One of the more telling and unreported aspects of the George Finkelstein situation at Yeshiva University is the fact that at some point during the time he was principal of the high school several decades ago and accused of wrestling with students in his office, the door to his office was removed, according to a number of former students.
Was this the administration’s response to the reports and rumors that he was behaving inappropriately, in a sexually aggressive way, with teenage boys in his charge?
It’s hard to pin down the chronology of the door removal all these years later when former officials are deceased or not responsive to such inquiries, but it’s certainly a powerful statement about the lack of seriousness given to the many stories of Finkelstein’s alleged abuse.
The principal is wrestling with students in his office? Take off the door. End of problem.
But of course, as we see now, the emotional scars abuse victims carry with them can be deep and long lasting.
It’s true that the times were different. What is now described as sexual abuse in an age of mandated reporting was then perceived of, if not openly discussed, by students at MTA (the YU high school) and too many other yeshivas, was annoying behavior by rebbes – Judaic teachers, some of them Holocaust survivors untrained pedagogically and no doubt suffering from their own traumatic experiences.
It could be a slap, a “tzitzis check” under a boy’s shirt, a verbal curse, a grope, or worse. Somehow the students knew among themselves who to watch out for, who to stay away from, but they rarely talked to adults, including their parents, about these situations.
Especially if they saw that the end result of their complaints was to remove the door, not the abuser.