JCC Families, Staff Shocked by Summer Counselor’s Arrest
by Barrett Seaman –
It was not the kind of news any organization wants to hear—let alone one renowned for its children’s summer camps. Late last month, investigators from the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office came to Tarrytown’s Shames Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, asking questions of its camp director about Benjamin Bojemski, 20, a counselor for the past three years at the JCC’s River Friends Day Camp for two-to-six-year-olds. Bojemski, of Croton-on-Hudson, had just been arrested on charges of possession and distribution of child pornography.
Rabbi Andrew Ergas, Executive Director of the JCC on the Hudson, gathered staff members and went about contacting the parents of the 160 children currently in the camps. He organized several group meetings with them and provided them with contact information for the investigators. The reaction was understandable. “Parents were quite emotional, as they should be,” said the Rabbi. “The staff was shocked, frustrated and saddened.”
Bojemsk’s arrest was solely based on Internet activity. There was no indication that children from the camp were involved, though the investigators did ask about his contact with children at the camp. As it turned out, according to Rabbi Ergas, quite a number of JCC families—even one of the camp’s division heads—had used him as a babysitter.
The JCC summer camps follows protocols required by Westchester’s Department of Health. Moreover, said the Rabbi, “Our training and structure is such that it is highly unlikely that he was ever alone with any child.”
They pulled Bojemski’s files and re-read them. Said Ergas, “We’re pretty confident that we were doing all the things that we should be doing.” Still, they terminated his employment and de-activated the security fob he used to enter the premises.
For some parents, that wasn’t enough. Two families immediately withdrew their children from camp; others kept them home until they could meet with the staff and be assured of their children’s safety.
While the Westchester D.A.’s office has no knowledge of crimes beyond Bojemski’s pornography possession, they are urging residents concerned about any child’s safety to contact their local police or the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office Child Abuse Bureau at 914-995-3000.