SAR administrator arrested
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SAR administrator arrested

Skolnik charged with producing kiddie porn, soliciting nude pix from students

Students from pre-K to 12th grade attend the SAR Academy in Riverdale.
Students from pre-K to 12th grade attend the SAR Academy in Riverdale.

Rabbi Jonathan Skolnik, who had been SAR’s middle school associate principal for Judaic studies, was arrested last Friday night. He is accused of producing child pornography.

SAR — the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy — is the prestigious pre-K-through-12th-grade modern Orthodox school that attracts many students from across the Hudson as well as from New York’s five boroughs and Westchester.

Its principal, Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, told parents and faculty members about the arrest in a long, emotional email that makes clear his desire to face what he calls “devastating news” head-on.

He writes that he first heard about it “on Shabbat afternoon” — that was the afternoon of September 14 — “when the FBI and the NYPD Sex Crimes Task Force visited my home.” His visitors told him the charges against Rabbi Skolnik; the associate principal, who had been at SAR for 16 months, was fired immediately.

Rabbi Krauss sent the email on Monday morning, because, he wrote, “We are cooperating with the FBI and law enforcement to gather any information about these horrible allegations, and have coordinated the timing of this letter with the FBI.”

He does not sugarcoat his concerns. “We have reason to be concerned that SAR students may have been victims or potential victims and we are asking you to share any information you have with law enforcement,” he wrote.

Because he was an administrator, it is possible that Rabbi Skolnik could have interacted with any of the children in the middle school; Rabbi Krauss asks parents to talk to their children, and to report anything they hear to officials. And they should comfort their children. “Parents should reassure their children that any students who responded to an email requesting inappropriate photos of themselves are not in any trouble,” he wrote.

Rabbi Krauss wrote that the school’s administration would discuss the arrest both with students now in the middle school and with the ninth graders who were under Rabbi Skolnick’s authority last year. He and his staff will talk about the situation to any parents and children who would like to do so.

The FBI’s charging document, which was posted on Facebook, is chilling.

Rabbi Skolnik, who is 37, is charged with having “willfully and knowingly attempted to and did employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, and coerce a minor with the intent that such minor engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct,” and then to send it electronically across state and national lines. He also is charged with having and receiving child pornography.

He also is charged with extortion; basically, he tried (we do not know if he was successful) to blackmail one of his victims by threatening to go public with some photos if the victim did not provide more of them.

The FBI was able to get emails that show this unfolding; they show emails purporting to be from girls — but actually from Rabbi Skolnik — gradually ensnaring a 14-year-old boy who had no idea he was corresponding with a grown man. The so-called girls teased and challenged the boy, sending him pictures of “naked females” — the document does not specify whether they seemed to be minors or grown women until he gave in and sent the selfies they requested.

Then they demanded more. That’s when the threats began.

The charging document also says that Rabbi Skolnik acknowledged having sent those emails. He also said that he’d requested naked photos from “approximately 20 to 25 victims.” Most of them were minors, he admitted.

Before he got to SAR, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Rabbi Skolnik worked at the Yeshivah of Flatbush; he was there from 2012 to 2018.

Raymond Harari, the head of the modern Orthodox school, and Jeffrey Rothman, its executive director, wrote in an email to the school community Monday that they are “not aware of any inappropriate behavior” on Rabbi Skolnick’s part while he was at the school. They asked that anyone with allegations of misconduct contact the school and the FBI.

Last year, SAR commissioned a report about Stanley Rosenfeld, who had been an assistant principal there in the 1970s and taught English there in the 1980s. According to the report, Rosenfeld, who now is 84, had abused at least a dozen students at SAR. Rosenfeld has admitted to abusing hundreds of boys throughout his lifetime.

“We strive to create a learning environment in which students feel comfortable coming forward with concerns or reports of misbehavior of any kind,” Rabbi Krauss said last year, after the report was released. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students. If we were to learn of a report of abuse, we would work quickly to begin an investigation and ensure, throughout the process, that students are safe.”

In 2014, SAR instituted a sexual harassment policy that requires reporting credible allegations of sexual misconduct to law enforcement, as well as guidelines for reporting allegations within the school and investigating them.

We do not yet know how news about Rabbi Skolnik’s behavior made its way to the police department and the FBI.

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