Horace Mann. Poly Prep. Deerfield Academy. The scourge of sexual abuse has not bypassed some of the nation’s most exclusive names in education, as each of these schools now must confront charges of inappropriate, perhaps illegal, certainly immoral behavior by some of their teachers. Each case is different, of course, but the stories contain a striking similarity: a treasured institution unwilling to listen to its students and alumni until it was forced to publicly.
Some believe the same is true for Yeshiva University. Ever since December, when the Forward first published stories of allegations that two rabbis at Y.U.’s High School for Boys in Manhattan sexually, physically and emotionally abused students, the university has faced calls for greater transparency and accountability from within its own community.
First Shmuel Herzfeld, a Y.U. graduate who serves as rabbi of The National Synagogue in Washington D.C., pleaded with his alma mater to institute a “truly independent” investigation of the abuse charges and the university’s role in — by its own admission — allowing the alleged abusers to leave quietly for other positions in Jewish education.
Though Y.U.’s Board of Trustees appointed the respected Manhattan law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell to conduct an investigation and promised “unfettered access” to all documents and personnel, the school has not been clear about whether the full report will be made public. “We expect the findings of the investigation will be communicated to the public following completion of the investigation,” was the last statement, issued January 16.
That’s not been enough for another set of alumni, led by Stacey Klein, a psychotherapist in New York, who is organizing an online petition urging “YU leadership to commit to a full and transparent investigation which will allow the process of healing, reparation and reconciliation to begin.” So far, 260 people have signed.
Writing recently in the New York Jewish Week, David Cheifetz, a New Jersey resident, revealed his own youthful experience of abuse at a religious summer camp and encouraged “everyone to withhold financial support from every institution suspected of ignoring or covering up sexual abuse activities in their midst.” Klein, writing in the Forward, went further and called for the resignation of Norman Lamm, who was formerly Y.U. president and is now its chancellor.
These are not outsiders blithely castigating someone else’s school. These are the painful cries of insiders pleading for more from an institution they once held dear.