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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In 2013, 34 former students of Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), sued the yeshiva alleging they were sexually abused over three decades by two rabbis and other school staff. In 2014, the case was dismissed by a New York District Court judge who cited an expired statute of limitations.

In February, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Child Victims Act (CVA), which changed the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits involving children. It opened a one-year window, which began on August 14, for new lawsuits to be filed on old cases, allowing adult survivors of child sex abuse to seek restitution. The CVA gave these alumni the opportunity to have their case heard, and they filed suit once again, joined by several other men, totalling 38 current plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were victims of child sex abuse perpetrated by Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, and three unnamed individuals at MTA, over a 30-year period from the 1950s to the ’80s. Rabbi Gordon is now deceased and Rabbi Finkelstein lives in Israel.

Jay Goldberg, a 53-year-old software developer who lives in West Orange, has joined the lawsuit alleging that he was a victim of abuse at the hands of Rabbi Finkelstein while a student at MTA in the early 1980s. Goldberg’s goal, he said in an interview with The Jewish Link, is “to help the people who aren’t ready to get help, who have been abused and are stuck in a situation where they feel they can’t do anything.”

“If anything comes out of this, I would like it to be if only one, 10, 100 victims who wouldn’t have felt comfortable getting help, will get help. It is not about rehashing the facts, it’s about helping others in similar situations get the help they need.”

He stated emphatically that he does not want to be suing Yeshiva University. “I am not out to destroy YU,” he added.

According to Goldberg, it is not the facts of the case that are in question. “The only issue in question is ‘Are they responsible for what happened 30 years ago?’” he noted. The current law in New York seems to answer that question in the affirmative.

Goldberg’s hope is that this lawsuit will help to end the stigma of child sex abuse for survivors. He feels that most people do not know how to deal with abuse victims.

“You have to understand,” he said, “when you treat or deal with a victim of abuse, it has had mental effects on them.” He continued, “Too often, it’s all about looking down on people with mental health issues rather than helping them. There needs to be the same compassion and support for people with mental health issues as physical health issues.”

Goldberg added, “How do you eliminate the stigma? You have to encourage people to get help. There needs to be acceptance that getting proper help is not just the appropriate thing, but the right thing.”

“Being abused is a life-altering occurrence,” he added. “The best thing that could happen here is that, as a whole, the organizations would work together to determine how to set systems in place across the Jewish world, across denominations, for reporting abuse and helping survivors.”

“This is the time for us as a group to show the world that we are standing up together and helping our victims and survivors in the way that Jews should,” Goldberg said. “It’s not about suing; it’s about rallying the people together to stand up and handle abuse appropriately.”

By Jill Kirsch