EXCLUSIVE: Man sexually abused as teen in 1972 files suit against camp that employed counselor who abused him and others: ‘Nobody stopped it’
He has held the secret of that summer for more than 40 years.
He was a 13-year-old in 1972, away at Camp Ramah in the foothills of the Taconic Mountains when, he says, a counselor lured him into the woods and forced him to perform oral sex.
The self-loathing smoldered inside, worsening each time a memory came flashing back.
Then earlier this year, the victim — a Westchester businessman and now a John Doe in legal papers — was fishing on the internet. What he found took his breath away.
His alleged abuser — Harvey Erlich — had gone on to sexually abuse four other boys.
Finally, he was forced to take a stand.
“This is what enrages me more than anything else,” the father of three told the Daily News in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “The fact is this went on for years and nobody stopped it.”
The businessman struck back Wednesday by filing a bombshell lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court that claims camp officials knew Erlich, then an 18-year-old counselor at the Conservative Jewish camp in Wingdale, N.Y., was a sexual predator but failed to protect him and other children.
The businessman, now in his 50s said he has struggled with alcoholism, drug abuse, anger management and trust issues. Unable to cope with depression, he attempted suicide several times.
“I got f—ed over this,” he said, showing scars on his forearms. “I was trying to punish myself for putting myself in this position and not doing anything about it.”
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $20 million in damages, names the Jewish Theological Seminary. It also names the National Ramah Commission — the JTS subsidiary that operates Camp Ramah and other summer camps dedicated to teaching Jewish traditions.
“In 1972, Camp Ramah was an extremely dangerous place where a vicious, malicious and sadistic predator roamed free to pick off his innocent prey by relying upon the respect and reverence he commanded by virtue of his position of authority at the camp,” the lawsuit says.
The seminary and commission did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
The complaint also says that National Ramah Commission officials, including then-assistant camp director David Soloff and Kenneth Greene, the division head for campers in John Doe’s age group, had been told that Erlich abused several boys just weeks before he assaulted John Doe.
Soloff, Greene and other officials failed to call police, notify parents or terminate the counselor, the lawsuit says.
The News was unable to reach Soloff and Greene for comment.
A coverup by camp officials and their failure to stop Erlich, the lawsuit says, allowed Erlich to sexually abuse four boys during the 1970s and 1980s in Toronto, where he worked as a dentist and served as a choir conductor.
One of those victims, an 11-year-old boy, was sexually assaulted in a Toronto synagogue, according to Canadian police.
Erlich was arrested on sex abuse charges in 2012 in Canada, which does not have a statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases.
He pleaded guilty last year to three counts of gross indecency and was sentenced to 18 months’ house arrest.
The strict statute of limitations in New York — which the Daily News has pressured officeholders to change — bars sex abuse survivors from pursuing criminal charges or civil damages after their 23rd birthday.
The businessman’s attorney, Kevin Mulhearn, is trying a different approach to circumvent the restrictive law. Instead, he is arguing that camp officials violated Title IX, the 1972 federal law best known for enforcing equality for women in college sports.
Title IX also prohibits sexual abuse and harassment in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance.
The Second Court of Appeals recently ruled that the clock on the Title IX statute of limitations does not begin ticking until a plaintiff knows or should have known about the coverup, Mulhearn said.
The businessman told The News he did not know Erlich had abused other boys until he read accounts about his arrest and sentencing earlier this year.
He reported his abuse to Toronto police, but authorities told him there was nothing they could do because Erlich had assaulted him in New York, not Canada.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Another Arrest In The Toronto Jewish Community For Child Sex-Abuse Today!
|Dr. Harvey Erlich|
The Toronto Police this morning arrested Harvey Erlich. Erlich was the conductor of the Toronto Pirchei (Agudath Israel) Choir. This was the same choir with which Heshy Nussbaum was involved.
Nov 15, 2012, 05:00 pm Man Charged In Historical Sexual Assault Investigation, Harvey Erlich, 58, Police Believe There May Be More Victims
Danny Wool has left a new comment on your post “Another Arrest In The Toronto Jewish Community For…”:
Let me be clear here. No one is talking about “commenc[ing] the destruction of a man and [I agree] more importantly, his family.” I believe that a press release is forthcoming, and it is only a matter of time.
At the same time, I wish you would consider the lives that were already destroyed because of what happened, even if it was so long ago. Those scars are real.
In my yeshiva days I learned that chataim bein adam lehaveiro, Yom Kippur eino mechaper” (Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between people). As one of the victims (yes, I said it), I cannot even begin to think of forgiveness unless there is a full public confession of what happened, not just to me, but to everyone else who was victimized. I expect that from both the perpetrators yimach shemam (may their names be erased) because only then will I be able to begin the process of yimach zichram (may the memory of them and what they did be erased).
When I was in the choir we used to sing, Ivdu et Hashem besimha, bo’u lefanav birnana. These are words every Orthodox kid knows. They come from Psalms 100, and are recited every weekday as part of the morning prayer service. When I used to pray, I found them ironic. They tell us to serve God with happiness, but they always reminded me of the choir, and that always left me depressed.
As I grew older, I learned that this is what is called a trigger (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trauma_trigger). What a horrible realization that was–the very invocation to be happy, especially when serving God, actually evoked one of the most traumatic events of my life. By extension, the very act of prayer becomes a trigger–the very kind of thing that survivors learn to avoid.
To put matters into perspective, prayer was one of the things that was stolen from me by those two animals. And there was much, much more–things that can never be returned.
As for the silence from the community, shetika kehoda’a (silence is the equivalent of admission). I regard the Jewish community’s silence as their admission of what happened and, by extension, of their acceptance of what happened too.
You asked, How can we know that the charges are true? There is one simple way. Ask the perpetrators. Demand that they tell you the truth, regardless of the consequences. The truth will come out anyway. They will be recognized for what they did. Maybe by admitting it now, they can, at least, begin to show the first signs of remorse.