Robert Eckmann finally decided ten months ago to email his middle school about the principal who molested him in the 1970s.
He couldn’t have known the consequences. His private message has led to revelations about Stanley Rosenfeld, who the Forward found had admitted to molesting hundreds of boys over a decades-long career in Jewish education. It prompted three prominent Jewish schools to probe their pasts for instances of sexual misconduct and abuse. And one of those investigations ultimately showed that a powerful Orthodox rabbi was long aware of multiple instances of sexual misconduct by educators affiliated with his school.
Eckmann, now 55, just wanted to express his anger — and relieve his guilt that he hadn’t spoken up sooner.
“It’s something I’ve carried around, just a combination of anger and guilt, over the years,” Eckmann told the Forward. “Anger at Rosenfeld, and as much, if not more, at the school… And even though I came forward, and it looks like it’s actually had some positive impact, why not sooner?”
Now Eckmann’s alma mater, SAR Academy, an Orthodox school in the heavily Jewish Riverdale section of the Bronx, is planning to release a report based on its investigation into Rosenfeld this week, according to Eckmann. Yet alumni of the school are asking whether the investigation is meant to offer transparency, or to insulate the school from legal action. And a longtime teacher at the school, accused of being complicit in Rosenfeld’s abuse, believes that he is being unfairly scapegoated.
“My gut reaction to it is, the school at this point brought the investigators [in] not because of a real desire to right any wrongs that had occurred, but rather as a measure to limit their own civil liability, and to allay any concerns that parents and prospective parents might have,” said a former student, who asked not to be named for privacy concerns.
SAR declined to comment for this article.
SAR first emailed its community about Rosenfeld on January 8 of this year, prompted at least in part by Eckmann’s email to the school in early December of last year. SAR said at that time that it had hired a prominent security firm to conduct an investigation and urged alumni to come forward with any relevant information.
Within two weeks, two other New York City-area schools where Rosenfeld worked — Westchester Day School and the Ramaz School — had also alerted their communities that Rosenfeld was a former employee. Ramaz announced an independent investigation January 13, while WDS notified its community that it had commissioned an independent investigation in July.
Ramaz released its report, written by investigators for the law firm Debevoise and Plimpton, in late August. The report found that Ramaz’s principal for five decades, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, was informed about Rosenfeld’s misconduct while Rosenfeld was still a fixture of New York City’s Modern Orthodox community. The Forward then reported that Lookstein was informed by a Ramaz parent in 1980 about another Ramaz teacher’s physical relationship with a student, but kept the teacher in the school for another 25 years.
Westchester Day School has not said when its probe would be complete.
It is still unclear how Rosenfeld moved between numerous schools, summer camps and synagogues across four states — molesting children nearly everywhere he went — without ever facing criminal charges. He was finally convicted on two counts of child molestation in Rhode Island in 2001.
“How valid is this investigation?”
Salanter-Akiba-Riverdale Academy formed in the late sixties, a merger of three smaller yeshivas in the Bronx. It’s a Modern Orthodox institution, meaning that its students have traditionally come from homes that are strictly observant of Jewish law, strongly encourage interaction with the secular world and prize equal educational opportunities for men and women. SAR’s high school is number two on Niche.com’s list of the best Jewish schools in New York City.
The firm SAR hired to conduct its investigation, T&M Protection Resources, is an internationally known company. It’s been hired in recent years by several institutions to conduct external investigations of allegations of sexual misconduct, including by Yeshiva University, the American Museum of Natural History and the chef Mario Batali’s B&B Hospitality Group.
SAR’s investigation has been ongoing since January. Yet the firm has not spoken with many male students from Rosenfeld’s time at the school, according to Eckmann and six other former SAR students who spoke to the Forward. Indeed, of the eight former SAR students who spoke to the Forward about Rosenfeld, only two — Eckmann and another man, described below — were interviewed by investigators.
“I was very angry or upset with their investigation, because I knew for a fact they hadn’t reached out to certain people,” Eckmann said. “How valid is this investigation if the target audience isn’t being included?”
Eckmann said he hopes that the investigation will yield some information about why Rosenfeld stayed at SAR for as many years as he did — and why he and so many other children were abused without the school taking action.
“I want a good thing to come out of this,” he said.
In his email to the school, Eckmann wrote that Rosenfeld, then the principal of general studies at SAR, molested him in Rosenfeld’s apartment when Eckmann was in eighth grade, during the 1976-1977 school year.
“I just kinda lay motionless,” Eckmann, 54, told the Forward. “I recall opening my eyes, and him looking me right back in the eyes and smiling. In a very cavalier way.”
He also mentioned that there was another teacher at the sleepover that weekend: Rabbi Sheldon Schwartz, a Talmud teacher at SAR.
Another student who attended the school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and who asked not to be named, contacted SAR about his own story of abuse by Rosenfeld shortly after the school sent out its January email. The student, who the Forward will refer to as Alan, wrote in his email to SAR that “around 1980” Schwartz had invited him and one other student from SAR to Rosenfeld’s house for a sleepover, where Alan was “victimized.” At that point, Rosenfeld was not employed by SAR, Alan told the Forward.
Alan said that he had woken up while Rosenfeld was fondling him, and immediately ran into the living room, where Schwartz was sleeping. Even as he tried to tell Schwartz about what had just happened, Schwartz tried to calm him down and get him to play board games. Alan said that after he hysterically told Schwartz about the molestation, it never came up again, and Alan says he did not report it to any other school faculty.
“Rabbi Schwartz assured me that everything was alright and blamed it on a bad dream,” Alan wrote in his email to SAR.
Alan’s wife told the Forward that Alan had mentioned Schwartz’s role in the incident when he first described the molestation to her, in 1991, soon after they decided to get married. Alan said he also described the incident with investigators from T&M.
According to Eckmann, Schwartz’s presence at the sleepovers, and his personal friendship with Rosenfeld, were well known.
“I have to believe that with that kind of scenario, with the boys, that [Schwartz] was aware [of the abuse],” Eckmann said. “There were just so many telltale signs.”
But Schwartz insists he didn’t see any of them.
“I’m not the only one who was taken in by him.”
Alan notified SAR about his allegation of abuse by Rosenfeld — and Schwartz’s presence at the sleepover where it occurred — on January 9. That evening, Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, the principal of SAR Academy, called Schwartz at home. Krauss attended SAR for middle school, and was a student of Schwartz’s in the 1980s.
Krauss told Schwartz that there were accusations against him, and that he was being suspended with pay. Schwartz had been with the school for 45 years.
Schwartz told the Forward that while he had pressed for details about the allegations, Krauss did not say who they were from or what the content was, only that Schwartz had “exercised poor judgment.”
Schwartz went on leave, and later sent a letter to the school asking to return. In March, he says the school informed him it would not be rehiring him, and he received a notice of termination in August.
Schwartz says he was a tenured teacher, and that the school has not followed its own guidelines in suspending him and subsequently terminating him, including forming a formal inquiry into the allegations against him and allowing him to appeal any initial verdict. He says he has still not received a written notice with the specific charges against him, and that he “categorically” denies knowing anything about Rosenfeld’s molestation of children.
“To find out this happened, that it happened almost in front of me, is startling,” Schwartz said. “But again, the guy was very good [at hiding his misconduct.] I’m not the only one who was taken in by him. The whole community was. Multiple communities, before and after.”
Schwartz acknowledged that he attended sleepovers at Rosenfeld’s home, but insisted that they were only friendly as colleagues, and not close. When asked about the sleepover at which Alan reported being molested, Schwartz said, “I don’t know what happened that particular night.”
Schwartz said that he feels he is being “made a scapegoat for all three schools.” He asked why SAR board members who have served on the board since Rosenfeld’s tenure have not faced disciplinary action or resigned. He pointed to the fact that Rosenfeld left the school in the late 1970s, but was hired back as an English teacher in the mid-1980s.
“The buck’s gotta stop somewhere,” he said. “It doesn’t stop with me. I’m at the bottom of the totem pole.”
This story "Is SAR Coming To Grips With A Sex Abuse Scandal?" was written by Ari Feldman.