An agreement was reached last week between the Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC, Inc.) and a board member who had initiated legal proceedings in both civil and religious courts against the charity after being removed from her volunteer position in June without cause, she claimed.
As a result of the agreement, Lillian Lieberman, HASC board member for three decades, has dropped all legal claims and been reinstated to her position at the Brooklyn-based organization best known for the highly praised summer camp it operates in the Catskills for hundreds of severely disabled children and adults — and for the longstanding controversy over its one-time chief executive, Bernard “Moshe” Kahn.
In addition to Lieberman’s reappointment, two new board members were named, one of whom, Jeremy Strauss, was a respected staff member of the camp for six years and who will serve as chair of the board’s camp committee.
A popular HASC camp rabbi, Judah Mischel, was named director of personnel and programming for the camp, which he will head along with camp director Samuel “Shmiel” Kahn, brother of Moshe Kahn.
HASC issued a press release announcing the agreement and that it has adopted “a new management structure” to help “ensure it can continue helping children for many more years to come.”
No mention was made of Moshe Kahn in the HASC press release, but his status is at the center of the dispute, and his continuance in the administrative position he was given this year remains a source of contention for many.
Dismissed as chief executive in 2003 amid allegations, based on a forensic audit, that he misused more than $1 million in camp funds for personal use, Moshe Kahn returned to the staff this year despite intense opposition from many counselors, staff and parents of campers. A group called Save Camp HASC, with an active Facebook page, asserted that he was brought back improperly by a new board composed primarily of his friends and allies, and that such a move was an outrage.
The group’s call to families of HASC campers, and other supporters, to withhold financial contributions apparently has been effective. HASC officials have acknowledged that fundraising has been down this year.
One reason given by insiders as to why an agreement was reached this week is that donations and sponsorships for the camp’s primary fundraiser, an annual concert next month, are off considerably, and there was hope among HASC officials that news of the agreement would lead to increased ticket sales for the Jan. 8 event at Avery Fisher Hall.
Another probable factor was that the civil court proceedings were headed toward the stage of depositions, which no doubt would have included detailed information on the 2003 forensic audit of Moshe Kahn’s alleged financial improprieties.
Lieberman had maintained in her legal proceedings that the board was reconstituted under Moshe Kahn’s ally, Bernard Hertz, and that board members who refused to approve a settlement offering Kahn a four-year term and key role were forced to resign.
She gave her approval, she said, primarily to serve as “the only truly independent” trustee on the board and monitor its actions.
In court papers, Lieberman said that Moshe Kahn has gone against the ground rules for his return in May by assuming a management role and becoming involved in HASC’s financial affairs. She claimed that his return has “cost HASC dearly in terms of contributions and the financial involvement of benefactors,” estimating that “HASC has lost about 70 percent of its private funding — millions of dollars.”
Speaking on behalf of Lieberman, her son, Ben, an attorney, told The Jewish Week that his mother’s motivation to terminate both her New York civil action and beit din case was based in part on assurances that Moshe Kahn will not be involved in the HASC summer camp program, and that the appointment of new board members will help ensure that he not deal with spending funds.
Moshe Kahn’s position is restricted to raising funds, including procuring government grants, and even his biggest critics say he is highly talented in that regard.
Some longtime supporters of the camp expressed satisfaction with the new agreement, and the restructuring of the summer program. Others are upset that Moshe Kahn remains on staff.
There are those who maintain that HASC officials “blinked” in signing the agreement, and they are deeply concerned about the financial fallout over bringing Moshe Kahn back.
Others say the critics backed down too soon, and that the court cases should have continued.