Former head of 2 Modern Orthodox Schools, accused of ‘sexualized’ communications with students
An undated view of Beren Academy in Houston. (Photo: Beren Academy)

Houston’s Beren Academy seeks others with similar experiences to report

By Ron Kampeas
December 20, 2023

(JTA) — A Houston Orthodox day school says it found credible allegations that a former head of school engaged in “sexualized” communications with students.

The school, Robert M. Beren Academy, is inviting graduates with similar experiences to reach out to an investigator who is scrutinizing the behavior of Rabbi Ari Segal, who served in senior positions at the school from 2004 to 2011 before assuming leadership of a prominent Orthodox day school in Los Angeles.

“Recently, multiple alumni came forward and stated that our former Upper School Judaica Principal and later Head of School, Rabbi Ari Segal (who served from 2004-2011), engaged in sexualized, persistent, emotionally charged communications with them — including communications indicating each were in a relationship — while they were students at Beren,” said the email to parents and alumni sent Tuesday evening and signed by Ethan Ludmir, Beren Academy’s president.

An outside investigator “determined that these reports are credible,” Ludmir said. He appealed to any alumni who had similar experiences with Segal to write to the law firm of the investigator, Ellen Spaulding. He said Segal declined to cooperate with the investigation.

The email gained a wider audience when it was posted to Facebook on Wednesday by Asher Lovy, an advocate for sexual abuse victims in the Orthodox community.

“Upon learning of the allegations we activated this pathway quite simply because it’s the right thing to do,” Ludmir told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview.  He said the allegations came to light this year.

A 1997 graduate of Yeshiva University who also holds degrees in social work and business administration, Segal worked in Orthodox high schools for three decades until earlier this year, according to his LinkedIn profile. He gained a reputation for urging open-mindedness in the schools, including in columns arguing for more conversation about sex and sexuality. 

“Why do we not have serious discussion in our yeshiva day school system about Jewish sexual ethics, the realities of Shabbat observance on a college campus, belief in God, the ubiquitous and insidiousness of pornography or the culture of drinking and drugs?” he wrote in a 2019 New York Jewish Week column about ideas he said he had raised at an Orthodox Union retreat.

After leaving Beren Academy, Segal served as head of school at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles until 2021 and then as a consultant there until earlier this year. Shalhevet did not reply to requests for comment, nor did employers before he took his job at Beren, including the Ramaz School in New York City.

He and his family moved to Israel in 2019. His LinkedIn profile says he now acts as a strategic planning consultant for institutions including Yeshiva of Flatbush and Israel’s Diaspora ministry. He did not reply to a message sent via LinkedIn.

A 2019 article on the Shalhevet school news site announcing his phasing out said he was responsible for the school’s substantial growth, for bringing in more women educators to Judaic studies and for pioneering the first LGBTQ inclusion pledge in an Orthodox school.

Beren’s transparency stands in contrast to how other Jewish institutions have handled harassment and assault scandals, with some allegedly engaging in coverups.

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