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Towson student joins lawsuit involving rabbi

Towson University student says she was among women rabbi videoed in bath house

A Towson University student has added her name to a civil suit involving a Towson associate professor and rabbi accused of taking pictures and videos of women in a ritual bath.

The young woman, who asked that she be identified only by her first name to protect her privacy, was a student of Rabbi Barry Freundel when, she said, he encouraged her to participate in a mikvah as research for a term paper, even though she was not Jewish and had no wish to convert.

A mikvah is a cleansing ritual that is often a final step for a convert.

Stephanie said she believed as soon as the charges against Freundel were make public in October that she had been videotaped, too.

"I felt shock first. Total and complete shock," she said in a telephone interview Sunday. "It took a while to feel everything else that comes with something like this."

Freundel was arrested and charged with voyeurism by District of Columbia police in October. The ritual bath house is located in Washington, where Freundel taught at Georgetown University Law School and where he was also head of the Kesher Israel Congregation.

A video camera was found hidden inside a clock radio and aimed at the showers in the changing room, according to charging documents.

Stephanie said she felt proud and honored that a professor of Freundel's stature had taken such a special interest in her, writing recommendations for graduate school and internships. "Now I question all of that," she said. His attention "just feels dirty."

Freundel has been suspended from Towson, where he taught religious studies and philosophy, and he is forbidden to be on campus.

The class action suit to which Stephanie added her name on Dec. 18, was filed in D.C. Superior Court Dec. 2 by a Georgetown Law student of Freundel's and another young woman who came to him to convert.

The suit names Georgetown University Law School, Kesher Israel, the National Capital Mikvah, where the filming allegedly took place, and the Rabbinical Council of America, of which Freundel is a leader. It claims those bodies looked the other way while Freundel brought dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women into the bath and then videotaped them using cameras hidden in common household items.

In addition, the suit says, those congregants who came forward to complain about the 62-year-old rabbi's unusual attention to attractive young women were scolded and shunned.

Stephanie is in the fourth year of a five-year bachelor's/master's program at Towson. She said she first contacted a professor who is also a lawyer and it was he who advised her to add her name to the suit.

"I want to be an advocate for myself and others," she said. "It feels good to take some of the control back."

Towson University spokesman Ray Feldmann said the university is conducting its own investigation and working with Washington police and the U.S. attorney's office.

"We have not received any confirmation of evidence of our students being videotaped," he said. "We are awaiting the outcome of the law enforcement investigation."

But Steven Kelly, one of the attorneys pursuing the suit, said "dozens" of female Towson students went on what Freundel referred to as "dunking field trips," and he expects there are many more victims.

Police searched Freundel's Towson office and found numerous computer storage devices, and cameras hidden in such things as a key chain and a box of tissues.

The rabbi entered a plea of not guilty to six counts of voyeurism during a hearing in October. If convicted, he could face a year in jail on each count. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment Sunday.

He has been suspended by the synagogue and told to leave the Rabbinic house by the first of January.

A Georgetown University spokesman said the school was cooperating with authorities. Efforts to reach other defendants in the lawsuit were not successful Sunday.

sreimer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SusanReimer

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