NJY Camps in New Jersey is the largest Jewish camp complex in North America, serving about 5,500 youth annually. With a sexual abuse scandal that forced out its longtime executive director, the camp, sponsored by two New Jersey Jewish federations, will now find out whether more recent developments will mean a healthy housecleaning or a debilitating lack of leadership.
Last April, Leonard Robinson, NJY’s executive director, was forced to resign after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. The initial allegations related to incidents that allegedly took place before Robinson came to NJY some 25 years ago. Nonetheless, Peter Horowitz, NJY president, announced an independent investigation into Robinson’s tenure with the camps.
A report of the investigation, delivered last month, found that NJY board members “knew for years about the predatory behavior of … Robinson, but failed to act,” New York Jewish Week reported. But the report might have been buried if Dov Ben-Shimon, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, and Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey — the two federations that fund NJY Camps — had not insisted upon full access to the report.
According to the New York Jewish Week: “The report unearthed 11 cases in which Robinson — during his 25-year tenure as NJY’s top executive — ‘harassed, abused, mistreated, intimidated and harmed women,’ … ‘occasionally under the influence of alcohol’ and would use ‘NJY funds’ to ‘pay off victims.’”
Robinson was gone by the time the report was issued. But based upon the disquieting findings, Ben-Shimon called on NJY’s 60-member board to resign.
Next came word of Horowitz’s resignation, which he announced would be effective “no later than February,” along with his suggestion that “it would be in the best interest of NJY Camps for the rest of the board to also resign within that time.”
Although Horowitz noted that many members of the NJY board “had no knowledge of Robinson’s wrongdoing [and would otherwise be] strong members to lead us toward the future,” he didn’t think that was a good idea, because those members “are part of a current reality that makes the present board’s continued viability untenable, and not in the best interest of the campers and staff we serve.”
Which presents the organization with a serious dilemma: With no director, no president and no board, will the camps that compose NJY be able to open this summer?
Janet Fliegelman, NJY’s chief operating officer, stepped in as interim executive director after Robinson was ousted. NJY is also to have the backing of the local federations and national Jewish camping organizations. We hope that NJY will also be able to retain the loyalty of its staff and the goodwill of the Jewish community from which its camper base comes. Nonetheless, a wholesale replacement of leadership presents real challenges. We hope NJY Camps can overcome those challenges.