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Reliving The Lanner Affair

NEW YORK, Feb. 2 — In his forthcoming autobiography, the president of the Orthodox Union during the Baruch Lanner scandal maintains that he was “kept in the dark” and knew nothing of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth leader’s abusive behavior with teens. Mendy Ganchrow writes that as president, he took full responsibility for “the nightmare” that threatened to destroy the largest Orthodox organization of its kind but makes clear that he felt betrayed by the group’s professional leadership. On learning details of what went on, “I felt as though I had been assaulted,” he writes, adding that “I had been played for a fool by our top professionals and was thereby denied the chance to deal with the Lanner matter in a way that might have limited the enormous damage the OU finally absorbed.” Had he known of Rabbi Lanner’s activities, Ganchrow told The Jewish Week, “I would have acted decisively.” Rabbi Lanner was forced to resign in June 2001, following the publication of a Jewish Week report alleging that he had abused teens in his charge in the OU youth group for some three decades. He was convicted in 2002 of abusing two teenage girls and his case is being appealed. The executive vice president of NCSY, Rabbi Raphael Butler, resigned under pressure in January 2001. In a 35-page chapter on “the Lanner affair” in his autobiography, “Journey Through The Minefields: From Vietnam to Washington, an Orthodox Surgeon’s Odyssey” (Eshel Books), the usually blunt Ganchrow does not comment directly on his role in Rabbi Butler leaving office, or how he felt about it. But he does note that “from the very day the first Jewish Week story broke, I had a strong feeling that at the end of the process the OU top professionals who had supervised Lanner and allowed him to remain in a high position at NCSY with access to young people would themselves have to go if the Union was to rebuild its credibility.” He also mentions several times that not one lay leader was forced to step down from the OU as a result of the scandal. The book, which Ganchrow began five years ago, describes in compelling terms his harrowing experiences as a surgeon in Vietnam, operating under difficult conditions and coming under a rocket attack while celebrating a seder with 400 fellow Jewish soldiers. The narrative follows his career from medicine to increasing interest in Jewish communal affairs, culminating with his election to head the OU. During his six-year tenure, Ganchrow met many world leaders and focused on strengthening the group’s political ties in Washington and lobbying on Israel’s behalf. Ganchrow, now executive vice president of the Religious Zionists of America (Mizrachi), tells of the enormous pressure on him during the Lanner affair and his efforts to keep the organization from going under by commissioning a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the abuse charges. Though Ganchrow says he still has great affection for the OU, he writes of how he was “cold-shouldered” by a few key lay leaders after he became chairman of the board, following his term as president. Still, he said he is proud of the role he played. “I believe that the decisions I made saved the Orthodox Union by stabilizing a terrible situation,” he writes.