Untouchable – how the alleged Yeshiva University abusers escaped justice

Alleged YU abusers now live in Israel, and neither Israeli nor US law can touch them

THE YESHIVA University High School for Boys in New York (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE YESHIVA University High School for Boys in New York
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Last month, the Jewish world was stunned when some 40 former students of Yeshiva University High School for Boys filed a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse in the New York Supreme Court.
One of the group’s lawyers, Kevin Mulhearn, said that the victims were sexually abused at YUHSB (also known as MTA: the Manhattan Talmudical Academy) by teachers and a principal from the 1970s through the ‘80s.
The alleged YU abusers now live in Israel, and neither Israeli nor US law can touch them. But, the reality is that they have never been charged or convicted of any crimes, which allegedly spanned over decades.
There are three former teachers accused of abuse at YUHSB, which serves as a high school and college: Macy Gordon, George Finkelstein and Richard Andron. All three relocated to Israel eventually following the scandals through the Law of Return. Gordon passed away recently, but Andron and Finkelstein continue to live in Israel today.
These men are not listed as defendants in the case, although the lawsuit surrounds stories of their alleged abuse. The case is only against those involved in the cover-up, who continue to reside in the United States today.
Mulhearn says it’s because it is out of their jurisdiction. “The US-Israel extradition treaty excludes civil lawsuits,” the attorney explains in a phone interview. These men are essentially untouchable by US law while living in Israel.
The 120-page lawsuit, filed last month in New York, details the victims’ accounts of their abuse, which sounds more like a crime TV show than reality. Many said they were assaulted on multiple occasions throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and the details are shocking. It describes one of the abusers as “preying upon children of Holocaust survivors” and “threatening to accuse his victims of cheating” and lowering their grades. Only a handful of the plaintiffs have revealed their identities, and most are listed in the document as “John Doe.” Many of the victims live in Israel now as well.
One of the victims who now lives in Israel and is listed in the lawsuit as John Doe says Andron lives less than an hour’s drive from his home in Ramat Gan. “It makes me sick that he was allowed to be given refuge here,” says Doe, adding that Andron repeatedly abused him at the age of 14.
Several of these young boys complained at the time to administrators, but their claims went unanswered. Some tried to commit suicide in the years following. Still, their claims were ignored. The lawsuit alleges abuse by teachers and accuses school administrators of covering it up. Yeshiva University did not return requests for comment.
MORDECHAI TWERSKY is one of five victims in the lawsuit that has chosen not to be anonymous. Even after multiple suicide attempts following years of alleged abuse at the hands of adult men he trusted, Twersky wants to prevent this from happening to others. He says their communities must know what they are accused of, even if the law cannot help.
A young Mordechai Twersky. (photo credit: Courtesy)A young Mordechai Twersky. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Meyer Seewald, the executive director of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), reiterated that nothing can be done. The JCW is an organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community, and Finkelstein is among those featured on their “Wall of Shame.”
“It is deeply upsetting, but unfortunately within the current framework of Israeli law and policy, there is nothing to prevent people accused of these kinds of crimes from moving to Israel and obtaining Israeli citizenship,” says Seewald. “As for the ongoing civil lawsuit, there is no extradition agreement regarding civil cases. They will not extradite someone to appear in civil court.”
Because of this, JCW COO Shana Aaronson says there is also nothing that indicates they are trying to stay under the radar. “We absolutely know of some who are living under false identities, and these men are not. I think it’s in large part because they’ve gotten away with it. That’s the terrible reality.”
Macy Gordon, who recently passed away, was an active member of the local Jewish community until his death, and even taught children in weekly religion classes in Jerusalem. Richard Andron, who now goes by his Hebrew name Reuven, resides in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, according to sources within his community. After leaving New York, he moved to Boca Raton, Florida, where he was involved with a local synagogue. They cut ties with him over abuse allegations in 2013, when he supposedly moved to Israel. When reached by telephone, as soon as the word “journalist” was mentioned, Andron abruptly hung up the phone. George Finkelstein, a rabbi now in his 80s, was not reachable by telephone for a comment. When contacted, a woman who answered the phone said he would not speak to a journalist. All three of these men will not have to answer to their accusers, according to the current status of the law.
Finkelstein, the most frequently mentioned in the lawsuit, is now a resident of Jerusalem. He was a teacher, and eventually principal, at Yeshiva University in New York, until leaving the school following allegations and moving to Florida, where he worked as a principal for a Yeshiva day school in Miami. Eventually, he moved to Israel after further allegations surfaced at the Miami institute. He went on to become the director-general of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, a prestigious position, until he was accused again of sexual abuse in 2009. Online news site The Forward obtained the police report, and reported in 2013 that the case had been dropped due to “insufficient evidence.” When asked about the allegations, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue refused to comment. However, Finkelstein quietly left the institution following these events.
Then, as recently as 2014, Finkelstein was asked to cut ties with the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center, of which he was a frequent visitor. The organization helps more than 5,000 young soldiers without family support. Once official complaints were submitted, he suddenly stopped visiting the center.
THE AUGUST 22 lawsuit was not the first of its kind. A similar case was dropped in 2013 in New York, because US law had given victims a deadline for reporting these kinds of crimes. The Child Victims Act, which was introduced earlier this year, gives victim a one-year window to file old civil claims. Since then, more than 500 victims have come forward across the United States, 38 of them in this lawsuit alone.
Although the law cannot help in this case, Twersky wants their communities to be aware in order to prevent future incidents.
“It’s my hope that [English-speaking] communities where Andron and Finkelstein reside will immediately distance them from local institutions, issue appropriate advisories and share their names with predator registries,” says Twersky.
While there is currently no sex offender registry in Israel like there is in the United States, cases like these highlight the necessity of community awareness.
Twersky describes the scandal as a sort of desecration of the Jewish faith, which is ironically the backbone of the Yeshiva University institution. He says the protection of these “pedophiles” by the Jewish community is “shameful and reckless, both in the United States and Israel.
“It represents a colossal failure of judgment and a perversion of Jewish values,” admits Twersky. “There can be no forgiveness, but there will have to be an accounting.”
John Doe says the case will unlikely bring him complete closure, but he hopes for “a public apology” or some financial restitution.
“I don’t know if there is anything that can wipe out the abuse I suffered at the age of 14,” Doe says.
Twersky, among other victims, has largely lost hope that these men will be forced to answer for their alleged crimes, so now he is using his pain to protect others from a similar fate. “I would expect Yeshiva University to enact a series of internal practical and symbolic steps punishing those responsible and ensuring that these heinous crimes will never happen again under its watch.”
The lawsuit calls for a trial by jury. Mulhearn is confident it will go to court and that he will win. “We have an extremely compelling case,” he says.
For Twersky, being able to hold the school accountable would be a start. “I expect a jury to hold Yeshiva University responsible for violating our bodies and souls, for ignoring our warnings and cries, then covering it up,” he says.
Doe says he hopes they will reach a settlement before it comes to that.
“There are dozens of cases like this, if not more,” Aaronson says. The JCW’s “Wall of Shame” lists the identities of more than 200 alleged abusers both in the US and Israel, who are actively being protected by their communities in order to not have to answer to their accusers. “We just don’t have the resources to keep tabs on all these men.”
“We are scarred for life,” says Twersky. “There is no peace. We cry out not only to attain a semblance of justice for ourselves, but to prevent it from happening to others.”
The writer is a Canadian freelance broadcast and print journalist covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Ilanit Chernick contributed to this report.