March 8, 2023
March 8, 2023
Dear Members of our USCJ/USY community:
In August 2021, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and United Synagogue Youth (“USCJ/USY”) engaged Sarah Worley, Esq., of Sarah E. Worley Conflict Resolution, P.C., to conduct a comprehensive outside investigation concerning allegations of adult on teen abuse/sexual misconduct within USY. The investigation spanned USY’s entire 70-year history, across all USY regions and programs, which have served over 100,000 Jewish teens to date. We sought both an historic look-back, as well as an evaluation of USY’s current programs, youth safety policies, practices, and culture.
We are profoundly grateful to every victim/survivor and witness who came forward with information for this thorough investigation. We hope that through the course of this thorough process, victims and witnesses feel that they have been heard and their stories were considered with earnest attention. We continue to listen and encourage anyone who may have been impacted during their time in USY to contact our outside investigator, Sarah Worley, Esq at: 617-419-1900, [email protected].
Ms. Worley’s search for the relevant information included a review of thousands of documents and interviews with over 100 witnesses. Ms. Worley reported that 22 self-described victims/survivors of adult on teen misconduct came forward in this investigation to share their experiences, and an additional 18 victim/survivors who did not participate in the investigation were identified from prior reports to USCJ, litigation filings and/or media reports. Reported misconduct included wrongful sexual contact, reports of grooming, reports of over sexualized culture, and other boundary crossing behaviors deeply contrary to the values of USCJ/USY. In total, over USY’s 70- year history, the investigation reported 41* accounts of abuse, misconduct, or boundary crossing behaviors.
We are heartbroken by these accounts and feel deep sorrow that any individual may have suffered. Among the many tens of thousands of Jewish teens that have enjoyed their experience in USY over the years without incident, any report of misconduct or abuse is one too many, and each one is certainly worthy of our attention and empathy. We fully condemn past misconduct as reported to Ms. Worley and we remain committed to providing a safe and enriching environment for our Jewish teens without exception.
No adult accused of sexual misconduct within USY from any time period is currently associated with USCJ/USY, and all have been barred from USY activities, with the vast majority having separated from USCJ/USY many years ago. This includes volunteers who were not employed by USCJ/USY and have been similarly barred from USY events or activities.
Today we are sharing with our community USCJ’s Report on the Investigation. Ms. Worley has reviewed the Report and agrees that it is a fair and accurate description of her work. Key information we learned includes:
- Most of the reported misconduct occurred in the METNY region, and many decades ago in the Far West region.
- Ms. Worley reported there was no widespread or systemic abuse beyond the individual incidents or matters reported.
- Many victim/survivors reported misconduct that occurred outside of USY-controlled venues or official USY programs.
- Over the decades, the large majority of the cases of reported misconduct involved 5 perpetrators.
- A number of witnesses reported a highly sexualized culture within USY programs that Ms. Worley concluded was not healthy for teens and that USCJ/USY deems contrary to its values.
- Ms. Worley noted that in recent years, reports of misconduct were addressed by USCJ/USY promptly and appropriately.
As a Jewish institution, we must acknowledge these reports of misconduct in USY’s past. And we must learn from the past as we innovate our programming for Jewish teens to continue to safely explore and strengthen their Jewish identities and build lasting community. Ms. Worley’s investigation has provided important insight for a new generation of USCJ/USY professional and volunteer leadership that will guide our ongoing efforts to ensure a safe and enriching environment for Jewish teens.
Ms. Worley made a number of Recommendations which we accept and will pursue promptly. Notably, we have already implemented many of her suggestions, such as:
- USCJ/USY introduced enhanced child safety policies, procedures and training, with new materials introduced in 2021, as developed and guided by Baltimore’s nationally renowned Center for Hope;
- USCJ/USY implemented new Mandatory Reporter training in 2021/22 as developed in 2020 by Drew Fidler, LCSW-C from the BBYO Center for Adolescent Health and Wellness;
- USCJ/USY hired Mauria Atzil to a newly created position as Director of Child and Youth Protection. A licensed master social worker and IDF veteran, Ms. Atzil brings extensive experience overseeing program compliance, personnel training and investigations of complaints. She is already hard at work on the review and implementation of USY’s Child Safety Program, including developing new training modules and introducing technology-based reporting systems. Ms. Atzil will also work with member congregations to assist them in complying with USCJ’s expectations and policies with respect to Teen Engagement; and
- USCJ/USY is working jointly with (1) the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), and the National Ramah Commission to develop training and other programs to promote youth wellbeing and healthy relationships across the Conservative Movement, and (2) the Rabbinical Assembly, Cantors Assembly (CA), Jewish Educators Assembly (JEA) and the North American Association of Synagogue Executives (NAASE) to develop common standards, a centralized investigatory process, and better communication of findings and disciplinary action in any future cases of misconduct.
In Beresheit 1:26-27, The Torah teaches us that all humans are made in God’s image, and our Sages have taught us that we therefore must respect the dignity – – the kavod – – of all people. Ensuring that USY operates within a culture that places safety above all, and that fosters and promotes respect for all participants is our top priority. We will continue to listen and learn from our program participants and stakeholders, while we remain steadfast in enhancing our youth programming and critical child safety protocols.
Finally, I want express my deep appreciation to our outside investigator, Ms. Worley, for her diligence over these many months to engage victim/survivors and witnesses, for earning their trust and confidence so they felt safe to share their stories, for following up on leads large and small, and for her thoughtful guidance for how USCJ/USY can move forward toward its best future.
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal
CEO United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
*One victim/survivor reported 2 accounts