Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Statement of New Jersey Orthodox Synagogues Youth Chairs and Concerned Parents

Statement of New Jersey Orthodox Synagogues Youth Chairs and Concerned Parents
July 18, 2000

We, chairpersons of youth committees of New Jersey Orthodox synagogues and concerned parents, have assembled at Congregation Israel in Springfield, New Jersey, on Tuesday July 18, 2000. Our purpose is to recommend a course of action following reports of abuse and other improprieties by Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Lanner, a former Regional Director of the Etz Chaim New Jersey region of the National Council of Synagogue Youth and thereafter an administrator of National NCSY, has been reported to have victimized a large but unknown number of children from our communities over the span of more than twenty years.

While the reports of the incidents themselves are horrifying to any parent, what is even more frightening to us is that apparently the Orthodox Union and NCSY exposed our children to Lanner despite their prior knowledge of Lanner's behavior. Specifically, despite reports of his misbehavior, Lanner was allowed to remain as Regional Director in New Jersey until 1988. Even after the finding of a Beit Din that he should not be exposed to children, the OU and NCSY continued to invite him to events and allow him to run its programs at both Regional and National levels.

We all appreciate the work done by NCSY in our communities and for our children. But based on the OU's and NCSY's lack of action during the last twenty-plus years it is also evident to us that the administration and system failed to adequately safeguard children placed in NCSY's care and failed to provide an appropriate forum in which complaints regarding abuse can be aired and addressed. It is our obligation to protect the safety and welfare of our children. In order for this to happen within the context of NCSY, we feel that at a minimum the steps outlined below should be implemented as soon as possible:

1. Standards must be put in place and published governing:
a. Permitted and restricted interactions between staff and NCSYers, including adequate, mandatory annual staff training therein

b. Required staff and lay adult supervision of NCSY programs

c. Encouragement of child development in the context of respect for parents, and prohibiting NCSY staff actions when they promote disrespect
2. Procedures must be established and published to handle:
a. NCSYer complaints against staff

b. Discipline of offending NCSYers and staff

3. Parental oversight of NCSY is needed on issues regarding child safety. A parental review board should be established to govern the handling of NCSYer complaints and disciplining of offenders. Its members should be appointed by and responsible to the chairpersons of the local synagogue youth committees.

4. The Special Commission appointed by the OU must provide the community and youth leaders with a full accounting – including the assignment of direct responsibility and effectuation of appropriate punishment for those who knowingly failed to take action or use reasonable care to prevent harm from coming to the children hurt in the Lanner affair. The OU and NCSY must then take the appropriate actions recommended by the Commission. The lay leadership and youth chairpersons will convene to review the Commission findings and decide on further action.

We believe that our children's safety will be improved if these steps are taken, and we therefore expect no less from NCSY or from any organization entrusted with the safety of our children.

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