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Orthodox Union, youth group sued over past handling of sex abuse

18 1 10

New York Jewish Week via JTA — More than two decades after publication of allegations that Rabbi Baruch Lanner abused teens in his charge for more than 30 years, four of his victims are seeking their day in court.

The four women, now middle-aged and older, filed a lawsuit Monday with the Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County against Lanner, the Orthodox Union (OU) and the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), the OU’s youth arm, where Lanner was a top official.

It is believed to be the first such legal action taken against the Orthodox organizations as a result of the scandal involving Lanner, 72, who was forced to resign days after The Jewish Week published in 2000 an investigation that detailed charges against him by more than a dozen former NCSY members.

The revelations emboldened other accusers, and in 2002 Lanner was convicted of sexually abusing two teenage girls who were students in the 1990s at the Hillel Yeshiva High School in Deal, New Jersey, where he had been principal in between stints at NCSY. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, served nearly three years and was released on parole in early 2008.

The lawsuit focuses only on his time at NCSY, according to Boz Tchividjian, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs. He said it alleges that the two prominent Orthodox organizations knowingly allowed the rabbi’s predatory behavior at its youth group to continue despite numerous, long-standing complaints that he sexually, physically and emotionally abused girls and boys in his role as NCSY’s director of regions.

The suit was filed under recent changes in New Jersey law that allowed for a two-year “lookback” window during which sexual abuse victims could come forward and sue their abusers and their enablers. That deadline is November 30, prompting the four women to file their lawsuit now. Previously, a statute of limitations in New Jersey had inhibited any civil suits against the Orthodox organizations that employed Lanner.

“Our clients are going to finally hold Baruch Lanner accountable for his deplorable and abusive conduct, and the Orthodox Union accountable for giving a known offender decades of access to vulnerable children who he terrorized and victimized,” said Tchividjian. “By filing this lawsuit, these bold women are reclaiming the power that was taken from them by a perpetrator and the organization that employed him and empowered him.”

Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Brian Kent, of the law firm Laffey, Bucci & Kent in Philadelphia, said participants might still be added to the lawsuit if they come forward by the deadline Tuesday.

Asked to respond to the women’s accusations in the days before the suit was filed, a spokesperson for the OU told The Jewish Week: “The OU is not aware of any impending lawsuit and therefore cannot comment.”

Among the charges in the lawsuit, according to Tchividjian, are that the OU and NCSY were negligent in failing to protect children — that instead they protected themselves by ignoring or dismissing complaints about Lanner’s “willful, malicious and wanton” actions for decades.

Even by 2000, when the Lanner story came to light, the statute of limitations had long passed for those complainants, preventing them from taking legal action. The article received national and international attention and was cited as “a watershed in the way the Orthodox........

© The Times of Israel

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