Thursday, March 10, 2005

Head of Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffe ignores the problem: CA brothers Rabbi Eli Herscher & Uri Herscher provide haven for rabbinical sexual predators

2 Comments:

At 5:01 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Once again Rabbi Eric Yoffe demonstrates that he doesn't get it. Just like in the case of cantor Howard Nevison ( see: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/howardnevison.html#Yoffie ) and the Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman case (see: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/Zimmerman.html ),
Yoffe shows that his organization has learned nothing from the events of the Lanner scandal at the OU/NCSY.

Now Yoffe ignores child molester Rabbi Mordechai Gafni/Winiarz/Winyarz now operating at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles.

see: http://theawarenesscenter.org/gafni_mordechai.html

1)
Courtesy of the Awareness Center Yahoo groups:

see: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/networkinggroups.html

-----Original Message-----
From: Name withheld upon request
Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2005 4:36 PM
To: Office of the President
Subject: Appearance of "rabbi" Gafni at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles

Dear Rabbi Yoffe:
I would like to call your attention to the lecture series being presented by the above mentioned "rabbi" at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, California.

The man is a sex offender and his presence in any Reform Temple is a disgrace to our Reform community.

Thank you for your attention to this email.

Sincerely,
Name withheld upon request
Member of a Reform Synagogue

-------------------------------------------------------

Tue, 1 Mar 2005 15:27:44 -0500
From: "Office of the President" PresUahc@urj.org
To: Name withheld upon request

Dear Name withheld upon request:

The rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Eli Herscher, has informed me that the allegations against Rabbi Gafni have been investigated again and again and have been proven to be simply untrue. Rabbi Herscher is a man of great integrity and I rely on his judgment in this matter.

Sincerely,
Eric Yoffie

2) This is of course not the 1st time a Rabbi Herscher in California has protected a sexuual predator or provided them a position of authority .

Last time it was his brother Rabbi Uri Herscher, president and chief executive officer of the Skirball Cultural Center protecting sexual predator Rabbi Robert Kirschner (see: http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/robertkirschner.html )

Rabbi Robert Kirschner apologizes
Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Natalie Weinstein
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
Oct 18, 1996

Nearly five years after Rabbi Robert Kirschner left the Pulpit of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, he has for the first time publicly apologized for sexual improprieties that led to his resignation.

"I hereby acknowledge, with sorrow an profound regret, that I engaged in sexual relations outside of my marriage," Kirschner said in a recent statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The statement included quotes from a letter he wrote in October 1995 to the Central Conference of American Rabbis' executive board. However, releasing the information to the JTA marked the first time his apology has been made public.

Kirschner referred in that letter to his conduct as "morally and ethically indefensible," adding that "I ask the forgiveness of anyone who was hurt by my actions, and of my rabbinic colleagues, whose standards I breached."

But according to several of the women who accused kirschner of sexual misconduct, some of whom were Emanu-El congregrants, the rabbi has never directly apologized to them.

In addition, "there are still people who feel an apology should have come to the congregation," said Stephen Pearce, Emanu-El's senior rabbi who replaced Kirschner.

The public apology may mark a turning point for both Kirschner and Emanu-El, even though Kirschner's story illustrates what critics charges are deep flaws in the way congregations and the religious movements generally deal with accusation of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

"The fact that he has been able to admit it is very significant, not only in the eyes of people but in God's eyes," Pearce said.

Because Kirschner resigned, Pearce said, synagogue leaders saw no reason to investigate the women's charges of sexual misconduct. "Since there was no definitive judgment of guilt other than the statement of the women who came forward, there were those who felt he had been wronged."

Calling Kirschner "a brilliant rabbi, but a fallen rabbi," Pearce said the statement creates a sense of closure for the congregation.

"There were doubts in people's minds. They now know there was misconduct and regret," Pearce said. "What more is there to say after this?... Everyone involved should now be getting on with their lives."

Stuart Aronoff, Emanu-El board president, similarly called the apology "a step in the right direction."

Kirschner was once a rising star in the Reform movement. While still in his 30s, he became the religious leader of one of the two largest synagogues in Northern California and the youngest rabbi ever to head such a sizable Reform congregation.

He was destined for a major leadership role in the Reform movement. Some say he would have been on the short list of candidates to succeed Rabbi Alexander Schindler as president of the movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

But after serving Emanu-El for 11 years, Kirschner suddenly resigned from his pulpit on New Year's Day 1992 amid accusations from three congregants and a temple employee that he had sexually exploited or harassed them.

Eight other women later came forward to the temple board to complain about the rabbi's conduct, including members of his congregation and two students from the Graduate Theological Seminary in Berkeley. According to parties involved, at least three of the accusers later reached financial settlements with the temple's insurance company.

The rabbi left the 1,600-house-hold congregation with a package that included a year's pay, his accrued pension, and the equity for his share of the family home jointly owned with the temple. According to a source close to the congregation's board, the total figure came to about $230,000.

It took nearly four years after charges against Kirschner first surfaced until the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's rabbinical association, suspended him from its ranks.

As a result, he cannot receive CCAR benefits, such as the use of its placement services or pension fund, until at least the year 2000. The suspension does not affect his rabbinic ordination but basically precludes any Reform congregation from hiring him as its rabbi.

He is required to get counseling from a psychotherapist and from a senior rabbinic mentor, according to Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then-chairman of the CCAR ethics committee, Kirschner's suspension will be lifted in the year 2000 only upon the recommendations of his therapist and rabbinic mentor.

The CCAR's executive committee, which acts on recommendation from the ethics committee, did not stipulate what Kirschner must do to illustrate his repentance.

But according to Kirschner's written statement to JTA, the rabbinical association has appointed a committee of three rabbis to "approve and supervise" his rehabilitation process.

Though he has not returned to the pulpit, Kirschner is now program director at the prestigious, gram director at the prestigious, new Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which has strong ties to the Reform movement.

Kirschner has refused to discuss any of the charges leveled against him with the Jewish against him with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency or with the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. After initially refusing several phone interviews, he agreed to respond to a written list of questions from JTA.

But then he demurred, and through his attorneys, Kirschner provided JTA with the statement in which he admits engaging in extramarital relationships during his years at Emanu-El and violating the CCAR's Rabbinic Code of Ethics.

In the statement, Kirschner also said: "In June 1994, I acknowledged in writing to the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis that I had failed to abide by the provision of its Ethics Code relating to sexual misconduct. `For this failure,' I wrote, `I express my contrition to those who I wronged and to the those who I wronged and to the CCAR those standards I breached."

In the statement to JTA, Kirschner said that as part of his "process of rehabilitation" he has indicated his "willingness to apologize personally to anyone to whom my conduct as a congregational rabbi was hurtful or offensive."

He has never apologized to Gemma Elftman.

Elftman, who weighs less that 100 pounds and had been battling anorexia nervosa for years, now lives in Hawaii. She moved there after dropping our of U.C. Berkeley, which she attended during her relationship with Kirschner.

Their 18-month sexual relationship began in early 1990 after the rabbi approached her at reception for new members an offered to drive her home, according to a 48-page document she submitted in connection with here complaint against the rabbi and the temple.

Now in her early 30s, Elftman no longer has a connection to the Jewish community.

Lisa Sherman also has left the community.

Sherman was a newlywed and new to Emanu-El, she said, when Kirschner approached her in the late 1980s.

After pursuing her "ardently" for nearly four years, Sherman said, Kirschner kissed her against her will in February 1991, shortly after her father's death. She rejected him she said, but Kirschner continued to pursue her for months.

Today, the 41-year-old women has no connection to Judaism and has that time. She was returned to Greek Orthodoxy, the religion she was raised in and had her son baptized into that faith.

The extent of Kirschner's actions began to surface in November 1991 at a party. Sherman said she was talking with three other women from Emanu-El when on expressed doubt about Kirschner, describing him as "shady."

"Though she didn't know it, she was talking to three other victims," Sherman said.

According to Sherman, the four of them jointly hired an attorney and wrote statements that were presented to Emanu-El's board in December 1991. The women threatened legal action if Kirschner was not immediately removed from his job.

Kirschner resigned from his pulpit on Jan. 1, 1992.

A letter from the temple president informed congregants of Kirschner's resignation "with regret" in language that spoke warmly of his contribution to the synagogue and made no reference to the circumstances of his departure.

In Kirschner's own letter of resignation, sent to the temple's members, he cited personal reasons for stepping down and did not acknowledge any misconduct.

But in the next few months, another eight women came forward and told temple leaders that they had been sexually harassed or abused by Kirschner, said a member of the Emanu-El's executive board. That board member agree to be quoted only anonymously because of the pain the congregation had suffered over the matter.

The CCAR did not get involved in the case until later. The association said it would not investigate the matter until someone field an official complaint with its ethics committee.

When a formal charge was made, CCAR's Stiffman wrote back to the complainant declining to investigate Kirschner's conduct, according to a copy of the letter obtained by JTA. As long as allegations about Kirschner were being worker out through lawsuits, he wrote the CCAR's ethics committee could not get involved in the case.

But the CCAR did try fruitlessly to find Kirschner a job shortly after he left Emanu-El.

Rabbi Arnold Sher, the CCAR's placement director, defended the decision and said a new position would have enabled Kirschner to get" psychological help."

This year, Kirschner was hired as program director of the newly built Skirball Cultural Center. It is a position he assumed after holding a research fellowship at the Skirball Museum, the center's predecessor, which was then part of the Reform movement's seminary in Los Angeles.

The fellowship was funded entirely by Kirschner's supporters from the leadership of Emanu-El, according to Rabbi Uri Herscher, president and chief executive officer of the Skirball Cultural Center, which has strong ties to the seminary but is legally independent.

Herscher said he believes that Kirschner has repented and that the rabbi's record has been made clear to the staff of the cultural center. He said every staff member expressed confidence in Kirschner.

But sources at the Skirball, who asked not to be named, say no asked not to be named, say no such presentation was made to the center's dozens of volunteers, nearly all of whom are women.

Still, there are those who believe that Kirschner has made the necessary amends.

Rabbi Lee Bycel, dean of Reform seminary in Los Angeles known as the Hebrew Union College, said Kirschner "has done more repenting with this than anyone I've ever known in my life."

"In my own conversation with him, I saw a man who had recognized what he had done, was well aware of what these actions meant and had addressed them psychotherapeutically," said Bycel, who in 1993 offered a seminary which he turned down after a small uproar from HUC alumni.

"He was reflecting on it in what I felt was a very Jewish manner, in examining what he had done wrong, seeking to understand why and trying in every way to make teshuvah, that is, restoring the wholeness of his own life."



WHEN RABBIS GO ASTRAY (Part 4 of 5): Rabbi forced to leave pulpit finds place at Reform center
Debra Nussbaum Cohen
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Sep 20, 1996

NEW YORK, Sept. 18 (JTA) -- He was a rising star in the Reform movement, a wunderkind among Jewish leaders in California: young, bright, charismatic and powerful.

While still in his 30s, he had become the religious leader of the largest synagogue in Northern California -- the youngest rabbi ever to head a congregation so big -- and was destined for a major leadership role in the Reform movement. Some say he would have been on the short list of candidates to succeed Rabbi Alexander Schindler as president of the movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

But then, on New Year's Day 1992, Robert Kirschner suddenly resigned from his pulpit at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, amid accusations from four women that he had sexually exploited or harassed them.

Eight other women later came forward to the temple board to complain about the rabbi's conduct, including members of his own congregation, a temple employee and two students from a nearby Christian seminary. And, according to parties involved, at least three of the accusers later reached financial settlements with the temple's insurance company.

Kirschner's story is important because it illustrates what critics charge are deep flaws in the way congregations and the religious movements deal with accusations of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

The rabbi left the congregation with a settlement reported in the local papers to have been worth nearly $400,000.

It took nearly four years after charges against Kirschner first surfaced for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's rabbinical association known as the CCAR, to suspend him from its ranks, and it did so only through the year 2000.

This year, Kirschner was hired as a high-ranking official at the prestigious new Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which has strong ties to the Reform movement.

Kirschner has refused to discuss any of the charges leveled against him with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. After initially refusing several phone interviews, he agreed to respond to a written list of questions from JTA. But then he demurred and through his attorneys, Kirschner provided JTA with a statement in which he admits that he engaged in extramarital relationships during his decade at Emanu-El and that he violated the CCAR's Rabbinic Code of Ethics.

In the statement, Kirschner says: "In June 1994, I acknowledged in writing to the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis that I had failed to abide by the provision of its Ethics Code relating to sexual misconduct. `For this failure,' I wrote, `I express my contrition to those whom I wronged and to the CCAR, whose standards I breached.'"

In his statement, Kirschner also quotes from a letter he says he addressed to the CCAR's Executive Board last October. In that letter, he stated: "I hereby acknowledge, with sorrow and profound regret, that I engaged in sexual relations outside of my marriage."

He referred in the letter to his conduct as "morally and ethically indefensible," and said: "I ask the forgiveness of anyone who was hurt by my actions, and of my rabbinic colleagues, whose standards I breached."

In the statement to JTA, Kirschner also says that as part of his "process of rehabilitation," he has indicated his "willingness to apologize personally to anyone to whom my conduct as a congregational rabbi was hurtful or offensive."

But according to several of the women who have accused Kirschner of sexual misconduct, and according to members of his former congregation, he has never apologized directly to them.

One of those women is Gemma Elftman.

She is a tiny woman who stands 4 feet 10 inches tall, weighs less than 100 pounds and for years has been battling anorexia nervosa, for which she repeatedly has been hospitalized.

According to a 48-page document she wrote and submitted in connection with her complaint against Kirschner and Emanu-El, the rabbi first approached her in the spring of 1990 at a reception for new members held at the home he shared with his wife and four children.

Elftman, who was 29 at the time, says he offered her a ride home from the reception, saying that he had to tell her something outside the house.

According to her account, Kirschner said during the ride home that he was very attracted to her and that he could trust her.

Elftman, who says she had never had a boyfriend and was sexually inexperienced, let him into her apartment.

"Since he was the rabbi, I felt I could let my guard down as far as worrying about being raped," she wrote in the document.

Kirschner told her to put on some music, sat in her rocking chair and told her to sit on his lap, according to Elftman's account. He told her to "trust me that this kind of relationship happens all the time," she wrote.

As he instructed her how to respond sexually, "I was thinking this is really strange. I know it wasn't rape but a part of me kept relating it to rape and thinking at least it's the rabbi and he won't hurt me physically," Elftman wrote, describing her feelings at the time.

She says he called her the next day, though she had never given him her phone number, told her to wear a dress and said he was coming over. When he arrived, he told her to perform oral sex, Elftman wrote.

For the next 18 months they had sex many times, mostly in his synagogue study and sometimes after Friday night services, when everyone else had left the temple, according to the document she submitted.

Elftman now lives in Hawaii, where she moved after dropping out of the college she attended during her relationship with Kirschner.

She no longer has a connection to the Jewish community.

"It's hard for me to get too involved in Jewish things," she said in a telephone interview from her home.

Lisa Sherman, who is 41, also no longer has a connection to Judaism.

Like Elftman, she was new to Emanu-El when, she says, Kirschner approached her.

Newly married to a Jewish man and in the process of converting, Sherman had begun attending Friday night services and volunteering at the temple. She says she had privately hoped one day to be elected to the temple's board of directors.

At an Oneg Shabbat in November 1987, Kirschner came up to her and, according to Sherman, said: "`I find you to be a very fascinating person. I would really like to get to know you better.'"

"This was a guy as large as God telling me this," Sherman said in an interview. "I told my husband that the rabbi wanted to get to know me better, and he said, `Congratulations, what an honor!' We were innocent about it.

"I was so excited, thinking he recognized my potential and wanted to groom me," she said.

Two weeks later, Kirschner asked to meet after the Oneg Shabbat, she said. They went upstairs to his darkened study. He turned on only his desk lamp and asked her to tell him about herself.

As she was speaking, Sherman recalled in the interview, "he stopped all of a sudden and said, `Excuse me. I've got to say what I have to say. I could get in a lot of trouble for this, but I find you so attractive, so sexy, so fiery I want to have an affair with you.'"

Sherman said she turned him down but that Kirschner continued to pursue her "ardently" for four more years, even when she was just three days away from giving birth.

In February 1991, her father died, and Kirschner was scheduled to lead the memorial service. At the time, Sherman's marriage was on the rocks.

Kirschner invited her into his study, she said. "He sat next to me on his couch. He went all through the `rabbi thing' and then put his arm around me, and he said, `In the four years we've known each other, I can't believe we've never kissed,'" Sherman related.

"I was counting on him to make this memorial service wonderful," she said, "and he said, `Just kiss me once, just one kiss, that's all I ask.' The next thing I knew he was on my lips."

"I didn't kiss him back," she said. "I got out of that as fast as I could."

Between March and June of that year, she said, Kirschner called her at home several times. In June, she left her husband. "Not that my husband and I didn't have problems, but Kirschner didn't help," she said.

Sherman has since returned to Greek Orthodoxy, in which she was raised, and has had her son baptized into that faith.

Sherman recounted in the interview that at a party in November 1991, she was talking with three other women from Emanu-El when one expressed doubt about Kirschner, describing him as "shady."

"Though she didn't know it, she was talking to three other victims," said Sherman.

According to Sherman, the four of them jointly hired an attorney and wrote statements that were presented to Emanu-El's board in December. The women threatened legal action if Kirschner was not immediately removed from his job.

Kirschner resigned from his pulpit Jan. 1, 1992.

A letter from the temple president, the late Rhoda Goldman, with whom Kirschner was very close, informed congregants of Kirschner's resignation "with regret" in language that spoke warmly of his contribution to the synagogue and made no reference to the circumstances of his departure.

In Kirschner's own letter of resignation, sent to the temple's members, he cited personal reasons for stepping down and did not acknowledge any misconduct.

But in the next few months, another eight women came forward and told temple leaders that they had been sexually harassed or abused by Kirschner, said a member of the Emanu-El's executive board. The board member agreed to be quoted only anonymously because of the pain the congregation had suffered over the matter.

The CCAR, the Reform movement's rabbinical body, did not get involved in the case until later. It said it would not investigate the matter until someone filed an official complaint with its ethics committee.

When a formal charge was made, Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then chairman of the CCAR's ethics committee, wrote back to the complainant declining to investigate Kirschner's conduct, according to a copy of the letter obtained by JTA. As long as allegations about Kirschner were being worked out through lawsuits, he wrote, the CCAR's ethics committee could not get involved in the case.

"We were told by our counsel that because the congregation was being sued, our stepping in might muddy the waters," Stiffman told JTA in an interview.

CCAR officials would not confirm or deny the details of Kirschner's case.

But the CCAR did try fruitlessly to find Kirschner a job shortly after he left Emanu-El.

Rabbi Arnold Sher, the CCAR's placement director, defended the decision in an interview, saying that a new position would have enabled Kirschner to get "psychological help."

Last November, nearly four years after women first charged Kirschner with sexual exploitation, the promising young rabbi was suspended from the CCAR for five years.

He is required to get counseling from a psychotherapist and from a senior rabbinic mentor, according to Stiffman of the CCAR ethics committee. He said Kirschner's suspension would be lifted only upon the recommendations of his therapist and rabbinic mentor.

The CCAR's executive committee, which acts on recommendations from the ethics committee, did not stipulate what Kirschner must do to illustrate his repentance.

But according to Kirschner's written statement to JTA, the CCAR has appointed a committee of three rabbis to "approve and supervise" his rehabilitation process.

Meanwhile, Kirschner serves today as program director of the newly built Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. It is a position he assumed after holding a research fellowship at the Skirball Museum, the center's predecessor, which was then part of the Reform movement's seminary in Los Angeles.

The fellowship was funded entirely by Kirschner's supporters from the leadership of Emanu-El, according to Rabbi Uri Herscher, president and chief executive officer of the Skirball Cultural Center, which has strong ties to the seminary but is legally independent.

Herscher said in a recent interview that he believes that Kirschner has repented and that the rabbi's record has been made clear to the staff of the cultural center. He said every staff member expressed confidence in Kirschner.

But sources at the center, who asked not to be named, say no such presentation was made to the center's dozens of volunteers, nearly all of whom are women.

Kirschner's friends in the Reform movement had attempted to find a job for the former congregational rabbi after the CCAR's placement effort failed.

Fifteen months after leaving Emanu-El, Kirschner was offered a job by his friend Rabbi Lee Bycel, dean of the Reform seminary in Los Angeles, the Hebrew Union College. Bycel invited Kirschner to teach a summer class on rabbinic literature to young people studying to be social workers in the School of Communal Service.

At that point, Kirschner was the subject of a segment on the tabloid television show "A Current Affair," which compared him to philandering Christian televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert.

Bycel began receiving letters from HUC alumni outraged by Kirschner's hiring as well as from at least one alleged victim.

Bycel responded to one of those complainants, maintaining that "teshuvah -- repentance, a central focus in Judaism -- has become a serious reality for Rabbi Kirschner."

Nevertheless, under apparent pressure from rabbis in the community, Kirschner did not take the summer job.

Bycel still feels Kirschner has made the necessary amends.

Kirschner "has done more repenting and more work and more dealing with this than anyone I've ever known in my life," Bycel said in an interview.

"In my own conversations with him, I saw a man who had recognized what he had done, was well aware of what these actions meant and had addressed them psychotherapeutically," he said.

"He was reflecting on it in what I felt was a very Jewish manner, in examining what he had done wrong, seeking to understand why and trying in every way to make teshuvah, that is, restoring the wholeness of his own life."

3) See also:
http://www.lukeford.net
http://www.lukeford.net/profiles/profiles/gene_lichtenstein.htm
http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/3432/edition_id/61/format/html/displaystory.html

 
At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JWB, do you have an e-mail adress yet?

 

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