Chancellor of Yeshiva University Rabbi Norman Lamm announced his retirement on Monday, July 1, 2013, Lamm said he was wrong in the way he handled allegations of sexual abuse at the university’s high school decades ago. Lamm is stepping down after decades at the university amid an ongoing investigation into accusations of abuse by alumni.
Nineteen former students at Yeshiva University High School have filed a bombshell $380 million lawsuit against the prestigious Jewish institution claiming horrific acts of sexual abuse that went unchecked for two decades at the Manhattan school.
"Yeshiva University High School held itself out as an exemplary Jewish secondary school when in fact it was allowing known sexual predators to roam the school at will seeking other victims," said attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who filed the suit on behalf of the 19 plaintiffs. "Childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community can no longer be condoned and excused.”
One victim claims administrators ignored his protests when he told them a Judaic studies teacher sodomized him with a toothbrush. Other victims — the children of Holocaust survivors — say a former principal persuaded them not to tell their parents after he sexually assaulted them because their mothers and fathers had already suffered through so much.
The 148-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, claims Yeshiva officials ignored and covered up the complaints because they feared the sexual abuse allegations would damage fund-raising efforts and bruise the school's reputation.
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Manhattan's Yeshiva University is being sued for $380 million.
The abuse took place between 1969 and 1989, the lawsuit says. New York state law requires survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file civil litigation by the time they turn 23 years old.
But Mulhearn said the clock on the statute of limitations should have stopped ticking because school administrators and officials at Yeshiva University, which operates the high school, engaged in years of fraud by portraying the former Judaic studies teacher and ex-principal as exemplary educators long after Yeshiva officials had received reports of sexual abuse.
Administrators honored former Judaic studies teacher Rabbi Macy Gordon and Rabbi George Finkelstein, the ex-principal, when they left YUHS, and scholarships were awarded in both their names even though officials knew both men "had a propensity to sexually abuse children," according to the lawsuit.
Shaya Greenwald stands with Norman Lamm and Rabbi Zevulun Charlop at Yeshiva University. The defendants in the sexual abuse suit include Lamm, a former chancellor who served as the president of Yeshiva University from 1976 to 2003.
Mulhearn represented 12 men who settled a sex abuse lawsuit in December against Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. That suit also faced significant statute of limitations challenges. Mulhearn said the legal arguments in the Yeshiva suit are "more developed" than the Poly Prep case.
Gordon and Finkelsetein denied the abuse allegations in stories published by the Jewish Daily Forward in December. Both men now live in Israel. A Yeshiva University spokesman said officials could not comment on the litigation.
Three of the plaintiffs say they were abused by Gordon; one of those men left the school in 1980, shortly after he and his father told a high-ranking school official that Gordon had sodomized him with a toothbrush during a violent assault in the student's YUHS dormitory in Washington Heights.
King Juan Carlos 1 receives honorary Doctorate in Laws from New York Yeshiva University. The school has been sued by 19 former students claiming sexual abuse.
The administrator, Rabbi Israel Miller, failed to report the assault to police and took no punitive action. Gordon later assaulted another plaintiff, according to the suit.
Sixteen plaintiffs say they were physical and sexually assaulted by Finkelstein, who was named principal even though several students had complained he had abused them. Finkelstein allegedly kept students quiet about the abuse with emotional manipulation.
"Finkelstein, as a YUHS administrator, specifically targeted vulnerable boys for physical and sexual abuse. He preyed upon children of Holocaust survivors and after he abused them implored these children to not add to their parents' suffering by telling them about his assaults," the suit claims.
The suit claims that officials allowed former YU student Richard Andron to visit the high school dorm despite the fact that officials knew “Andron had a propensity to sexually abuse boys.”
Only two of the plaintiffs — Mordechai Twersky and Barry Singer — are identified in the suit; the remaining 17 are named as John Does. The abuse lead to depression, drug and alcohol abuse, broken marriages, failed careers and other problems, the suit claims.
The defendants include Rabbi Norman Lamm, a former chancellor who served as the president of Yeshiva University from 1976 to 2003. Lamm acknowledged mishandling abuse allegations in a letter when he retired as chancellor on July 1.
"It is our fervent hope that the leaders of Yeshiva University and YUHS will embrace the daunting challenge of reconciling with the survivors of these abuses with the fullest measure of grace, compassion, and humanity,” Mulhearn said. “My clients are brave and courageous men. They now, at long last, are seeking the justice they were denied as children."