On March 8th in response to a Newsweek article that details multiple incidents of alleged physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by certain staff members of Oholei Torah, including two who currently teach there, Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld addressed a letter to Oholei Torah parents promising and giving his word that the yeshiva is safe.
He stated that he “categorically assure(s) you (as parents of Oholei Torah students) that there is absolutely no abuse taking place in Oholei Torah that we know of.”
The definition of the word “categorically” means: absolute, unqualified, unconditional.
Those at Oholei Torah have buried their heads in the sand and want all of us to do the same. The instances contained herewith show a series of willful disregard on the part of Oholei Torah directors and board members who possess factual knowledge of present and past physical and sexual abuse within the walls of Oholei Torah.
Merely two years ago, Gershon Selinger was arrested, courtesy of JCW’s investigation. JCW knew 3 of his victims and that he had regular access to Oholei Torah students. How can Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld be certain that the abuse by Oholei Torah staff stopped with Selinger? Around the same time as Selinger’s arrest, Rabbi Hershel Lustig, whose brother-in-law has been accused of physically abusing students in his classes Oholei Torah, told me that abuse does not happen in schools – it happens at home. This is ignorance of the highest degree.
Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld said that the 60 year old school “is blessed with a very special group of rebbes who exemplify Midos Tovos, alongside their Yiras Shomayim and Chassidus.” I agree, as I have friends whose children are in the school and know first hand of the work they do. While most of the teachers at Oholei Torah do great things, there are also those that have done bad. Oholei Torah is aware of multiple accusations of a current teacher physically and emotionally harming children. These accusations are not about light reprimanding, but putting a child through a plate glass window, hanging another child out of a window, and punching yet another child in the face.
How can Oholei Torah say they “care deeply about their talmidim and treat them with concern for their physical welfare and emotional security,” when their children will grow up with the trauma of being abused or witnessing abuse at the hands of their teacher? Trauma that includes: post-traumatic stress, fear, shame, guilt, anger, drugs, alcohol, addictions, leaving yiddishkeit; the list goes on. Do you think that all of the abused children will grow up and remain frum if they feel excluded and betrayed by the community? Do you think they will somehow escape the lifelong trauma that follows the abuse? Is it impossible to think that one day they may turn to drugs or other addictions as a way of coping?
Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld states ”We have installed windows on every classroom door.’’ The creation of the window policy and installation of the windows took place in 2012. Installing a window but not removing the abuser leaves one to wonder if the priority is image and reputation over actually protecting children. Regardless, their own policy has not been maintained and I have proof of that. I have records to demonstrate that there were windows covered and that Rabbi Lustig banned the woman who complained about it. (Click Here to view the letter sent to a parent telling her not to come into the building when she found the windows to the classrooms were covered).
He writes: “All faculty members must sign a contract listing child safety and wellbeing rules that they must follow.” If someone breaks the rules, who are they held accountable to? We know Rabbi Lustig has not used his position responsibly. We just heard a detailed report on how a teacher in the school physically abused children and, years later, apologized. Is an apology how a teacher is held accountable?
Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld concluded: “You may be 100% relaxed and confident, if G-d forbid you have any serious allegations, please contact the authorities, Beth Din, or myself. We take every allegation seriously and will investigate and act upon it to the utmost degree possible.” I find this statement to be a complete lie. On Motzei Shabbos, October 24th, I contacted Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld the director of Oholei Torah and informed him that I was aware of an alleged abuser currently employed at Oholei Torah with access to children. Rabbi Rosenfeld said he would call me back, but he did not. I contacted him again the following day. Once again there was no response. On Tuesday, October 27th, I wrote to him, “I would like to work this out before it spirals out of control and inform you of a staff member of yours that sexually abused children.” I again wrote to him the following day, ‘’I would like to discuss this matter with you as I believe children can be at risk’’ and then again, ‘’I have been trying to call you all day.” Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld returned my call and left a message. He did not answer when I called back, nor did he return my call.
On October 30, 2015, I contacted Senior Executive Director Rabbi Joseph Rosenfeld urgently requesting that he contact me immediately.
I then sent a letter to every Oholei Torah board member about receiving multiple allegations against a current staff member. NOT ONE board member or employee of Oholei Torah called me or JCW. No one attempted to contact individuals such as Rabbi Chaim Drizin, Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, or Zaki Tamir, whom have endorsed JCW and have been contacted in the past when an individual or institution does not wish to contact me or JCW directly.
In response, Oholei Torah’s attorney, Elliot Pasik, contacted me. Mr. Pasik calls himself a victim advocate, yet he is defending Oholei Torah’s willful ignorance of the matter. Mr. Pasik asked me to break confidentiality and allow him to speak to the victims. I was confused why he would ask me this since Rabbi Lustig already heard from one of the alleged staff member’s victims. Apparently Rabbi Lustig failed to mention this to his lawyer.
It did not stop there. I posted a video to social media talking about this staff member and the acts he did against children. Someone shared the video with Rabbi Lustig. Oholei Torah did not investigate these allegations. Instead, Rabbi Lustig went to the abuser and asked him if he abused any children. The abuser responded in the affirmative, but stated that the abuse took place when he was a bochur. Rabbi Lustig said to the abuser, “Okay, I’ll be in touch,” but that was the end of it. This is NOT an investigation. Again, to quote Rabbi Sholom Rosenfeld, “We take every allegation seriously and will investigate and act upon it to the utmost degree possible.”
Now, does this remind you of something? It reminds me of another incident in the 1990s when Rabbi Lustig allegedly confronted Rabbi Yossel Reitzes. Rabbi Lustig allegedly told Rabbi Reizes to “watch himself” as there were complaints against him. So, after receiving complaints against a teacher, Rabbi Lustig allowed this teacher to continue teaching. It was only AFTER Rabbi Reizes Molested another 2 or 3 more students that Rabbi Reizes was fired from Oholei Torah. Additionally, it was only after the parents of one boy threatened to go to the police that Rabbi Reizes was fired. In total, Rabbi Reizes admitted to sexually abusing 23 children in Oholei Torah. This is information that Rabbi Reizes not only offered me personally, but wrote it all down in a document admitting so.
Skipping forward to 2016, Rabbi Lustig has now conducted this same style “investigation” some 20 years later. How is Rabbi Lustig to know if the current alleged abuser has not molested since he was a bochur (young man)? It is evident that Rabbi Lustig assumes that by warning an alleged abuser not to abuse again he had successfully ended the abuse. Does he believe someone that claimed he only abused as a bochur and never as an adult? Abusers spend their lives lying and fooling everyone around them, even their spouses. Yet, because Rabbi Lustig is good friends with this man, he takes his word at face value? We know he committed these acts in his mid 20s as well. Did he not see the video that discusses the vicious acts that this man perpetrated? Did he make him take an evaluation or a polygraph? What if this man continued to sexually abuse children?
Thank G-d that JCW is now in touch and working with the alleged abuser. He is currently not allowed in the school, is undergoing an evaluation, trying to make amends with his victims, and doing everything he can, with the help of a therapist, to not abuse in the future. Even though the statutes of limitation for his past victims have run out, in the event that he does abuse again or re-enter the school, JCW will fight to ensure he is brought to justice. But the real question here is, why did Oholei Torah, with clear and absolute knowledge of these allegations, not act?
When I asked this staff member if he feels Rabbi Lustig should have handled this better, his answer was, “yes.”
I, as well as all community members, demand a response from Oholei Torah regarding its actions and inactions. The ignorance and the denial lies with Oholei Torah’s leadership.
If you stay silent while children are abused, you, the person who stood silently by, will have the blood of an innocent Jewish soul on your hands. Do you believe the Oholei Torah administration has your child’s best interest in mind when decisions are made? Is Oholei Torah, as it is run now, the safest place for your child? You, as parents, have the power to make change. You have the power and the obligation to keep your children safe.
After reading this, do you believe that this school has acted in line with proper protocols for keeping children safe? Can you really say that Rabbi Lustig’s record demonstrates that he is capable of running the yeshiva and making sure your child is protected? Do you feel that they will protect the children before the school’s image? Please think about that before you consider ignoring these very serious questions looming over the Rebbe’s school.