New York Times
February 21, 2002
Cantor at Temple Emanu-El Is Accused of Molesting Nephew
By DANIEL J. WAKIN and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
he cantor of Temple Emanu-El, one of the nation's most prominent
synagogues, was arrested yesterday on charges of molesting his nephew
in a case that prosecutors say lays out a pattern of sexual abuse
within the family.
The accusations against the cantor, Howard Nevison, stunned members of
the congregation and of Jewish institutions throughout the city. The
synagogue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, released a statement
saying that Cantor Nevison had previously brought "this issue" to the
attention of leaders there, but that they had "found nothing untoward."
A spokeswoman would not elaborate.
Police officers from Montgomery County, in Pennsylvania, arrested
Cantor Nevison, 61, at his Upper West Side apartment before dawn. The
police said the abuse happened at least three times during visits to
the boy's home in Lower Merion Township, a Main Line suburb of
Philadelphia, when the victim, now 12, was between 3 and 7 years old.
The cantor's brother Lawrence Nevison and that man's son, Stewart
Nevison, both went to jail for sexually abusing the same boy, who has a
The charges against all three men were based on statements by the
victim, who first told the police about the abuse in November 1998,
according to an affidavit by Detective George Ohrin of the Lower Merion
Township Police Department. Prosecutors and the family decided to delay
the case against Cantor Nevison because the boy was so fearful of him
and at risk of emotional trauma, Detective Ohrin said. On Oct. 26, the
boy said he was ready to proceed.
The Associated Pres
Howard Nevison, center, leaving State Supreme Court after being charged
on Wednesday with sexual abuse. He was released on a $100,000 personal
The cantor's lawyer, John P. Deveney, said the accusations had hung
over his client's head like "the sword of Damocles" for three years.
"We look forward to fighting the charges," he said.
Cantor Nevison was charged with two counts of involuntary deviant
sexual intercourse, and one count each of indecent assault, simple
assault and terroristic threats.
The affidavit goes much further, though, in meticulously describing a
pattern of violent sexual abuse in two generations of the family. It
said both Lawrence Nevison, 55, and the boy's father, Henry Nevison,
47, told the police that their older brother Howard had sexually abused
them as children. Henry Nevison said he became willing to report the
incidents only after his son revealed his own abuse. And the cousin
convicted in the abuse, Stewart Nevison, said he himself had been
sexually abused by his father, Lawrence, according to the affidavit.
The charges against Cantor Nevison saddened officials at Temple
Emanu-El, according to the synagogue's statement.
"The cantor has been a faithful servant to our congregation for 23
years, and never in all of that time has there been any suggestion of
improper behavior on his part," the statement said. "When Cantor
Nevison first brought this issue to our attention, we considered and
reviewed the matter with respect to the cantor's relationship to the
congregation and found nothing untoward."
Cantors are prominent in synagogue life, singing and leading prayers in
services, overseeing the musical activity and performing some pastoral
The synagogue spokeswoman, Rita Haves, said she did not know whether
Cantor Nevison had any contact with children at the synagogue, which
has a school.
At a hearing yesterday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Justice
Arlene Goldberg released Cantor Nevison on a $100,000 personal
recognizance bond secured by $10,000 cash, ordered him to relinquish
his passport and gave him until March 19 to surrender to Pennsylvania
authorities or face another hearing in New York. The Manhattan district
attorney's office did not oppose the conditions, which brought an angry
response from the Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce L. Castor
Mr. Castor said the Manhattan office had ignored his request for high
bail, which he called extremely unusual. He also questioned the role in
the bail matter of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who
is a trustee of Temple Emanu- El.
"It doesn't look good," Mr. Castor said. "I'm not going to accuse him
of doing anything wrong. I know he has a good reputation. I'm just
surprised that the district attorney in a jurisdiction would not
advance our interest." He said that because Cantor Nevison is free,
extradition hearings could drag on for months.
In response, a spokeswoman for Mr. Morgenthau, Barbara Thompson, said
her office had told the judge that Montgomery County had asked that
bail be set at $500,000 and that the matter was handled "in a routine
fashion." She said that Mr. Morgenthau knew the cantor through their
roles at the temple, but that they were not friends.
Cantor Nevison, a heavy-set tenor wearing a plaid shirt and green
jacket, did not speak to reporters when he left court.
Neighbors at his building were aghast at the charges. Several said the
cantor had been engaged in a long-running feud with members of his
family in Pennsylvania. "Nobody believes this," said a neighbor who
gave his name only as Paul and described himself as a friend.
The Emanu-El congregation was founded in 1845 as New York's first
Reform temple, and now includes many prominent and wealthy New Yorkers.
Its current synagogue, at 65th Street and Fifth Avenue, was built in
1929 and is one of the world's largest.
One member, the pianist and Bach specialist Rosalyn Tureck, said she
had enjoyed the voice of Mr. Nevison. "This is a shocking and very
tragic piece of news, if it's true," she said.
Mr. Castor, the Montgomery County district attorney, said the abuse was
at times violent and "very, very ugly," adding that the authorities had
no reason to doubt the victim's truthfulness because his statements had
led to the other convictions. Lawrence Nevison was found guilty and is
serving a 5- to 15-year sentence in prison; his son pleaded guilty to
molesting the victim and his sister and was sentenced to 11¿1/2 to 23
months. He is free on parole.
The three brothers grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, authorities said.
The victim's parents moved to Montgomery County in 1990, one official
said, and have since moved.
What remains unclear is why it took so long for the report of the boy's
abuse to reach the authorities.
The affidavit said the boy's mother took her son to the hospital in
March 1993, when he complained of pain in his stomach and genital area.
Visits continued until July 1996 for treatment of recurring injuries
and pain in the genitals and anus, Detective Ohrin said in the
affidavit. On Oct. 19, 1998, the mother went to the police.
The detective said he was convinced that the victim's account was reliable for several reasons - because it was so detailed, because his parents confirmed the timing and location, and because the accounts matched the pattern of the cantor's molestation of his younger brothers.
"Unfortunately, sexual abuse within families runs along this pattern," said Capt. Michael J. McGrath of the Lower Merion police.
He added: "It is frequently kept secret within families before they
will even acknowledge it or before they bring in outside authorities.
And they are children, they can't make critical decisions, they only
know what they know at the maturity level for their age."