Conservative Judaism’s national umbrella organization suspended a longtime former youth group leader from his ongoing work as a youth group tour guide after an allegation against him of an incident of sexual impropriety in the 1980s surfaced on Facebook.
The umbrella organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, would not name the former staff member. In a press statement, the organization called him a “long serving former member” of the professional staff of United Synagogue Youth, its youth group.
Although the USCJ was not able to speak with the man who who posted the allegation on Facebook, the Forward did speak to him. He said that the incident occurred in 1984, when he was 17 years old, and was spending Shabbat with USY members and leaders. During a Shabbat resting period, when multiple people were napping in the same room, the youth leader reached over and touched the man’s genitals, the man said.
Details of the allegation were not included in the public Facebook post. The man who made the allegation on Facebook asked not to be named because he was not comfortable being identified publicly at this time.
“I’ve been wanting to do something with this for a long time now,” the man said, discussing his wish to make the incident public. “I didn’t know exactly how to.”
A spokesperson for the USCJ said it had suspended the former youth leader’s current contracts for overseas tour guide work with USY in mid-November, pending the results of an internal investigation.
“We decided to launch a proactive investigation into the allegations,” USCJ chief executive officer Steven Wernick said. “We find ourselves at this moment feeling that the responsible course of action for a religious organization in the Jewish community is to be open about [the fact] that the allegation exists, and to invite people that may have similar experiences to share to do so.”
Wernick said that the USCJ had no reason for suspicion of the former staff member before the allegation was made. The organization is currently only aware of a single allegation. Wernick said he had tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with the man who made the post on Facebook.
The man confirmed that both Wernick and the USCJ’s head of human resources had attempted to be in touch with him. He said that he had not named the former staff member in his Facebook post, but did so later in a group message.
“We’re doing this because we take the allegation seriously,” Wernick said. “We need to invite our network to share with us whatever potential allegations they may have.”
The USJC has set up a confidential phone line and email address for alleged victims to contact the head of human resources at the USCJ, Vivian Lewis, and the chairperson of the USCJ’s human resources committee. The phone number is (212) 533-7813; the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m happy but I’m also sad,” the man who made the allegation said.
Fondling Claims Spur Suspension Of USY Staffer
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.