Yeshiva University Hit With Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Thirty-eight former students of an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City operated by Yeshiva University sued Thursday over claims they were molested by two prominent rabbis in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleges that the university failed to protect students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys and promoted one of the rabbis to principal even after receiving abuse reports.  

A Yeshiva University spokesperson declined to comment, citing a school policy against speaking publicly about litigation.

The lawsuit is one of hundreds that have been filed over child sexual abuse allegations since last week, when New York state opened a one-year window for suits previously barred by the state’s statute of limitations.

During a news conference Thursday, three of the alleged victims, flanked by their lawyers, spoke about disturbing behavior they say went on for decades.

“I didn’t even understand at the time that this was sexual abuse; I just knew that this guy was putting his hands all over me,” said Barry Singer, 61, speaking of one of the rabbis he said kept reaching into the boy’s pants, even in school hallways.

The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse unless they choose to be named.

Accused rabbis

One of the accused rabbis, George Finkelstein, targeted children of Holocaust survivors, according to the lawsuit, telling them they would increase their parents’ suffering if they spoke about the abuse. The other, Rabbi Macy Gordon, who taught Jewish studies, allegedly sodomized boys in a “vicious and sadistic” manner using objects, the lawsuit says. Gordon died in 2017 in Israel. Both he and Finkelstein have denied the allegations in the past.

David Bressler listens during a press conference in New York, Aug. 22, 2019.

Finkelstein was promoted from the school’s assistant principal to principal even after some of the boys’ parents reported the alleged abuse to school officials, the plaintiffs said. Gordon eventually moved to Israel, where he worked at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Calls to the synagogue rang unanswered Thursday.

Thirty-four of the plaintiffs attempted to sue Yeshiva University for sexual abuse and facilitating sexual abuse in 2013 but the case went nowhere because it was barred by the statute of limitations at the time. On Thursday, one of their attorneys, Kevin Mulhearn, called the plaintiffs “trailblazers.” 

Alleged victim

David Bressler, 51, said the abuse he suffered while a student in the early ’80s led him to abandon his religion that now rekindles memories of the abuse. He has no contact with his parents and other relatives who are observant Jews. When he married his Jewish wife a decade ago, he made her promise not to raise their children in the Jewish faith.

He said he still doesn’t tuck in his shirt, a habit he started in high school to make it more difficult for his abuser to put his hand down his pants. Bressler once punched Finkelstein while he says the rabbi was sexually “wrestling” with him.   

Now there are days he can’t bear being on a crowded subway because “I can’t stand being touched by people.”

“So you don’t even realize what the long-term impact is,” said Bressler, a father of two.

Yeshiva University, which calls itself “the world’s premier Jewish institution for higher learning,” has trained both secular and religious leaders for the past century. With four campuses in Manhattan, the university operates the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law and other schools that attract a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish students.

The high school, also known as the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, has taught boys since 1916. It’s considered the first academic Jewish high school in the U.S. and the first to offer both Jewish and secular studies. 

Walmart to Revamp, Reopen El Paso Store After Mass Shooting

Walmart plans to reopen the El Paso store where 22 people were killed in a shooting earlier this month, the retail giant said Thursday, but the entire interior of the building will first be rebuilt.

The renovated store will include an on-site memorial honoring the victims of the shooting, many of whom were Latino, and recognizing the “binational relationship between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez” just across the border in Mexico, Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said. The project is expected to take three to four months. 
 
Nearly all of the 400 employees at the El Paso store have been reassigned to other nearby locations, Hargrove said, and the Arkansas-based company believes reopening the store is “an important step in healing from this tragedy.”

“Nothing will erase the pain of Aug. 3 and we’re hopeful that reopening the store will be another testament to the strength and resiliency that has characterized the El Paso community in the wake of this tragedy,” Hargrove said.

Flowers, crosses and handwritten messages now adorn a makeshift memorial outside one of the store’s entrances. Hundreds of residents have visited in the wake of the shooting, where social workers hand out bottled water and offer counseling services.

“If we close it, they win,” said Laura Lopez, 59, who brought her gardening gloves from home to help clear dead flowers from the memorial site Thursday. “Life goes on and you’ve got to go on.”

FILE – Mourners visit the makeshift memorial near the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 12, 2019, where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting.

Many shoppers from Ciudad Juarez went there because it is the closest Walmart to the four border bridges that connect to El Paso. Eight of the people killed in the shooting were Mexican citizens. The vast majority had Hispanic names.

Authorities took more than 10 days to finish processing evidence before returning control of the property to Walmart. It was less time than officials initially anticipated given the scope of the carnage, plus the size of the crime scene where police said up to 3,000 shoppers had gathered. The FBI has returned most of the 230 vehicles that had been in limbo behind crime scene tape for days after the attack. 
 
“It was very meticulous work and certainly not rushed, but working around the clock with our counterparts in the FBI, investigators were able to complete the task sooner than initially anticipated,” El Paso Police Department spokesman Enrique Carrillo.

Confession

Police said the suspected gunman, Patrick Crusius, confessed to targeting Mexicans in the attack. They’ve also said that the suspected shooter is the likely author of an anti-Latino screed published online shortly before the shooting. It criticized race-mixing and called Hispanics “invaders.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met Thursday in Austin with officials from tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to discuss ways of combating extremism. Abbott hasn’t proposed any new major gun-control measures but called for a crackdown on internet sites used by violent extremists in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Police are still preparing their investigation for the local prosecutor, Jaime Esparza, who has said he will seek the death penalty. The Department of Justice has said it will bring federal capital murder charges, and is investigating the shooting as domestic terrorism. 

Suicide watch

Crusius has been on a suicide watch in an El Paso jail since Aug. 7, according to El Paso County Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Chris Acosta. Crusius has been separated from other inmates, Acosta said Wednesday.

In the days after the shooting, Hargrove said the company was reviewing security protocols. Walmart launched computer-based active shooter training in 2015 and has since increased frequency of its instruction and added a virtual reality component.

The El Paso City Council has been researching the possibility of requiring armed security guards for large stores, and of requiring certain additional security features at store entrances.

“People are not picking on Walmart in particular but, they used to have off-duty officers hired there all the time. And then for some reason, it went away,” police chief Greg Allen told city council members in an Aug. 8 briefing.

A police spokesman declined to elaborate on the chief’s comments and referred questions to Walmart.

YouTube Disables 200 Hong Kong Misinformation Videos

YouTube says it disabled more than 200 videos this week that appeared to be part of a coordinated effort to spread misinformation about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The video removals come just days after Twitter said it had suspended more than 200,000 accounts it linked to a Chinese government influence campaign against the protests. Facebook also said it had suspended accounts and removed pages after being notified by Twitter.

Google, which owns YouTube, did not explicitly implicate the Chinese government but said the videos were related to the similar disclosures from Facebook and Twitter.

Social media companies have faced criticism about the spread of misinformation on their sites and have taken action to combat the spread in recent months.
 

Pentagon IDs 2 Latest Casualties in Afghanistan   

The Pentagon has identified the two service members killed in action Wednesday in Afghanistan.

Master Sergeant Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa of Chicopee, Massachusetts, and Master Sergeant Jose J. Gonzalez of LaPuente, California, were killed during what is being described as an active combat situation.

But officials have not said which enemy the troops were fighting.

An official with the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan told VOA an investigation is ongoing.

The Trump administration and the Taliban have been negotiating to find a way out of the United States’ longest war.

Trump shared details of the meeting with reporters early this week, suggesting a U.S. troop drawdown plan is still in the works.

“We’re having very good discussions [with the Taliban]. We will see what happens. We’ve really got it down to probably 13,000 people [troops] and we’ll be bringing it down a little bit more and then we will decide whether or not we will be staying longer or not,” he said.

Trump stressed that the U.S. plans to leave behind a “very significant intelligence” force for operations against Islamic State and al-Qaida. He says Afghanistan remains “a breeding ground” for terrorists.
 

US Will Enforce Sanctions on Iran Tanker, Official Says

WASHINGTON – The United States will aggressively enforce its sanctions to prevent the private sector from assisting an Iranian oil tanker that is traveling through the Mediterranean and that Washington wants seized, a State Department official said Thursday. 

“The shipping sector is on notice that we will aggressively enforce U.S. sanctions,” the official told Reuters days after warning countries not to allow the tanker to dock. 

Ship tracking data have shown the ship, the Adrian Darya, formerly called Grace 1, last heading toward Greece, although Greece’s prime minister said it was not heading to his country. 

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that the United States would act against anyone who directly or indirectly helped the tanker. 

“All parties in the shipping sector should conduct appropriate due diligence to ensure that they are not doing business with nor facilitating business for, directly or indirectly, sanctioned parties or with sanctioned cargo,” the official warned. 

The ship was released from detention off Gibraltar after a five-week standoff over whether it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. 

Soon after the detention order was lifted, a U.S. federal court ordered the seizure of the vessel on different grounds, but Gibraltar rejected that petition. 

Tehran said any U.S. move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences.” 

Greenland Controversy Continues as Trump Cancels Copenhagen Trip, Calls Danish PM ‘Nasty’

The controversy over U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly postponing his trip to Copenhagen continues, as he criticized Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, calling her “nasty” and “inappropriate.” The Danish leader had rebuffed Trump’s overture to buy Greenland, the Arctic country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

South Sudan’s Men4Women Takes on Cultural Taboos of Menstruation

In South Sudan, a group of men and boys is trying to break cultural taboos on a topic that often drives young girls out of school — menstruation.  Men4Women is distributing menstrual pads to girls while also encouraging boys and men to engage in conversations and advocate policies that make sanitary hygiene products more accessible to girls. Sheila Ponnie reports from Juba.
 

Dancing Through Depression in Beach Therapy in Los Angeles

Spending time on the beach and dancing away pain, fear and despair is what Los Angeles dance movement therapist Julia Vishnepolsky helps her patients do to reduce stress and anxiety while learning how to be at peace with their lives. Angelina Bagdasaryan met with the therapist to learn more about the power of dance. Anna Rice narrates her story.
 

Greenland Controversy Continues as Trump Cancels Copenhagen Trip, Calls Danish PM ‘Nasty’

The controversy over U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly postponing his trip to Copenhagen continues, as he criticized Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, calling her “nasty” and “inappropriate.” The Danish leader had rebuffed Trump’s overture to buy Greenland, the Arctic country that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has the story.
 

Trump Insists Democrats are ‘Bad’ for Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump again insisted American Jews should vote Republican because voting for a Democrat would show ignorance or a lack of loyalty. His original statement was part of an attack on four Democratic lawmakers, of whom two are not allowed to visit Israel, apparently at his behest. Many American Jews say Trump’s questioning of their loyalty is akin to a historical trope that has fed xenophobia against Jews. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports Israelis’ reactions to Trump’s remarks.