Probes of Kiryas Joel principal video still open

By Jonathan Bandler (The Journal News)
December 11, 2016

Through early January, reporters will be looking back at and following up on stories and topics that were the most popular with our readers in 2016, according to metrics on lohud.com. This story is part of that series.

A Kiryas Joel principal seen on a pair of videos in close physical contact with young boys had no choice but to leave the school because of the firestorm of publicity, a longtime community activist said this week.

But Joseph Waldman, whose own children and grandchildren had gone to the school, insisted that his inquiries into the videos and the principal's behavior revealed what he had suspected: that the longtime, respected educator was no molester, but used a loving form of discipline to straighten out misbehaving students.

"He showed a very, very fine fatherly type of love to the kids," Waldman said. "Instead of expelling the kid, throwing him out of school, bringing anguish to his parents … he is expressing love, expressing feeling, so the kid knows they're not a throwaway kid."

The incidents in the principal's office were secretly videotaped in the fall of 2015. But they did not become public until early May, when they were leaked to a Brooklyn activist against sexual abuse in the Jewish community who posted them on social media.

Both videos show the principal sitting at his desk holding a young boy between his legs, speaking with their faces very close together. On one, he appears to kiss the boy several times and stroke his face.

Waldman said he did not believe the principal had kissed the boy. But that even if he had, Waldman said, "it was not in a molestation way but in a fatherly way."

State police reopened an investigation once the video went public, and less than two weeks later, federal investigators raided the school, United Talmudical Academy, the village's Public Safety building and other locations, seizing records and computers. State police Capt. Pierce Gallagher said this week that the state probe remains open but declined further comment.

Wolf Gluck, an administrator at the school, did not return phone messages.

The 68-year-old educator did not return messages left at his home. A younger man at the apartment said on Wednesday that the former principal was not there and a woman who answered the phone Friday said he was not there before hanging up.She later called back to provide the number of a Manhattan lawyer, Henry Mazurek, representing him.

A fellow partner at Clayman & Rosenberg, Isabelle Kirshner, told The Journal News that the firm's own investigation of the issue "found only good things" about his work in the community but that his leaving the school had been a mutual decision because of the shadow cast by the video and the probes. She would not discuss details of the case or confirm whether her client has spoken to investigators.

Within days of the video's public release, an advocacy group for abuse victims, Jewish Community Watch, issued a plea on Facebook for anyone who might have been abused by the principal to contact them. The organization's David Katz said last week that no one ever did.

Asked why, if parents and school officials supported the principal, he could not stay on in his job, Waldman said that even the slightest suggestion of impropriety - and the eagerness of critics of Kiryas Joel's Satmar Hasidim community to seize on anything negative - meant staying was impossible.

"It had to happen to save the system," Waldman said. "So the principal retired and the subject is closed."