The Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck has put its head of school, Rabbi Shlomo Adelman, on paid leave, in the wake of a lawsuit alleging that he molested a camper at Camp Mogen Avraham more than 30 years ago.
Rabbi Adelman, through his attorney, Avraham C. Moskowitz of Moskowitz & Book, has denied the charge.
The lawsuit was filed on July 13 in New York Supreme Court in Nassau County, a month before the deadline under the 2019 New York Child Victims Act, which allows adults to sue for acts of sexual abuse they claim were committed against them as children, decades earlier. More than 150 suits were filed against Jewish institutions under that law, according to a count by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. All told, nearly 11,000 such suits were filed; the most prominent targets are the Catholic church and the Boy Scouts of America.
A similar law passed in New Jersey in 2019 allows previously barred claims of sexual abuse to be filed against non-profit organizations and their employees through November 30 of this year.
“Approximately three weeks ago, TABC leadership learned from Rabbi Adelman that he had been named in a recently filed civil lawsuit,” Azi Mandel, the school’s board president, wrote in an email to the school community on Monday.
“Because of the serious nature of the allegation, the Executive Board immediately hired the law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, which is experienced in investigating such matters. The firm’s highly qualified investigators, experts in their respective fields, are conducting a thorough and independent investigation, which has been underway these past few weeks.
“We had hoped to receive the final results of the firm’s investigation in time to take any necessary action prior to the start of school,” Mr. Mandel’s email continued. “However, this morning, we only received an executive, interim summary of the investigators’ findings rather than the final version.
“We are encouraged by the findings in the executive summary and await the full results. Because of our obligations to our students and their families, based on consultation with respected halachic advisors in our community, we are also taking the additional measure of assembling an independent panel to weigh in on the matter. We anticipate the panel will be made up of at least one rabbinic scholar and experts in the fields of psychology and child welfare.
“While this process is ongoing, Rabbi Adelman has agreed to be on paid leave. Therefore, he will not be on campus for the start of school. We expect to be able to share more soon.”
In the lawsuit, Joseph Kastner alleges that in 1990, when he was a 12-year-old camper at Camp Mogen Avraham in upstate New York, Shlomo Adelman, who was the counselor at an adjoining bunk, befriended him over a period of weeks, and then molested him toward the end of the camp session.
The resulting distress, Mr. Kastner claimed, caused suicidal ideation and depression, among other issues. The lawsuit targets Rabbi Adelman, the entities that run Camp Mogen Avraham, and the UJA-Federation of New York, which reportedly supported the camp. UJA-Federation also was named in a 2019 lawsuit alleging abuse by a different counselor at the camp in 1969. Responding to that case, UJA-Federation stated that it “never owned, operated or controlled the camp, and is wrongly included as a defendant.”
Rabbi Adelman has hired the firm of Moskowitz & Book to represent him. Chaim Book, one of the firm’s partners, is a past president of the TABC board, and remains on the board. Mr. Mandel told the Jewish Standard in an email that Mr. Book “immediately recused himself from this matter and has not been part of any board discussions or communications since.”
In an email to the Jewish Standard, Mr. Moskowitz wrote, in full:
“The allegations against Rabbi Adelman are false and libelous. Rabbi Adelman has devoted his entire adult life to educating Jewish youth and has an impeccable reputation, without even a hint of scandal. It is disgraceful that meritless allegations which will be proven false in court, can damage the sterling reputation of a master educator. Rabbi Adelman is confident that the independent investigation being conducted by TABC will clear him of any wrongdoing and he looks forward to resuming his responsibilities as Head of School in the near future. Rabbi Adelman is very grateful for the overwhelming support he has received from the TABC family and from his colleagues and former students at the yeshivot where he has worked in the past and from his former campers and camp colleagues.”
“Our students are our number one priority,” Mr. Mandel wrote in his email to the Jewish Standard. “We take seriously our responsibility to provide a safe, welcoming, nurturing environment to those placed in our care and we will uphold our obligations to them. Everything we do, and every decision we make, reflects our commitment to our school community.
“It is extremely important to us that the matter is handled responsibly and with the seriousness it deserves. And it is important to be respectful to all parties involved. We’re asking for our community’s understanding and patience as this process is underway.”