The Jewish Week The revelation that one of the most respected rabbis in our community is alleged to be an abusive Peeping Tom has come as a shock. Unfortunately, the allegations against Rabbi Barry Freundel in Washington, D.C., are but the latest in a long string of abuse cases that have come to light over the past few decades. The one thing that they all have in common is that they all had warning signs. There were always things that did not seem right or behavior that was bizarre. Many people were holding pieces of the puzzle but there was no one to put them all together. This is the crux of the crisis facing our community. How do we protect our children and institutions from those who seek to abuse others? [...]
In the wake of the 2000 Jewish Week expose by Gary Rosenblatt on the decades’-long abusive behavior by Rabbi Lanner, who was NCSY’s director of regions, the OU formed a commission to investigate. It became clear very quickly that many lay and professional leaders knew about the abusive behavior, but everyone claimed they only knew a piece of the puzzle. No one was putting it all together. Thus was born the NCSY ombudsman. A position was created so that all complaints would be filtered through one person, independent of the organization and therefore unbiased.
Fast forward to January 2005. That was when I became the international director of NCSY and assumed responsibility for the ombudsman. At the time the system was in place but left much to be desired in terms of accomplishing its goals. I realized that when I was handed a folder full of ombudsman complaints. Unfortunately, the files were generally incomplete. The complaints mostly consisted of emails that had been put in a file. There was no systematic filing system for abuse complaints. More importantly, there was no conclusion ascribed to the complaints. It was impossible to know what had happened and how each issue was resolved. This is not uncommon in the Jewish community, where there is much turnover of staff and little institutional memory.
Aside from the filing issues, another pressing matter was brought to my attention. When the NCSY ombudsman was put into place, there were no guidelines in terms of what fell within the discretion of the overseer. Often, after an employee was let go from the organization, inevitable anonymous complaints would be submitted to the ombudsman complaining about that person’s supervisor. This wasted a lot of time and effort on things that should have been handled by the human resources department. [...]