Howard Nevison’s friends believe he is innocent, and some of them are putting their money where their mouth is.
A letter went out last week from a committee of Cantor Nevison’s friends who are raising money for his newly established legal defense fund, The Jewish Week has learned.
The cantor, who for 24 years has served the Upper East Side’s tony Temple Emanu-El, was arrested in February on charges that he sexually molested his young nephew. He is now awaiting trial. Nevison’s lawyer has maintained that his client is innocent.
Seven of the cantor’s friends (including the long-time, but now retired, synagogue administrator at Emanu-El) mailed a letter to 2,000 people. Many, but not all of them, are members of the Reform synagogue.
"Dear Friends," begins the letter, which was obtained by The Jewish Week. "We are writing to you in the hope that you will share with us the distress so many of us are feeling about the charges which have been leveled at our good friend and faithful servant, Cantor Howard Nevison."
"Many of us want to help Howard with the burden of the cost in establishing his innocence," it says, and goes on to provide high-end supporters with relevant tax and estate-planning advice.
"We sincerely hope that you will wish to help Howard in this time of tribulation and will respond generously. We also trust that we have not transgressed the bounds of propriety in making this request of you.
"In America a person is innocent until proven otherwise, and surely we believe this of Howard, whom we have known and admired for almost 25 years."
The cantor’s friends have responded in a "satisfactory" way, says Henry Fruhauf, the former temple administrator who has a decades-long friendship with the clergyman. Fruhauf and his late wife had vacationed with Cantor Nevison and his wife, Fern, in Florida and Puerto Rico; and the men met for dinner in New York.
He declined to say how much has been collected in the first week.
The seven members of the Committee of Friends of Howard Nevison are all Emanu-El congregants but do not include any of the synagogue’s board or professional leadership. "We felt it would be inappropriate," Fruhauf says, "but members of the board have definitely contributed."
Cantor Nevison told Fruhauf about the potential allegations two or three years ago, shortly after he told the synagogue leadership, said the former administrator. That was about the time the cantor’s brother and his young adult son were arrested and prosecuted for sexually molesting the same young son of another brother.
"It was most distressing, what he told me," said Fruhauf. "He absolutely said these were false allegations; and knowing him as well as I do, I certainly believed that it was so."