Sexual misconduct allegations surfaced Thursday against the philanthropist and 1960 Wharton graduate Michael Steinhardt, the namesake of the building that houses Penn Hillel.
Six women told ProPublica and The New York Times that Steinhardt, 78, asked them to have sex with him or made sexual requests. The philanthropist also allegedly made comments to women about their bodies and their fertility. Steinhardt is a frequent donor towards leading Jewish non-profits and is the Co-Founder of Birthright Israel, an organization that sponsors free ten-day heritage trips to Israel for young adults of Jewish heritage.
Among the women was Sheila Katz, a vice president at Hillel International, a college outreach organization that Steinhardt donated to.
“Institutions in the Jewish world have long known about his behavior, and they have looked the other way,” Katz told ProPublica and NYT. “No one was surprised when I shared that this happened."
In May 2001, Steinhardt and his wife Judy Steinhardt donated $2.5 million dollars to Penn towards the building of the $12 million dollar Steinhardt Hall. The building offers a kosher dining hall and has been the meeting place for 25 different Jewish student groups. Steinhardt also houses a living room, study lounge, and student activities center.
"Regarding Mr. Steinhardt, Penn Hillel has not received any complaints or concerns from Penn Hillel professionals, students, or alumni. When these allegations first surfaced last fall, we asked our staff if they had any troubling interactions with him, and none said they did," Campus Rabbi and Penn Hillel Executive Director Michael Uram wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Currently, Penn Hillel is not receiving funds from the Steinhardt Foundation or family and there are no plans currently for future solicitation."
"Penn Hillel takes the safety and respect for our students and professionals seriously and has no tolerance for harassment in our community," he added.
Katz said during a 2015 meeting while she was filming Steinhardt in a video about Jewish entrepreneurs for Hillel, Steinhardt repeatedly asked her whether she would marry the "King of Israel," the title he preferred to be called for the video. When she denied the requests, Katz said that Steinhardt then brought in two men and offered a million dollars if she married one of them, according to the ProPublica and NYT report.
Similar allegations about intimate encounters were made by Deborah Goldberg, who was the director of communications for Birthright Israel from 2001 to 2010. Steinhardt asked her if she and a female colleague would like to join him in a threesome, Goldberg told ProPublica and NYT.
Steinhardt has denied the specific actions or words attributed to him by the seven women, according to the report.
“In my nearly 80 years on earth, I have never tried to touch any woman or man inappropriately,” Steinhardt said in a statement to ProPublica and NYT. He added that provocative comments “were part of my schtick since before I had a penny to my name, and I unequivocally meant them in jest. I fully understand why they were inappropriate. I am sorry.”
The philanthropist has donated $127 million to charitable causes since 2003, according to the report.
Katz told ProPublica and NYT that she reported the incident the next day to Eric Fingerhut, the chief executive of Hillel International. He apologized for the encounter and promised that she would not have to meet with Steinhardt again, Katz said. Hillel continued to accept donations from Steinhardt until 2018, when it hired a law firm to conduct an investigation.
The New York Jewish Week reported in September 2018 that Hillel was investigating incidents accusing Steinhardt of sexually harassing two female employees, one of whom was later revealed to be Katz. Hillel International concluded that Steinhardt had sexually harassed Katz and the other employee, according to the report.
“I want to let other women who went through similar things to know that they are not alone,” Katz told ProPublica and NYT. “And I want organizations, and in particular Jewish organizations who take his money, to consider the impact that’s had on people like me.”
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