Rabbi Quits After Reported Sex Sting

An official with an educational program for Jewish high school students has resigned after allegedly searching the Internet for liaisons with underage boys and sending naked pictures of himself.

Rabbi David Kaye resigned from Panim on Oct. 31, several days before being featured on “Dateline NBC” seeking a sexual encounter with an underage boy in a chat room.

“He told me he was going to be on a program on national television that would identify him engaging in inappropriate behavior,” said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder and president of the Washington-based Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.

Panim has never received a complaint against Kaye and he is not accused of doing anything wrong in relation to his work there. But the incident is likely to revive concerns about the possibility of sexual misconduct between rabbis and other Jewish officials who come into contact with minors.

NBC News conducted a sting in August, working with a group called Perverted Justice. Posing as underage boys and girls, members of the group entered Internet chat rooms and waited for adults to engage them in conversation.

Kaye and others allegedly spoke to the presumed children about sex, and suggested meeting them. Kaye allegedly sent one individual naked pictures of himself and arranged a meeting at a Northern Virginia home where the “boy” said he lived, which NBC had equipped with hidden cameras.

When he arrived he was confronted by Chris Hansen, an NBC reporter, who asked what he was doing at the home.

“Not something good,” Kaye said. “This isn’t good.”

Kaye admitted to being a rabbi, and became agitated when Hansen revealed himself as a journalist and the cameras emerged.

When reached by JTA on Nov. 2, Kaye refused to comment on his resignation or any of the accusations against him. Hansen said Kaye had agreed at one point to speak with NBC News, but only if the network did not air his name or face. The network refused.

Perverted Justice sent the chat transcripts and information about Kaye and others to Fairfax County, Va., police, Hansen said. A police spokesman said the department does not confirm the names of anyone under investigation until they’re charged with a crime.

Kaye joined Panim after serving as a rabbi and confirmation instructor at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., for 15 years, until 2001.

“I was incredibly disturbed and troubled and shocked by what I saw,” Rabbi David Rose of Har Shalom told JTA. “The membership has been responding with lots of questions and concerns.”

Rose said there is nothing to indicate wrongdoing during Kaye’s tenure at Har Shalom, but that many people nevertheless are worried.

“I think everybody will be a little less trusting and a little more wary of people in positions of authority,” Rose said. “It’s going to take some time for all of us in the rabbinate to earn people’s trust.”

Kaye also served as a rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio in 2001.

“We are very confident there was no issue while he was here,” the congregation’s executive director, Jo Halfant, said.

Kaye was ordained by the Reconstructionist movement but now is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the Conservative movement. Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R.A.’s executive vice president, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Panim is largely known for a high school program, Panim el Panim, which brings thousands of Jewish students from around the country to Washington each year for religious and political education. As vice president for programming, Kaye mostly oversaw faculty, Schwarz said.

“We do a fairly rigorous set of reference checks for people we hire,” Schwarz said. “But there are always opportunities for abuse of authority.”

Since the story surfaced, Schwarz said he and others have been reflecting on incidents that were seen as inconsequential at the time, wondering if they should have seen a pattern.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about it and wondering about it,” he said. “But they were so insignificant as not to suggest a pattern of behavior.”

Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life, served as the assistant director of Panim in the 1990s. He said he could not imagine much opportunity for one-on-one encounters among staff and students.

“There’s never been a hint of anything in the past, and the program is so intense that there is no one-on-one, unchaperoned down time,” Abramowitz said.

Schwarz originally said he did not expect an investigation into Kaye’s work at Panim, but Panim has taken Kaye’s computer hard drive for inspection.

Abbe Lowell, a prominent Washington attorney retained by Panim, said in a statement that the organization is “taking every step to ensure that there has been no breach of this policy by Rabbi Kaye or anyone else at any time.”

The group also is reaching out to congregations and others that work with the student program.

“I would assure parents that we’ve never had an incident in our program, and there is no accusation of incidents in our program,” he said. “There is no way that any reasonable person can make assurances that no incident will ever happen, but we have safety systems in place.”

Sexual abuse by clergy has been a national issue in recent years, stemming largely from accusations in the Catholic Church. But the issue has roiled the Jewish community as well.

Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official, is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of a yeshiva high school in New Jersey. Lanner was accused of molesting more than 20 teenaged girls over a period of 30 years, and physically and verbally abusing boys. He was convicted on just one account.

Schwarz said he hoped Panim’s reputation would help it weather the storm.

“I think there is so much good will with people that work with us that will serve us well,” he said.


Here and Gone


After less than 10 months on the job, the president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute has announced plans to step down, a development that surprised board members and raised questions about the health and future of the Jewish-owned camp, retreat and conference center.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret insisted his departure was voluntary and amicable. He said he enjoyed his time at Brandeis but wanted to move on to a more spiritually fulfilling job.

“What I found over the past year is that I missed the congregational life and lifestyle immensely,” said Jeret, 40, who will leave Brandeis July 31. “There is a spiritual intimacy between a rabbi and congregation community around life-cycle events and around long-term engagement.”

Brandeis board members say that resignation, though regrettable, would have no long-term negative impact. To take over his duties, the board has tapped Gary Brennglass, a former board chair who has a 35-year association with Brandeis. For now, the board has put off a search for a new president.

Some outside observers worry that instability at the top could make it harder to recruit a talented new leader in the future. Jeret’s exit represents the second time in less than two years that a Brandeis president has departed.

“To the outside world, it doesn’t appear that Brandeis has its act together,” said Jay Sanderson, chief executive of the Jewish Television Network and a former Brandeis director of development and marketing in the late 1980s.

Brandeis-Bardin Institute, which owns 3,000 acres in the Santa Susana Mountains — the largest piece of land owned by a Jewish institution outside of Israel — offers camping and other programs in a rural setting of rolling hills that rise on either side of a sun-baked valley. This year’s rains have made the scenery especially picturesque, spawning a rushing creek from the rocky wash that runs through the property’s center.

Jews of multiple generations remember Brandeis as the place they learned how to folk dance or how to swim, or where they bonded with other teenagers at Camp Alonim. Or where, as adults, they attended spiritually meaningful retreats.

But the peaceful, expansive setting has sometimes belied a troubled institution. Some critics say simply that Brandeis has underperformed, recently failing to reach its potential as a center of Jewish life and culture in Southern California.

Board members insist that all is well and that Jeret’s brief leadership has contributed to a bright outlook.

Brandeis has raised $3 million over the past year for a new dining commons at Camp Alonim; recruited new, young blood to the board, and added four specialty camps — basketball, soccer, arts and wilderness — that will debut this summer, Jeret said.

In the wake of such progress, Jeret’s decision came as a particular surprise to board members, Brandeis Chair Linda Volpert Gross said. Just last month, Volpert Gross said, she threw a surprise birthday party for Jeret at her Encino home that attracted most directors.

“I didn’t wish for [Jeret’s departure], but this institute has been around since 1948 and has had a lot of leaders,” said Volpert Gross, a Harvard MBA. Through all the changes in leadership, “Camp Alonim, BCI [Brandeis Collegiate Institute] and the annual dinner have gone on.'”

Like Volpert Gross, Brandeis executive board member Nathan Hochman said he felt disappointed that Jeret had decided to move on. Hochman headed the search committee that selected the rabbi.

This search process cost at least $50,000, according to some sources, although Hochman declined to confirm that amount. New York-based DRG Inc., an executive search firm for nonprofits, handled the nationwide headhunt.

Hochman insisted that Jeret had been the best choice. “We believe and still believe that Rabbi Jeret has tremendous potential as a leader in 21st century Jewish America,” Hochman said. “As it turns out, we believe he will emerge as that leader by being head of a congregation with a very devoted [local] community, as opposed to being head of an institute like Brandeis-Bardin that has a national congregation.”

Jeret said he had held Brandeis in the highest regard, but longed for congregational life. A former rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach, Fla., Jeret said he had accepted a position at Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes, which had offered him the same job one year ago.

Going forward, board member Hochman said, Brandeis leaders will focus on three areas: the introduction of Camp Alonim’s specialty camps, expanding BCI and the family weekend programs. He said the core aspects of Brandeis are healthier than ever.

Nearly to a person, board members interviewed spoke of a financially healthy, untroubled Brandeis and good times ahead. No one has documentation to demonstrate otherwise.

One board member, however, speaking not for attribution, allowed that Brandeis, like many Jewish organizations, faces difficult times. He speculated that the economic challenges weighed heavily on Jeret.

A former board member with inside knowledge said she thinks Brandeis has a deficit of at least $500,000 and has drawn down $1 million to $2 million from a line of credit.

Brennglass, the new executive director, declined to discuss the institute’s reputed debt, endowment or other financial data. He noted that Brandeis owns 3,000 acres just 45 minutes outside Los Angeles, intimating that it has substantial assets.

“Brandeis will continue to do the great work it has done for 50 years,” Brennglass said.

Jeret’s predecessor said recent developments are a matter of concern.

“I don’t know what the situation is there, but what is needed by the board is an honest assessment of how Brandeis is perceived in the community, what it’s real situation is and how it can move ahead,” Rabbi Lee T. Bycel said. He left the top job at Brandeis in August 2003, after three years, when the board decided not to renew his contract.

Bycel said he hopes for the best: “The community desperately needs a successful Brandeis-Bardin.”