An official with an educational program for Jewish high school students has resigned after allegedly searching the Internet for liaisons with underage boys and sending naked pictures of himself.
Rabbi David Kaye resigned from Panim on Oct. 31, several days before being featured on "Dateline NBC" seeking a sexual encounter with an underage boy in a chat room.
"He told me he was going to be on a program on national television that would identify him engaging in inappropriate behavior," said Rabbi Sid Schwarz, founder and president of the Washington-based Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.
Panim has never received a complaint against Kaye and he is not accused of doing anything wrong in relation to his work there. But the incident is likely to revive concerns about the possibility of sexual misconduct between rabbis and other Jewish officials who come into contact with minors.
NBC News conducted a sting in August, working with a group called Perverted Justice. Posing as underage boys and girls, members of the group entered Internet chat rooms and waited for adults to engage them in conversation.
Kaye and others allegedly spoke to the presumed children about sex, and suggested meeting them. Kaye allegedly sent one individual naked pictures of himself and arranged a meeting at a Northern Virginia home where the "boy" said he lived, which NBC had equipped with hidden cameras.
When he arrived he was confronted by Chris Hansen, an NBC reporter, who asked what he was doing at the home.
"Not something good," Kaye said. "This isn't good."
Kaye admitted to being a rabbi, and became agitated when Hansen revealed himself as a journalist and the cameras emerged.
When reached by JTA on Nov. 2, Kaye refused to comment on his resignation or any of the accusations against him. Hansen said Kaye had agreed at one point to speak with NBC News, but only if the network did not air his name or face. The network refused.
Perverted Justice sent the chat transcripts and information about Kaye and others to Fairfax County, Va., police, Hansen said. A police spokesman said the department does not confirm the names of anyone under investigation until they're charged with a crime.
Kaye joined Panim after serving as a rabbi and confirmation instructor at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, Md., for 15 years, until 2001.
"I was incredibly disturbed and troubled and shocked by what I saw," Rabbi David Rose of Har Shalom told JTA. "The membership has been responding with lots of questions and concerns."
Rose said there is nothing to indicate wrongdoing during Kaye's tenure at Har Shalom, but that many people nevertheless are worried.
"I think everybody will be a little less trusting and a little more wary of people in positions of authority," Rose said. "It's going to take some time for all of us in the rabbinate to earn people's trust."
Kaye also served as a rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio in 2001.
"We are very confident there was no issue while he was here," the congregation's executive director, Jo Halfant, said.
Kaye was ordained by the Reconstructionist movement but now is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of the Conservative movement. Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R.A.'s executive vice president, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.
Panim is largely known for a high school program, Panim el Panim, which brings thousands of Jewish students from around the country to Washington each year for religious and political education. As vice president for programming, Kaye mostly oversaw faculty, Schwarz said.
"We do a fairly rigorous set of reference checks for people we hire," Schwarz said. "But there are always opportunities for abuse of authority."
Since the story surfaced, Schwarz said he and others have been reflecting on incidents that were seen as inconsequential at the time, wondering if they should have seen a pattern.
"I'd be lying if I said I haven't been thinking about it and wondering about it," he said. "But they were so insignificant as not to suggest a pattern of behavior."
Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Jewish Family & Life, served as the assistant director of Panim in the 1990s. He said he could not imagine much opportunity for one-on-one encounters among staff and students.
"There's never been a hint of anything in the past, and the program is so intense that there is no one-on-one, unchaperoned down time," Abramowitz said.
Schwarz originally said he did not expect an investigation into Kaye's work at Panim, but Panim has taken Kaye's computer hard drive for inspection.
Abbe Lowell, a prominent Washington attorney retained by Panim, said in a statement that the organization is "taking every step to ensure that there has been no breach of this policy by Rabbi Kaye or anyone else at any time."
The group also is reaching out to congregations and others that work with the student program.
"I would assure parents that we've never had an incident in our program, and there is no accusation of incidents in our program," he said. "There is no way that any reasonable person can make assurances that no incident will ever happen, but we have safety systems in place."
Sexual abuse by clergy has been a national issue in recent years, stemming largely from accusations in the Catholic Church. But the issue has roiled the Jewish community as well.
Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official, is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of a yeshiva high school in New Jersey. Lanner was accused of molesting more than 20 teenaged girls over a period of 30 years, and physically and verbally abusing boys. He was convicted on just one account.
Schwarz said he hoped Panim's reputation would help it weather the storm.
"I think there is so much good will with people that work with us that will serve us well," he said.
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