Pedophilia, rape and sexual assault alleged at Israeli music schools

Over ten students have already spoken out against conductor Menahem Nebenhaus in incidents ranging from sexual harassment to full-on rape.

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January 21, 2018 12:21
Pedophilia, rape and sexual assault alleged at Israeli music schools

The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts symphony orchestra with Menahem Nebenhaus conducting. (photo credit: ETAN TAL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

 
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Renowned Israeli musician and conductor Menahem Nebenhaus has been accused of having sexually harassed, raped, and prostituted minors at several educational institutions at which he worked.
 
The scandal was revealed last week by journalist Assaf Harel who, like most of the victims, studied under Nebenhaus at the elite Thelma Yellin High School for the Arts in central Israel.
 
On January 16, in his popular television segment The Monologue, Harel described how as a teen he used to frequent Nebenhaus’s private studio on Rothschild Boulevard every week for conducting lessons. At the time, Harel also worked in construction and he recalled arriving at the studio one day with his back muscles aching so badly he could barely move. Nebenhaus offered to massage his back. “I thought it was nice of him,” Harel said. “He really did help, and I felt better.” But it didn’t stop there.
 
“Then he suggested we not have a lesson, but instead play all sorts of games,” Harel continued. “[He] offered a host of obscene suggestions: Let’s play doctor and patient, let’s masturbate together, and all sorts of other things that didn’t sound like so much fun to me.” Harel said the rest of his memory of the incident was foggy and unclear. But the fact that it happened was a red light for Harel, and riding the #Metoo wave, he decided to investigate.
 
Harel said he found it uncanny that throughout the entire #Metoo campaign there were barely any stories about men harassing boys. Recalling his own experience with Nebenhaus, he decided to reach out to discover if there was perhaps more to the story. It only took a few phone calls for Harel to compile a list of seven men and one woman who claimed also to have been victimized by Nebenhaus.


THE STORIES Harel heard took place in high schools, with the IDF orchestra, as members of the Ra’anana youth orchestra, in summer music camps, at Nebenhaus’s studio and on orchestral tours abroad. One man testified that while on one such high school tour, he was invited to Nebenhaus’s hotel room where the instructor suggested they masturbate together. Another person told of a similar story he said occurred at Nebenhaus’s studio in Tel Aviv.
 
Another former student described going to the studio after he had broken up with his girlfriend. The student was in a fragile emotional state, and was looking forward to confiding in his fatherly, endearing music teacher with whom he had become a close friend through their year of lessons. Nebenhaus, he said, recognized his fragility and allegedly took advantage, explaining how important it was to “open up, to connect to your feelings, to expose yourself emotionally and physically.” The student said Nebenhaus then convinced the student to expose himself physically and once they were both naked, asked him to touch his penis. When the student refused, he said, Nebenhaus performed oral sex on him, after which the student proceeded to “barf his guts out” and never returned to the studio.
 
The most horrifying testimony came from a private student who alleged being prostituted by Nebenhaus. After one of the teachers at the Thelma Yellin School committed suicide, Nebenhaus offered a shoulder to lean on for any student who needed one. This student forged a close relationship with Nebenhaus and came to regard him as a paternal figure. At some point, the teacher began offering the student all sorts of bets involving sex and money: “If you have the courage to do ‘this,’ you’ll get 50 shekels... but I bet you’re not brave enough,” the ex-student said. The offers gradually became more and more extreme, until they became straight-up offers of sex for money. This turned into weekly sex meetings, until eventually the student couldn’t take it anymore and ended their relationship. Nebenhaus, according to the allegations, made him agree to keep silent about the whole affair.
 
For decades, Nebenhaus conducted and taught almost exclusively at musical institutions for children.


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FIVE YEARS AGO, an anonymous source reported to then-principal of the Thelma Yellin School, Haim Daitchman, that Nebenhaus had raped him as a child. The school took measures to have Nebenhaus removed from his position, but did not turn to the police or make further inquiries into the case.
 
After Harel broke the story, conductor Yishai Steckler admitted to being the anonymous source mentioned in the story and gave an interview on Channel 2.
 
After becoming a conductor in his own right, Steckler worked alongside Nebenhaus at Thelma Yellin for years. In the Channel 2 interview he also admitted to being the student on whom Nebenhaus performed oral sex. Steckler said it took him years of psychological care in order to get over the trauma he suffered as a result of the rape. The sentence that scarred him most of all was what Nebenhaus allegedly said to him after the rape, right before he left: Steckler sat on the couch, his knees shaking, incapable of getting up and asked Nebenhaus to help him stand. With a repulsed look on his face, Nebenhaus looked at him and said “You’re probably not a real artist if you’re not willing to ‘go far.’”
 
The world of classical music, and performing arts in general, is notorious for being rigorous and demanding. Young artists will often pay a high price for their success in the field. Educators, especially charismatic and successful ones like Nebenhaus, are regarded as idols and can easily exploit students who hold them in high esteem. Extra care needs to be taken in demanding artistic institutions in order to ensure that young people are not taken advantage of, and that they have a support network to reach out to if such cases do come to pass.



Thelma Yellin’s current principal, Moshe Philosoph, said all of the reported incidents occurred more than 20 years ago, meaning the statute of limitations has passed.
 
Since the release of the video, four more men have come forth to say they had also been harassed. Nebenhaus has been suspended from his current teaching post at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. He has declined to make any comments and has hired a lawyer.

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