By Paul Berger (Jewish Daily Forward)
July 8, 2013
Nineteen former students of a Manhattan high school run by Yeshiva University have filed a $380 million lawsuit against Y.U. accusing administrators and teachers of covering up decades of physical and sexual abuse.
The lawsuit, filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., alleges a “massive cover-up of the sexual abuse of [high school] students…facilitated, for several decades, by various prominent Y.U. and [high school] administrators, trustees, directors, and other faculty members.”
The assaults are alleged to have taken place during the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when Y.U. faced severe financial problems.
In New York, criminal and civil cases of child sexual abuse must be brought before a victim’s 23rd birthday. However, Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer representing the victims, argues in the suit that the statute of limitations does not apply because Y.U. fraudulently covered up the abuse.
“I am proud to represent these 19 men. They are entitled to the respect, dignity and justice which was denied to them when they were children,” Mulhearn said. “We are looking forward to prosecuting these claims.”
One of the plaintiffs, Barry Singer of New York, told the Forward: “It was necessary to file the suit because there was no proper response from Yeshiva University to any of our claims and to any of our pain.
“They just wouldn’t listen,” he added.
Singer said of his decision to reveal his name in the lawsuit: “I don’t have anything to hide. The only power in what has been for 40 years a horribly powerless situation is that I can stand up for myself.”
Y.U. said in a statement that it would not comment on ongoing litigation.
The suit claims that Y.U. administrators engaged in a prolonged fraud by portraying two of the principal molesters as trustworthy men of exemplary character, despite multiple warnings that the men sexually abused boys. Both men were honored by Y.U. after they left the school and, until recently, Y.U. awarded scholarships in each of their names.
Mulhearn alleges that Y.U.’s former students had no way of knowing that others had been similarly abused or that Y.U. had failed to heed multiple complaints of the abuse until the revelations were first published in the Forward, in December 2012.
The two men, Rabbi George Finkelstein, a high school administrator who rose to principal, and Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher, “had a propensity to sexually abuse children” yet they were allowed to remain on staff, the suit alleges.
Finkelstein, the suit says, groped students’ genitals while checking to see if they were wearing tzitzit. He also rubbed his erect penis against students under the guise of wrestling bouts at his Manhattan home and in a school office and a dormitory.
Gordon is alleged to have sexually abused one student. He is alleged to have sodomized a second student with a toothbrush. The second assault was reported to a senior Y.U. administrator but Gordon was allowed to remain in his post. Months later, according to the suit, Gordon sexually abused a third student.
Y.U. “has to be held accountable and people have to know everything that happened,” Gordon’s first alleged victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Forward.
Gordon’s second alleged victim, who also wishes to remain anonymous, told the Forward: “This was always about money, that’s why they buried this in the first place.”
Referring to a $250,000 donation that Y.U. accepted in 2002 for the scholarship in Gordon’s name, the former student said: “That’s why even though [Y.U. President Norman Lamm] knew about Macy Gordon, that’s why he took the $250,000.”
The suit also alleges that Richard Andron, a former Y.U. student now believed to be living in Boca Raton, Fla., was allowed to visit the high school dormitory even though staff knew he was a threat to children. Two former high school students say Andron abused them after befriending them in the dormitory.
The abuse took a terrible toll on students, according to the lawsuit. Many have suffered from depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual addiction, emotional distress, broken marriages, and problems holding down a job. Some have spent years in counseling and on medication.
Several former students contemplated or attempted suicide shortly after they were abused or after attempts to alert Y.U. were ignored. One victim said the abuse made him fear having children of his own, the lawsuit contends.
Many former Y.U. administrators and staff are named in the suit, including Rabbi Lamm, who was president of Y.U. from 1976 to 2003. Lamm retired as Y.U. chancellor on July 1. In a letter announcing his retirement, Lamm acknowledged making mistakes in his handling of abuse allegations when he led Y.U.
Rabbi Robert Hirt, a former vice president of Y.U.’s theological seminary, which has oversight of operations at Y.U.’s high school, is also named. The suit also targets as yet unidentified board members of Y.U. and of Y.U.’s high school during the period the suit covers.
Mordechai Twersky, of Israel, and Singer are the only victims named in the lawsuit. Others are listed anonymously. Twersky, who first brought the allegations of abuse at Y.U. to light, declined to comment on the suit. “I would like to let the complaint speak for itself,” Twersky said.
Although overcoming New York’s statute of limitations is difficult, Mulhearn has been successful once before. He used a similar legal strategy to win an undisclosed settlement on behalf of 12 men who were sexually abused decades ago by Phil Foglietta, a football coach at the elite Poly Prep Country Day School, in Brooklyn.
Finkelstein and Gordon continued to work in Israel until the Forward’s stories were published. Reached by the Forward in December, both men denied any wrongdoing.