Legendary Orthodox Rabbi Aware of Sexual Abuse of Children, Report Says
By Ari Feldman
August 30, 2018
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a global Jewish leader who officiated at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s wedding, was aware of multiple instances of sexual misconduct by educators affiliated with the Upper East Side school he ran for 50 years, which is considered one of the best private Jewish academies in the country.
This is according to an independent report the Ramaz Academy released on Thursday that describes the sexual abuse of students at the school by three former employees, as well as allegations of sexual misconduct, including a possible sexual relationship with a student, against three additional former employees.
“We […] learned of instances in which the Ramaz administration could have done more to protect our students,” board chairman Dr. Philip Wilner wrote in a letter that accompanied the report.
Lookstein was not quoted in the report, but cooperated with the investigation and conceded to investigators that with regards to one instance of sexual misconduct he “could have handled the situation better.”
“The report pretty much speaks for itself,” Lookstein told the Forward without elaborating.
Ramaz hired the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate in January after another Jewish day school notified its community of allegations of child abuse against Stanley Rosenfeld, who taught at both schools in the 1970s and was the subject of a recent Forward investigation. Ramaz engaged Debevoise to probe not just accusations against Rosenfeld, but all reports of abuse in the school’s history. Now, as Yom Kippur approaches, the school is calling the report its collective effort at teshuvah, or atonement.
“The season of repentance asks of us to acknowledge our wrongdoings, reflect upon our missteps in judgment, and resolve to being a better person going forward,” the letter the chairman of the school’s board concludes.
Lookstein, principal of the school from 1966 to 2015 and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, was aware that the three teachers accused of repeated sexual abuse had abused Ramaz students, according to multiple people interviewed for the report.
The report states that in the case of Rosenfeld, Lookstein told investigators he knew “within several years” of Rosenfeld leaving Ramaz that Rosenfeld was a predator. In another case, a former employee at Ramaz accused of molesting multiple Ramaz students claimed Lookstein knew about the abuse before the employee was dismissed from the school. In a third case, Lookstein was aware of past abuse while the perpetrator was still a teacher at the school, and after investigating the misconduct, allowed the teacher to remain at the school.
In the case of the teacher that was investigated but not let go, the report states that Lookstein “recognizes that he could have handled the situation better.”
Lookstein also was allegedly made aware that Rosenfeld molested a Ramaz student in 1980, shortly after the abuse occurred, according to an account included in the report and also relayed to the Forward. However, Lookstein told investigators that he doesn’t recall being told about the incident.
The report states that none of the three teachers accused of repeated sexual abuse were ever reported to police. New York State has had laws about “mandatory reporters” — individuals required to report sexual abuse of children to authorities — since the 1960s. Any employee of a school is considered a mandatory reporter.
Though the report notes that one of the instances of repeated child abuse was previously investigated by the school in 2005, the report marks the first time the school has admitted that its officers, administrators or teachers knew about allegations of sexual misconduct with students.
SAR Academy, in the Bronx, and Westchester Day School, in Mamaroneck, both of which also employed Rosenfeld, have each commissioned investigations into Rosenfeld’s tenures at the schools. Lookstein’s son, Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, is the head of school at Westchester Day School.
Though the report does not give a total tally of victims, it suggests that the abuses — from sexual relationships with students, to genital groping, to inappropriate touching and communications — touched the lives of dozens of Ramaz students, from the 1970s until earlier this year, when the school swiftly investigated an allegation of misconduct against a teacher and removed that teacher.
“[W]e offer our deepest apologies to the victims and their families, and openly acknowledge all the ways in which we have erred in cases of abuse,” Dr. Philip Wilner, the chairman of Ramaz’s board, wrote in the report’s cover letter.