NEW YORK — Thirty-eight former students of an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City operated by Yeshiva University sued Thursday over claims they were molested by two prominent rabbis in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
The suit alleged the university failed to protect students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys and even promoted one of the rabbis to principal after receiving abuse reports.
A Yeshiva University spokesperson declined to comment, citing a school policy against speaking publicly about litigation.
The lawsuit is one of hundreds that have been filed over child sexual abuse allegations since last week, when New York state opened a one-year window for suits previously barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
During a press conference Thursday, three of the alleged victims, flanked by their lawyers, spoke about disturbing behavior they say went on for decades.
“I didn’t even understand at the time that this was sexual abuse; I just knew that this guy was putting his hands all over me,” said Barry Singer, 61, speaking of one of the rabbis he said kept reaching into the boy’s pants, even in school hallways.
The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse unless they choose to be named.
The lawsuit named as defendants Rabbi Norman Lamm, the university’s former president and chancellor, Rabbi Robert Hirt, a former vice president of YU’s rabbinical seminary, and members of the YU board of directors members. The high school is part of Yeshiva University.
Among those accused of carrying out abuse and inappropriate contact are a high school administrator Rabbi George Finkelstein, Judaic teacher Rabbi Macy Gordon and Richard Andron, a martial arts instructor who was employed by the school.
Finkelstein was promoted from the school’s assistant principal to principal even after some of the boys’ parents reported the alleged abuse to school officials, the plaintiffs said.
Finkelstein left the high school in 1995 and took a post at a Jewish school in Florida before moving to Israel, where he worked at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Calls to the synagogue rang unanswered Thursday.
Gordon, who died recently, was a teacher at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center in Jerusalem after leaving the school. Both men have denied the charges.
Thirty-four of the plaintiffs attempted to sue Yeshiva University for sexual abuse and facilitating sexual abuse in 2013 but the case went nowhere because it was barred by the statute of limitations at the time.
Lamm resigned over the suit in 2013, and he admitted to a reporter for the Forward newspaper that he, as well as the school’s administration, were aware of the allegations.
Plaintiff David Bressler, 51, said the abuse he suffered while a student in the early ’80s led him to abandon his religion that now rekindles memories of the abuse. He now has no contact with his parents and other relatives who are observant Jews. When he married his Jewish wife a decade ago, he made her promise not to raise their children in the Jewish faith.
He said he still doesn’t tuck in his shirt, a habit he started in high school to make it more difficult for his abuser to put his hand down his pants. He said there are days he can’t bear being on a crowded subway because “I can’t stand being touched by people.”
“So you don’t even realize what the long-term impact is,” said Bressler, a father of two.
JTA contributed to this report.