Child Sexual Abuse Allegations At Prominent D.C. Synagogue Substantiated By Child Welfare Officials

    Child welfare officials have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of children at a prominent Washington, D.C., synagogue, according to a report from CNN.

    CNN obtained a cease-and-desist letter from the superintendent of schools for D.C. through a Freedom of Information Act request. The letter says that officials from the Child and Family Services Agency for the city found that “more than one child was a victim of sexual abuse by the alleged maltreator” at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

    Washington Hebrew Congregation is one of the oldest congregations in the city, and its membership of over 3,000 families includes many prominent politicians and members of D.C.’s political elite.

    The allegations of sexual abuse of children surfaced in August 2018, when the synagogue sent a letter to parents with children attending the synagogue’s Edlavitch-Tyser Early Childhood Center, informing them of the allegations. The letter said that the unnamed staff member accused of sexually abusing children had been placed on leave. The alleged abuser has not been named.

    In April, eight families whose children attended Washington Hebrew’s school sued the synagogue and named the alleged abuser, Jordan Silverman, a former photographer, who allegedly abused children in a wooded area near the school. An attorney for Silverman has denied the allegations.

    The letter obtained by CNN from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education also states that the alleged abuser took cell phone videos of children he was with.

    The letter says that OSSE investigated the allegations with interviews and site visits, and states that “OSSE’s investigation revealed that WHC had not safeguarded the health, safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care.” The school, for instance, allowed the alleged abuser to accompany children into secluded and private areas alone, without additional teacher supervision, including in instances where the children would be changing clothes.

    The letter also states that the preschool’s director did not respond to complaints from teachers about the alleged abuser consistently being alone with children for extended periods of time, and “created an environment where complaints involving alleged or actual child abuse, or neglect or alleged or actual risk to an enrolled child’s health, safety or welfare were not made because they knew the complaint was going to be ignored or down-played, or believed that they would be reprimanded.”

    In a statement to CNN, Washington Hebrew Congregation said that it has implemented “most” of the recommendations made by OSSE, and said that the school will “continue to work cooperatively” with OSSE to keep children safe at the school.

    The superintendent had reinstated the school’s educational license as of May 2019.

    Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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