The parents of two boys allegedly abused by Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky while attending Camp Shoresh in Frederick in 2014 and 2015 and a blogger who broke the story of the alleged abuse in 2017 have responded to a defamation suit against them by filing a complaint against Krawatsky, Shoresh Director Rabbi David Finkelstein and Shoresh Inc.
The countersuit, filed Feb. 19, lists multiple counts against Krawatsky including alleged sexual abuse, battery, false imprisonment and invasion of privacy. Counts of alleged negligence against Finkelstein and Shoresh say that Finkelstein and Shoresh failed to keep campers safe and that the alleged negligence contributed to the ability of Krawatsky to abuse the boys.
Following the blogger’s 2017 post, New York Jewish Week published an investigative story in January 2018 about Krawatsky and the alleged abuse. Krawatsky was subsequently fired from Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where he was a middle school Judaic studies teacher and then resigned from leading a teen minyan at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim.
On Jan. 30, 2018, Krawatsky and his wife, Shira, filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit that included 57 counts against the parents, Rachel and Joel Avrunin and Sharon and Scott Becker and blogger and victim advocate Chaim Levin, including defamation, invasion of privacy, interfering with Krawatsky’s ability to work and inflicting emotional distress. The lawsuit also requested an injunction to stop “defamatory and harassing actions” against Krawatsky, which were causing him to suffer “great” emotional distress and economic harm. The Krawatskys requested a jury trial.
But that suit was dismissed in September 2018 because it was filed in federal court instead of state court. When the case was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Oct. 16, 2018, it included two more defendants: New York Jewish Week and Hannah Dreyfus, the reporter who wrote the story.
The countersuit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court this week, requests a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages, including court costs, for causing the children significant bodily injury, pain and suffering and mental anguish as a result of the alleged abuse. It also asserts that the Krawatskys’ lawsuit was filed “in bad faith and intended to punish and inhibit” Levin’s, the Beckers’ and the Avrunins’ First Amendment rights.
The countersuit also claims that Finkelstein and Shoresh failed to keep campers safe through proper supervision and policies to prevent abuse.
In addition, the suit claims Finkelstein and Shoresh didn’t respond promptly to concerns about the alleged abuse, that Finkelstein conducted his own investigation of the allegations and told Krawatsky of the allegations before reporting the boy’s allegations to police. During one interview, the suit alleges, one of the boys was taken to the scene of the alleged abuse and the boy was interviewed there by police and Finkelstein without the boy’s father, or a social worker or legal counsel present. The interview was not recorded.
In response to the counter-complaint, John Davison, chairman of Shoresh, Inc. board of directors, sent a statement to the JT saying that although it isn’t the organization’s policy to discuss specific details of ongoing litigation, “we are confident in the judicial process and will vigorously contest the false allegations contained in the counter-complaint. We fully cooperated with the authorities in 2015 and were advised that the case against the former staff member was closed in 2016.”
Attorney for the Krawatskys Christopher M. Rolle said the counter-complaint came as no surprise.
“Despite all of the bluff and bluster from Mr. Levin and Mr. Little, the counter-complaint is a baseless document. While they boasted that they were going to countersue on behalf of ‘other victims,’ the number of boys depicted in this counter-complaint are the same two boys, who are first cousins. No additional children were identified,” Rolle said. “This is no surprise to my client because he has maintained his innocence at all times. He has 20-plus years of experience in the field of formal and informal Jewish education, with never a complaint or allegation of inappropriate conduct.”
On the other hand, the attorney for the parents of the boys, Jonathan Little, said the families are pleased the case is finally moving forward and that the facts of the alleged incidents will be aired in a public trial. Little said in his experience with child sex abuse cases, this one is unique.
“I have never had anyone sue the kids or their parents before,” Little said. “We have a trial and this will all be litigated, in front of the court. And I think it’s very important that all these facts come out.”
Little said he will be filing cases for more children soon. They could not be included in this counter-complaint because they were not named in the Krawatskys’ original complaint. A trial has been set for May 2020.