WASHINGTON (Nov. 2)
An official with an educational program for Jewish high school students has resigned after allegedly searching the Internet for liaisons with underage boys and sending naked pictures of himself. Rabbi David Kaye resigned from Panim on Monday, informing leaders that he was to be featured on “Dateline NBC” on Friday for seeking a sexual encounter with an underage boy in a chat room.
“He told me he was going to be on a program on national television that would identify him engaging in inappropriate behavior,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder and president of the Washington-based Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.
Panim has never received a complaint against Kaye and he is not accused of doing anything in relation to his work there. But the incident is likely to revive concerns about the possibility of sexual misconduct between rabbis and other Jewish officials who come into contact with minors.
NBC News conducted a sting in August, working with a group called “Perverted Justice.” Members of the group, posing as underage boys and girls, entered Internet chat rooms and waited for adults to engage them in conversations, Chris Hansen, the NBC reporter on the story, told JTA.
Kaye and others allegedly spoke to the presumed children about sex, and suggested meeting them. Kaye allegedly sent one individual naked pictures of himself, said he was gay and arranged a meeting at a Northern Virginia home where the “boy” said he lived, which NBC had equipped with hidden cameras.
When he arrived, he was confronted by Hansen.
“He admitted to being a rabbi,” Hansen said. “He then got very agitated.”
When reached by JTA on Wednesday, Kaye refused to comment on his resignation or any of the accusations against him. Hansen said Kaye had agreed at one point to speak with NBC News, but only if the network did not air his name or face. The network refused.
Perverted Justice sent the chat transcripts and information about Kaye and others to the Fairfax County, Va. Police, Hansen said. A police spokesman said the department does not confirm the names of anyone under investigation until they are charged with a crime.
Kaye joined Panim after serving as a rabbi and confirmation instructor at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., for 15 years, until 2001.
“We are waiting to see what the show is and we’ll respond after that,” said Rabbi David Rose, senior rabbi at Har Shalom.
He was ordained by the Reconstructionist movement, but is now a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the Conservative movement. Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R.A.’s executive vice president, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Panim is largely known for its high school engagement program, Panim el Panim, which brings thousands of Jewish students from around the country to Washington each year for religious and political education. As vice president for programming, Kaye mostly oversaw the faculty, Schwarz said.
“We do a fairly rigorous set of reference checks for people we hire,” Schwarz said. “But there are always opportunities for abuse of authority.”
In the past few days, Schwarz said he and others have been reflecting on incidents that were seen as inconsequential at the time, wondering if they should have seen a pattern.
“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about it and wondering about it,” he said. “But they were so insignificant not to suggest a pattern of behavior.”
Yosef Abramowitz, the CEO of Jewish Family & Life, served as the assistant director of Panim in the 1990s. He said he could not imagine much opportunity for one-on-one time between staff and students.
“There’s never been a hint of anything in the past, and the program is so intense that there is no one-on-one, un-chaperoned down time,” Abramowitz said.
Schwarz said he did not expect an investigation into Kaye’s work at Panim, but Panim has taken Kaye’s computer hard drive for inspection.
The organization is reaching out to congregations and others that work with the student program.
“I would assure parents that we’ve never had an incident in our program, and there is no accusation of incidents in our program,” he said. “There is no way that any reasonable person can make assurances that no incident will ever happen, but we have safety systems in place.”
Sexual abuse by clergy has been a national issue in recent years, stemming largely from accusations in the Catholic Church.
But there have been cases that have roiled the Jewish community.
Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official, is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey. Lanner was accused of molesting more than 20 teenage girls over a period of 30 years, and physically and verbally abusing boys. But he was convicted on just one account.
Schwarz said he hoped the organization’s reputation would help it weather the storm.
“I think there is so much good will with people that work with us that will serve us well,” he said.