Guest post by David Cheifetz (July 4,, 2013)
This Sunday, June 30, 2013, I spoke to the Annual Meeting of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) as part of a panel on Child Safety. I shared my experience as a victim of sex abuse more than thirty years ago and why I am finally speaking out publicly (see Sharing the Secret that Haunted My Soul).
I also shared my concern that too many within the Jewish community are too willing to ignore abuse or even actively cover it up. I repeatedly referred to Baruch Lanner who was a teacher and later a principal in Jewish high schools. For decades he was also a leading figure in the Orthodox Union’s (OU) National Council for Synagogue Youth (NCSY) whose activities brought him into contact with thousands of teenagers. Baruch Lanner was eventually convicted and sent to prison for sexually assaulting a teen-aged girl, and remains a registered sex offender.
Most of Baruch Lanner’s notorious activities — sexual abuse of teenage girls and physical abuse of teenage boys – took place in Northern New Jersey. In 1999-2000 the OU investigated the crimes of Baruch Lanner and interviewed several dozen victims. People familiar with the facts believe Lanner abused several hundred teens over more than 20 years. Of course, no one knows the exact number. I live in Teaneck, New Jersey, ground zero for Lanner’s misconduct and home to many of his victims and survivors.
In my speech to the RCA I asked,
Eichah? How is it possible that the current principal of MTA, Yeshiva University’s (YU) high school, regularly hosts Baruch Lanner in his shul (synagogue), and even had him in his home at a community open house on Purim this year, as an honored guest, at the same time that YU is investigating the accusations about George Finkelstein and others?
Rabbi Taubes called me two days later (7/2/13) to complain about my RCA speech. According to Rabbi Taubes, I misrepresented the frequency of Baruch Lanner’s visits. He insisted that “regularly” implies Lanner attended his shul more than the two times in three years that he admitted. But then he told me that when Lanner attended his shul on those two shabbatot (Jewish Sabbaths), he was also a personal guest at Rabbi Taubes’ home.
Rabbi Taubes also objected to my sardonic reference to Lanner as an “honored guest” at his house on Purim. Rabbi Taubes claimed that Baruch Lanner visited on Purim to deliver shalach manos (Purim presents) “because he still has a chiyuv (Jewish religious obligation) for shalach manos.” He claimed it would have been rude to ask Baruch Lanner to leave an open house. After all, “there were a couple of hundred people coming through the house that day.” I mentioned that Lanner was reported to be sitting comfortably in Rabbi Taubes’ home, not just standing at the front door to drop off shalach manos.
Rabbi Taubes refused to discuss whether Baruch Lanner visited his house at other times over the last three years because “that is none of your business.” We did not discuss the fact that Baruch Lanner attended the June, 2013 wedding of Rabbi Taubes’ son as an invited guest, an appearance reported by many other guests.
Rabbi Taubes insisted I should have come to him directly if I objected to his hosting Baruch Lanner, rather than share those facts in front of his colleagues at the RCA.
Our voices rose as we talked past each other. After all was said and done, I told Rabbi Taubes that instead of being angry with me for sharing facts, he should be angry with himself for his poor judgment. He should look inside his own soul to contemplate real, authentic teshuvah (repentance) for his failings.
Rabbi Taubes does not seem to grasp that he is not just an individual. As the rabbi of a synagogue and the principal of Yeshiva University’s high school, he is a leader and thus a public figure responsible for his influence as a role model. In hosting Baruch Lanner repeatedly, Rabbi Taubes is rehabilitating the reputation of a notorious sex offender who is guilty of abusing tens, if not hundreds, of children. Notwithstanding Rabbi Taubes’ claims, Lanner’s presence as his shul and his home were not “isolated events”. Where I went to yeshiva, repeating an action three times creates a chazakah, a presumed pattern.
Through his actions, Rabbi Taubes has sent out a loud message that it is OK to welcome sex offenders, even notorious ones, to Jewish communal institutions, even to synagogues filled with children.
Rabbi Taubes has ignored the personal pain of the many victims of Baruch Lanner who still live in Teaneck and suffer from the long-term psychological scars of abuse. He is insensitive to the very real trauma of the victims. When I asked him if he knew what a “trigger event” was, he admitted that he did not, explaining that he is not a psychologist. That is an inexcusable gap for a school administrator who holds a Masters in Education from a School of Psychology.
Rabbi Taubes has ignored how non-Lanner victims, like me, might be offended by the presence of a notorious sex offender in our community.
Rabbi Taubes has also disregarded risks to today’s children. I live exactly three blocks away from Rabbi Taubes’ shul. Does the welfare of my own children, or those of the thousands of children in Teaneck, not concern him? Rabbi Taubes would certainly argue that Baruch Lanner is no longer considered a threat. However, since Rabbi Taubes insists he is not a psychologist, I do not know how he could reach that conclusion. Indeed, Baruch Lanner remains on the list of known sexual predators in Florida. I do not know why he is no longer on the list in New Jersey.
Rabbi Taubes has exhibited extremely poor judgment. How can the principal of the high school of Yeshiva University, an institution currently conducting an investigation of sexual abuses committed by a previous high school principal, George Finkelstein, play host, on a regular basis, to the most notorious known sexual and physical abuser in the Modern Orthodox world?
For too long, the Jewish community has looked the other way when it comes to sexual abuse. We MUST change our culture and recognize that abuse exists, must be acknowledged, and must be dealt with by the legal authorities. We must always remember to save our rachmanut (mercy) for the victims, and not the perpetrators that destroy our children’s souls.