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Investigation into Conservative movement’s youth programs identifies ‘hypersexualized culture’



(JTA) – An investigation into sexual abuse and misconduct in the Conservative movement’s youth group programs over the past seven decades identified an “overly sexualized culture” and collected accounts of alleged abuse from 40 victims. 

Most of the allegations included in the investigation took place between 1987 and 2019 in the New York City area, and the alleged perpetrators are no longer affiliated with the Conservative movement, according to the report. The report urges the movement to keep its current practices around protecting children in place. It also urges the movement to improve its implementation of safety measures and record-keeping, and to “advance a healthier culture for teens.”

The investigation commissioned by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s umbrella organization for congregations, was based on documents and interviews with the victims. It turned up allegations of “wrongful sexual contact, reports of grooming, reports of an over sexualized culture, and other boundary-crossing behaviors” at programs run by the movement’s youth group, United Synagogue Youth, known as USY. (The Conservative movement’s network of Ramah camps is not under the United Synagogue’s auspices.) 

One section of the 20-page report is dedicated to the culture of sexualization within the Conservative movement’s youth programs and includes reports of inappropriate games and pressure on teens to engage in sexual activity with one another. The report comes amid a time of reckoning over child sexual abuse in the Jewish world. It is the latest in a series of similar investigations commissioned by major Jewish religious organizations that examine sexual misconduct against teens in Jewish youth movements, camps, schools and other institutions.

The investigation did not corroborate the allegations and did not discover “widespread or systematic abuse,” according to the report, which was written by UCSJ and approved by Sarah Worley, the attorney hired to gather information and draft recommendations. No one implicated in the investigation currently works or volunteers in the movement, according to Worley’s investigation. Every adult accused of sexual misconduct has been barred from future participation. 

The report doesn’t name anyone, victim or perpetrator. At least one former employee of the youth group, former USY Nassau County, Long Island, divisional director Ed Ward, is the subject of multiple lawsuits accusing him of sexual abuse of multiple teens. He worked for USY until 2020. 

Following an initial report on one of the lawsuits in the Times of Israel in 2021, additional allegations against Ward emerged. USCJ is a co-defendant in that lawsuit. A second suit alleges that Ward’s abuse took place as recently as 2018. Days after those allegations were published, USCJ launched its investigation into misconduct at USY. The Times of Israel said Ward did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 

“USY must ask itself what about its own identity allowed this to transpire, and what must it do to ensure that it can never happen again,” Rabbi Jordan Soffer, one of Ward’s alleged accusers, told the Times of Israel in 2021. Describing a time when he says Ward took him into a bathroom and masturbated in front of him, he said, “I came up with every excuse I could think of. I’m tired. I can’t. I’m embarrassed. I told him I wanted to leave. He told me to stay until he finished.”

Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the USCJ, said in a statement on Wednesday’s report, “We fully condemn past misconduct as reported to Ms. Worley and we remain committed to providing a safe and enriching environment for our Jewish teens without exception.” 

The bulk of recent misconduct reported to Worley took place in the New York City area and was allegedly committed by two perpetrators, while the programs on the West Coast saw more cases in earlier decades. 

Among the cases summarized in the report was a victim who said that an adult staff member threatened to blackmail them with a graphic photograph while at camp in the 1980s. In the 1990s, one unnamed adult staff member allegedly sexually assaulted teens across four separate incidents. Five reports to Worley said that a single staff member encouraged teen campers to masturbate as a group in the 2000s, an allegation that was made against Ward in 2021. Allegations in the 2010s included groping of a teen by a staff member and sharing of a graphic video. 

The report also describes a culture in which teens felt pressure to engage in sexual activity with each other. In particular, the report describes the “Point System,” in which participants in USY activities received a certain number of “points” for “hooking up” with another USY member, based on that member’s position in the youth group. Similar systems exist in other Jewish youth groups as well. “Multiple victim/survivors and others reported their concern with the Point System and offered it as an example of the hypersexualized culture that they believe pervades USY and its programs,” the report says.

“Some explained that sexualized ‘traditions’ had been developed and passed down over generations, and in some instances, victim/survivors said they felt torn between their reluctance to participate in these traditions and their sense that, as teens in the Conservative movement, their participation was expected,” the report says.

Only one of the allegations of sexual misconduct occurred since 2020. The misconduct involved an adult staff member grooming a teen through text messages. 

The Conservative movement’s investigation overlapped with a similar reckoning taking place in the Reform movement, which carried out three investigations into sexual misconduct, including one that was focused on Reform youth programs.

The post Investigation into Conservative movement’s youth programs identifies ‘hypersexualized culture’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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