A Predator Roamed Jewish Schools. Why Wasn’t He Stopped?
In the winter of 1970-71, when Michael Rabin was 12 years old, Stanley Rosenfeld invited him home for a sleepover. Rosenfeld, in his late thirties, was the beloved assistant principal of Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, New York. He was known for having boys in the middle school over to spend the night; the invitation was considered an “honor,” Rabin said.
“Everyone thought of it as a treat, and no one was reluctant to go,” Rabin, now 60, recalls.
Rosenfeld brought Rabin home after a school basketball game. It was shortly after Rabin says he had been in a skiing accident — he had a full leg cast. Rosenfeld set up a cot for Rabin in his bedroom, in the apartment he lived in alone across the street from Van Cortlandt Park, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
Rabin remembered that before they went to bed, Rosenfeld was lying on his bed with his penis hanging out of his pajamas. When Rabin used the bathroom, Rosenfeld tried to get inside.
The cast was uncomfortable, and kept Rabin from moving easily. He pretended to be asleep as Rosenfeld fondled his genitals throughout the night.
“It was the most terrifying event in my life, period,” Rabin said.
Rabin shared his experience publicly for the first time on June 26, after receiving an e-mail from WDS informing its community that the administration had learned of several stories of alleged abuse and misconduct by Rosenfeld. WDS is one of three elite private Jewish schools in the New York City area where Rosenfeld worked in the 1970s. In 2000, he pleaded no-contest to his first and only criminal charges — that he groped a boy during a bar mitzvah tutoring session in 1999 — and was eventually flagged as a high-risk sex offender.
The two other New York schools where Rosenfeld worked — The Ramaz School and SAR Academy — announced investigations into the allegations against Rosenfeld in January. The Forward has spoken to two men who say Rosenfeld tried to molest them at his apartment. The alleged victims are wondering whether the schools are going through the motions with their investigations, or really planning to tell the community how Rosenfeld got away.
“They’re not gonna fix the past,” Rabin said. But, he added, “without knowing what happened, they can’t make sure it never happens again.”
The Forward was not able to confirm whether Rosenfeld is alive. A request for comment sent to an email address associated with him has not received a response. According to court documents, he would be 84 years old. [UPDATE: The Forward has learned that Rosenfeld is alive.]
The schools where Rosenfeld taught are among the most respected private Jewish schools in the country. Each is co-ed and considered Modern Orthodox. Ramaz, founded in 1937, is on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It was founded and run for decades by the Lookstein family, also the leaders of the Kehillath Jeshurun congregation. Rabbi Josh Lookstein, the grandson of Ramaz’s founder, is now the head of school at WDS, which was founded in 1948. SAR Academy in Riverdale, formed in the late seventies, is considered the more liberal rival institution to Ramaz.
Esther Buterman, Ramaz’s director of communications, declined to answer emailed questions from the Forward. In an email to parents in January, Ramaz said that it has not received any allegations of misconduct committed by Rosenfeld during his time at the school.
“The investigation into Stanley Rosenfeld is still ongoing and we plan to provide a report to the community when it is complete,” she wrote in an email.
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of SAR Academy, declined to answer emailed questions from the Forward. Krauss said that the school hopes to complete its investigation before the beginning of the next school year.
“We hope to be able to answer many of the questions you raise when we report to our community but, as of now, it would simply be premature to speculate on the findings,” Krauss wrote in an email.
Lookstein, of WDS, told the Forward that the revelations about the allegations of misconduct against Rosenfeld caused the school to reevaluate its faculty guidelines. Lookstein said that the school had outside advisers make recommendations about how to update their policies. He said the biggest change they’ve made in the past six months is making discussions about how to prevent abuse a larger part of their annual staff trainings.
“Where before it may have been written, now it has a much more prominent place in our overall professional development,” Lookstein said.
‘They warned one another, but not the community’
Rosenfeld was born in 1933. According to court documents viewed by the Forward relating to a 2006 civil case against Rosenfeld, he worked in New York City public schools for twenty years. He joined WDS in the late 1960s, according to an e-mail the school sent to parents. After leaving WDS in the early seventies, he served as Ramaz’s director of the Primary School (first through third grades) from 1972 to 1973, according to the email the school sent to parents. Afterwards, Rosenfeld was the assistant principal for general studies at SAR, according the email the school sent to parents. The email did not specify what years Rosenfeld was on staff.
In the 1990s, he became the leader of a small Conservative congregation in Rhode Island, Temple Am David. In 2000, he was charged with molesting a boy while tutoring him for his bar mitzvah. He pleaded no contest, which allows a defendant to admit that the charges against him are accurate without admitting guilt, especially when a guilty plea could form the basis of a subsequent civil suit against the defendant. In 2001 Rosenfeld was given a ten-year suspended sentence and listed a third-degree sexual offender, denoting that he was at high risk of re-offending. His probation expired in 2011.
It is unclear how many children Rosenfeld molested altogether. Rabin said that he remembers telling his story of molestation to friends soon after it happened, and that several of them said that something similar happened to them. In 2015, the doctor Jonathan Javitt wrote in the Times of Israel that he also had inappropriate interactions with Rosenfeld, and suggested it was an open secret in Orthodox education circles that Rosenfeld molested young children.
“The most distinguished modern Orthodox rabbis of our generation knew of Rosenfeld’s behavior in explicit detail, paid for counseling of and settlements to some of his victims, and warned one another, but not the community,” Javitt wrote.
Rabin says that after he was molested, he told a WDS teacher. The teacher told Rabin that he spoke about the incident with Maurice Plotnick, then the headmaster and one of the founders of WDS. (Plotnick died in 1992.) The next year, Rabin said, Rosenfeld was still teaching at the school, but with diminished contact with the middle school students.
‘The most God-awful thing I can think of’
On January 9, the principals of the lower and upper schools at SAR notified parents by email that an alumnus of the school was alleging abuse by Rosenfeld, when the person was a student in the 1970s. The email, which was shared with the Forward, said that the school had hired an independent firm, T&M Protection Resources, to conduct an investigation into Rosenfeld’s behavior, and asked recipients to contact the firm with any relevant information. The email said the school did not know about Rosenfeld’s Rhode Island charges before receiving the allegation.
On January 13, the leadership of Ramaz also announced an investigation into Rosenfeld in an email shared with Forward. The email said that the school had retained the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLP to “conduct an investigation,” and asked recipients to tell the firm about any abuse at Ramaz. The email said the school first learned of Rosenfeld’s Rhode Island charges from the SAR email.
On January 19, WDS sent an email saying that the school had “received information that [Rosenfeld] engaged in similar misconduct involving at least one WDS student in the early 1970s.” The email also urged anyone with an allegation of abuse against Rosenfeld to reach out to the Village of Mamaroneck police department. The email, which was shared with the Forward, did not say whether the school would be launching an independent investigation into Rosenfeld’s behavior. Lookstein, WDS’s head of school, told the Forward that the school did not know about any allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse against Rosenfeld or about his no-contest plea before seeing SAR’s email.
Investigators at the Village of Mamaroneck police department did not respond to two requests for comment.
Rabin and two other men who allege misconduct by Rosenfeld told the Forward they want the schools to do thorough investigations into whether their administrations knew of Rosenfeld’s behavior, and if they did, to own up to it.
Rabin said he was surprised the school had not tried to contact him personally, given that he was at the school during Rosenfeld’s tenure, and fit Rosenfeld’s type: middle school-aged boys. Rabin says he only learned about WDS’ mass emails in June from another alumnus of the school.
David Hall, 60, was in Rabin’s WDS class. He said that Rosenfeld tried to molest him at a sleepover at Rosenfeld’s apartment in the early 1970s. Hall described the email sent out by WDS in January as “our legal department is forcing us to send this, we’re embarrassed, and good luck to you.”
He compared Rosenfeld’s consecutive tenures at the three schools to Catholic priests known by the Church to be offenders being moved from parish to parish without any consequence.
“When I think about what’s at stake here, I’m sure it’s a very uncomfortable thing for them,” Hall said of the schools, adding that “fondling children when you’re a priest or a rabbi is the most God-awful thing I can think of.”
Andrew Blumenthal, 51, an SAR alumnus, says that Rosenfeld tried to molest him during a sleepover at his Riverdale apartment in 1980. He said that though the incident happened after Rosenfeld had left SAR, an SAR teacher brought him to Rosenfeld’s home.
Blumenthal said he was interviewed in January by the investigators hired by SAR. He said the experience left him thinking that SAR does not plan to be open about their findings.
“They grilled me,” he said, adding that he has not heard from the investigators since the interview.
Blumenthal said the incident upset him, because he has so much respect for the school.
“I am deeply hurt having to come forward and say truly anything except the highest praise for the school,” he said. “But this is what happened, and it should never have happened.”
Organizations conducting internal investigations into misconduct by former employees need to balance transparency with the integrity of the investigation process, according to Fran Sepler, a private consultant who advises companies on how to conduct workplace investigations. Sepler, who does not have direct knowledge of the Rosenfeld case, said that if information is shared prematurely, and it turns out to be wrong, it can erode trust in the organization.
“It’s important to assess everything you know and speak from a place of certainty,” Sepler said. “That does not mean you can’t share your process. But to do any interim reporting out of an inquiry is very risky for everyone.”
Sepler said that the schools’ legal liability may be low given that the abuses happened over four decades ago.
“The legal question is less important than, ‘Did we fail?’” she said.
Rabin said that WDS should launch an independent investigation to determine whether school leadership covered up Rosenfeld’s misconduct and assaults. He, Hall and Blumenthal say that the schools need to be transparent about what their investigations turn up, because their integrity hangs in the balance.
“If I had a child that was in one of those schools now, and I thought that these schools couldn’t be open and honest about what happened in the past, I would be questioning how they can be honest about what’s happening now,” Rabin said.
Update, 7/9/18, 10:05 a.m. — This article has been updated to note that Ramaz told parents in January that it has not received allegations of misconduct committed by Rosenfeld during his time at the school.
Update, 7/9/18, 4:40 p.m. — This article has been updated to reflect that the Forward confirmed that Rosenfeld is alive.