A second chance at justice
West Orange man among 38 plaintiffs in suit against Yeshiva University
Jay Goldberg of West Orange does not list money as his motivation for participating in a class-action lawsuit filed Aug. 22 in New York State Supreme Court by 38 men who claimed they were sexually abused for decades at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, known as Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA).
Though the suit is seeking unspecified damages, the 53-year-old Goldberg, a software designer and member of the Orthodox Congregation Ohr Torah in West Orange, told NJJN, “This is about accountability. I mean that. What happened to us is not under question, just culpability.”
Goldberg is one of five plaintiffs willing to speak publicly about the alleged abuse at MTA from the mid-1950s through 1986, according to the complaint, which names former long-time MTA principal Rabbi (Gedalia) George Finkelstein, who worked at the school for 27 years; Rabbi Macy Gordon; and three unnamed individuals.
Three additional plaintiffs are from New Jersey but prefer to remain anonymous, according to attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who is representing all 38 men in the lawsuit.
Goldberg alleges he was abused in the early 1980s by Finkelstein. “Coming forward brings things that are affected by triggers,” he told NJJN. “You feel pain all over again.”
Goldberg was part of a 2013 lawsuit, comprised of 34 plaintiffs, against Yeshiva University, which accused administrators and teachers of a decades-long cover-up of physical and sexual abuse at its affiliated high school. In that case, Goldberg opted to go by the pseudonym John Doe, which 33 parties in the present suit are doing. That 2013 suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations sought and invoked by Yeshiva University.
That changed this past Feb. 14, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Child Victims Act (CVA) into law, which extends the statute of limitations for a one-year window that opened Aug. 14. Mulhearn, a solo practitioner in Orangeburg, N.Y., accepted the plaintiffs’ suit. A trial date has not been set.
“I am glad these plaintiffs are getting a second chance at justice, thanks to the CVA,” Mulhearn told NJJN. “Their stories need to be told. I believe this is the largest suit filed under the CVA so far.”
During an introspective phone call with NJJN, Goldberg spoke about how the second round of this case triggers “pain all over again” and how, in spite of what he said he suffered at the hands of Modern Orthodoxy’s preeminent institution, he remained committed to leading an observant life.
“This is a case that I hope will give or allow each person who was abused just a little bit of closure,” he said. “Each are very different, but what we share is the common bond of being in a fraternity that nobody would ever want to be in.”
According to Goldberg, Finkelstein’s abuse was calculated. He said Finkelstein told the children, many of whose parents were Holocaust survivors, not to report his abuse because they had “already suffered enough.”
“It was about power,” Goldberg said. “I can control you in any way. He had this sickness of needing to be controlling … He knew who he could and could not abuse. He knew our backgrounds. He was, and is, a predator.”
Finkelstein, who lives in Israel, has denied the charges, according to media reports. Gordon died in 2017. Yeshiva University did not return NJJN’s multiple requests for
At a Manhattan press conference on Aug. 22 Goldberg joined two of the four other plaintiffs who have revealed their identities. He shared his story in the company of New York residents and alleged victims Barry Singer, 61, and David Bressler, 51.
At the press conference and to NJJN, Goldberg expressed the group’s anger toward Yeshiva University for not responding to complaints about abuse at MTA.
“This case should be about how Yeshiva University is the world’s premier Jewish institution for higher education, rooted in Jewish thought and tradition, yet this is how they treat victims of child sex abuse caused by their protection of the predators rather than the children they promised to protect,” he said.
The alleged abuse led several of the plaintiffs to not only leave Orthodoxy, but Judaism entirely.
“I personally decided they had taken so much from me already, they were not taking my Judaism from me,” said Goldberg. “But I understand how some of the others reacted. In this ‘fraternity,’ you begin to understand. Many more have been abused. Each will handle it differently. People have to understand how each person’s mind works.”
Goldberg said he also understands, as an Orthodox Jew, the shame involved in coming forward in reporting such allegations.
“This is more than just about me,” said Goldberg. “There is still a tremendous amount of shame associated with coming forward as a victim of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community. There are certain things that us, as survivors, do, that we can make connections to, are aware of, and even not aware of that protect us.”
Still, there are some he knows who have issues confronting the abuse they were subjected to and keep what happened to
“Some were abused and will never come forward for reasons of their own, which might include it didn’t affect them the same way,” Goldberg said. “They have never dealt with it. Some don’t even know that what they experienced was abuse or are afraid to even tell their inner circle, family, or best friend.”
It’s quite the opposite for Goldberg, who credits his strong family support for his endurance over the years and his ability to go public with his accusations against a Jewish powerhouse.
“This lawsuit has shown me how lucky I am to have such a supportive family,” he said. Raizy, 27, his oldest of three daughters (he also has a son), has lobbied with him in Albany, N.Y., for changes in the CVA. She was there when Cuomo signed it into law and attended the August press conference. “This has not been easy on them,” Goldberg said. “My family has been very supportive.”
He wishes Yeshiva University had acknowledged and taken responsibility for the abuse, and the legal route could have been
“The last thing we wanted to do was sue,” Goldberg said. “We had no other choice.”
Hannah Dreyfus, staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication, contributed reporting.