Former Conservative movement youth leader admits to sexual misconduct

(JTA) — A former regional director of the Conservative movement’s youth group USY admitted to “improper behavior” with teenage boys in the 1980s.

In an interview with the New York Jewish Week, published on Wednesday, Robert Fisher acknowledged his actions and admitted that he had lied about it when confronted in the past by a USY parent.

“I conducted myself improperly,” Fisher told the newspaper.

The Jewish Week reported allegations by two men who were youth group members under Fisher as teenagers in California. Both men claimed that they had stayed over at Fisher’s home in Los Angeles and slept in his bed. One claimed he had undressed in front of Fisher but that no contact had taken place. The other claimed Fisher had massaged his legs and buttocks during one sleepover.

“I carry shame and regret,” Fisher told the Jewish Week.

“I wish I could go back and apologize,” he said, “but I brought this on myself.”

Last month, the Conservative movement launched a hotline for reporting sexual impropriety in response to an allegation by a former member of its youth movement that he was inappropriately touched by a male staff member in the 1980s.

“At this moment we have a very serious allegation, and we thought it was necessary to be public that that allegation has been made and to invite people that may have been victimized to contact us to so we can gather more information and determine next steps,” the United Synagogue’s CEO, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told JTA.

The accusations against Fisher come amid an ongoing national reckoning concerning sexual misconduct that has upended the careers of a number of prominent men, including the Jewish film mogul Harvey Weinstein and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota. Franken, who has been accused of misconduct by seven women as of Wednesday, was expected to resign from the Senate on Thursday, but Franken denied that claim, saying no final decision had been made.

Late last month, the Conservative movement issued a statement condemning sexual harassment and assault and urging that protocols be created to prevent and report such incidents.

“In the wake of ongoing revelations of alleged sexual misconduct, including the willingness of more and more women, and sometimes men, to tell their stories publicly, the Conservative Jewish movement condemns the behavior of those who use their positions of power to take advantage of others,” said the statement issued on behalf of 10 Conservative groups.

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