Learning to deal with clergy abuse

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While Riverdale grapples with the consequences of recent revelations that a long respected rabbi led boys into a sauna naked over a period of years, one local institution is working to avert that kind of scandal from happening in the first place.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), located at 3700 Hendry Hudson Parkway, requires its roughly 40 rabbis in training to undergo weekly sessions with psychologists or a psychotherapist. Small groups of students meet with professionals to discuss issues like boundaries with congregants, part of YCT’s effort to train rabbis both as experts on Judaism and community leaders.

“You’re really working so hard to help people and make a difference,” said YCT’s president, Rabbi Asher Lopatin. “You don’t always stop to think, what am I doing? Am I doing the right thing? What are my motivations?”

After a May New York Times article about Riverdale Jewish Center’s (RJC) Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt taking boys to a sauna naked in the 1980s and 1990s prompted the Bronx District Attorney’s office to ask people to come forward if they have information, Rabbi Lopatin took to Facebook to encourage people to do so. Most other local Jewish leaders have shied away from openly addressing the situation at RJC, where congregants have bitterly disagreed over whether Rabbi Rosenblatt should remain as their leader.

In a recent interview, Rabbi Lopatin, who became head of YCT in fall 2013, did not discuss the crisis at RJC at length, saying he did not want to inflame the situation while the community is going through a tough time. 

But Rabbi Lopatin said longstanding feelings with Jewish communities against “airing dirty laundry” and against gossiping make it hard to deal with abuse when it arises in the first place.

“For too long, in too many instances, the Jewish community discouraged victims from going to the police. It’s so tragic,” he said. “We have to do a lot of repentance in the Jewish community for, in the past, not going, not empowering victims to go to the authorities.”

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