Convicted of sexually abusing two of his cousins. He was originally arrested in 1999. Stewart Nevison stated at the time that he was also an incest survivor and his perpetrator was his father.
Table of Contents:
- Cantor charged with sex abuse freed from jail (02/20/2002)
Molestation Left Boy Suicidal - Complaint (02/22/2002)
- Emanu-El Criticized Over Cantor Case (03/01/2002)
- August trial set for ex-cantor accused of molesting nephew (04/29/2005)
- Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County (08/11/2005)
By Ralph Vigoda and Mark Stroh
Philadelphia Inquirer - Feb. 20, 2002
The cantor of one of the world's largest synagogues, charged today with sexually abusing his young nephew in Lower Merion over four years, was later freed from a New York City jail on the promise that he would post bond by noon tomorrow.
Howard Nevison, 61, the third man in his family to be charged with abusing the now 12-year-old boy, was in custody for 12 hours after his predawn arrest at his Manhattan apartment. His release outraged Montgomery County authorities, who said they have had to wait years to prosecute the case because the victim was so traumatized by the alleged abuse.
"I'm very upset. I'm astounded. I'm disappointed," Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said. "Now the victim and the family know Uncle Howard is roaming free. I think that's a travesty. In my experience, this is unprecedented."
Nevison has been the cantor – the official who sings or chants liturgical music and leads the congregation in prayer – at the influential Temple Emanu-El on New York's Fifth Avenue for more than 20 years. The synagogue, founded in 1845, has about 10,000 members.
"The cantor has been a faithful servant to our congregation for 23 years, and never in all of that time has there been any suggestion of improper behavior on his part," read a statement issued by the synagogue this afternoon.
Nevison, who is married and has no children, was originally denied bail in criminal court this afternoon. But his lawyer, John Patrick Deveney, immediately appealed to the New York State Supreme Court and Justice Arlene Goldberg set bail at $100,000. Nevison must post $10,000 tomorrow.
He also surrendered his passport to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who, coincidentally, is affiliated with Temple Emanu-El. Deveney said he didn't know whether Nevison and Morgenthau were friends or acquaintances.
Prosecutors said at least three incidents of abuse occurred between 1993, when the boy was 3, and 1997 - when Nevison visited the family for celebrations and holidays.
The child told investigators that his uncle "threatened to kill him if he ever told anyone about what he did." according to court papers.
Nevison's brother, Lawrence Nevison, 55, and Lawrence Nevison's son, Stewart Nevison, 30, were convicted in 2000 of sexually abusing the boy. Stewart Nevison also told authorities that his father had abused him when he was a child.
The boy's mother has changed her last name and that of her children to avoid the publicity, Castor said. The Inquirer is withholding their names.
An extradition hearing for Howard Nevison is set for March 19.
"He's a very well-respected man in his community," Deveney told the court. "He has very close ties to the community of New York."
Deveney said his client had been living with the possibility of charges for three years.
"With that threat, he never fled," Deveney said in court. "He could have gone and he didn't go. And he won't go now."
He thought Nevison would be allowed to surrender voluntarily, he added.
Castor, though, said he considered Nevison such a high flight risk that he had Lower Merion detectives, unannounced, pick him up at 5:30 a.m. at his home, a few blocks from the synagogue.
"I'd flee if I were him," Castor said.
Castor said that authorities had been aware of the allegations against Howard Nevison for years, but that they could not proceed with prosecution because the boy was too petrified.
Castor acknowledged Nevison's stature within the Jewish community. "A cantor is a figure that is revered within the synagogue, and we tend to assume that religious figures are beyond reproach," he said.
But he also described Nevison as "a menacing presence" to the young child.
"He terrorized the child to the point he would have been too traumatized had he been required to testify," Castor said. "Originally, he wouldn't talk about Uncle Howard."
By last fall, court papers say, the boy told authorities he was ready to go ahead with the prosecution, despite his intense fear of his uncle and the continuing nightmares he suffered. Counseling has helped him muster the courage to testify, Castor said.
The head of Montgomery County's sex-crimes unit, Rich DiSipio, met with the boy, and Castor sat down with his parents to make sure all were prepared for the ordeal to come.
The statute of limitations for prosecuting the case would have run out in 2003, five years after the boy's parents first approached police about the alleged abuse.
Two years ago, when he was 10, the boy testified in Montgomery County at the preliminary hearing and trial of his uncle Lawrence Nevison, who was found guilty and sentenced to five to 15 years. He also testified at the preliminary hearing of his cousin Stewart Nevison, who pleaded guilty to abusing the boy and the boy's sister. Stewart Nevison served jail time and is on probation. Both men are registered in Montgomery County as sexual offenders under Megan's Law.
Howard Nevison's name surfaced during those cases.
"He's the one who was violent," Castor said.
"I think he [Howard] believed the boy was so intimidated by him that he would not talk."
The boy's father, Henry Nevison, is a brother of Lawrence and Howard Nevison. He and Lawrence Nevison told investigators that their older brother Howard sexually abused them when they were children.
Paul J. Fink, professor of psychiatry at Temple University and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, said the Nevison case is unusual because it involves so many people from the same family. But it is not uncommon to see sexual abuse passed on, he said.
"Anybody who is sexually abused tends to abuse others," he said. "That's how they deal with it. There's no rational way to deal with that kind of trauma other than to have to swallow it and develop panic disorder, or do to others."
The Temple Emanu-El Web page describes the synagogue as the "largest Jewish house of worship in the world and the largest Reform Jewish congregation in the United States."
Nevison, known for his performances in cantorial concerts, was featured in "The Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust," in April 1994, becoming the first cantor to sing in the Vatican.
Inquirer staff writer Gaiutra S. Bahadur contributed to this report.
Molestation Left Boy Suicidal - Complaint
The disclosure came amid reports Temple Emanu-El officials may have known about the sex abuse allegations against the popular cantor by his nephew for some time.
Some Jewish leaders said yesterday they were outraged that the synagogue did nothing about Nevison earlier.
"The consensus . . . is that they should have taken action then to distance themselves by suspending him pending the outcome of the investigation," one Jewish leader said. "They didn't do it then, and they're not doing it now."
by Debra Nussbaum Cohen and Eric J. Greenberg
The Jewish Week - March 1, 2002
Experts in sexual ethics violations among clergy are criticizing Temple Emanu-El for the way it has handled the arrest of its cantor, Howard Nevison, on charges that he sexually abused his young nephew.
“It’s a huge mistake that they kept him on” after Nevison brought the issue to the attention of synagogue leaders, said Dr. Samuel Klagsbrun, director of the pastoral psychiatry program at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which ordains rabbis and cantors.
Nevison’s brother, Larry, and Larry’s son, Stewart, were arrested in 1999 and prosecuted for sexually abusing the same boy. Larry Nevison was convicted and is in prison. Stewart Nevison pled guilty and is out on parole.
The victim, abused between the ages of 3 and 7, feared Howard Nevison, according to an affidavit by the detective who investigated the case. In that affidavit, the victim’s father is quoted as saying that Howard Nevison, who is 14 years his senior, also raped him when he was a child.
Prosecutors were waiting until the boy, now 12, was ready to testify against his uncle before charging the clergyman.
Nevison is free on his own recognizance. He is expected to appear in court next month on a matter related to his extradition to Pennsylvania, which his attorney has said he will fight. The alleged abuse took place in Lower Merion Township, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. Nevison’s attorney, Ralph Jacobs, said the cantor denies the charges and will plead not guilty.
According to a statement the synagogue released after Nevison’s arrest last week, “When Cantor Nevison first brought this issue to our attention, we considered and reviewed the matter with respect to the Cantor’s relationship to the congregation and found nothing untoward.”
A spokeswoman for the stately Reform synagogue on Fifth Avenue referred all calls to Senior Rabbi Ronald Sobel, who did not return several messages. The temple president, associate and assistant rabbis also did not return calls.
Several psychiatrists who train clergy on pastoral and ethics issues say that once Emanu-El’s board became aware of the allegations, it immediately should have suspended Nevison with pay pending the outcome of the police investigation for the emotional and physical well-being of the congregation.
At the very least, the psychiatrists said, the board should have modified and supervised his responsibilities.
That the temple apparently did not do so “is a classic example of people wanting to avoid dealing with a problem that’s staring them in the face,” said Klagsbrun, who is also executive medical director of the psychiatric Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y.
It also remains unclear what steps, if any, Emanu-El officials took to investigate the situation or to modify Nevison’s duties.
“I hope they did some kind of inhouse investigation of the allegations,” said Dr. Michelle Friedman, a psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan who also trains rabbinical students at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a Modern Orthodox seminary on the Upper West Side. “It’s quite tragic if they didn’t.”
Rabbi Sobel spoke briefly about the scandal last Friday night at Sabbath services.
“My friends, this is a sad time for Cantor Nevison and his family, as well as for the family of Temple Emanu-El,” he said before about 100 people. “The emotional stress is profound.”
Nevison did not attend the service. “It was felt best for Cantor Nevison not to participate at this time. We know you understand,” Rabbi Sobel said.
One male temple member in his 30s expressed sadness and disbelief.
“I don’t want to believe it,” he told The Jewish Week. “There’s something wrong with [the boy’s] story. It doesn’t quite make sense. Why did they wait so long to do this?”
“I think it’s an absolute disgrace,” a young mother dropping off her child at the temple’s nursery school said Wednesday morning of the Nevison case.
She said she was assured by Emanu-El officials there are no allegations regarding other children and Nevison.
Another mother in her 30s said she received a letter from the temple saying it supported Nevison. She said she was not concerned for her child because “the nursery school is totally separate from the temple.”
Attempts to reach Rabbi Sobel in person as well as by phone were unsuccessful. A security guard said he was in a meeting with a temple committee.
Temple Emanu-El is a member of the Reform movement’s congregational arm, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which has a “crisis team” of professionals and specialists who are sent to synagogues free to help them get through scandals and emergencies that involve sexual abuse, arson and embezzlement.
The synagogue has not yet requested its help, said Rabbi Lennard Thal, UAHC senior vice president, who directs the crisis team.
“The largest of the congregations tend to see themselves as self-sufficient,” said Rabbi Thal. “I can’t judge what they’ve done. Maybe they are doing a tremendous amount behind the scenes and waiting until facts are clear.”
But another Reform official said Emanu-El is mishandling the situation by not asking the movement for assistance. “They want to do things on their own and it’s crazy,” he said.
Cantors generally prepare students for bar and bat mitzvah, perform pastoral duties like counseling, officiate at lifecycle events and lead parts of prayer services.
Because Temple Emanu-El, which has some 3,000 member families, has four rabbis on staff as well as the cantor, it is not clear which of these typical roles Nevison played beyond adding his soaring voice to prayer services and meeting one-on-one for brief sessions with bar and bat mitzvah students.
Whatever his job has entailed, “it would have been prudent with such accusations for the synagogue to have installed some degree of monitoring or supervision,” said Friedman. “In this case, not letting him have unmonitored contact with children would have been the responsible and wise thing for the temple to do.”
Clergy In The Headlines
Nevison’s arrest comes at a time when sexual abuses by clergymen are already in the headlines: the Catholic dioceses of Philadelphia and Manchester, N.H., turned over to prosecutors last week the names of dozens of priests accused of molesting children. And John Geoghan, a former Boston-area priest, is facing criminal charges and 84 civil lawsuits for the sexual abuse of children over many years. He was transferred by superiors from one church to another when allegations arose.
The Jewish community has faced its share of clergy sexual abuse scandals as well. They usually involve rabbis, but allegations also have been raised against cantors.
As a result of this, and the current climate of heightened awareness about sexual boundaries, cantors’ professional organizations, like those of rabbis, are paying more attention to these issues.
Though Nevison for 23 years has been serving one of Reform Judaism’s flagship temples, he is not a member of the Reform movement’s American Conference of Cantors.
Instead, he is a member of the Conservative movement’s professional organization, the Cantors Assembly. Nevison gained admission to that group 12 years ago, said its executive vice president, Cantor Stephen Stein.
Nevison was not trained in a cantorial program, Stein said. Instead, he earned a conservatory degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and apprenticed under a leading cantor and teacher, who is now dead.
Several months ago, Stein sent to his 550 members guidelines suggesting measures to take when tutoring bar and bat mitzvah students.
He urged cantors not to be alone with a child in a room and encouraged parents to sit in on lessons. If that is not possible, Stein suggested that cantors should have at least two students in the room at the same time.
Stein also recommended that cantors not sit right next to students — “I have a large office, and I sit across the room,” he said in an interview — and that they avoid any physical contact. He also said giving a student a ride home after tutoring is not a good idea, but if a parent cannot pick up his child and it is unavoidable, the student should ride in the back seat.
Stein was spurred to draft the guidelines by hearing about training received by his wife, a teacher, at her school.
“Unfortunately it has become necessary to take what seem like more drastic measures,” said Stein. “Improper conduct on the part of a few has made the rest of us feel the need to be more cautious.”
The Cantors Assembly presently does not plan to sanction Nevison, said Stein. “I don’t see what would be gained by putting him on a leave of membership,” he said. “What would we do, stop sending him mail?
“We’re taking a position similar to the one his congregation has taken,” Stein said. “We don’t want to prejudge him, and will see how the legal process plays itself out.”
The Conservative group has no formal code of ethics, but has an ethics committee that meets on an as-needed basis.
“If he was to be found guilty, I’m confident they would remove him from membership,” said Stein, adding that if Cantor Nevison were to turn to the Cantors Assembly for help looking for a new job, “we would not refer him to congregations while this matter is unresolved.”
The Reform movement’s American Conference of Cantors has no jurisdiction over Nevison but does have in place a 14-page code of ethics that is being revised to conform to the model established in recent years by the movement’s rabbinical organization.
In response to a number of prominent cases of sexual misconduct by its members, the Central Conference of American Rabbis revised, and then refined, an extensive ethics code with detailed processes and types of discipline.
Cantor Richard Cohn, president of the 380-member Reform cantors’ group, said that in the several years of his involvement, no member has been expelled or suspended for an ethics violation, though some have for contravening professional placement policy.
Representatives of both cantors’ groups said that the best ending to a breach of sexual ethics is when the cantor repents — does teshuvah — repairs relationships within the congregation and stays on.
They were also uncertain of whether abuses that take place outside of a cantor’s official duties should be assessed the same way that those he commits on the job are.
But experts in clergy sexual abuse say that it should make no difference.
“The rights of children have to be protected no matter what the venue,” said Herbert Nieburg, who instructs rabbinical and cantorial students about pastoral issues at JTS and directs the student counseling service there.
The new official Catholic practice of turning abusers over to prosecutors “is clearly much more morally appropriate and ethically correct than the way Emanu-El has handled it,” said Nieburg.
“The attitude toward this is changing,” he said. “We tended to protect the offenders. We’d fire them or they’d resign and go somewhere else. But child abuse is such an epidemic problem that we’re really beginning not to exempt anyone.”
The steps taken by those Catholic dioceses are “giving a clear message now that you’re going to be responsible, ethically and morally, for the consequences of your behavior,” said Nieburg.
In terms of its impact on the Jewish community, he said, “I think we’re going to follow suit.”
A pretrial hearing was set for July 1. The man is charged with abusing the boy during visits with relatives in Lower Merion.
By Keith Herbert
Philadelphia Inquirer - April 29, 2005
Former New York City cantor Howard Nevison will go to trial on child-molestation charges Aug. 19 in Montgomery County.
Nevison, 64, was in Montgomery County Court yesterday with his attorney when Judge Paul W. Tressler set the trial date. Tressler also scheduled a pretrial hearing for July 1.
A gag order had been imposed on the lawyers in the case. Nevison's attorney, Ralph A. Jacobs, and First Assistant District Attorney Risa V. Ferman declined to comment.
Nevison is charged with molesting his nephew between 1993 and 1998, when the boy was 3 to 7 years old. The alleged abuse occurred during holidays and family gatherings when Nevison visited relatives in Lower Merion.
The alleged crime came to light in October 1998, when the victim's mother told police that her son had been sexually assaulted by his two uncles and a cousin.
Prosecutors said that members of the family claimed previous abuse: Nevison's two brothers, one of whom is the alleged victim's father, told them that Nevison molested them 40 years ago.
In an earlier ruling, Tressler allowed prosecutors to introduce testimony from the brothers as evidence showing a "common scheme, plan or design" to the molestation allegations.
But Nevison's lawyers appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. A three-judge panel overruled Tressler and barred the brothers' testimony. The panel found the brothers' allegations too old and not specific enough to identify a "signature" crime.
The two family members who were also identified by the victim's mother have already pleaded guilty to sexual assault.
Lawrence Nevison, the boy's uncle, is serving a 5- to 15-year sentence. The victim's cousin, Stewart Nevison, served 11 months in prison and was paroled, according to court records.
In 2003, Nevison was put on leave from Temple Emanu-El, on East 65th Street in Manhattan. Nevison led prayers and sang at the congregation for 23 years.
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