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More victims, lawsuits and mounting anger at USY after ToI report alleging abuse

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NEW YORK — A Times of Israel report last week revealing allegations of child sexual abuse spanning decades by a leader in the US Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth branch has prompted eight more individuals to reach out to share allegations of abuse at the hands of former USY Nassau County divisional director Ed Ward.

In addition to those eight, two other individuals have filed new civil suits against Ward, USY and its parent movement, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — bringing to a total of four the number of plaintiffs seeking damages for alleged sexual abuse that they argue should have been prevented by Ward’s employers. The two latest cases were submitted on Friday, hours before the expiration of the so-called “look-back window” created by New York State’s Child Victims Act, which granted child sex abuse victims additional time to file civil suits against their alleged abusers.

Rabbi Jordan Soffer, who was the first person to speak on the record about Ward’s alleged abuse, told ToI he has heard from dozens of people sharing stories similar to his in recent days. He said no one from USY or USCJ had reached out to him since he came forward.

This week, USCJ issued a pair of statements announcing an independent investigation into the allegations, the suspension of two officials who allegedly failed to report Ward after being notified of his alleged abuse, and an assurance to members that it was taking the matter seriously.

“The trust Eddie built with me was so strong and manipulative that what he did to me sort of felt normal, and I didn’t realize I was a victim until reading and processing the article,” said one of the eight further alleged victims, who was active in USY in the early 2000s and with whom ToI spoke after the publication of last week’s report. He and the seven others spoke on condition of anonymity due to unease over the sexual nature of the alleged crimes, with some of them expressing concerns of legal retaliation.

One of the fresh civil suits alleges crimes that took place between 2016 and 2018, which would be within the statute of limitations for the filing of criminal charges. The attorney representing the 20-year-old alleged victim did not say whether criminal charges would be pursued as well.

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After declining to comment on the specific allegations raised in last Thursday’s report and instead pointing to newly instituted policies aimed at creating a safe space for its participants, USCJ issued a lengthy statement Monday in which it announced the suspensions of staff or volunteers identified in the report “as possibly knowledgeable of [the sex abuse allegations] and who did not take appropriate action.”

The statement, which opened by stressing that “the experiences reported absolutely do not reflect in any sense the values that we represent as a Jewish institution,” received a largely cold response from many alleged victims, who recognized the precarious nature USCJ now finds itself mid-litigation but argued that the Conservative movement failed to show empathy to those allegedly targeted by one of its staff members.

“USCJ seems to have heard the victims’ pain, but not our anguish,” said Soffer.

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

Several of those who spoke to ToI took pains to stress that they weren’t doing so in order to damage the organization that helped shape them as youths, but were seeking a level of accountability that they felt USCJ, as further evidenced by the statement, did not provide.


© The Times of Israel

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