Sunday, May 06, 2018

When Selfishness Outweighs Justice

Bais Sura (VIN)
There have been so many stories about sex abuse in the Orthodox community, I’ve virtually given up trying to comment on it. If I did, that’s all I’d be doing. But one of the more recent reports has led me to comment once again.

First let me be absolutely clear. Sex abuse happens in all segments of society – secular and religious. And in all corners of the world. There is no one community or place where it is more likely to happen than another. There are ample examples of abuse to be found everywhere.

What got my attention here is yet another case where protecting a school was more important to its leader then protecting its students. I thought that we at least past that. But not in Boro Park, it appears. Rabbi Nuchem Klein, owner and principal of Bais Sura - an all girls Chasidic school (Grades kindergarten through 12) - has been doing exactly that.

Although he did not say so, that is the only possible explanation as to why Rabbi Nuchem Klein failed to act after being repeatedly told that one of his employees - who goes by the nickname Spikey - tried to kiss one of the students in his school.

Repeated reports to Rabbi Klein about Spikey’s behavior which included groping in some cases fell on deaf ears. This was not just a few incidents that happened recently. This had been going on for years and ignored by Rabbi Klein! Even after the latest incident was made public by a parent on AhatsApp, Rabbi Klein sent out a letter denying it - saying that it was a lie by a disgruntled former parent. According to that parent, that was a lie. From the Forward:
The scandal started the morning of April 27, a Friday, when a Hasidic woman released a recording on WhatsApp stating that an employee at the school had tried to kiss a friend of her niece. The woman said the school acknowledged the behavior but refused to fire the employee because he “knew too much.”
It is only after getting over 100 phone calls from parents that Rabbi Klien fired the accused. That happened after New York state Assemblyman, Dov Hikind made his outrage public after he was contacted and told that Rabbi Klein ignored the complaints. (see video below)

What makes this particularly egregious is the emphasis this school has on Tznius. Bais Sura has a reputation for a strong emphasis on Tznius. Which in Chasidic circles seems to only mean covering up as much of the female body as possible. Why? To avoid attracting attention from men that might act upon seeing a woman in less than the absolute modesty of their standards.

And yet when his school’s very Tzanua students were violated, he not only ignored it, he tried  to cover it up! Only after the backlash did Rabbi Klein finally act.

To put it the way Dov Hikind did:
“The fact that this school is considered to be one of the finest, where tznius is at the highest standard, is a little laughable as far as I’m concerned.”
Bais Sura is a school that has 900 female students, They also run a summer camp. It is housed in what looks like a large beautiful building. This is not some 2 bit rogue operation that broke off from a mainstream school. It is  a mainstream Chasidic school that - according to the Forward serves Satmar and Belz Chasidim.

I never cease to be amazed by people that set themselves up as the most religious Jews among us act in ways that are anything but religious. Protecting their reputations instead of the people they are supposed to serve. The claim often heard about the institution itself being more important than the individual goes against one the very foundations of Judaism: Justice. There is no greater good than that.

Sacrificing the welfare of individual students on the alter of an institution’s reputation is anything  but justice. A school that does that ought to be shut down. Or at the very least change its leadership. Unfortunately,  that option is unlikely  since Rabbi Klein owns the place and answers to no one. 

I would urge parents that care about the welfare of their children to insist on it anyway with a threat to pull their daughters out of the school. That is what I would do if my daughter were in that school. They should ignore any assurances Rabbi Klein might make that this would never happen again. Anyone that lies to protect their reputation at the expense of their students cannot be trusted.

Rabbi Klein has proven what his priorities are, and it is not the welfare of students, Let the school close. I know it’s a big ask. But if the leadership doesn’t change – it’s the right call. Judaism will survive very nicely without it. Perhaps even better than it ever did with it.