UPDATE- 11/13/19- Jewish Week published a story confirming some of my suspicions that he was also doing his thing while at Netiv Aryeh. https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/alleged-predators-former-students-saw-a-pattern/
As the saying goes, “Success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan.” That goes doubly when the institutional failure involves hiring a child pornographer as a religious educator. SAR and the Yeshiva of Flatbush have issued the usual statements about not having a clue about his years of using fake online identities as a teen girl to try and engage their students, and in at least one case, succeeding in getting a boy to send a nude pic.
The latest entrant is “tough love” Rabbi Aharon Bina’s gap year yeshiva, Netiv Aryeh. For starters, readers should know that tough love in his case is a misnomer for brutal control employed against students considered incorregible by their parents. In the interests of space I refer readers to “Has The ‘Tough Love’ Rebbe Gone Too Far?” published in the NY Jewish Week (2012) by Yedidya Gorsetman and Gary Rosenblatt. There is also a website devoted to reports of his abuse. Bina has his defenders, including some of his “reformed” students who swear by him with all the passion of cult inductees.
Back in 2009, around this time of the year, the Netiv Aryeh newsletter (YNA Newsletter – Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech, p2) proudly reported,
This past Shabbat was an in-Shabbat. Rav Dani Bader and family joined the Yeshiva for all the meals. The leil Shabbat seudah was followed by an oneg with the Rosh Yeshiva. The featured speaker was Jonny Skolnick (5761-62), a Cambridge educated lawyer who has returned to Yeshiva to study).
The link to that issue of the newsletter no longer works but it was still up on the WWW when the Skolnick arrest was first reported..
Even then the story was misleading by omission. He told people that he was “downsized” out of his law job in England, but sources say he was let go under a cloud of some sort and was having a hard time finding another job. That is a hell of a thing for a bright, articulate, sociable fellow with a degree from England’s elite Cambridge University. That’s a RED FLAG if you bother to inquire in depth. So the story isn’t quite “returned to yeshiva to study.”
Back then he was a member of the Netiv Aryeh Kollel, a small group of men paid to model serious learning to the gap year students and play a role in supervising and influencing them. Nominally they were not employees because calling them students allowed them to collect stipends in lieu of salaries and thus avoid income taxes. But for two years, “student” Skonick was part of their staff meetings, collected pay checks from Netiv Aryeh, and was fired like an employee. Netiv Aryeh ought to tell the world why he was fired.
Flash forward to this week, and Netiv Aryeh, having deleted its old post, offers up its latest version of his role. In an email sent out to alumni they wrote (See image of full text below),
When word reached us this week that one of our alumni, Jonathan Skolnick, had been arrested by the FBI on allegations of involvement in child pornography, we were shocked……
Jonny Skolnick… returned to learn in the kollel at the yeshiva from 2009 until 2011 at which time he also learned b’chavruta with several of our students before he moved to the United States……
Nothing inappropriate was ever reported to us during the time he was at the yeshiva…
There you have it, no clue he was an employee (in fact, if not in name). No clue that he was fired, and definitely no clue about why he was fired. Failure is indeed an orphan and most definitely not an “employee.”
One wonders if the Yeshiva of Flatbush got a candid assessment of Skolnick when they were deciding whether to hire him. When people make multiple and improbable changes in career and residence one ought carefully interrogate the history of each departure. Naturally, that depends on the diligence of the prospective employer and the candor of the previous employer. In my personal experience that requires asking around, spending time on the phone (rather than depending on written references alone), and reading carefully between the lines.
I am not saying there was necessarily a failure of due diligence. But I am raising these issues as a matter of best practice for the future.
I have one closing thought. Superficially, Skolnick and Aharon Bina are very different personalities. But there are parallels between the hidden Skolnick and the open Bina. Both are abusive, manipulative people.