SAR: A History of Oops!

Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal

When I was young, something bad happened to me at SAR Academy. While I had been told that it was a “bad dream” by one of their teachers, only years later did I learn that it was very real and not just for me, but for many other children as well. Unfortunately, despite all the nice words from SAR, this yeshiva has demonstrated a track record of hiring child sexual abusers.

Here is the history in brief:

  1. In the 1970s-80s, SAR twice employed Stanley Rosenfeld, who was later a convicted sex offender, and who admitted to sexually molesting hundreds of boys throughout his life (of which I am one of the victims and am suing along with other victims of the school under the New York Child Victims Act signed into law on February 14 of this year). Further, in the same investigation by SAR on Rosenfeld, it was found that another teacher, employed by SAR for around four decades, Rabbi Sheldon Schwartz, also “acted inappropriately with at least four students.”
  2. Again in 2012, SAR was rocked by a sexual abuse case by a female staff member “allegedly engaged in sexual activity with a male sophomore” and SAR’s high school principal “acknowledged the incident” and referred at the time to their new sexual harassment and abuse policies.
  3. Now SAR’s 2018-2019 newly appointed Middle School Principal of Judaic Studies, Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick, has been arrested for the “production of child pornography” and SAR’s principal is stunned at how this could be happening. Yet, the latest from a post to Facebook of a letter from Skolnick’s former employer, Yeshiva of Flatbush, is of reports that he made inappropriate contacts similarly to the students there. And furthermore, Skolnick allegedly created an email account to contact his victims “as early as July 2015”!

Clearly there is a pattern of bad behavior and negligence here (i.e. like a repeat offender) and at a certain point, the patience and excuses completely run out! This latest sexual abuse debacle with Rabbi Skolnick (where was the vetting process on hiring him?) occurring at the very same time that SAR was conducting and publishing the results of its earlier sex scandal with convicted sexual offender, Stanley Rosenfeld, and SAR’s statement in their October 5, 2018 message releasing their investigative report that:

Continuing our conversations with our students and faculty on preventing and addressing sexual abuse. In 2014, SAR implemented an Anti-Harassment Policy: www.saracademy.org/antiharassmentpolicy. Training is done annually for all staff as well as appropriate training for high school and middle school students as part of their advisory program. Emphasis of the training is on awareness and reporting of any potential abuse as well as setting appropriate parameters for student-staff interactions. We are fully committed to the safety of our students and to continuing to implement best practices in these areas.

It is clear that SAR’s words are in effect cheap and meaningless in the context of the facts of their now three times repeated sexual scandals. How SAR could be “shocked” after three times the occurrence of sexual abuse under their watch should be a complete mystery to any reasonable, thinking human being with a soul. Further, where is the outrage by the Riverdale community and the current board of directors and principal of SAR?  And where is the real action by them to correct their now long half-century history of abuse against the children under their (negligent) care?

Of course, let us also not forget the other sexual scandal allegations in the same community at the Riverdale Jewish Center and the typical nonsensical chorus of denials, blaming the hapless victims, and lack of accountability that went on with their prior “Sauna Rabbi” of thirty years who finally stepped down in 2016–this having the familiar refrain and characterizations from either sexual abusers and/or those who want to conveniently cover it up and make it all just go away.

Would the Riverdale community and SAR in particular like to offer up any new denials or excuses today and provide any more vacant words about their Anti-Harassment policy and supposed “commitment to the safety of our students”? Less than two-weeks before Rosh Hashanah 5780, will SAR finally take responsibility for the abuse to their past students and really do what it takes to protect its current and future children rather than perhaps suggest that they deserve a pat on the back for firing these alleged pedophiles and now offering some more student counseling sessions.

The other critical lesson from all of this is that our community is facing an epidemic of child sex abuse that must be confronted once and for all–no more denials, no more excuses. In Judaism, when something repeats itself three times, it’s called a “chazakah,” meaning that it is firmly established, and child sex abuse is not something that should ever be firmly established at SAR or anywhere else, ever.

Finally, I am grateful to SAR for the otherwise positive aspects of my education, and obviously most people are not sexual predators. Interestingly, the word “Chazak” means to be strong, and there is an opportunity now for our community to rise up in strength to address the wrongs done to our children, and I sincerely hope that it is taken.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is business and technology leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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