The Orthodox Union would do well to heed the recommendations of itsspecially appointed commission to enact deep, sweeping, and systemic internal changes, as well as within NCSY, its youth group. Otherwise it will have spent six months and a million dollars to learn that Rabbi Baruch Lanner treated teens abusively during his decades of leadership within NCSY, as first alleged here in June.
The OU special commission, chaired by Hillel president Richard Joel,concludes in its 50-page executive summary, released this week, that based on interviews with 175 people and 50,000 pages of documents, "Lanner engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and abusive behavior (emotional, physical and sexual) toward a number of NCSY students" over a period of many years, causing "enormous pain and suffering that has had and continues to have a negative impact on the lives of vulnerable NCSY participants."
That is a tragedy. But unless the OU is able to meet the commission'schallenge to transform itself from within through major improvements inmanagement, financial procedures, and ethical behavior, few lessons will have been learned and practical results gained from this painful experience.
The OU, and particularly its embattled outgoing president, Dr. MandelGanchrow, deserve credit for having appointed the special commission toinvestigate the Lanner affair. And that nine-person commission is to behighly commended for its unanimous, thoughtful, thorough--and no doubtthankless--effort to produce a report that not only documents thewrongdoing of Rabbi Lanner and those lay and professional leaders who failed to act against him effectively. It also sets forth a path for the OU toward healing itself from within.
That will not be easy. The Joel commission's executive summary calls for the OU to "accept full responsibility for those who have been injured by the conduct described in the report;" to take "decisive and appropriate action"against those responsible; and to address the organization's "seriousweaknesses" in the area of "overall management structure; procedures forstaff selection, development, training, supervision, and evaluation;procedures for financial accountability and internal audit; and layoversight."
Some leaders within the OU advocate ignoring the commission'srecommendations or making as few changes as possible in the hopes thatpublic interest will soon diminish and the organization can continue tooperate essentially as it has until now. They argue that the OU has madeimportant contributions to the betterment of Orthodox Jewish life in Americain its 100-year history, from kashrut supervision to outreach to teensthrough NCSY, and that the current problems should be kept in perspective.
Don't throw out the baby with the bath water, they say. We agree, as does the Joel commission, three of whose members are on theboard of the OU. Those urging the OU to embrace the recommendationsrecognize and value the many good works of the organization and believe thatonly this difficult but necessary process of introspection and proper actioncan strengthen the OU and NCSY.
As the Joel report notes: "The entire process, if followed by concretesteps, can serve to enhance the OU's reputation for integrity, openness andresponsiveness to criticism. Conversely, we believe that the failure torespond appropriately and decisively could severely diminish the OU'seffectiveness and the trust it must enjoy within the Orthodox community andbeyond."
There are those in the community who are skeptical of the OU's willingnessto reform itself. They no doubt will be disappointed that the executivesummary, a public document based on a more detailed (331-page) privatereport, does not name names.
It is the responsibility of the OU itself, not the Joel commission, to takeappropriate action now.Indeed, the commission concludes that "a significant issue facing our entirecommunity, not just NCSY or the OU, is a failure to take responsibility. Thenumber of people who told members of the commission, `Everybody knew aboutLanner,' were legion," and while some protected their own children, notenough was done to safeguard future victims, alert the community and ensurethat Rabbi Lanner could do no further harm to youngsters.