No Limitations on Pain

Editorial


Published March 04, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Ever since the Forward began publishing stories in December detailing allegations by former students that they were abused by rabbis at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, a certain trope has been voiced by Y.U.’s defenders. It goes something like this: The alleged incidents occurred as long as three decades ago. They are, if not ancient history, then certainly from another time when behaviorial mores were different, when religious authority was more absolute, when acts that are deemed offensive now were more acceptable.

As Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, asked in a recent column, “is it fair to apply many current standards of behavior, at a time when a teacher touching a student can be grounds for disciplinary action, to an era when it was not unusual for European-born yeshiva high school rebbes to slap or even hit boys, who tended to take such actions in stride?”

But the Y.U. rabbis weren’t accused of Jewish-style corporal punishment, loathsome though that might be. George Finkelstein was accused of repeatedly wrestling with students in his home and office, pinning them down so tightly that many reported feeling his erect penis on their bodies. Macy Gordon was accused of sodomizing two students in their dorm rooms. This doesn’t amount to a slap to the cheek; it’s an assault to the body. To minimize these allegations is both inaccurate and hugely unfair to those who say they were victimized.

The 20 or so men who have told their stories to our Paul Berger have done so at great personal effort. Many have spoken of the deep psychological and emotional pain it has caused them and the effect that such an abuse of power and trust has had on their relationship with their families and their relationship to Judaism. This is the consequence of child abuse — the pain can stay dormant for years, unnamed and unrecognized but still real and damaging, and often not expressed until decades later.

That very act of denial — by both the victims and, it seems, by the Y.U. authorities — has led to more pain. As the Forward reports, because Finkelstein was allowed to quietly leave Y.U., he appears to have continued his inappropriate behavior when he was a dean at a Jewish day school in Florida and then a director of a prominent synagogue in Jerusalem. The last documented allegation dates back only to 2009. Hardly another era.

This is why it is so necessary to extend or eliminate the restrictive statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Margaret Markey, a member of the New York State Assembly, has tried for eight years to reform the legal system and is trying again. Her bill to eliminate the statute altogether and allow a one-year window for old civil cases will be the subject of a March 8 public hearing. “We are particularly interested in hearing about research that clearly demonstrates why so many victims of abuse do not come to grips with the abuse they have suffered until later in life, long after the current law permits them to come forward, and long after their abusers and those who hide them can be identified and punished,” she said in a statement.

Only by bravely and honestly confronting the past can victims achieve some sense of justice and the accused have the opportunity to clear their good names. Finkelstein and Gordon have denied the charges levied against them; only a thoroughly independent investigation can arrive at the truth. The university promised in December that a law firm it has retained is pursuing such a probe, though now, more than two months later, there is still no word on when the work will finish or if it will ever be made public.

To dismiss this story because it began decades ago is to ignore the brutal fact that it continues today. It continues to haunt the victims, to trail the accused and to muddy the reputation of a respected Jewish institution that was supposed to prioritize care for its students above all else.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.