By Al Baker (New York Times)
July 8, 2013
A lawyer for 19 former students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming that two former rabbis there carried out hundreds of acts of sexual abuse during the 1970s and 80s, and that the university’s leaders covered it up.
According to a 148-page complaint lodged in Federal District Court in White Plains, the abuse included one case, in 1980, of a rabbi who sodomized a 16-year-old student with a toothbrush in his dormitory room in Upper Manhattan. Another boy claims a different rabbi abused him at least 30 times, in his office and the school’s halls, between 1978 and 1982, the lawsuit says.
The lawyer, Kevin T. Mulhearn, said that the depth of the abuse, which the plaintiffs claim occurred between 1969 and 1989, did not come to light until The Jewish Daily Forward published articles about it beginning in December. The lawsuit, echoing The Forward’s reporting, said administrators of Yeshiva University, which runs the high school, brushed off complaints about the two rabbis for years, and after they left the school, the university did not notify their future employers about the complaints. One of the men, Rabbi George Finkelstein, went on to work at a Jewish day school near Miami for several years.
“Their abuse should have been avoided with a bare minimum of responsibility and compassion for the children in their charge,” Mr. Mulhearn said in an interview on Monday.
Matt Yaniv, the director of media relations for Yeshiva University, the lead defendant in the suit, said Monday, “As you can imagine, right now we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
However, Mr. Yaniv noted that an outside firm was continuing an “independent investigation,” initiated in January.
“It is anticipated that the investigation will be finalized and a comprehensive report will be released by Sullivan & Cromwell in the coming weeks,” Mr. Yaniv said in a statement. “We will address the findings publicly once the report is issued.”
Last week, in announcing his retirement, Norman Lamm, the Yeshiva University chancellor who was president when much of the abuse is claimed to have taken place, apologized for not responding more assertively when students began complaining about the two rabbis, who never were reported to the police. “At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived,” Dr. Lamm wrote.
The lawsuit contains complaints from 16 former students who say they were abused by Rabbi Finkelstein, an administrator who became principal in the late 1980s before the school, responding to complaints, asked him to leave in 1995. The lawsuit says that Rabbi Finkelstein rubbed his genitals against students, either in an office at the school, at a dormitory or in his apartment, sometimes under the guise of wrestling. He also groped boys’ genitals while checking to see if they were wearing tzitzis, traditional fringes under the outer clothing, the suit says.
The three other complaints, including the one claiming sodomy, are against Rabbi Macy Gordon, who taught Judaic Studies and left in 1984. Neither rabbi could be reached for comment late Monday but in previous reports they have denied any misconduct. The lawsuit also said Yeshiva allowed a former student with a reputation for improper behavior to enter the high school dorm rooms, where he fondled students.
Each of them is seeking $20 million in damages, for a total of $380 million.
The allegations represent the latest chapter in a series of sexual abuse scandals at private high schools in New York City. In December, Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn settled a lawsuit brought by former students accusing the school of covering up decades of sexual abuse of boys by a football coach. Former students of Horace Mann, a top-tier private school in the Bronx, have come forward to claim they were sexually abused by teachers there for decades.
One major obstacle for childhood sexual abuse victims is the state’s statute of limitations, which requires negligence lawsuits to be filed by the time the victims are 21, Mr. Mulhearn said. However, he said, he planned to circumvent that statute by claiming that the school had engaged in fraud. He employed a similar strategy in representing students in the Poly Prep case, and when a federal judge said he would allow the case to go forward, the school settled.