Andrew (Andy) Blumenthal was a child in Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt’s Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC). According to Andy’s posting, during that time, Andy, from a less well-off family, was befriended and groomed by RJC member, Dr. Donald Liss, with home invitations, babysitting jobs, vacation invitations and a paid job in Liss’ hospital.
Dr.Liss repeatedly touched him, fawned over his developing muscles, orchestrated situations to be naked with him in a gym, and got naked before Andy while also in the presence of Mrs. Liss. Even as Andy got uncomfortable and tried to distance himself, Liss persistently tried to deepen and further the connection. Andy finally acted on his growing discomfort and terminated the connection. Yet Liss continued to pursue him for years. Whether or not this went still further, this is classic pedophile grooming and illegal as misdemeanor child endangerment, at a minimum.
Dr. Liss is now the Board Chair of the Riverdale Jewish Center. Together with President Samson Fine, he overrode the will of the majority of the board which voted 34-8 to buy out Rabbi Rosenblatt’s contract. The majority sought the buyout to rid their synagogue of the scandal of Rosenblatt’s outrageous and persistent exploitation of his relationship to manipulate boys and young men to spend time with him while naked, all under the guise of bonding through sports.
According to the New York Times
The about-face was forced on the board by the president and chairman…… At a board meeting last Wednesday… the chairman and president presented the decision to keep the rabbi as a done deal and would not allow a vote. The board member said he resigned after the meeting…… Another member, who also did not want her name published, said she did the same. Both board members said that at least three others had resigned. The president, Samson Fine, and the chairman, Donald Liss, did not return voice mail messages on Tuesday.
Dr Liss, the Board Chairman, may have very guilty reasons for his decision. This seems like a story of much more than a rabbi, but perhaps a culture of mutual protection.
I can see some Rosenblatt defenders complaining that there is no proof of penetration, sodomy, or direct sexual contact, I caution readers to ask themselves how these descriptions of sexual innuendos and grooming can possibly be compatible with either professionalism, mature mentoring, or Jewish sexual morals. A provable criminal act within the statute of limitations is not the litmus test for suitability as a rabbi. That may be enough to keep these people out of jail, but surely a sacred community can expect more, especially of its leaders. Heck, the Boy Scouts and public schools expect much more.
What Happens Next
Rosenblatt’s problems may not be over. Many of his victims were hoping to see him dismissed. But now that he escaped that consequence I expect more of them to go public. This time it will be with detailed, lurid accounts. These will shake his congregants who till now only heard from one named source who was dismissed as politically motivated. I personally heard two such accounts. I expect there are many others out there and I am guessing some more will step forward just as Mr. Blumenthal did.
A Note About Hellenism
A number of descriptions of the Rosenblatt and Liss shenanigans feature endless fawning over the muscles of young men, bonding through athletics, and nude displays. I cannot help but visulize the art of the Greco-Roman gymnasium replete with nude young men and their defined, supple muscles. I picture Rabbi Rosenblatt delivering his annual Chanukah diatribe about the triumph of Torah values over the morally debauched culture of the Hellenists. I wonder whether his mind wanders to his true preferences.
Hat Tip to Chashdan