Kesher Israel, victims settle Freundel civil suit

Kesher Israel. File photo

The victims of Rabbi Barry Freundel have settled a class action suit with the synagogue Freundel led until October 2014, when he was arrested for voyeurism at the ritual bath he oversaw.

The two sides announced a $14.25 million settlement on Tuesday. The agreement was substantially less than the $100 million that victims asked for.

That entire amount will be paid by Travelers Insurance, which covers the synagogue, Kesher Israel, and the other defendants. As part of the agreement, Kesher Israel and its co-defendants do not admit guilt, and deny any wrongdoing.
The agreement, which the two sides presented to D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman on Aug. 23, requires court approval.

“The settlement provides class members who were victimized by Freundel $25,000 each for completing very minimal paperwork,” said Alexandra Harwin, whose firm, Sanford Heisler Sharpe, represented the victims in the class action suit.

She said the payments could “possibly be more if they complete an additional claim form detailing the harm from their experience.”

Freundel was sentenced in May 2015 to six years in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed that he filmed more than 150 women.

The other defendants are the National Capital Mikvah, as Kesher’s affiliated ritual bath is known; the Beth Din of America, the Orthodox rabbinical court system through whom Freundel conducted conversions; and the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella Orthodox rabbis’ association affiliated with the rabbinic courts.

Negotiations on a settlement began in 2016, according to the two sides.

“This was a compromise of disputed claims,” Harwin said. “It took protracted negotiations of over two years to reach this point.”

For victims, the settlement means the end of a lengthy legal process that ultimately could have failed, Harwin said.

For the synagogue, the agreement is another step in putting Freundel’s actions behind it.

“Kesher believes that resolving the case at this time is in its best interests, as well as the best interests of the Kesher community and Freundel’s victims. The settlement would enable the parties to avoid the further burdens of litigation, and would allow Kesher to continue its focus on serving the needs of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., without the distraction of the lawsuits,” according to a statement that Kesher Israel released Tuesday.

“This settlement will enable Kesher to put the litigation behind us, and to put one hundred percent of its focus where it belongs — on serving its members and the larger community,” the press release quoted synagogue president Drew Cooper as saying.

JTA News and Features contributed to this article.

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