Second Shot At Justice In YU High School Sex Abuse Case
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Second Shot At Justice In YU High School Sex Abuse Case

New lawsuit filed by 38 men after look-back window opens; expressions of anger, fear at press conference here.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Old photos of (L-R) George Finkelstein, David Bressler and Jay Goldberg. Bressler and Goldberg are two of the plaintiffs in the suit against YU who claim that Finkelstein abused students while he was a principal at the flagship Modern Orthodox institution's high school. Photos Courtesy/JW Collage
Old photos of (L-R) George Finkelstein, David Bressler and Jay Goldberg. Bressler and Goldberg are two of the plaintiffs in the suit against YU who claim that Finkelstein abused students while he was a principal at the flagship Modern Orthodox institution's high school. Photos Courtesy/JW Collage

When Jay Goldberg first contributed his story of alleged childhood sexual abuse to a 2013 lawsuit against Yeshiva University, which accused administrators and teachers of a decades-long cover-up of physical and sexual abuse at its affiliated high school, he opted to go by the pseudonym John Doe.

But in a lawsuit filed today by 38 men claiming they were sexually abused at Yeshiva University High School for Boys in a period from the mid-1950s through 1986, Goldberg opted to use his name.

“There is still a tremendous amount of shame associated with coming forward as a victim of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community,” said Goldberg, 54, who alleges he was sexually abused on multiple occasions in 1983 and 1984 by George Finkelstein, then a principal at the flagship Modern Orthodox high school.

The suit, which is seeking unspecified damages, also alleges that students suffered abuse at the hands of Macy Gordon, a Jewish studies teacher at the time, and three other former staff members of the high school. (The original lawsuit sought $20 million for each of the 34 plaintiffs.)

A spokesperson from Yeshiva University said, “It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

At a press conference in Midtown on Thursday, Goldberg shared his story alongside two other plaintiffs: Barry Singer, 61, who attended the high school, also known as Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), between 1971 and 1975; and David Bressler, 51, who attended MTA between 1981 and 1984. Bressler, who was not named in the 2013 lawsuit, alleges he was sexually abused by Finkelstein on multiple occasions while he was a student at the school. Singer alleges he was sexually abused by Finkelstein on multiple occasions, including being publicly attacked by the then-associate principal in a stairwell in front of other students in 1973. He also alleges he was sexually and physically abused by Gordon, his teacher at the time.

Finkelstein and Gordon denied the charges at the time of the first lawsuit. (Gordon died in 2017.)

(L-R) Barry Singer, Jay Goldberg, David Bressler three of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yeshiva University at the press conference today. Hannah Dreyfus/JW

“Am I scared to use my name? Yes,” said Goldberg, the vice president of a software development company and a member of a large Modern Orthodox community in central New Jersey. “But this is the time.”

Kevin Mulhearn, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said his clients are “finally getting a chance for their voices to be heard. Their stories need to be told often, and loudly.”

While five plaintiffs — three more than in the original lawsuit — have agreed to use their names in the suit, the majority of plaintiffs remain anonymous, a decision Mulhearn said is not surprising. “There is a lot of ostracism in the community for people who come out as survivors of sex abuse,” he told The Jewish Week after the press conference. “It’s not right, but it’s fact.”

The original lawsuit, which was dismissed in January 2014 because of the expiration of federal and state statutes of limitations, is being given a second chance under a one-year look-back window under the New York Child Victims Act, legislation signed into law in February that extends the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in civil suits.

The MTA High School in NYC. Wikimedia Commons

Last Wednesday marked the start of the one-year litigation window. Yeshiva University will be among several prominent Jewish institutions, including the National Ramah Commission, that will be named in suits under the Child Victims’ Act in the coming weeks and months, according to advocates and lawyers representing victims.

Mordechai Twersky, 55, one of two named plaintiffs in the 2013 lawsuit and a plaintiff in the new lawsuit, referred to Y.U.’s conduct as “the ultimate betrayal.”

“My anger at Yeshiva — for betraying our trust, for failing to protect us while under its care, for rewarding our abusers and facilitating their safe and quiet transfer to other states and countries … has not waned,” he told The Jewish Week after the press conference. “Quite to the contrary, my anger has only intensified.”

Goldberg, who attended the press conference alongside his 27-year-old daughter, said he is among the minority of survivors still affiliated with the Orthodox community. Goldberg said he and his daughter went to Albany together last year to lobby for the Child Victim’s Act.

(In the newly filed suit, Singer and other plaintiffs explicitly state that the loss of their religious faith was a direct result of the alleged abuse they endured at the hands of Finkelstein and Gordon.)

“I lost so much in my life because of the abuse I endured,” said Goldberg, who wore a small black kipa during the press conference. “I’m not going to let what happened to me rob me of my religion as well.”

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