December 25, 2003
Rabbi to Undergo Anger Management
The UCLA Hillel rabbi who allegedly lost his temper and assaulted a freelance journalist who called him a derogatory name has agreed to a recommendation that he undergo 36 hours of anger management and pen a letter of apology to his reported victim.
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller has also said he will place himself on paid administrative leave from UCLA Hillel, while an independent attorney appointed by that organization's national office investigates the Oct. 21 event. It is not known how long the inquiry will last.
Seidler-Feller agreed on Dec. 23 to the recommendations, which were made a week earlier by a Los Angeles city attorney hearing officer who had heard the case.
Eric Moses, spokesperson for the city attorney's office, said Seidler-Feller would take the anger management courses through Pacific Educational Services (PES) and would cover the $450 course fee himself. PES will notify the city attorney's office upon Seidler-Feller's completion of the course.
Donald Etra, Seidler-Feller's attorney, said the rabbi had accepted the recommendations because it was "the expedient way of resolving the case." He said Seidler-Feller would only apologize for "the fact that there was an incident."
Etra went on to say that Seidler-Feller was the aggrieved party in this case.
"She [Rachel Neuwirth] called him names, she physically stuck her hand in his face," Etra said. "The evidence at the hearing was that he did not do anything to offend her."
As of press time, the rabbi could not be reached for comment.
Moses said an apology had to be heartfelt and genuine, although he offered no specific guidelines. Neuwirth said she would only accept an apology in which the rabbi showed true contrition.
"I can't get over this," she said. "I relive this all the time. I never in my life thought a rabbi would behave in such a violent manner."
Neuwirth filed a civil suit on Nov. 20 against Seidler-Feller, UCLA Hillel, Los Angeles Hillel Council and Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life seeking undisclosed damages for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligent retention. Seidler-Feller and the local and national Hillels have until late January to respond.
Neuwirth's attorney, Robert Esensten, said the hearing officer's recommendations bolster the civil suit. However, Etra said that the suit had no merit, especially since the city attorney's office decided not to pursue criminal charges against Seidler-Feller.
Rabbi Mark Diamond, the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said he hoped the dispute could be settled in a beit din (Jewish court of law) or through mediation or arbitration rather than in court.
"Rabbi Seidler-Feller has shown a genuine desire to do the appropriate teshuvah [repentance]," he said. "I very much hope and pray we can resolve the issues and tone down the rhetoric."
Neuwirth said she is not open to resolving the case in a beit din.
Gary Ratner, executive vice president of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region, said Seidler-Feller's actions should permanently disqualify him from working with college students.
"Who's to say he is not going to blow up again at some later date?" he asked.
But Emily Kane, co-president of UCLA Hillel's student board, said Seidler-Feller meant much to them.
"Chaim is a huge part of UCLA Hillel," she said. "This is just a temporary thing."