Wednesday, November 09, 2005

No charges expected against rabbi - 'Dateline' reaction one of sadness

Rabbi David Kaye in an undated file photo
Rabbi David Kaye in an undated file photo
by Eric Fingerhut
Staff Writer
Washington Jewish Week

Sadness and shock seem to be the most common reactions to the news that Rockville Rabbi David Kaye was ensnared in a Dateline NBC hidden camera investigation of sexual predators on the Internet.

A former rabbi at Potomac's Congregation Har Shalom, where he had worked for 16 years, Kaye resigned last week as vice president of program after three years at the Rockville-based teen educational group Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.

Leaders of both groups say that they never received a complaint about his behaving inappropriately with a child during his employment with their organizations.

The Dateline program, which aired last Friday evening, reported that Kaye had set up a meeting over the Internet with someone he thought was a 13-year-old boy with the intent of having a sexual encounter. The rabbi was then confronted on camera by a Dateline reporter at the Herndon house where the meeting was scheduled to take place (see sidebar, page 25).

Despite the impression left by the report, though, Kaye does not appear to be in legal jeopardy. A spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police Department said Monday that the department does not anticipate filing any charges against Kaye or many of the other men identified as potential predators in the NBC broadcast.

Officer Bud Walker, public spokesperson, said that while it is a felony in Virginia to use the Internet to solicit sex with a minor, the commonwealth would not have jurisdiction in Kaye's case.
Dateline used people affiliated with an organization called Perverted Justice, whose volunteers pose as children online in order to expose potential Internet predators. But those volunteers were based in Michigan, said Walker. Kaye and many of the others caught up in the sting lived in Maryland, leaving Virginia without the ability to prosecute.

Walker called Perverted Justice's methods problematic.

The self-styled "watchdog group" says that it turns over chat logs and other information it gathers to the police. Critics, and even Dateline, have labeled the organization a group of vigilantes.

Walker said the organization uses tactics that Fairfax police officers are not permitted to employ when going undercover as children on the Internet. For instance, Walker noted that the Fairfax police can "never make initial contact" with a potential predator, but must "wait to be contacted," and can "never suggest any meeting."

He also pointed out that cases using Perverted Justice information are difficult to prosecute in court, since the police cannot guarantee that Perverted Justice has provided the complete transcripts of the alleged conversations.

Walker said that Fairfax County would be making referrals to other jurisdictions.
The Montgomery County Police Department is aware of the Dateline sting, but as of Tuesday afternoon had not received any information from other jurisdictions, nor been contacted by any potential victims of Kaye, said Lucille Baur, public information officer for the department.

Kaye could not be reached for comment this week. Both his home phone number and a cell phone number posted on the Perverted Justice Web site have been disconnected. Reached last week, he had no comment.

His most recent employer, Rockville-based Panim, said in a statement this week that it "never received a single complaint by any participant" about Kaye's conduct and it has a "zero tolerance policy" on such behavior.

Panim's executive director, Rabbi Sid Schwarz, would not make himself available for an interview this week, referring calls to high-powered defense attorney Abbe Lowell, who is representing former American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffer Steve Rosen and scandal-plagued lobbyist Jack Abramoff, among others.

Lowell said that Panim will evaluate its hiring procedures to see if "more can be done" to check prospective employees' backgrounds.

He expected the review to "take as long as it takes," but said it was likely to be "weeks, not months."

Lowell added that Kaye had been a rabbi in the Washington area for more than a decade and "not an unknown quantity" when he was hired in the spring of 2002.

The attorney also said that Kaye primarily worked on programming and had "less contact directly" with teens than other Panim staffers.

Based on the lack of complaints about Kaye, said Lowell, the organization believes that "the issues [Kaye] had in his own [personal] life never crossed over" into Panim.

As for the chat transcripts in which Kaye writes that he is at work, Lowell said that "we don't accept those statements at face value," considering that the Dateline report demonstrated that Kaye had been misrepresenting himself to Panim and the community.

Lowell said that the controversy has had no effect on Panim's supporters, and that no schools have canceled scheduled programs with the organization.

Among them are the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, which sent an e-mail to the parents of juniors and seniors at the school on Monday saying that it would be sending its 11th graders to a Panim program designed exclusively for JDS students next month.

The statement said the school was "proud of its association with Panim" and "confident in the integrity and leadership of Rabbi Schwarz and the Panim leadership.

At Har Shalom, Rabbi H. David Rose said the congregation feels "great shock" at the revelations.
"For people who put their trust and faith in him, it hurts," said Rose, who said he has been listening to congregants express their concerns.

Synagogue president Debbie Schapiro mailed a letter to congregants early this week, emphasizing that the congregation's "utmost concern has and always will be care of our families" and that "we are here for them."

The letter also pointed out that there have been no allegations of such inappropriate behavior in the 40-year history of the shul, but that the synagogue would be undertaking an inquiry to be certain.

Other congregants said they were shocked and sad, expressing sympathy in particular for Kaye's two grown daughters and saying they never saw any indications of inappropriate actions during his Har Shalom tenure.

"There was no sign at all" of such behavior when Kaye was at the synagogue, said Barry Perlis of Potomac, who noted his three children had gone through Hebrew school at the synagogue and had no problems with the rabbi.

One person who worked at the synagogue, however, said that Kaye had an anger management problem, often yelling and humiliating staffers. The person noted, though, that he could also turn around and be someone's best friend if he needed something almost like he had a "split personality."

Young adults who grew up as congregants at Har Shalom were taken aback by the report, but did not recall Kaye's behaving inappropriately.

Shawn Eskow of Potomac said that the news was "extremely surprising."

"Rabbi Kaye was one of my favorite rabbis," said the 22-year-old. "He always seemed friendly, comforting and welcoming, but I never would have suspected anything like this."

"I still can't believe it. You'd never believe something like this would happen to Rabbi Kaye," said one former congregant, who was confirmed at Har Shalom and now lives in New York City.
"It's a real shock to see that the rabbi that you grew up with, learned and received mentorship from, could be involved in such offensive actions," said Jared Adler, 22, of Chicago, who said he was "filled with disappointment and anger" when watching the program.

In San Antonio, where Kaye spent less than six months as rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in 2001-02, executive director Jo Halfant said there were no reports of sexually inappropriate behavior while he was there.

She said that Kaye's quick departure came after that the congregation and the rabbi "mutually agreed it was not a good fit," noting that South Texas is a "different lifestyle" than the East Coast.

Meanwhile, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Joel Meyers, did not return messages left for him requesting comment.

Kaye's biography, which was quickly removed from the Panim Web site after his resignation last week, said that the rabbi had been a "leader" in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and had been instrumental in creating a number of youth and Jewish educational initiatives.

A federation spokesperson said that Kaye's work for the federation "did not entail any direct work with teenagers." The rabbi served "as a member and later chair of both the Israel Quest committee and the Jewish educational division" of the federation," which "recommended policy and allocations related to formal and informal Jewish education," she said.

The Panim bio also said Kaye had staffed "numerous USY conventions and retreats." United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism officials said they were not aware of Kaye's participation in any USY activities in recent years, and said that "tough guidelines" are in place on the issue of sexual conduct.

Meanwhile, the Dateline report also flashed a picture on the screen of Kaye with about a dozen other rabbis, two of whom are convicted sexual offenders. The photo comes from a fall 2000 newsletter published by The HealthCare Chaplaincy and was taken after a two-week "reflection and study program of suffering, healing and hope" organized by the chaplaincy's Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care.

Vicki Polin, executive director and founder of The Awareness Center, a victims' rights organization for victims of sexual abuse in the Jewish community that has the photo posted on its Web site, said the picture could be just an very odd coincidence, but that sexual offenders often tend to find each other.

WJW intern David Silverman contributed to this report. 

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