Repentance and reintegration — a community’s response

Repentance and reintegration — a community’s response

In October 2013, the Jewish Standard and other local media outlets reported that a member of the Englewood Jewish community, Akiva Roth, had lost his teaching job at Yeshiva University.

The university’s decision was based on the revelation that in 1997 Akiva had admitted in court that incidents in which he had been involved in 1994 had constituted a non-contact sexual offense. As a result of these media reports, uncertainty about exactly what had happened 19 years ago, and concern about what it meant, Akiva was asked to refrain from attending area synagogues pending further investigation and discussion.

Now, two years later, we would like to update the community on Akiva’s past and current status.

When the facts of Akiva’s case came to light in our community in 2013, the Englewood rabbis and concerned community leaders enlisted Tikunim Counseling Services, a Jewish organization devoted to the evaluation and treatment of offenders and victims in this field. This action was taken to help the community assess what steps could be taken toward Akiva’s reintegration into the community.

Tikunim immediately determined that Akiva’s 1994 acts of lewdness did not require him to register as a sex offender, and that he had complied fully with the legal outcome at the time, including a 10-year probation period that passed without incident, and several years of additional voluntary therapy. Tikunim then conducted a thorough evaluation and risk assessment of Akiva, including extensive interviews, psychological testing, and polygraph tests. Akiva cooperated unconditionally. The Tikunim evaluation verified that Akiva had not committed any further offenses since 1994, determined that he did not pose a threat to minors, and concluded that he could be integrated into the community socially and professionally.

In addition, at the recommendation of Tikunim and under the guidance of Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, lay representatives from each Englewood Orthodox synagogue that Akiva attended joined to form a group to provide support, to help Akiva reintegrate into the community, and to address concerns from community members about him. The group was called SORTA (Supporters Of Return, Teshuva and Accountability). This group first met with Akiva on a weekly and later on a monthly basis and reports that he has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his actions, expressed remorse, and done teshuvah (repentance), as dictated by Jewish tradition.

Akiva has dedicated himself diligently to maintaining an exemplary lifestyle. He has been welcomed back to  Ahavath Torah,  Shomrei Emunah, East Hill Synagogue, and Minyan Tiferet. He regularly attends services and reads Torah and has resumed participation in community religious groups and events. He also serves the community as an inspector for the Tenafly and Englewood eruvs. Nevertheless, there still are some institutions that have not reintegrated Akiva  completely.

Akiva has tried to refocus his life after his initial separation from the community two years ago. He has faced many challenges since then, however, as the continuing stigma of that separation has impacted his ability to secure stable employment and form meaningful relationships.

At this point we urge all synagogues, communal institutions, and individuals to welcome Akiva back completely. Judaism believes in repentance, that we can atone for our offenses and begin again with a clean slate before God. Our tradition also teaches that on Yom Kippur God will not forgive us until we forgive others. The time has come to forgive Akiva for the mistakes he made more than 20 years ago, and fully accept him back into our community.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Congregation Ahavat Torah

Tani Foger
Robert Gross
Paul R. Herman
Jeffrey Rubenstein
Victor Schabes
Howard S. Shafer
David Trachtenberg

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