(JTA) – The Reform movement’s rabbinical association has expelled Sheldon Zimmerman, a former leader of major Reform institutions, after an ethics committee reinvestigated allegations of sexual misconduct lodged more than 20 years ago, including that he abused a 17-year-old congregant.
The announcement of Zimmerman’s expulsion was made Tuesday when the Central Conference of American Rabbis added his name to a public list of rabbis found to have violated the association’s code of conduct.
Zimmerman, 81, served as president of the rabbinical association for two years, and later as president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the movement’s seminary.
His expulsion provides a measure of closure in a reckoning that has gripped the Reform movement for nearly two years, after the full nature of Zimmermans’s alleged misconduct first came to light and set off a crisis of trust among rabbis, lay leaders, and congregants.
“Sheldon Zimmerman should have no place in our movement, nor any place of honor, nor position of leadership — especially of programs serving young adults,” Rabbi Mary Zamore, executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, said in a statement. “This was a collective failure and one that should not be repeated. We wholeheartedly support the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ moral, responsible and compassionate decision to expel him from its membership.”
The original investigation into Zimmerman concluded in 2000 with his resignation from Hebrew Union College and a suspension from the rabbinical association. But with allegations against him described publicly only in vague terms, Zimmerman retained much of his prestige and status. He went on to hold leadership roles at Birthright and the Jewish Federations of North America and, in 2005, CCAR reinstated his membership.
Then, in 2021, New York City’s Central Synagogue, where Zimmerman had been rabbi from 1972 to 1985, revealed that three women came forward to accuse Zimmerman of sexual misconduct during his tenure and that these allegations were related to his earlier disciplinary action.
In the months following the news about Zimmerman, the Reform movement hired law firms to conduct three separate investigations into the movement’s accountability mechanisms, revealing past failures around sexual misconduct.
Zimmerman’s listing on CCAR’s webpage of expelled rabbis says that his case was reopened in 2021 when new information surfaced indicating that he had violated the terms of his reinstatement, which required he undergo a process of teshuvah, or making amends.
The listing doesn’t specify how he had erred, but an article published in 2021 by Gary Rosenblatt, the former editor of New York Jewish Week, shed light on how Zimmerman viewed both the allegations against him and his responsibilities under the teshuvah process.
According to Rosenblatt, who cited emails he received from Zimmerman in 2005, Zimmerman believed that his accuser was seeking revenge against him. “This is about destroying me and my family,” Zimmerman wrote to Rosenblatt.
Zimmerman also reportedly threatened to reveal the identity of his accuser. “She may leave us no recourse but to respond to her in public and by name, and to lift the veil that has protected her and her actions,” Zimmerman wrote in an email, according to Rosenblatt.
At the time, Rosenblatt refrained from publishing the allegations and Zimmerman’s comments in response in order to protect the identity of the accuser.
In 2021, the rabbinical association’s ethics committee began investigating Zimmerman anew and ultimately expelled him for violations of sections of the rabbinic code of conduct that have to do with “exploitative practices,” “bullying, harassment, intimidation” and “power differential[s]” as well as failure to cooperate with terms of suspension.
Zamore applauded steps taken by Reform institutions to address issues of safety, respect and equity, and vowed to keep pressing for accountability.
“We continue to encourage anyone who has a story of sexual abuse, harassment, misconduct or discrimination to please continue sharing those truths,” she said in the statement.
The list of Reform rabbis who have been expelled, suspended, or publicly censured is updated occasionally to reflect the results of a private ethics investigation.
Besides Zimmerman, recent months have seen at least three additions to the list. Allen Secher, who retired from the pulpit in 2013 after serving most recently in Whitefish, Montana for 13 years, was censured under sections of the code of conduct relating to “sexual misconduct” and “requests for sexual favors.” Gersh Lazarow, a rabbi in Australia, was censured for intellectual dishonesty for having plagiarized sermons. David Kaufman, who led a congregation in Ohio, was expelled following his conviction in an Ohio court for gross sexual imposition.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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