Not unlike the scandals and cover-ups recently revealed at Penn State and Poly Prep Country Day School, another prominent school, this one in New York City, has recently come under fire for its failures to report sexual abuse. Yeshiva University High School for Boys, despite being regarded as one of the most prominent Jewish high schools in the country, has its own dark secrets involving sexual abuse dating back decades.
Two staff members at the school, former principal George Finkelstein and former teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, were both recently outed as having been accused of sexually abusing students. According to published accounts, victims assure that Yeshiva hierarchy received reports of abuse by both men, starting as early as 1980.
Current Yeshiva University chancellor, Norman Lamm, recently stated that he knew of improper sexual activity by staff members but chose to deal with it privately and quietly. It appears that the police were never called, the staff members were permitted to leave the school with good reports and no explanation was given to students or parents at the school.
School officials at Yeshiva still do not seem to grasp the severity of such allegations of abuse. In an email sent to known victims of abuse at Yeshiva, the president Rabbi Richard Joel urges them to contact Sullivan and Cromwell, a prestigious law firm hired to investigate the abuse allegations. In a similar fashion, Yeshiva released a statement on its website, reaching out to its alumni community and encouraging victims of abuse to call a University hotline, email its counseling center, or contact the president himself. Not once in the email to victims or the online statement are individuals told they can or should call the police to report abuse.
We’ve seen similar tactics at Penn State and other institutions who engage outside lawyers and law firms to conduct investigations into abuse allegations. Unfortunately, no matter how prominent, respectable, and experienced these independent law firms are, they will always struggle for true accountability from the institution that hired them. On the other hand, police are skilled, trained, and equipped to conduct unbiased and balanced investigations, but only if they have the information they need from victims who are encouraged to contact them.
Jeff Anderson and Mike Reck are attorney’s and advocates working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.