On December 13, the Forward published an explosive story by our Paul Berger detailing how Yeshiva University for years ignored students who claimed that they were sexually abused by two former staff members at Y.U.’s high school for boys in Manhattan. For that story, Berger spoke to four students who voluntarily offered their accounts. Since then, about 20 former students have called or written, and the number keeps growing.
Most of the allegations occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, and the statute of limitations prevents these men from suing the school, so they aren’t looking for money or other compensation. They are seeking answers, though. And so, independently, is the Forward.
Y.U.’s press office has issued several statements, including a sort-of apology and an offer of counseling to any former student who thinks he needs it. But Y.U. President Richard Joel has declined repeated requests for comment. Not so its chancellor and former president, Norman Lamm, but he left us even more confused, by acknowledging in an interview with the Forward that he knew of some of the allegations and let at least one of the alleged abusers leave quietly.
Why? Why was Rabbi George Finkelstein, a long-time teacher who rose to become principal, allowed to leave Y.U. in 1995 and become dean of a Jewish day school in Florida? Here was a man who has been accused by numerous students of inappropriate wrestling, kissing and simulated sex. And when the Jerusalem Great Synagogue said it hired Finkelstein in 2001 after being assured by Y.U. officials that the rumors of sexual abuse were false, who was responsible? Just because Finkelstein resigned his synagogue post after the initial Forward story was published does not erase the pressing need for answers.
More questions. Why was Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher, let go in 1985 even though a student said he and his parents lodged a complaint to Y.U. authorities in 1980 that Gordon sodomized him? Since we reported this disturbing allegation, another student has said he also was sodomized by the rabbi. Gordon, who denied the charges, was placed on indefinite leave from his teaching position in Israel. But that, too, does not obviate the need for answers.
Shortly after the Forward broke this story, Y.U. said it hired the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell to “assist” its own investigation. Then the school said that Sullivan was “retained to conduct a full and independent investigation of the allegations.” Which is it? How can alleged victims trust that their words won’t be used against them? Trust is the first casualty when institutions are not forthcoming about their failings. Y.U. can begin to rebuild that trust only by providing answers.