Cantor in Sex Assault Scandals Shouldn’t Run Yom Kippur Services – J.
The news that a cantor at the center of sexual misconduct allegations will help lead Yom Kippur services at a Beverly Hills synagogue is deeply troubling. It is also a stark reminder of the need for major Jewish organizations to set standards and institute uniform procedures to prevent sexual predators and harassers from being legitimized in the community. Controversial cantor Nathan Lam is featured in commercials for High Holiday services at the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts.
Last year, The Forward reported that a female rabbi and cantor who was once Lam’s student accused him of “sexual misconduct” and called his actions towards her “predatory”. The Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, where Lam had been employed as a cantor, announced in December 2020 that its investigation found he had “engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship” and violated codes of ethics. reformed and conservative singers.
Wise Temple also said she “received reports and complaints of other potentially inappropriate relationships,” including “unwanted advances and encounters with devotees,” according to the Forward.
The California Academy for Jewish Religion, where Lam had directed the cantorial program since 2001, conducted its own “thorough and very thorough investigation” into Lam’s behavior. As a result, the Forward reported, the AJRCA told the plaintiff “she would have fired Lam if he hadn’t retired” and that after Lam resigned, “the school banned him from rehire”. Lam” left these positions [at Wise Temple and the AJRCA] under pressure” following allegations of sexual misconduct. He “resigned shortly before the [AJRCA’s] the probe is complete.
The problem, however, is that the Nathan Lam scandal is just the tip of a much bigger #MeToo iceberg in American Jewry.
The rabbinical school of Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College, recently released a report documenting sexual harassment and assaults by at least six of its leaders and professors. Two other Reform institutions are currently conducting similar investigations, as is the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Investigations are important and necessary. But what sanctions or other consequences will the leaders of these institutions impose on colleagues who knew about the abuse, but who allowed it by remaining silent?
Consider the fact that Jewish film festivals are now hosting director Becky Tahel’s “American Birthright,” an exploration of Jewish marriage patterns. Among those who appear in the film to discuss Jewish identity and continuity in the film is Steven M. Cohen, a prominent former sociologist of the Jewish community, who is an admitted but unrepentant sex abuser.
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Cohen never made a full public account of his actions. Nor has he ever fully and unconditionally apologized to his victims, including those who went public and many others who did not. He never paid them restitution or otherwise made amends. Instead, he repeatedly sought to reenter the Jewish communal space. In the absence of such tangible acts, Cohen’s inclusion in “American Birthright,” or any other recognition or public role, is an offense not only to his victims but also to the necessary standards of accountability and non-tolerance of abuse. sex in Jewish community spaces. (For detailed suggestions on the steps that should be necessary for such a re-entry, see tinyurl.com/ycy9tk25.)
Change must come from above. In early 2020, Dianne Lob became the third woman to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which oversees more than 50 American Jewish groups. As someone who helped break one of the most important glass ceilings in organized American Jewry, Lob should have been among the first to help the community deal with the sexual harassment and abuse crisis in Jewish professional life.
My colleagues and I from the Jewish Leadership Ethics Committee organized a petition of 250 Jewish scholars, rabbis and community activists urging the Conference of Presidents to “ban from its activities any representative of a Jewish organization who has harassed or sexual assault”.
Lob replied, “I am pleased to hear from the current leadership of the Conference of Presidents that the Conference has a strong and long-standing policy against sexual harassment. We will remain attentive to this serious subject.
This response dodged the issue of the Conference of Presidents banning abusers from its meetings. We called Lob again and received no response. More than two years have passed, and the Conference has still not taken any step that we proposed.
Action by the Conference of Presidents to banish from office any representative of a Jewish organization who has committed acts of sexual harassment or assault would set an important and much-needed example of leadership on this critical issue and zero tolerance for sexual abuse. of Sexual Harassment or Abuse in Jewish Community Life.
Individuals who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct should not conduct Yom Kippur services, nor be allowed to attend meetings of the Conference of Presidents. The #MeToo movement should surely have taught us that by now.