Thursday, February 23, 2017

Teacher fired, investigated over abuse allegation at Yeshiva 

The president of an Orthodox Jewish school in Squirrel Hill said Wednesday that an elementary teacher was fired in September after a witness reported observing him having inappropriate sexual contact with a child.

Shlomo Jacobs, president of the Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, said Nisson Friedman had been a teacher at the school since 2014 before his firing.

Mr. Friedman, 26, of Squirrel Hill, taught boys in the first and second grades. He is married, but his wife has initiated divorce and custody proceedings. according to documents filed in the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. The couple has a young child.

According to his wife's filing, Mr. Friedman "is currently under investigation in Pittsburgh, PA for at least one incident of child sexual abuse with a minor other than (the couple's own) child. These allegations … relate to the Pittsburgh school at which (Mr. Friedman) was employed at the time. He was fired shortly thereafter."

The court approved her petition to receive sole custody of the child on an interim emergency basis due to the investigation.

The Pittsburgh Police sex assault squad is investigating Mr. Friedman but no criminal charges have been filed. Police spokeswoman Sonya Toler confirmed the investigation. Pittsburgh police have been in touch with the Allegheny County District Attorney's office regarding the investigation, said spokesman Mike Manko. Neither would comment further.

Defense attorney Stanton Levenson confirmed he is representing Mr. Friedman in a criminal investigation but said he was unable to comment further.

Mr. Jacobs said the incident that sparked Mr. Friedman's firing occurred on a Saturday in September during Sabbath services. He said Mr. Friedman was helping to tend children during a youth service being held in the library of the Yeshiva boys school while Sabbath services for adults were held separately in the first-floor synagogue at the school.

Mr. Jacobs said someone witnessed Mr. Friedman in an inappropriate sexual contact with the boy.

"It happened on a Saturday and Mr. Friedman was let go on the next day," Mr. Jacobs said. Also, he said, a child abuse report was made to the state. "We followed all mandatory reporting guidelines," he said, adding that this was the first time in the school's history there had been suspected abuse.

The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh include the boys school and administrative offices at Hobart and Wightman streets and the girls school and preschool campus at Forbes and Denniston avenues.

The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh operate a daycare through 12th grade. Mr. Jacobs said the facilities care for and educate some 460 children and graduate annually between 40 and 50 seniors.

Mr. Jacobs said since the initial incident, "several" other allegations have been brought forward during the police investigation. A school community meeting was held Jan. 31 with city police Detective Bryan Sellers. The school has asked parents who want a "forensic examination" of their child to contact the detective at 412-323-7141.

Mr. Jacobs did not spell out the number of allegations made against Mr. Friedman but said police told the school there have been "several."

The school is affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch of Western Pennsylvania.

The Chabad Lubavitch movement is an internationally active portion of the strictly observant Hasidic movement, which itself is part of the wider stream of Orthodox Judaism. Chabad Lubavitch adherents are known for their distinctive attire, including long, dark coats worn by men and long, modest skirts worn by women, and for urging other Jews to be more observant of Jewish laws and practices.

A call to Mr. Friedman's phone number in Pittsburgh was not answered. Family members who reside in Minnesota did not return messages. Mr. Levenson declined to make his client available for comment. According to the divorce proceedings, Mr. Friedman has been living with family in Brooklyn while his wife and child stay with relatives in California.

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