The Victims Speak Part I
by LostMessiah.com February 28, 2016
FailedMessiah.com had done significant research on the subject of sexual abuse within the Haredi community. In one article, Mr. Rosenberg noted that as many as 50% of boys within the Haredi community in Brooklyn were victims of some form of sexual abuse, a staggering number. Worst still, these victims, simply by nature of the insular society into which they are born, have lived with the guilt and shame, never getting proper treatment and care, to the detriment of every day of their lives thereafter. We decided to carry FailedMessiah’s torch forward and focus on stories of the victims, those willing to speak. We also decided that we would embrace the victims throughout the world, as the problem is not limited to the United States or Israel. We view this as an epidemic within the Haredi community and hope to illustrate that and shed light. We have not, ourselves, spoken with these victims but have decided to publish their statements from other sources, to share their stories, in the hopes that perhaps others would be inspired to come forward.
Walla! News (in Hebrew)
29 March 2014
“I’m a victim.” Waks in Tel Aviv, this week. (Photo: Dror Einav)
When he was only 11, Manny Waks, an Australian Jew, experienced severe sexual abuse by a teacher at the Yeshiva he attended. When the festering wound refused to heal even when he grew up, he decided to take on the ugly phenomenon.
“For years, I spent my childhood riddled with guilt, deep shame and anger at the way I was hurt. Added to that was the further hurt and cold shoulder from the community coupled with the understanding that it was inconceivable that I was the only victim and that a substantial cover up was involved. I realised that I couldn’t go on like that and blew it all into the open in order to bring about the cultural change which was necessary.” This was the way in which Manny Waks (38), an Australian Jew, became a central figure in the struggle against child abuse in the Haredi Jewish community in Melbourne.
I met Waks in a Tel Aviv cafe. With a glimmer in his eyes, he told me the story that changed his life . It was impossible not to notice his inner determination to ensure that no child will ever have to experience what he underwent from the age of 11. For he suffered an ongoing sexual abuse by a teacher in a Yeshiva [Jewish Seminary] in his own community where he grew up and was educated in Melbourne. It’s a Yeshiva reputed to have produced about a hundred more victims. “I idolised him”
“These are the people you rely on as a child.” (Archive: Daniel Alstar)
27 years later, married and with three children, Waks still carries the scars of abuse, the community’s harsh treatment, the cover-up by the Yeshiva’s board and the attitude of the law enforcement authorities. These led to the same child – the “victim” as he calls himself – to establish the “Tzedek” (Justice) organisation, which is operating in conjunction with the government which for its part is also providing financial support. Tzedek’s sole mission is the eradication of sexual abuse from the Haredi Jewish community in the state and from cloistered communities in general.
The initiative to establish the organisation stemmed from the festering wound which refused to heal even after decades: as an 11-year-old boy Waks experienced an ongoing sexual abuse by David Cyprys, a teacher at the Yeshva. “It’s not as if a stranger grabs you at night in a dark alley, but it is the people closest to you, the people whom you trust as a child and who provides your needs, be it money, warmth and love, or anything else,” recalls Waks, who grew up in a family of 17 children. “In my case, the one who hurt me was a teacher I idolised and respected For many years I lived with a big shame, feeling quite guilty for having done something that led to it”.
What made it even more difficult for Waks was the massive cover-up of events by the Yeshiva’s management. “At 11 you do not fully understand what’s happening, but I knew that what he did to me was wrong and informed this in real time to one friend only at the Yeshiva”, he regales. “He told others, so I knew for sure that everyone knows including the Yeshiva’s management knew. Management, however, chose to “handle it internally” committing itself to the offender seeing a psychologist. This is astounding behaviour amounting to an additional injury.”
The years passed, but the resentment and anger did not subside, in fact they only intensified. Needing to flee, Waks travelled to Israel and volunteered for military service in the Golani Brigade. “At the same time, something in me had matured and I decided to file a police complaint against the offender”, he says. “I came home on leave and consulted with my father who supported me immediately and I went to the police.”
The police investigation did not last long as the attacker had denied the allegations against him. “Every single response refusing to recognise the hurt caused, rattles you badly and deals another blow upon you. Really you need very strong foundations to keep on going in the face of such trauma.”
The decision that changed his life
He soldiered on and after the end of his military service he returned to Australia, where he threw himself into the Melbourne Jewish community and became one of the leading activists in the fight against antisemitism and anti-Israelism. “All this time I knew for certain of another victim at the Yeshiva, but I figured that there must be more victims”, he says . “Working with the media made it obvious to me that this is the direction in which I need to turn because keeping silent has a price, a price which we all pay, the victims and society, and no one is aware of it when everything is kept shut, and hidden behind closed doors.”
Around an additional 100 victims, just from the Yeshiva in which Waks studied (AP)
Waks did not act on his decision immediately. He pondered the implications for his family within the Haredi community. “My father supported the move, but it seems to me that when he considered it, he never imagined such a big cover story that stood out so much,” he says referring to the widespread exposure the matter received in 2011, which led to his family becoming another victim of the case. “After publication the situation became very difficult when my father suffered two blows while the community turned its back to us. In a cloistered communities such acts have all-encompassing implications for every aspect of life, from matchmaking to being called upon to read the Torah in synagogue, invitations my father ceased getting.”
In contrast, public exposure gained results. Very quickly other victims, family members of victims and health professionals started approaching Waks. He discovered that there were another hundred victims from his Yeshiva alone. He felt he achieved something personally significant when 15 more victims of Cyprys contacted the police and the attacker was convicted last year of rape and other sex offences and sentenced to eight years in prison.
“They said that I’m causing an embarrassment for the community and fuelling antisemitism.” (Photo: Dror Einav)
From the days his story became public, Waks, who was then a Federal public servant, found himself more and more dealing with cases of sexual abuse of children as he received so many enquiries on the matter. After taking a short leave he realised that if he wanted to make a difference in the field, he needs to carry the task on a fulltime basis and decided to take leave without pay from his job despite the financial risk.
Waks realised at the time that a change has taken place when the Government of his home state of Victoria, announced the establishment of a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the conduct of various institutions within the State in terms of handling sexual assaults of children. “Up to that point, nobody had touched the subject and suddenly a governmental authority was intervening”, he says. “It was a good start when I appeared before the Committee with my father and other victims also appeared through my facilitation.”
“Not everyone is obliged to support”
Presented with statistics indicating that one girl out of three and one boy out of six in the Jewish Haredi community in Australia have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16, Waks decided to cast his activities on a more structured basis setting up the Tzedek (Justice) association. Given the loaded and controversial nature of the matter, Tzedek’s establishment was not universally welcomed. “It was important to establish an organisation independent of existing institutions which with the ongoing revelations had lost their credibility on this score,” he explains. “Alongside the favourable comments that I received, I knew of course that there were many who did not consider the development to be their cup of tea. I heard of accusations that I was bringing shame upon the community and fuelling antisemitism. There were other pressures but I decided that what was being kept out sight trumped that.”
“In Israel this topic is well placed in terms of priorities.” (Archive: Daniel Alstar)
Quite apart from the external criticism Waks had to face up criticism from within his inner circle where the exposure and his activities in the area had also led to a family crisis. “We are a large family so it’s natural that not everyone goes along with my activities,” he admits. “It doesn’t take long to figure out who is with you and will stay by your side. It’s self-evident to me that not everyone must automatically support everything I do, but I will say that the matters needs to be dealt with in the open; in no way can we give a hand to cover-ups and suppression, which may lead to more victims.”
“I have no problem accepting criticism from anyone but these days I demand that the critics come up with alternative ways to the kind of despair which is destroying a kid’s life,” he adds. “Hitherto the situation was awkward when those who represented had to contend with accusations. Today we are engaged in dealing with ameliorating past hurt but the situation to which I aspire is that we draw the lesson of past experience to ensure a better future when we prevent the creation of the next round of victims. But in order to effect change we need to be as open and transparent as possible.”
These days Tzedek is working for the establishment of a global task force on the subject on the basis of the understanding gained that the sexual abuse of children occurs everywhere and in every cloistered community and it is possible to draw lessons and transfer them. “I do believe that if we examine the way Israel, Australia and other countries are handling the situation, it would be possible to act on several levels and produce some sort of comprehensive guide once we understand the multi-faceted aspects of the phenomenon both from the victim point of view and that of various systems designed to deal with it,” he explains. “We need to facilitate the ability of various bodies to deal with people who have committed crimes who may not be suitable to be employed in the education of children. This would place us in a better place as a community, which cares for its children. This is a change of culture that must take place after years of neglect.”
“This is a reality that isn’t imposed upon us.” (Photo: Dror Einav)
The Australian government had quickly embraced Tzedek, and finances it to the tune of $100,000 per year. As part of this collaboration, the organisation works closely with an investigative governmental body which examines every complaint which reaches anyone of its representatives located throughout Australia . “This body has a ‘macro’ perspective. It can accumulate all the data and identify clusters in the more problematic places or institutions,” says Waks. Using the data in their possession, they can demand the expansion of inquiry. Since the beginning in 2013 they have received 5000 enquiries, and investigated complaints within the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts movement and more.”
Waks, who came to Israel to attend a conference on child sexual abuse, divides his time between Australia and study tours and examining cooperation in various countries around the world in an attempt to lead to more and more countries to take up the issue. During his visit he gained impression that the matter is high on the priority list. “They take the issue seriously enough here and treat it on the same level as other acute problems,” he concludes. “I was very surprised to note that there are more and more organisations working on the subject within the Orthodox community because I feel that this is more difficult for them than here as these community are cloistered within themselves. It’s encouraging to see the progress and the understanding that there is a need for this because it is the first step to change the situation that need not be like this. The situation is susceptible to change and we must do everything possible towards this end.”