Why Can't Yeshiva Alumni Follow Horace Mann Blueprint on Abuse Scandal?

Jewish World Should Demand More of Elite Institutions

courtesy of horace mann

By Beth Kissileff

Published May 06, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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The Forward has called for an examination of the case. One of the Y.U. victims is Mordechai Twersky, an Israeli-based journalist at Haaretz. He believes that the lack of action has to do with the Y.U. alumni. Whereas the students who went to Horace Mann have taken on this issue as a cause, those who went to Y.U., Twersky said, are “impotent and frightened” and are “waiting for their kids and grandkids to get in,” so they don’t wish to come forward.

The Rev. Joseph Cumming, class of ’77, was one of Horace Mann music teacher Johannes Somary’s many victims and is one of the school’s survivors who is able to speak publicly about his abuse and its effect on him. He was one of the driving forces behind the HM survivors website.

Cumming, now a pastor of the international church at Yale University, said that the main thing most victims want is “validation,” and that when reports of sexual abuse are “invalidated by the institution, the community, the family,” the experience is “re-traumatizing.” He is personally “grateful for many of the things that the HM Action Coalition has done,” primarily because “they take the story seriously and they believe us.”

Cumming believes, having spoken with Twersky, that there should be an “independent investigation at Y.U.,” like the one being undertaken for Horace Mann. As a gentile, he thinks “one of the marvelous things about Judaism is the example Jews set of the importance of self-examination and self-criticism.”

He adds that no other religious tradition “preserves as sacred scripture books that denounce their own wrongdoing,” such as is found in the castigations of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Cumming added, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s rye bread and to believe that self-criticism is a virtue, not a vice.”

In his own prophetic voice, Cumming said, “Y.U. high school has clear moral standards to uphold. It should be a light to the gentiles, and I say that as a gentile.” He believes that “Y.U. should lead the way” and “should not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the morally right thing.”

Right now, even though I’m a religious Jew, I’d rather be affiliated with his church and with my high school alumni community than at any synagogue staffed by Y.U. administrators and those who refuse to take abuse allegations with the gravity that the survivors deserve.

Beth Kissileff is the editor of the forthcoming anthology “Reading Genesis”(Continuum Books, 2013).


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