Yesterday, a damning report in The Forward revealed that allegations of sexual abuse by two staff members at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan in the '70s and '80s had been swept under a rug by administrators. Norman Lamm, president of the Orthodox Jewish institution from 1976 to 2003, admitted to knowing about some of the allegations, acknowledging that a former principal was forced out for inappropriately wrestling with students. “If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly,” Lamm told The Forward. "It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry.”
The Forward spoke with at least three Yeshiva grads who say that former principal Rabbi George Finkelstein invited them into an office at Y.U. High School or to his home, where he told them to hit him and wrestle with him. “He was unfit to be an educator on any level,” said Simeon Weber, one of those former Y.U. High School students. “I would sleep over [at Finkelstein’s house], and he would say to his wife, ‘Fredda, Simmy and I, we’re going to knock heads.’ Then, he would lock the door and wrestle with me.” The students said Finkelstein would pin down students and force them to wrestle, and they would feel his erect penis brush up against them. “You could tell what was going on in his pants," Weber added. "It wasn’t just a wrestling match.” Worse, he said when he brought this to Lamm, he refused to act: “Everybody knew [Finkelstein] wrestled with boys,” Weber said. “Nobody cared.”
Lamm claims he had no recollection of the allegations against former Talmud teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon. One student told The Forward that in 1980, when he was a 16-year-old student at the school, Gordon visited him in his dorm room after he skipped class.
“I don’t really remember exactly how it happened, but he [Gordon] wound up looking to see where I was developing physically,” the man, now 48, recalled. Gordon went through the boy’s medicine cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Chloraseptic. He pulled back the boy’s bathrobe again and told him, “You have simanim [signs],” and sprayed Chloraseptic on the boy’s pubic hair. He then sodomized the boy with a toothbrush.
The man’s father, who also did not wish to be named, said he did not report the incident to police because he did not want to hurt his son or to damage Y.U.’s reputation. But the family did lodge an official complaint with the school.
In a letter to the Yeshiva University community posted on the school's website, current President Richard M. Joel wrote: "The actions described represent heinous and inexcusable acts that are antithetical both to Torah values and to everything that Yeshiva University stands for...The thought that such behavior could have occurred at our boys’ high school, or anywhere at this institution, at any time in its past, is more than sufficient reason to express on behalf of the University, my deepest, most profound apology."
Mordechai Twerksy, a journalist who attended Yeshiva from 1977 to 1981 and has been writing about the abuse since the Penn State scandal broke. called it a disappointing apology: “Joel’s so-called ‘profound regret’ is hollow,” he said in an email to the Daily News.
Both Gordon and Finkelstein, who now live in Israel, have denied the allegations of abuse. But Finkelstein told the Forward that he did “play fight as a way of trying to remove the distance between students and faculty.” But, he said, “there was never any sexual anything that was involved.” He added: “In retrospect it was wrong, but that’s what the boys did with each other.”
For his part, Gordon told them he had “no recollection of such a thing,” and when asked if he had ever behaved inappropriately with students, said: “It depends on how you define ‘inappropriate.’ I would occasionally embrace the students, specifically if he (sic) was depressed… I think any teacher would do that. No, there was no inappropriate conduct.” Gordon backtracked on that statement a bit to the NY Times: “I heard the rumors years ago, but they’re simply rumors,” he said. “If I give it any credence at all, it is as an attempt by a disgruntled student to cast aspersions on a former teacher.”