Monday, August 26, 2013

Giving More than a Pass to an Alleged Sex Abuser

Eric Anderson as Shlomo Carlebach on Broadway
How odd it is for the media to celebrate the life of Shlomo Carlebach in the form praise for a musical on Broadway about him– on practically the same day that Yeshiva University has come out with its report on past sexual abuse in its high school.

I am not going to go into details about Carlebach’s contributions to Jewish music. Suffice it to say that they are incalculable. He was a musical genius. He was to Jewish music what Mozart and Beethoven were to classical music… what Elvis and the Beatles were to Rock and Roll. There is absolutely no question about it. He was the Vilna Gaon… the Albert Einstein of Jewish music.

But he had a dark side which the musical Soul Doctor based on his life ignores: the sexual abuse allegations against him as laid forth by victims in a 1998 Lilith Magazine article.

This has not tarnished his legacy at all, it seems.  He is bigger than ever. There is hardly a corner of the Jewish world that does not incorporate his music into its world. From Reform to Conservative to the most Chasidic hard core of Charedi Jews. His music is adapted to the liturgy by Chazanim even on Yom Kippur. In some cases without them realizing that it is his music they are using.

This fact is somewhat mind boggling in the current climate of zero tolerance of sex abuse. Imagine if Baruch Lanner, Nechemya Webberman or  Yosef Kolko had written some of these tunes. Is there a sane person anywhere that would incorporate their tunes into the liturgy? And yet that is exactly what has happened with Carlebach.

One may dispute the allegations made about him by his victims. But if you can dispute those allegations you can dispute any allegations by anyone about anyone. But we all know the statistics. When abuse allegations are made - 99 times out of 100 they happened.

YU has just released its report of their internal investigation of sex abuse. I have not read the report in detail but it appears that they have admitted culpability here of exactly what they were accused of. They have even discovered that there were instances of abuse at other divisions of the university. It has also been reported that the lawsuit filed against them now totals $680 million.

Such totals are breathtaking to me. I assume this is because more people who were abused during the years in question at YU have come forward and joined the lawsuit. If this keeps happening, can a billion dollar lawsuit be all that far-fetched?

Contrast that with what is happening to Shlomo Carlebach. He is bigger than ever… even though he was accused of actual sex abuse and not just of covering it up which is what YU is accused of.

How can it be that there is so much anger at YU’s cover-up and nothing but fawning praise of someone accused of sex abuse by many victims. How do we explain this? Why is justice for victims in the Carlebach case any different than justice for victims in the YU case? Why is Carlebach the icon he is - with a fawning Broadway play underway in New York about him, while former President Dr. Norman Lamm, current President Richard Joel, and the YU board of directors are so vilified (to the tune of 680 million dollars)? Where is the anger at Carlebach that I see at YU?

Does Carlebach’s icon status give him immunity? Do his musical contributions to Judaism outweigh YU’s contributions to Judaism?

Just to be clear, I am not giving anyone a pass here. Let justice take its course. I’m just asking, ‘Where is the outrage about Carlebach to match the outrage at YU’? I don’t see any righteous indignation here at all. Just an increase in Carlebach’s iconic status!  But I do see an almost venomous attitude about YU by just about everyone. What’s the difference? And how do survivors of abuse feel about it?