Their families had built a school together, a house of prayer, an entire neighborhood. The rabbi was his mentor, his “religious guidepost.” The rabbi’s son was his best friend.
So when the rabbi allegedly started sexually abusing him, he felt both scared and “special.” For more than a decade he told no one — lest he “destroy” the two families’ dream.
A local yeshiva student-turned-rabbi and administrator of a Jewish day school detailed that tale in a newly public pretrial deposition.
The student-turned-rabbi is Aviad “Avi” Hack. In the deposition, he told a tale of an alleged 13-year sexual relationship with a prominent local rabbi named Daniel Greer. With the help of Hack’s parents, Greer founded the Gan School and the connected Yeshiva of New Haven at the corner of Norton and Elm Streets and spearheaded the revival of housing throughout the surrounding Edgewood neighborhood by renovating dozens of multifamily homes through a series of not-for-profit organizations he controlled. Both families’ children grew up there; some of them, including Avi Hack, assumed leadership roles as adults.
Hack gave the deposition in the case of another former student at the school, Eliyahu Mirlis, who has filed a federal suit against Greer for allegedly repeatedly sexually abusing him for three years. (Read a detailed account of that suit here.)
Hack was originally one of the defendants in that lawsuit, along with Greer. The suit originally accused him of having known about the abuse of Mirlis and not having reported it to the authorities as required under state law. And in his deposition, Hack acknowledges failing to report the alleged abuse.
Hack agreed to turn star witness for the plaintiffs in the civil suit. He was dropped as a defendant in the suit. In advance of a scheduled trail, he gave his deposition in two sittings last summer.
The 218-page transcript of the deposition — which until now had been in the court file in only a heavily redacted form — offers a detailed look at some of the alleged abuse that went on at the school and community prayer and study house for more than a decade. It probes the psychology of a student who alleges he began being sexually assaulted as a teenager, then returned to work at the school, and to the relationship, after college. He became the school’s assistant dean.
In the deposition, Hack described sexual encounters from 1991 or 1992 through 2004 occurring in apartments owned by Greer’s not-for-profit groups, in the basement of Greer’s Orange Street law office building, in Edgewood Park, and in motels in Branford and Cheshire, a Holiday Inn in Cromwell, a hotel in Missouri, hotels in Cape Cod and Plymouth Mass., where the rabbi allegedly would sign in as “Daniel Green.” Hack spoke of consenting to weekly trysts that he was able to “avoid” only on the annual Days of Awe (the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) and the “Nine Days” leading up to the observance of a fast day of mourning known as Tisha B’Av.
And Hack described waiting until 2015 and 2016 — after Mirlis decided to file suit — to tell his father and his wife about both his alleged abuse and Mirlis’.
“I had tremendous respect, reverence, awe, for Rabbi Greer. I felt that he was superlative in every way. He was confident, he was knowledgeable. He was a religious guidepost. He was an effective parent. He was an effective teacher. I had tremendous, tremendous respect for him, throughout my time, throughout my time in high school,” Hack testified under oath.
He spoke of how he grew up attending the school that his parents and the Greers had founded beginning at 2 1/2 years old. He said he feared that disclosure of the sexual relationship could jeopardize all his parents and the Greers had done to create a religious institution and a community that have been credited with stabilizing and enriching a neighborhood that had been in decline. And he spoke of fear of Rabbi Greer’s “yelling and screaming,” fear “of not being loyal” to “someone whom I respected” and who had “made me a special person.”
“I was afraid of losing my specialness. I was afraid of what it would do to my family,” Hack testified. He stated that he didn’t want to “destroy what my father has been working on.”
Through his attorney, William Ward, Greer has adamantly denied all the accusations. He has accused Mirlis of inventing stories to shake him down for money. He has accused Hack of inventing stories to force him out of control of the school so Hack could take it over.
Taking The Fifth
Greer himself does not plan to say that, or say anything, on the witness stand at the trial, which is scheduled to begin next month. On April 10 Greer’s attorneys filed a motion seeking to preclude him from testifying. The motion states that Greer plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.
One reason cited in his motion for invoking the Fifth: Avoiding incriminating himself in a separate criminal investigation.
“The plaintiff has testified that in addition to filing this civil suit, he has also discussed his allegations with the police authorities,” the motion states. “It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that any substantive question posed by plaintiff’s counsel at trial will relate to these allegations, which may be the subject of an ongoing police investigation. Mr. Greer is thus well within his rights to invoke his 5th Amendment privilege at trial and to refuse to respond to any such questions, and intends to do so.”
A law-enforcement official familiar with those discussions said that they took place when the news of Mirlis’s suit became public, and that New Haven police decided not to pursue an investigation for a variety of reasons, including concerns about whether the statute of limitations had run out.
Over the years, Greer has also crusaded against gay rights in Connecticut, at times played an active role in politics and government, and advocated for keeping nuisance businesses out of the Whalley Avenue commercial corridor. He and his family earned national attention for exposing johns who patronized street prostitutes in the neighborhood, for filing suit against Yale University over a requirement that students live in coed dorms, and then in 2007 for launching an armed neighborhood “defense” patrol and then calling in the Guardian Angels for assistance to combat crime. In the 1970s, Greer also led a successful campaign to force the United States to pressure the Soviet Union into allowing Jewish “refuseniks” to emigrate here and start new, freer lives.
Greer’s sons, who had helped him run the yeshiva and the religious community centered at the building at Norton and Elm, and members of the Hack family have left the school and the housing organization and left town since Mirlis filed suit. Greer has found new students to attend the school. Most (not all) of the neighbors who were active in the prayer services have found other places to daven.
Avi Hack did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article. Hack testified that after Mirlis filed the lawsuit in 2016, he decided to apply for teaching jobs and relocate with his family out of state. He and his family have since relocated to Rhode Island. The staff directory of the Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School of Providence lists Hack as a current science teacher.
Following are edited excerpts from his deposition, at which he was questioned by plaintiff’s attorney Antonio Ponvert III of the firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder and Greer attorney William Ward.
“The Day It Changed”
Hack: During the course of my time, you know, my time in high school when I studied with him much more, my reverence and respect for him grew. We spent many, you know, much time together. The Torah scroll was read in the synagogue every Saturday so we would go and review it together to make sure there were no errors, and it was prepared and ready and things like that …
Ponvert: Did the relationship with Rabbi Greer change?
Ponvert: And what happened and when?
Hack: So the relationship took on a sexual angle, in, beginning with a nice beautiful spring day, spring Friday in either ‘91 or ‘92. It was a Friday, whether it was April or May, I don’t remember, but it was that time of year.
And at the time there was a— another administrator, who lived in the house behind my parents, and he had asked me on that Friday to please … man the door, you know, answer the door. ...
And Rabbi Greer knew that I was there and that I was the only one in the building, and he told me that he wanted to meet me there. So I said fine.
And he came into the office, and asked me to come down stairs with him, to the — there’s — in the basement of the building there’s the janitor’s apartment. When I was a little boy there was a live-in janitor. There hasn’t been in a while.
He asked me to come down there into the janitor’s apartment. And I said to him that the other individual had asked me to man the door. And I had a responsibility, how could I do that?
He said don’t worry about it. You know, he obviously, Rabbi Greer outranks him. “Come with me, it’s very important.” [I] said OK.
So we came into the room, and he started hugging me and kissing me. Hug wasn’t bizarre to me, kisses were a little bit weird. And then he, he undid my belt and lowered my pants, and I was like whoa, this is — this is very weird. I— I didn’t know what was going on, and then he started to fondle me, lowered my underwear as well.
And there was a bed there, we sat down on the bed. I was shocked, that I think is the only word to describe it.
[We] spent some time there. And then I left, my head was swimming. …
And I came back up to the office, and I was, like really feeling woozy at that point is the only way to describe it. And to find the administrator who had asked me to man the door, angry, and yelling at me how come I hadn’t done what he had told me to do, which is man the door.
I couldn’t really answer. And I didn’t. And I got on my bicycle and rode home. …
And that was the day that it changed.
Ponvert: [S]o is that the first of a number of occasions when Rabbi Greer had—
Ponvert:—sexual relations with you?
Hack: Many, many, many occasions.
Ponvert: Approximately how many over the course of your time as a student at the school?
Hack: I don’t remember. I don’t remember how — how quickly while I was a student at the school, how quickly things progressed. …
Ponvert: And then I take it that there were a number of occasions, although you can’t remember how many, before your 18th birthday —
Ponvert:— where he had sex with you?
Hack: He didn’t — if by sex you mean he penetrated me with his member, that never happened.
Ponvert: No. Let me be clear then, and thank you for asking for that clarification. By sex, I mean fondling, mutual masturbation, fellatio, anything of that nature?
Hack: Okay. So that did occur on a number of occasions before I was 18, but I don’t remember exactly how many.
Ponvert: All right. And then it continued after you turned 18?
Hack: Correct ...
Ponvert: And what did occur as best as you can describe it between you and Rabbi Greer on that first day? Did he fondle you?
Hack: Yes, he fondled me. … My penis and my testicles, no. My legs I’m sure, and he hugged and kissed me.
Ponvert: Did he have you touch him?
Ponvert: All right. Did that happen on some occasion?
Hack: Absolutely. As the relationship progressed, obviously.
“Reverence, Awe, Fear”
Ponvert: All right. And so the relationship with him, the sexual relationship evolved to the point where when you would be together, you would masturbate him, he would masturbate you?
Hack: So the relationship evolved to the point where there were weekly meetings, except during the week of the Days of Atonement, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and during what’s called the Nine Days [leading up to the observance of Tisa B’Av], when there are people who don’t shower, and so that was my excuse and I was able to avoid it during that week.
But other than those two weeks it was weekly, it was a weekly rendezvous, during which I would masturbate him and he would perform oral sex on me.
He did attempt one time to penetrate with his member into me, and I vehemently refused that and there was at least one time that he required me to allow his penis into my mouth, although he was very clear that I did not have to perform oral sex on him. In other words, he didn’t have to ejaculate.
Ponvert: All right. During the period of time when you were a student there, and — well, let’s say during the period of time between that first incident and your 18th birthday, did you consider what you were doing with him to being voluntary, and —
Ponvert: And wished by you?
Ponvert: What is it that kept you coming back on these designated times during the weeks?
Hack: Reverence, awe, fear. And my ability to rationalize. I needed it, it was important for him. It wasn’t that bad. In the grand scheme of things, is it really worth taking everything down, destroy everything over this?
Hack: And also at some point, as the relationship progressed, it was no longer in the — in my frame of reference of something I could refuse. There’s a famous, one of the famous scholars of the Jewish scholars in the late 19th and 20th centuries talks about a point of choice. So that if there’s someone who is beginning his — his road in religious Judaism, right, and has always enjoyed a cheeseburger, which is not kosher, right, so for him, when he passes McDonald’s, he has to choose not to eat the cheeseburger, and that’s difficult for him.
For me, when I pass McDonald’s, I don’t feel a choice. To me [a] cheeseburger is not food, and so therefore, that’s not within my fame of reference of making a choice. So the reward that I earned for not eating a cheeseburger is obviously not nearly the same as for this other person who has a choice.
It didn’t occur to me that I had a choice. It just wasn’t part of my framework, that I could say no, I am not showing up.
He would yell at me, he would scream at me. He would bother me. And — and it would be very disruptive, and destroy a lot of things, and it would be very embarrassing …
Ponvert: What was your fear during the period of time that you were having these relations with him? What was your fear? What would happen if you told anyone.
Hack: I was — I had many different fears. It was a long relationship. They ranged from fear of him being angry at me, fear of his yelling at me. And my fear of not being loyal to him.
Fear of not being there for someone whom I respected and who had always said to me that he — the fact that I was loyal to him and supported him was very important to him and made me a special person.
I guess if one were to analyze it psychologically, I was afraid of losing my specialness. I was afraid of what it would do to my family. …
I remember the first day, that first Friday in ‘91 or ‘92, when I was biking home, as I turned on to Maple Street from Ellsworth Avenue, when I was thinking about whether I should tell my father, and I said if I—to myself, if I tell my father, then my brother, my siblings won’t be able to get the education that I got, because my father will pull them out of the school. And that’s not good for them, that’s not fair to them. I shouldn’t do this and destroy them and destroy what my father has been working on.
“You Compared Me To A Nazi”
Ponvert: [T]he relationship then continues for quite a number of years?
Ponvert: After you turn 18.
Ponvert: After you leave the school as a student.
Ponvert: And what is that — what are the things that kept you coming back during that period of time?
Hack: Same sorts of things. … I mean some of the fears that I mentioned were later fears. As I said, it’s a long relationship and hard to pinpoint exactly when each different fear came in.
There was also, over time it became part of the way life was. You know, I got up in the morning, the sun has this habit, it rises in the east every single day. And you have a meeting with Daniel Greer every single week. …
And he knew that I didn’t like it.
Ponvert: How did he know that?
Hack: I told him many times. There was the famous time that was probably in the first floor of 66 Irving Street, and he said to me, “Why are you upset?” And I said, you know, the — when a person was in a concentration camp, I said we know that the war ended in 1945. But when a person was in the concentration camp in 1943, they didn’t know that the war was going to end in 1945. From their perspective, they might have to endure this hell forever. I said I feel like that.
He got really, really angry. “You compared me to a Nazi.” So of course, when he started getting angry and yelling, so then I retracted. He knew that — he knew that I didn’t like it. ...
Ponvert: Now at some point I take it you got married, and you began having your own family?
Hack: Yes. … I got married in August of 2004. And I had told Daniel Greer for many years, that my relationship with him was going to end when I got married. That I felt strong enough to do, because when I said it to him, it was far in the distant future that, you know, I felt like I was laying the groundwork, and laying the groundwork when I didn’t get any pushback right away, it was like a logical thing, like I can’t have sex with you when I’m having sex with my wife.
And he said ... we’ll see then, maybe you’ll want to continue it. And I said no, I won’t want to.
“You Know I Do This With Eli”
Hack: There was one time that I was having my weekly encounter with Rabbi Greer, and he said to me, “You know I do this with Eli.” I said, “I know.”
He said — he said, “And, you know, Eli, his body is much more,” he used an invented Hebrew word, “gourusdik,” which is a non-existent Hebrew word, which meant manly.
You know, Eli was very strong, and good looking and well built. He said, “His body is much more manly than yours. But your personality and the depth you have as a person makes me like spending more time with you.”
I said, “Okay.” There’s not much more that I could say. …
Ponvert: Did you know during your association with the school, that you are what’s called a mandatory reporter?
Hack: No. I only found out about the laws of mandatory reporting a number of years later. It was a number of years later that I became aware.
DCF Shows Up
Ward: [W]hen did you first become aware of the alleged relationship between [Greer] and Eliyahu Mirlis?
Hack: I don’t remember exactly. It was either at the end of Eliyahu’s 10th grade year, which would be the spring of 2003, or it would be the beginning of his 11th grade year, which would be the fall or 2003.
Ward: What position did you hold at that time?
Hack: I was a teacher. I was a dorm counselor. I don’t remember whether I was assistant to the dean or if I had already been granted permission to call myself assistant dean. ...
Ward: How old were you at the time you became aware of this incident in 2003? …
Ward: Okay. You never reported it?
Hack: That is correct.
Ward: Did you ever have the opportunity to report it?
Hack: What would — what would constitute an opportunity?
Ward: Did you ever have a meeting with DCF [the state Department of Children and Families] at all?
Hack: I did.
Ward: Okay. But you didn’t report it during that meeting?
Hack: No. That was a meeting relating to a different matter. …
Ward: What did DCF come to the school about? ...
Hack: The allegation was that Daniel Greer had, that there was— I believe it was physical and emotional abuse.
Ward: Were they substantiated?
Ward: And it wasn’t involving Eliyahu?
Hack: He was a student at the time.
Ward: But it wasn’t involving Eliyahu, you just said that?
Hack: There was no specific student that was — to my knowledge, there was no ... specific student referred to in the complaint to DCF. …
The “Special Housing Unit”
Ward: What type of physical abuse was alleged?
Hack: That students were locked in a house with inadequate — with no heat.
Ward: Okay. Was that … the special housing unit … where children were locked?
Hack: There was no place that children were locked. [T]here were times that instead of suspending a student, and sending them home, they would be sent to one of the yeshiva’s vacant apartments.
Ward: For how long?
Hack: It would depend on the offense.
Ward: Were they locked in the apartment?
Hack: The door of the apartment was locked, but it was unlock able from the inside. It was a regular apartment.
Ward: Was anybody there to supervise them?
Hack: I — I or other staff members would pass in and out and check on them, make sure that they had food and what to do. …
Ward: Were students placed in isolation in this house?
Ward: Was there heat?
Hack: At one point there wasn’t. And I told, I told Rabbi Greer that no, nobody should be sent there at that point. And he said it didn’t matter, send them anyway.
Ward: And so you sent them?
Hack: After he instructed me, directed me to, yeah, I did. …
Ward: And that was the basis for the DCF complaint?
Hack: Yes, and the emotional abuse that Daniel Greer did towards the students.
Ward: When you say emotional abuse, what do you mean?
Hack: Making fun of them in public.
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