Don't let Baruch Lanner be around Israel's children unsupervised - opinion

While it may seem reasonable to some to allow Lanner entry and a temporary residency it is not reasonable to allow him the freedom to engage with students, youngsters or teens.

 Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of abusing students at a New Jersey yeshiva where he worked, is seen here on Florida's sex offender registry. (photo credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)
Baruch Lanner, who was convicted of abusing students at a New Jersey yeshiva where he worked, is seen here on Florida's sex offender registry.
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT VIA JTA)

I was introduced to Baruch Lanner, the former rabbi convicted of child physical and sexual abuse, in the mid-1970s. I was playing in a band at an NCSY event held at the SAR school in Riverdale, New York. Our introduction was not a formal one. I did not even know his name initially. It was, however, an initiation to him and his foul behaviors that was, to say the least, very disconcerting so much so that I recall it vividly today, so many years later.

Lanner was the adult responsible for supervising that NCSY event. He was, after all, a regional director for NCSY and attended many such events. That particular occasion was a typical NCSY evening program. All the teenagers in attendance, and there were about 200 or so, were having fun dancing, socializing and enjoying pizza. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw this man literally pick up one of the teenage boys and physically throw him across the room. 

I was stunned and I reflexively began to run toward the boy. Two of my bandmates held me back. One whispered that I should not get involved, it could be dangerous. They had already known of Lanner’s reputation for aggression. The young man that Lanner abused, got up and to protect his sense of self, smiled despite the shock of the event and the pain he was very obviously feeling. As I recall, Lanner walked over to him, yelled at him and walked away.

I had an occasion after that time to see Lanner do much of the same thing and was always shocked by the fact that he could just keep getting away with it. He, like so many other abusers, have a unique ability to charm the community in which they operate so much so that they are almost never confronted; never confronted, that is, until someone has the courage to say what must be said about the abuse they received and not fear the backlash from those who support the abuser, which always seems to occur. 

Two former students of his at the school in Deal, New Jersey, where he was principal accused Lanner of sexual abuse. He was found guilty and was convicted and jailed. After serving 35 months in South Woods State Prison in New Jersey for criminal sexual contact, he was released in 2008. He moved to Florida for a period of time and is currently in Israel.

 Mug shot of Baruch Lanner. (credit: WIKIPEDIA) Mug shot of Baruch Lanner. (credit: WIKIPEDIA)

Lanner's trip to Israel

There has been a great deal of concern that Lanner, as many others who have fled the United States to avoid prosecution, would find shelter here in Israel. It is true that Lanner was convicted and served jail time but there is no indication that he is no longer a threat.

The Interior Ministry was petitioned by many to not grant Lanner Israeli citizenship and they agreed not to do so. The ministry did however grant him a temporary residence visa allowing him to reside for at least a year. While it may seem reasonable to some to allow Lanner entry and a temporary residency it is not reasonable to allow him the freedom to engage with students, youngsters or teens.

Despite all that is known about Lanner’s history of abuse he still retains loyal followers who are in positions that cater to young people. It may seem odd to be so troubled by the possibility that Lanner may be given access to vulnerable children, but after having worked as a trauma specialist for more than 30 years, I can state that certain indicators of concerns are discernible. Research suggests that only some abusers following incarceration will cease offending, but they require supervision.

If Lanner is allowed to remain in Israel without some form of supervision to certify that he cannot be a threat to children and teenagers, that will become a trigger for the many that he abused for his more than 30 years of being in environments with children, and may trigger that part of Lanner himself to go back to his old ways. Abusers must always be reported and even after convicted and jailed, supervised.

The writer is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and an APA Presidential Citation Awardee recognized for his work in the field of trauma, abuse and resiliency. He has written a book titled Abuse in the Jewish Community and is the producer of a soon to be released documentary about sexual abuse. He is a resident of Netanya.