going to land you in a heap of trouble,” said Coby Hakalir, who says he was threatened with expulsion about 40 or 50 times between 1991 and 1995.