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Eye on statute of limitations, alleged victim of US youth group leader speaks up

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NEW YORK — Jordan Soffer could not begin opening up about the alleged sexual abuse he endured at the hands of his United Synagogue Youth counselor some 15 years ago without first making clear how unsettled he feels about tarring the Conservative movement’s youth branch.

“I’m just so torn because I loved USY and still do. It was my life,” he began, speaking by phone with The Times of Israel on Monday. “I was regional president, international general board member — the whole nine yards. I would never want to do anything to hurt it.” Advertisement

“It’s why I contacted them quietly for years,” he continued. “But when it became clear that they were sweeping it under the rug, just like all of those horror stories you hear about in the [Catholic] Church or [certain parts of the] Haredi world, I felt like I was being morally irresponsible by not speaking out.”

So now, the 32-year-old Soffer said, he has decided to do just that, becoming the first alleged victim of former USY Nassau County divisional director Ed Ward to go on the record. Two other alleged victims have filed civil suits against Ward, with one naming USY and its parent organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, as co-defendants and arguing that the movement was liable for his abuse. Those two plaintiffs have thus far chosen to remain anonymous. The Times of Israel has also been in contact with a fourth alleged victim who asked to remain anonymous.

Soffer, a Modern Orthodox-ordained rabbi who now serves as head of school at Striar Hebrew Academy in Sharon, Massachusetts, is sure there are other victims.

But time is not on their side: New York State’s Child Victims Act (CVA), which grants child sex abuse victims additional time to file civil lawsuits against their abusers, expires on Saturday.

Soffer said that until recently he had been unaware of the law, originally signed by former NY governor Andrew Cuomo in 2019, which temporarily raises from 23 to 55 the age by which a person must file a civil suit for abuse they experienced as a minor.

He only learned about the CVA a few weeks ago, when the lawyer for the two John Does suing Ward approached Soffer and urged him to join the effort.

Soffer, a father of three, initially agreed, while stipulating that he would make a public vow to donate any money won to Jewish organizations devoted to ensuring that sex abusers are not able to continue hiding within communities.

“I was going to use this ‘dirty money’ to clean up a broken system,” he said.

“USY must ask itself what about its own identity allowed this to transpire, and what must it do to ensure that it can never happen again”

But he subsequently came to feel that no amount of money could provide what he was really seeking — a public reckoning from USY — and therefore decided to pull out of the lawsuit. Instead, he said, he was reaching out to The Times of Israel in the hope that media exposure would compel the youth movement to publicly explain how and why it continued to allow an alleged abuser access to its adolescent members for years, and then, after being explicitly notified of the allegations in 2017, allowed Ward to continue working as the executive director of a USCJ-affiliated Long Island synagogue until last year.

Soffer noted that he also wants to ensure nothing similar is happening in USY today, nor would be allowed to recur. “USY must ask itself what about its own identity allowed this to transpire, and what must it do to ensure that it can never happen again,” Soffer said.

In going public now, Soffer further said, he hopes he’ll be able to reach other alleged victims who may not be aware that the statute of limitations under the CVA expires on Saturday.

“They should at least know about what may be the last opportunity to get justice,” he said.

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The civil suits alone paint a damning picture against Ward and USY.

The first one, filed in May 2020, alleges that Ward, now 52, sexually abused the plaintiff repeatedly between the years of 1999 and 2004 while employed by USCJ.

The alleged victim was abused by Ward “in his [own] home, in his [accuser’s] home, at summer camps, offices, classrooms, religious spaces, conventions, meetings, classes and/or events, run, owned, sponsored and/or supervised” by USCJ while the co-defendant was under its employ, the complaint states.

USCJ “knew, or was negligent, careless, and reckless in not knowing” that Ward was abusing the plaintiff,” it adds.

In an affidavit submitted by the defense in that case, the mother of a second John Doe........

© The Times of Israel

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