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Camp Ramah Faces Decades-Old Accusation of Sexual Abuse

For four decades, a Jewish man says he did not tell anyone that a counselor at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires forced him to perform a sex act in the woods one summer as a boy. But now that his alleged abuser has been convicted in the sexual abuse of several children in Canada, the unnamed victim is filing a lawsuit against the Jewish sleepaway camp and its parent organization, the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“I was trying to punish myself for putting myself in this position and not doing anything about it,” the anonymous man told the Daily News, who said that the episode drove him to depression, trust issues, alcoholism and numerous suicide attempts. “The fact is: This went on for years and nobody stopped it.”

The lawsuit, filed several weeks ago in Manhattan federal court, alleges that the New York-based camp engaged in a cover-up of the counselor’s sexual abuse. It names JTS and the National Ramah Commission, both of which oversee Camp Ramah in the Berkshires as well as more than a dozen other camps that form the Ramah network.

Neither JTS nor Ramah returned calls for comment from the Forward.

Court filings from the plaintiff said that camp officials knew about the abuse of other boys that summer by the counselor — identified as Harvey Erlich — before the incident with the plaintiff, and failed to notify the police, call parents or fire the counselor, then an 18-year-old.

Erlich cannot be charged under New York’s sex crimes statutes due to the statute of limitations. But Camp Ramah and JTS can both potentially be held liable for violating Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination rule that protects victims of sexual assault at institutions of learning such as universities or camps.

Kevin Mulhearn, the plaintiff’s attorney, could not be reached for comment. Mulhearn is well known for lawsuits involving alleged sex abuse at top New York private schools and a high school affiliated with Yeshiva University.

The victim said he wanted to hold Camp Ramah to account for what happened to him, in his interview with the Daily News.

“If they are not going to take responsibility…they get what they have coming to them,” he said.

Contact Daniel J. Solomon at solomon@forward.com or on Twitter @DanielJSolomon

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