(JTA) — The Conservative movement has launched a hotline for reporting sexual impropriety in response to an allegation by a former member of its youth movement that he was inappropriately touched by a staff member.
Last week, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism launched an investigation into the allegation made by the former United Synagogue Youth member, who in a Facebook post named a male former senior staff member in the 1980s as the perpetrator.
On Monday, the Conservative umbrella group launched a confidential phone hotline as well as an email address for reporting sexual assault or harassment.
“At this moment we have a very serious allegation, and we thought it was necessary to be public that that allegation has been made and to invite people that may have been victimized to contact us to so we can gather more information and determine next steps,” the United Synagogue’s CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told JTA on Monday.
Wernick said United Synagogue attempted to contact the former USY member several times to learn more about the claim but he did not respond. A public Facebook post did not name the alleged abuser; the accused was named in a closed group.
The alleged abuser was “a long-standing member of our staff for whom we’ve had no previous anything to question his integrity or service,” Wernick said, adding that the man no longer works for USY in a full-time capacity.
Wernick said contract work the man was doing for the organization was suspended upon the investigation’s launch.
In 2011, United Synagogue instituted a series of policies, procedures and training for its staff in regard to sexual harassment and child protective issues.
“This is unfortunately something that does occur within the Jewish community, and we’ve been very persistent in the way in which we’ve responded to it,” said Wernick, who has headed United Synagogue since 2009.
During his tenure, he said, United Synagogue has probed two allegations of inappropriate behavior. They include allegations made against Sheldon Mitchell, a Jewish youth and USY leader in the Bay Area who was accused posthumously of molesting boys in the 1960s and ’70s, and against another USY volunteer who was accused of having acted inappropriately in the ’90s.
United Synagogue was unable to substantiate any allegations against Mitchell in USY programs, but the organization did sever its relationship with the second volunteer after finding the allegation credible.
“We are committed to be a place of Jewish values and a safe space for everybody in our charge, and this response to this allegation is demonstrative of that commitment” Wernick said.
NCSY, the youth group sponsored by the Orthodox Union, put in place a set of policies relating to sexual impropriety in 2001, a year after The New York Jewish Week reported that NCSY’s director of regions, Rabbi Baruch Lanner, had sexually abused more than a dozen youth group participants. Lanner was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2002 and released on parole in 2008.
“Since then we’ve maintained a high level of standards, policies, procedures,” said Keevy Fried, NCSY’s associate international director, adding that “the safety and security of our participants is our No. 1 priority.”
NFTY, the Reform youth movement, handles allegations of sexual harassment or assault on a case-by-case basis, said its managing director, Beth Rodin.
“We don’t have a specific set of policies except that we respond to everything in partnership with the community affected, in partnership with the family affected,” Rodin said. “Every situation is so nuanced, but our bottom line policy is that we don’t allow this to be part of our community.”
Lauren Theodore, PR and Communications Manager at the Union for Reform Judaism, later told JTA that NFTY does in fact have protocols in place to deal with cases where a teen participant alleges sexual harassment or assault at the hands of a staff member.
“NFTY takes every allegation seriously following policies and procedures for participants and staff to process the events with the onsite manager, supervisor and if need be with the congregational rabbi and parent. Any allegation or complaint of sexual harassment or assault is immediately addressed,” Theodore told JTA in an email.
The launch of USCJ’s hotline comes amid a flood of allegations that have rattled the worlds of entertainment, politics and the media since last month after dozens of women alleged that Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and in some cases assaulted them.
To reach the USCJ hotline, call (212) 533-7813, or send an email to email@example.com.