- Group appeals to Buffalo rabbis
- It doesn't want whistleblower ousted
- A vote is scheduled to be held this Friday
- Local rabbi organization may impeach its president
- He spoke up about a credibly accused abusive colleague
A self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging Buffalo rabbis to postpone their plans to act tomorrow against a colleague who warned the public that a once-ousted rabbi was leading services again in recent weeks.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing the Buffalo Board of Rabbis about Rabbi Keith Karnofsky. Karnofsky is currently the president of the rabbis' group, but a meeting is set for Friday at which some members plan to try to impeach him.
Some rabbis are apparently upset with Karnofsky, in part, because he told The Buffalo News about Rabbi Charles Shalman, who helped with seven services recently at the Jewish student organization at the campus of the University of Buffalo.
In 2008, Shalman was forced to step down as the head of Temple Shaarey Zedek in Amherst, NY following a complaint that he had an inappropriate relationship with a congregant. Since that time, Shalman has not been permitted or able to serve as a Rabbi to a congregation.
Years earlier, in 1999, Shalman was investigated and sanctioned by Temple Shaarey Zedek Rabbinical Assembly’s ethics committee who found that Shalman had violated principles of “rabbinic conduct,” including improper touching and improper suggestions.
“The sad, simple fact is that Rabbi Karnofksy is the only person who publicly acted to expose the callousness and recklessness of Shalman’s hiring,” said David Clohessy, SNAP Director. “He acted quickly and effectively to warn others about Shalman and deter others from giving Shalman positions of power. For that, Rabbi Karnofsky should be thanked, not ousted.”
“The Buffalo board should not act rashly here or dump Rabbi Karnofsky at this point,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP. “Regardless of the board’s motives or claims, punishing Rabbi Karnofsky would deter others – inside and outside the Jewish community - from speaking up about clergy sexual misdeeds. It will be perceived as retaliation.”
In a letter to the members of the board, Clohessy added that "SNAP would be glad to act as a mediator in this situation or help you find others with experience in clergy sexual misconduct who could help."
Clohessy has communicated directly, though phone calls and emails, to four board members.
“Each one denounces Shalman’s hiring, pledges to take do something soon about it, and says they aren’t retaliating against Rabbi Karnofsky’s whistleblowing,” Clohessy said. “But action speaks louder than words. And none of the four has shown any evidence of any public action they took to prevent Shalman’s hiring beforehand or to publicly denounce it afterwards.”
Each of the four, Clohesssy said, mentioned handling the situation “privately,” “quietly,” or “without riling the community up.”
“Tragically, history shows us when clerics of any denomination try to deal with clergy sexual misconduct ‘behind-the-scenes,’ they rarely succeed,” he emphasized.
SNAP's letter (see copy below) was sent yesterday by e mail to Rabbi Alex Lazarus Klein (716-633-8877, email@example.com), Rabbi Perry Netter (310-499-3376, firstname.lastname@example.org), Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum (716-982-6125, email@example.com), and Rabbi Drorah Setel (716-310-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org)
It will be sent to other Board members today.
Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read this letter. I apologize, in advance, for any offense I may cause by its direct tone. I mean no disrespect to any of you as individuals, spiritual leaders or to your organization.
We are members of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Our mission is to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
We are writing to you today to ask you for your help regarding an unfortunate situation that arose in Buffalo. In recent weeks, as you know, Rabbi Charles Shalman – who has repeatedly been accused of sexual impropriety and at least once condemned for it – was allowed to lead services recently at Hillel in Buffalo. Fortunately, one of your fellow rabbis in the area, Rabbi Keith Karnofsky, courageously spoke out about Rabbi Charles Shalman, and this hurtful, potentially dangerous move.
It was hurtful because it likely rubbed even more salt into the wounds of those who Rabbi Shalman has exploited.
And it was potentially dangerous because any time a cleric who has hurt others and abused his power is given a role or position of credibility, prominence or respect - even temporarily - it better enables him to build more trust and access more victims (event months or years later).
Now, we understand (from several sources) that your group is planning to vote on Friday to take action, not against the wrongdoer, Rabbi Shalman, but against the whistleblower, Rabbi Karnofsky. We respectfully ask that, at a bare minimum, you postpone such action for at least a month, to allow for more thoughtful reflection.
Our group has been involved in clergy sexual abuse, misconduct and cover up cases for two dozen years. I’ve been SNAP’s director for 23 of those years. Based on that experience, here’s what we strongly predict will happen should your board oust Rabbi Karnofsky now, or take any similar action against him,
--You will hurt the reputation of your board, because the public will conclude (regardless of your states reasons) that Rabbi Karnofsky is being disciplined because he publicly exposed a colleague who sexually violated congregants.
--You will hurt Rabbi Karnofsky’s reputation.
--You will reinforce the notion that church officials can act with impunity and hurt others and face few consequences for their misdeeds, however frequent or egregious they may be.
--You will lead others to believe that some religious figures are willing to overlook whether a rabbi uses his power and authority to abuse others, if he has other gifts or skills.
--You will further hurt victims of clergy abuse/misdeeds, whether they are Jewish, Catholic, or Baptist.
--You will deter other potential victims, witnesses and whistleblowers with information or suspicions of clergy sexual misdeeds from speaking up, thus helping to make churches, synagogues and other institutions less safe, rather than more safe.
--You will give comfort to Rabbi Shalman and his supporters, and embolden him to continue seeking positions of leadership in the Jewish community, regain the power he once had, and potentially hurt others again.
You may say “there are other reasons we’re ousting Rabbi Karnofsky.” But those claims will fall on deaf ears, I assure you.
So we implore you to rethink your plans, and ask you to publicly censure Rabbi Shalman instead of Rabbi Karnofsky. Or, at the very least, we hope that you will move slowly and not rush to a decision about the leadership of the Buffalo Board of Rabbis.
Allow the process of discerning your next steps, if any, to move forward thoughtfully and carefully and not allow impassioned emotions to rule the day.
Instead, look at the facts.
In 1999, Rabbi Shalman was censured for inappropriate sexual behavior.
In 2008, Rabbi Shalman was ousted for inappropriate sexual behavior.
In 2012, Rabbi Shalman was given a place of honor despite his sordid past. Instead of silently allowing this, Rabbi Karnofsky stepped forward, tried to prevent this, and then publicly exposed it.
Again, if Rabbi Karnofsky is impeached for speaking out, it will send a chilling message to other would-be whistleblowers. Instead of encouraging others to speak out when they witness wrong-doing or have knowledge or suspicions of abuse, censuring Rabbi Karnofsky will scare those people into remaining silent. Silence is a predator’s best weapon.
We believe that in this situation, Rabbi Karnofsky chose the moral path, the choice to protect vulnerable adults, the choice to stray from the comfortable and quiet status quo and speak out against sexual impropriety.
This world needs more men like Rabbi Karnofsky. Instead of punishing him for speaking out, we hope that instead you will applaud him. And if not, we hope you at least take more time and reflect more carefully before considering taking any action against him.
We in SNAP would be glad to act as a mediator in this situation or help you find others who would mediate for you, others with experience in clergy sexual misconduct situations.
Thank you. We hope to hear from you very soon, preferably within hours. Please feel free to call me at any time.
Executive Director, SNAP