On May 26, 2003, the University of Judaism
admissions director Amnon
Finkelstein and 24 yo U.J. student Lauren fell two stories to the concrete
from the Pico-Robertson apartment window of stunning U.J. student Devin
Geser. Both Amnon and Lauren were naked and both sustained severe injuries,
including brain damage.
I call Amnon March 3, 2006.
Luke: "What happened in the fall?"
Amnon: "Devin Geser took a course with me. She came to one of my office hours and showed me a comment by one of the professors [Dr. Miriyam Glazer] on campus to her paper. I thought the comments were harsh. They suggested that Devin wrote on less than a highschool level. I read the paper that Devin wrote for my seminar. I asked her to write a better paper. Even after several drafts (so I could help with style and structure), she still wrote a horrendous paper. I wondered if she was using drugs. I gave her a C-.
"Then she started to show up in my office almost daily asking me about opportunities to study in Israel. I did not feel that she was ready for that but I encouraged her to apply.
"One day out of the blue, she invited me to come to her place for a birthday party and end of year party. It was unclear. I was a complete bonehead. I did not ask anybody else that she claimed she had invited. I simply went on my own. I fell into some kind of trap or game or joke at my expense. I don't know what happened.
"When I arrived, she was with a young lady I had not seen before (but heard about because Devin had shared with me her sexual interest in L.) -- L. I do not even remember how L. looked.
"They were hardly dressed when I arrived. I realized it was some kind of a game.
"Earlier that day, I had a long bicycle ride. I came very thirsty. I asked to drink something. She gave me orange juice.
"At this point, my memory starts to fade.
"I remember clearly that I could not hold myself standing. I fell down on the carpet. It was the equivalent of seeing a dark shade falling over your eyes.
"The next thing I remember, I woke up in the hospital. The first thing that came to my mind was that I had too much to drink last night, I pulled a DUI.
"The neurosurgeon came to my room and explained that I fell [about 18-feet] off an apartment onto the cement. I went through an air conditioning wall unit on the first floor. That's what fractured my front skull.
"I understood that L. fell on me. I understood that I fell or was pushed first. L. fell on my stomach, I understand, but there was no bruise on my stomach.
"Since I fell very close to the wall of the building, it was clear I did not jump or fall on my own. From the way I fell, the police suspected I was pushed.
"I understand that a neighbor saw me falling and he called 9-1-1.
"The police asked him if there was an argument. He said no. It was quiet. Suddenly I appeared. The windows are French windows, meaning they go from the ceiling to the ground. I don't believe that either Devin or L. were able to lift me to a window. I am 6'2" and at the time I weighed about 195 pounds.
"I tore the rotator cuff on my left shoulder. I could hardly move my neck for a long time.
"I have seven fractures in my skull, four on the front, and above the right ear. There is a deep fracture on the upper corner of my forehead which will probably never heal. Part of the bone disappeared.
"I sustained serious memory and cognitive problems that started to heal around January 2004."
Luke: "When you saw that Devin and L. were barely dressed when you walked into their apartment, why did you not leave? Why did you proceed to drink alcohol with them? Were you intending to have sex with either or both of them?"
Amnon: "I did not leave for two reasons. First, I had an orange juice first and only after that a shot of alcohol. I wanted to stay for a while longer in order to understand the circumstances. At that point, I was dizzy and disoriented and before long I was out. The second reason is that Devin said that she expected others to arrive. I thought to myself that if nobody came in fifteen minutes, I would be out of the door, but it was too late.
"On that note, at some point, I suspected that Devin had some help dragging me out of the window down to the pavement. However, I cannot prove it."
Luke: "Do you think you might've been drugged?"
Amnon: "I can not prove it. I suspect that I was drugged. I had alcohol in my blood when I woke up. I remember having one or two shots of tequila at Devin's apartment but I don't remember having the amount of alcohol that they claimed I had."
Luke: "Did you ever have sex with Devin or L.?"
Amnon: "Absolutely not. They did examine that in the hospital. There was no penetration of L. or Devin. I believe that L. had sex with Devin on a regular basis and I believe they had sex on that evening. I woke up for a few seconds, or it could be a dream, but I do remember them having sex on the carpet next to me.
"Two weeks after I got home from the hospital, I got a phonecall from L.'s father. (L. got my number from Devin.) He asked me what happened. L. was on the phone too. I could not really give him information. I purposefully did not expose his daughter and her relationship with Devin. From his questions, I could deduct that she was lying to him about her use of alcohol. She was on anti-depressants and was told not to drink anymore. When I came to Devin's apartment May 26, L. was there with a bottle of vodka in her hands.
"They wanted to know if I was suing anybody. I said no.
"I did talk to the homicide investigators after I was released from the hospital. They told me that Devin was completely high and inaccessible on the night of the accident. She retained a lawyer immediately afterwards."
Luke: "What if on that night you'd been left sitting there in the apartment and the two girls were lying injured on the pavement?"
Amnon: "This is a question that has been on my mind and probably will never disappear. If I had been there smoking a cigar waiting for the police to arrive with the bodies of two young ladies on the cement, can you imagine what would've happened?
"I asked my neurosurgeon why I was not tested for the date rape drug. He explained that it was a normal procedure only when women arrive injured at the hospital."
Luke: "You were naked."
Amnon: "The time was too short for me to have removed my clothing. Someone must've removed it."
Luke: "In retrospect, do you think this was an error in judgment on your part to have almost daily meetings with Devin and to visit her apartment? Were there other students you met with daily? In your other positions of authority at universities, did you ever meet with young female students daily in private or help them write papers?"
Amnon: "In retrospect, it was a mistake to extend a helping hand to Devin. At other universities, I always spent a lot of time helping students with their papers. In fact, in one case I had a student who simply could not write a coherent argument. She was a serious student, but she also suffered from Lupus. Her constant severe headaches prevented her from concentrating for a long time. Each time she needed to write a paper, I helped her by breaking down her assignments to small segments and papers into paragraphs. I taught her techniques and methods that helped her to overcome her difficulties. As a result she was on the Dean’s List until her graduation. I did care for my students, whether males or females. In another case, I had a male student who was graduating in a field he did not like. He wanted to study graphic design not being an engineer. I worked with him on his application to the best school in the country. We design together his resume and I helped him with his application essay. I even gave him the phone number of my brother in law for advice (my brother in law is an incredible graphic designer). This student was accepted to the school. I can continue to give you many more examples. One case with a disturbed student should not cast a shadow on my belief that assisting students is our moral and professional obligation, especially given the exuberant amount of money they pay as tuition. My co-worker at the UJ used to see students every day. Students at the UJ have nobody to talk to. They felt alienated and disenfranchised. Administrators, who were willing to listen for a bit, were visited daily. In the student retention plan that I designed for the UJ, I put special emphasis on meeting students more frequently and listening to them.
"In my seminar, each student could submit me a draft and work with me over it before they submitted the final paper for grade. I did work with other students on their paper, with some several times per week. I felt that most UJ students were unprepared for academic writing. Since mine was a senior seminar, I believed it was my obligation to see that they at least acquired knowledge in this respect.
"In retrospect, it was naïve of me to help Devin with her paper, allow her to visit me almost daily and visit her apartment. Indeed, in her case, it was a poor judgment."
Luke: "Did you date or have sex with any University of Judaism students while you were an administrator there?"
Amnon: "No. The fraternization policy was unclear but at the time I was dating another woman. I did not date any other person on campus or anywhere else. Most of my employees were females. Of course I never dated them. I was good friends with my major [female] assistants, much to the chagrin of some in the administration."
Luke: "Had you previously gone to students homes or apartments for parties?"
Luke: "Did you ever visit L.'s or Devin's apartment aside from May 26 2003?"
Amnon: "As far as I know, L. lived with her parents. I had never met L. before May 26, 2003. I did visit Devin’s place once before the night of the injury. I came over to help her with a paper she was writing for a different professor. We ate dinner at a sushi place near her apartment."
Luke: "How did the University of Judaism react to what happened?"
Amnon: "In a typical University of Judaism way, a mix of covering up and rude, almost vicious, behavior by Mark Bookman [provost and Chief Operating Officer].
"I was in the hospital about 20 days after my injury. I went home. Mark Bookman showed up with Zofia Yalovsky. He saw a bicycle in the living room, which I had left there before I went to see Devin. He claimed I was completely healthy and that I did not even injure myself. He behaved strangely. He suggested that the university could not employ me because I was seeing a student in a personal way and having sex with her. I explained to him that this was not the case. I even offered to go through a lie detector.
"At the end of June, I was let go. It was cruel. They never discussed with me the history of the case. They never invited me to give my version of events.
"That's not the only case of cover-up. There were other cases of cover-ups that I had to deal with as an employee of the UJ."
"While most of the UJ’s actions towards me and the case were despicable (even before the details became clear), one person was consistently concerned about my health. When I woke up in the hospital after several days in a coma, Andrea Harris was there by my bed. She visited me almost daily and her wonderful husband Josh was there to support me physically when I returned home. Their hospitality and friendship were those life events that we all live for. Two other female employees visited me once each; one was another employee and the second a student who worked in the admissions office.
"Now, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that what happened on May 26, 2003 was sinful, outrageous and immoral as some of your readers pontificate. What really happened to the principle of “Bikkur kholim” (visiting the sick), a Mitzvah, that so many pious believers at the UJ keep talking about? Our wonderful religion distinguishes between sins “against the place” (damage to property) and “sins against another person” (hurting another human being). While one may criticize me for attending a party at a student’s home, or for demonstrating poor judgment, I committed neither sin. I accept full responsibility for not thinking the whole matter through before I attended the student’s home. Yet, I was the victim in this case. The crowd of the believers at the UJ suddenly forgot what their own religion teaches them. In the name of PR and other hidden agenda, all that was solid melted into air.
"I believe that a disciplinary hearing was in order. I should have been given an opportunity to explain the circumstances behind my injury and the UJ had the right to reject my testimony. Instead, the UJ stopped my health insurance during the time when I needed it most and never, not even once, approached me for an explanation. Moreover, Devin Geser was allowed to continue her course of studies at the UJ. In your web site, you wrote poignantly, that with my accident, we have all sinned. In reality, it was the UJ that committed the worst sin of all, a sin against another person. I know that a member of the Jewish community in Los Angeles wrote Bob Wexler a letter expressing her outrage precisely because of this behavior."
Luke: "How long were you at the UJ and how would you describe your experience there?"
Amnon: "I was there about two years. The place is managed like a mafia -- behind closed doors. Even though I was on a committee called the President's Council, you do not council anybody. The president [Dr. Robert Wexler] does his business with Mark Bookman and Gady Levy, who does a good job. He escaped the army in Israel. He left at 17. He let others do the job for him.
"Zofia Yalovsky arranged for her daughter to attend the UJ and study education. She enrolled her other daughter in the University and had a habit of taking care of people she thought were loyal to her. I was among the people who interviewed her daughter to the school of education. When it took a bit “too much time” to accept her, Zofia called me and blamed me for dragging my feet. It was another faculty who did not want her daughter there.
"Zofia's husband had an office at the university where he did his own private business. He was not even employed by the university.
"There was strong anti-Israel sentiment at UJ. There was an Israeli student named Shanny Mahalu. I helped her enter the program. She worked hard. Her English was not good. Her boyfriend later joined her in the city to live with her. She later got a job with El Al security.
"She came to me crying one day about three months into the program. She said one of the professors [Sue Kapitanoff] did not return any of her papers. It was a freshman seminar. Shanny ran after her. She confronted her about it face-to-face. Sue claimed she left all the papers in her student box. Shanny said no. I advised her to force Sue into her office to look for the papers. She did that. All the papers were there unread, unchecked, ungraded. She was the only student who did not get her papers examined. She was also the only Israeli in the class.
"Sue has a long history of antipathy towards Israelis. You can ask Shoham Nicolet, who's now the director of housing on campus. He was then a student. He was well aware of anti-Israeli sentiment on campus. As well as Zofia Yalovsky, who is also Israeli and probably one of the most hated persons on campus for good and bad reasons.
"I wrote a memo to Lois Oppenheim. She refused to investigate. Lois has a long history of anti-Israeli sentiment. Lois was born to rich parents who were members of the Bund [socialist Jewish group with strong anti-Zionist leanings]. They took her all over the world, almost every summer, and they never included Israel on their trips. Her sister is a radical leftist activist on the East Coast. Lois did her PhD on Chile and she was there during the Pinochet revolution. I heard from Shoham that she blamed Israel for 9/11 in a bitter lecture in front of her class.
"I had a debate with her over lunch in front of Andrea Harris. We'd come back from the funeral for the husband of Beryl Geber, the dean of the business school.
"The debate got nasty. She went on an anti-Israeli rant.
"Shoham started a campaign to do something on Yom Ha'Zikkaron, the Day of Remembrance [of the soldiers who died in Israel's defence], one day before Israel Independence Day. He asked me to emcee an afternoon event in the main auditorium in remembrance of the Israeli soldiers who died during the War of Independence (1948). I was proud to do that.
"When we played the Israeli national anthem, there were two faculty members who refused to stand -- Mimi Feigelson and Aryeh Cohen. Aryeh was a member of a Kahane group who, after the Lebanon war, decided he was moving to the other side.
"I wrote an email to Dr. Wexler calling his attention to that. He did not think it was a big deal.
"The UJ either covers something up immediately or get rid of those who bring shame upon it. But they cannot get rid of Aryeh Cohen because Aryeh Cohen is a tenured professor.
"Lois Oppenheim approached me in a personal way when we were driving to the University of Redlands. She offered to date me and to have sex with me. I immediately said no. Upon returning to the university, I shared it with Andrea and I wrote an official letter to Zofia Yalovsky, who was in charge of human resources.
"Two weeks later, Zofia called me to the garden behind the campus and told me in no uncertain terms, if you insist on pursuing this matter about Lois, you might find yourself out of a job.
"Mark Bookman and Lois have a very interesting relationship. They go way back to the New Left of the sixties. They used to demonstrate a lot, according to Lois. While they compete against each other and stab each other in the back, they also cover for each other. I'm sure my memo got to him and he probably told Zofia to see me to drop it."
Luke: "Why would you write a memo to HR about Lois Oppenheim asking you out?"
Amnon: "Because I felt uncomfortable with Lois using her position to impose herself on me (I was reporting to her). Her explicit suggestion came after a long chase of advances, invitation to visit her place with and without others present. It was very clear to me and others in our division (academic affairs), that Lois liked me very much when I arrived. I thought she was very nice and intelligent, but did not see us going out or developing an intimate relationship. I consulted with Andrea, a co-worker, before my trip with Lois to the University of Redlands. We agreed that only if she would make an explicit suggestion for sex, would I react in a more formal manner, which I did.
"The relationship between the university and the students is horrendous. Andrea Harris was the most popular person on campus because she was the only one [of the administrators] who listened to them. Mark Bookman could be a fantastic guard in some stalag in Russia. There was a stream of students coming into her office and according to the students, drugs and alcohol were common at UJ.
"The year before my arrival, the director of housing on campus was known to have had sex with one of the students. Even after that was discovered, he was not fired. He was allowed to finish out the year. Then he was forced out."
Luke: "You've been a professor and elsewhere. Have you ever had sex or dated a student?"
Amnon: "Never. I was a visiting professor at Northwestern. I had one class with about 180 students. I had about six teaching assistants, all females. None of them complained about me because there was no reason to complain. I was married.
Amnon: "Never. I was a visiting professor at Northwestern. I had one class with about 180 students. I had about six teaching assistants, all females. None of them complained about me because there was no reason to complain. I was married.
"At Northwestern, students come to your office hours with the sole purpose of getting better grades. Sometimes it was like a fashion show. I had one student who was particularly anxious to develop something with me. She sent me a few cards to my home address, cards that were very embarrassing and created a lot of problems for me. She invited me to her home to stay with her when her mother was away. I kept some of her emails. I kept some of the documents that Devin would send me. I wanted to be able to cover myself. Nobody could accuse me of initiating anything.
"I rejected this student. I did not think it was appropriate. She was a mediocre student. Her interest in me was only to improve her grades.
"I read the email she sent you that I kissed her in the classroom. How could I do that in a big lecture hall that was occupied?
"She told you that I gave her anti-Israeli publications. This is a good illustration of her less than prudent interpretation. I never taught a course about the Middle East, but since she was interested in both sides, I referred her to two books that represented the essence of both sides. It was my role as an academic who believes in freedom of speech and thoughts. The last thing I can imagine is that I need to defend my Israeli origins and love for the country."
Luke: "Did you ever ask to borrow money from any of your students?"
Amnon: "Absolutely not. I was never short of money. I was never rich. I never asked anybody for money.
"I read your source from Decker College. There was almost an implication that I was involved in Decker's demise. I came to Decker four months before it was closed and one week after the Department of Education began its investigation. Decker was in complete disarray. I had to let some people go. I brought some people in. I know that some of my employees warned me about certain people who were spreading rumors about me.
"I had three women in my family who were very influential over me. My grandmother was one of the founders of Israel. My mother was a member of the Haganah underground. My sister is remarkable. She is one of Israeli's first feminists, a constructive feminist and not a hateful one."
Luke: "Somebody who knew you socially said you were a loner with few connections to family. That's unusual for an Israeli."
Amnon: "I have a small family unfortunately. I have one sister in New York and one uncle in Tel Aviv and two nephews. My father died when I was 22. My mother died in August of 2004. I do not have pictures at home of people because family did not have pictures of family at home either. I know that the locals here find it important to have a million pictures of everybody.
"I am engaged to be married. I am a private person. I do not share things about my private life when I go to work. I have a small group of friends because I move so much. I do not operate on quantity but on quality.
"I was not close to the Israeli community in Los Angeles. I did not feel comfortable with them. I worked long hours."
Luke: "Were you in the Mossad?"
Amnon: "Absolutely not and I have never claimed to be.
"While in graduate school, there were students who from time to time ask me about the Mossad. They thought that if a person from Israel spoke more than English and Hebrew, he had to be an “agent.” There is an almost romantic notion that people have when it comes to the Mossad. For others, it was an expression of latent anti-Semitism (after all, we are all part of a world wide conspiracy to conquer it all)."
Luke: "Were you involved in the raid on Entebbe?"
Amnon: "No. I was in the IDF during that time."
Luke: "Did you kill people when you were in the IDF? Did you tell people you've dated that you had?"
Amnon: "Are you asking whether I killed people with my own hands? No, I did not and I never shared something like that with anybody. Killing people is not something one could share so easily, not to mention do. I do think, at the same time, that there is such a myth around Israel and its army that I find myself explaining its nature every time I lecture or discuss Middle Eastern problems. Americans, in particular, who are so uninformed about the world, tend to portray the IDF in mythical colors, which I find very difficult to diffuse."
Luke: "Several people have described you to me as litigious. Did you threaten lawsuits over the UJ incident or has this been something you do? Threaten lawsuits?"
Amnon: "I have never filed a law suit in my life. Does it count as litigious? Am I principled and stand for my opinions and beliefs? You bet! Do I believe in your right to do, feel, think, write, say and act as you wish? Absolutely. In the US, people avoid face to face confrontations or real dialogues. Americans seem more comfortable going behind each other’s back to spread rumors or to file law suits. I’d rather let you know where I stand and move on."
Luke: "In retrospect, do you think life would've gone easier for you if you had just gone ahead and made love to Lois? And, if necessary, Mark Bookman?"
Amnon: "I hope you are not serious."
Addendum: While most of this interview was done by phone March 3, some of it was done later via email. I then put things together. I emailed all persons mentioned in the article for whom I could find contact info (that means everyone at UJ mentioned) for their response to Amnon's comments. So far, nobody has responded. I also emailed ex-employees of UJ for fact-checking.
A source writes:
A former UJ person writes:
In the 7/11/03
edition of the Jewish Journal, came a cover story about "When Bad
Things Happen to Good Institutions."
An 8/25/04 search of the UJ website does not list Finkelstein on the UJ staff. But a 8/25/04 list of "Officers of Administration" does. An 8/25/04 Google search of the UJ Web site finds this:
A source who was at the University of Judaism at the time of Dr. Finkelstein's fall writes me 2/14/06:
A source who was at the University of Judaism at the time of the scandal replies to me:
Nov. 30, 2006:
On Nov. 30, I interview Nick Gallop, who says he was Devin's boyfriend in 2001.
Nick: "I had a couple of friends who went to the U.J. and were in her class and that's how we met.
"She was a normal college kid but but being a normal college kid at U.J. makes you a bad kid.
"She did decline and become more out of control towards the end of our relationship. Mostly it was drugs and hanging around the wrong people.
"Her parents were nice. I feel bad for them having to go around and clean up her messes.
"My friend who was with her six to eight months later [early 2002] had an incident where he was drugged and wrecked his car and had to go to the emergency room. He was a U.J. student and the guy who introduced me to Devin."
Amnon Finkelstein replies to my email: "I am not surprised, just very grateful that there are some people who are honest enough to come forward with more information. I and others informed you that Devin had had problems with drugs and that the UJ had full knowledge of it. I am sure that if you were really interested, you could use the freedom of information act to demand that UJ open her file. The sad part is that the UJ has been covering up the whole drug and alcohol problem on campus. Part of this cover up is allowing Devin to graduate despite being fully aware of her drug use. The UJ had evicted her from the dorms not only because she used drugs, but because she sold drugs on campus! Yet, with all this information, I have still been the victim of the entire affair both here, on your web site, and elsewhere."