On Aug. 24, Marsh Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Thomas Eckmann against Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy (SAR) at 655 West 254th St. The lawsuit alleged that Eckmann was sexually abused by one of its assistant principals, teachers and school administrators, Stanley Rosenfeld and one of its teachers and rabbis, Rabbi Sheldon Schwartz, all while the school failed to protect him.
“We have to show that the institution acted unreasonably,” said Jennifer Freeman, a lawyer with Marsh. “I try to look at the positive that we’re really affecting valuable change for the people.”
Freeman said that since the Child Victim Act was passed last year, the number of reported cases have skyrocketed.
The CVA opened a historic one-year one-time window for victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the State of New York to pursue lapsed claims. Prior to the passage of the CVA, plaintiff’s claims were time-barred the day plaintiff turned 22 years old. The enactment of the CVA allows plaintiffs, for the first time in their lives, to pursue restorative justice in New York.
Eckmann, 56, a Navy veteran, grew up in Riverdale, but has spent the past 25 years in California. His alleged abuse happened in middle school but he never disclosed it to anyone, not even his parents.
He told the Bronx Times he thought about the abuse many times over the years, but it was not until 2018 when the wheels got in motion. It was then when he received a letter from SAR saying an internal investigation was being done into the school and Rosenfeld.
It asked if any former students had anything they wanted to add and that quickly opened old wounds.
“It was very emotional,” he recalled. “I was sobbing I couldn’t even see the screen as I was typing.”
Eckmann shortly received a call from a staffer at SAR who was apologetic.
“They seemed to appreciate me coming forward,” he said “To me it seemed like it was a widespread thing.”
Reliving the alleged abuse was not easy. He recalled how students used to spend Shabbat with Rosenfeld and parents trusted him. It was there where he and other kids were taken advantage of by their teacher.
Eckmann said he was just 11 or 12 when this happened and it ruined his childhood. He had heard rumors of Rosenfeld doing this to other kids, yet never knew if the rumors were true.
“I was just kind of shocked, scared and embarrassed,” he said. “At that time I really didn’t know who I could speak to. I really didn’t feel comfortable speaking with any of the staff.”
He shared that what hurt even more was the fact that when he was older, he discovered that Rosenfeld was caught by the school for abuse, was fired and then repeated his lewd behavior at a synagogue.
“It makes me very angry to know that nothing happened,” he commented. “Mentally and emotionally it’s nothing you can really get over.”
He hoped that by working with Freeman and her colleagues there can be some closure to this dark chapter in his life. According to Eckmann, the staff at Marsh has been extremely professional and supportive.
“I feel like I am not alone in this,” he said. “The school is a good institution. I wouldn’t want to see it closed. It’s just how the administration ran it.”
In 2018, T and M Protection Resources did an eight month investigation into the sexual abuse allegations at SAR. They heard from 39 witnesses, but believed that the report understated the incidence of sexual abuse.
It found there is credible evidence to support a finding that Rosenfeld engaged in sexual assault as well as inappropriate physical and sexual contact with 12 SAR students and one non-SAR student. In addition, the evidence supports the conclusion that Rosenfeld’s misconduct became known to Rabbi Schwartz when two students informed him that Rosenfeld had inappropriately touched them and that Rabbi Schwartz failed to report this to the SAR administration.
T&M found that the school was also made aware of Rosenfeld’s sexual misconduct when Rabbi Chwat was informed by a teacher that she had observed Rosenfeld touching a boy in an office at the school, and that notwithstanding this disclosure, Rosenfeld returned to teach at SAR in 1986. During the course of this investigation, T&M also learned that Schwartz was present at Rosenfeld’s home when the sexual abuse of students occurred and that Schwartz engaged in inappropriate behavior with students at SAR.
Rosenfeld currently resides in a nursing home in Providence, Rhode Island and is listed on the Rhode Island Sex Offender registry as a Level III Sex Offender.
The Bronx Times made multiple attempts to contact staff from SAR Academy, but none of them responded for comment.