A letter sent to Temple Oheb Shalom congregants May 3 said that longtime spiritual leader Rabbi Steven M. Fink was suspended with pay following an allegation of sexual impropriety with a teen minor that occurred “a number of years ago.”
Temple president Mina Wender sent the letter that said upon learning of the allegation against Fink, the temple “reported this matter to the Maryland authorities as we are required to do, and to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The civil authorities have a process and Temple Oheb Shalom is cooperating fully with them. The CCAR, in accordance with its own ethical guidelines, has a mandate to consider a broader range of alleged misconduct and the Temple is cooperating with CCAR.”
Fink was served written notice by the CCAR the evening of May 1 that it was starting an investigation. Oheb Shalom then informed Fink on May 2 that he was suspended with pay.
Crisis management and media relations specialist Amy K. Rotenberg said the allegation was reported to Baltimore City Child Protective Services, Baltimore City Police and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.
“While we are deeply saddened by this development, we will always take action that we believe is most protective of children. And, we want to help heal all victims of abuse,” the letter said, encouraging congregants to come forward if they are aware of any “inappropriate behaviors” and to contact Wender, the temple’s lawyer Dave Kinkopf or civil authorities “if appropriate.”
Questions were referred to Rotenberg, who said the organization is “very limited on what we can share about this,” adding that the temple is “fully cooperating” with the CCAR and civil authorities.
“Because these are matters before those bodies, we don’t want to do anything that will interfere with that process,” Rotenberg said. “And also these matters are so sensitive and we have to be mindful of the privacy of both the rabbi and the complainant and protect our confidences in that regard.”
“We do know that the CCAR is investigating because they provided notice, so that is an investigation and the civil authorities do not share as much about what is happening once you make your mandatory report,” she said. “The action to suspend [Fink] was the temple’s action, which followed the notice that CCAR provided.”
The letter said the temple would not be sharing any additional information “about the allegations or investigation at this time” out of respect to Fink and the privacy of those involved.
“We of course care deeply about Rabbi Fink and his family and recognize the enormous personal toll the investigations may have on them,” the letter said. “All of the individuals involved deserve our compassion, consideration and prayers. And, as a spiritual community, we are very mindful of the Jewish value of avoiding lashon hara (gossip) and your role as a congregant in preventing lashon hara is critical to helping those involved find healing and resolution.”
Temple functions will proceed in Fink’s absence, with Rabbi Emeritus Donald R. Berlin filling in with some services and officiating of some b’nai mitzvah, weddings and funerals with support of Oheb Shalom Rabbi Sarah Marion and Cantor Renata Braun.
“And we are grateful for the assistance CCAR and URJ who will ensure that all of our clergy needs are taken care of in the interim,” the letter said.
An open letter in support of the board’s decision to take action is circulating and being signed by congregants.
As for the decision to suspend Fink with pay, CCAR CEO Rabbi Steven A. Fox, said, “Any decision to suspend with or without paying lies with the congregation. It’s a decision they make based on their own culture and their own HR practices.”
In January 2007, the JT reported that then-Cantor Lisa Levine left Temple Oheb Shalom abruptly and that neither she nor her attorney would comment on the circumstances of her departure. When contacted May 4 regarding the current allegations against Fink, she declined to comment.
This story is developing.