On Tuesday, August 6, Yeshiva University’s VP, Rabbi Kenneth Brander is slated to speak in Melbourne, Australia about “Ethics in Philanthropy: Should synagogues and Jewish institutions accept tainted funds?”
Tzedek, Australia’s advocacy group for Jewish victims and survivors of child sexual abuse has expressed its “dismay” with the decision of local groups to sponsor his talk. Tzedek’s press release states,
The Australian Jewish community can only change the culture that has for too long tolerated and enabled sexual abuse by adopting new attitudes and proactive measures. Welcoming a Yeshiva University representative who has a questionable record on abuse is a step in the wrong direction.
Rabbi Brander is not fit to talk about ethics in Jewish philanthropy. He is qualified to talk about how Yeshiva University (YU) burnished the reputation of notorious molesters in order to raise funds. In the 1980’s YU fired Rabbi Macy Gordon for sodomizing a teenager but went on to establish a scholarship named for Rabbi Gordon. Around 1995, YU forced the resignation of Rabbi George Finkelstein because of many reports that he was “wrestling” boys, pinning them, and rubbing his erect penis against them. Yet YU went on to honor Rabbi Finkelstein at a fundraiser. These public honors immunized his reputation from rumors, enabling him to move to another job where he is alleged to have molested more children.
Brander is also proud of his 14 years as rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue where he remains Rabbi Emeritus and exerts enormous influence. Brander and his successor, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, had a member, Richard Andron, who has also been identified as someone who molested teenagers in YU’s dormitories. Brander and Goldberg knew about his past but concealed it from others in the community. They went one better and gave him volunteer roles organizing children’s participation in the singing of anim zmiros and havdalah. This policy was maintained by Brander and Goldberg for over twenty years. As I wrote on July 15, in an open note to Rabbi Brander:
Rabbi Brander, how in G-d’s name, knowing his [Andron’s] history as an abuser, could you give him access to youth by letting him regularly organize and work with children to lead the singing of Anim Zmiros and Havdalah? When individuals challenged you about this you would acknowledge his prior history but insist he was now cured. Did you also assign an alcoholic in remission to be the bartender at celebrations?
In July, Andron’s unsavory past was revealed in a lawsuit and reports in the Forward. Suddenly, on one day’s notice, the board of Boca Raton Synagogue announced Andron’s resignation and agreement not to set foot again at any event or facility of the synagogue. This was not a reflection of Brandon and Goldberg’s prompt response to abuse. It was a surrender to the reality that the cat was out of the bag and outraged members of the community demanded action.
I know some defenders of Brander and Goldberg will insist that they truly believed Andron had done teshuvah (repented) and deserved another chance to be trusted to work with children. If so, they should publicly advance that argument instead of abandoning Andron to ignomony and scorn. However, the truth is that Brander’s ethics are situational. When it works, he protects influential molesters, and when it doesn’t, he dumps them.
At this point, Rabbi Brander should stay at home and do his own teshuvah by publicly apologizing for giving Andron a safe harbor and by encouraging YU to finally repudiate the honors it accorded Finkelstein and Gordon.
See also next Frum Follies post on the push and pull in Australia since this post.
ACTION CALL – Contact the Sponsors to Protest this event!
If you are distressed and dismayed by Rabbi Brander’s misconduct, contact the sponsors of his talk to express your displeasure. If they persist in hosting him they should at least make it their business to do their homework and force him to answer for his misconduct.
The primary sponsor of the event is JBD (Jews of the Central (Melbourned) Business District). You can contact their officers, President David Werdiger and Treasurer/Secretary Amnon Trebish by sending them messages through their FaceBook page where you might also want to comment on the event.
Please remember that Melbourne is fourteen hours ahead of U.S. EST. So get your messages in quickly if you want to influence their thinking before the event is held on Tuesday at lunchtime.
Hopefully they will acknowledge and respond to your messages. But to be sure, please leave copies of your messages in the comments section of this posting.
UPDATE: See also next Frum Follies post on the push and pull in Australia since this post.