Houses of worship and a person’s experience of their faith should be free of sexual abuse.
Rabbi Ari Hart
19 April 2017
Rabbi Groner told the Royal Commission that disgraced Rabbi Zvi Telsner did not ‘still occupy a position of leadership within the Yeshivah Centre’
Rabbi Groner was called to appear before the Royal Commission’s Case Study 53 last month, which followed an investigation into the Chabad run Jewish school by the Royal Commission in early 2015 which heard that Rabbi Zvi Telsner, as Head Rabbi of Yeshivah, had delivered sermons attacking child sexual abuse victims and their families, encouraging other members of the community to ostracise them and discouraging victims from reporting their abuse to the police or media.
Rabbi Telsner, who is the brother in law of Rabbi Groner, supposedly resigned his position as Head Rabbi in September 2015 after another attack on a victim of child sexual abuse and released a statement acknowledging that his ‘conduct towards victims and their families did not demonstrate the values or behavior…necessary of a Rabbi in my position’.
Giving evidence last month, Rabbi Groner told the Royal Commission that presently, ‘the full extent of [Rabbi Telsner’s] involvement in the Yeshivah Centre Melbourne’ is as a ‘congregant’ who ‘gives a few classes in the Synagogue’ and that Rabbi Telsner did not ‘still occupy a position of leadership within the Yeshivah Centre Melbourne’.
According to victims, Rabbi Telsner continues in the position of Head Rabbi despite ‘resignation’
In a complaint made to the Australian Federal Police and the Royal Commission last week, victims of abuse said that Rabbi Telsner remained extensively involved in the Yeshivah Centre Melbourne and continued to occupy its most senior leadership position.
In particular, Rabbi Telsner:
Victims allege Rabbi Groner knowingly gave false or misleading evidence to the Royal Commission
Victims have asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether Rabbi Groner’s evidence breached Section 6H of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) which makes it an offence to knowingly provide false or misleading evidence at a hearing before a Royal Commission. The Act provides:
(1) A person shall not, at a hearing before a Commission, intentionally give evidence that the person knows to be false or misleading with respect to any matter being a matter that is material to the inquiry being made by the Commission
(2) An offence against subsection (1) is an indictable offence and subject to this section is punishable on conviction by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years or by a fine not exceeding $20,000.
Continuing involvement of Rabbis Telsner and Groner with Yeshivah a source of ongoing trauma for victims
Victims who were sexually abused as children within Yeshivah cite the continuing involvement of Rabbis Telsner and Groner with Yeshivah as a source of ongoing trauma which makes it difficult for them to move on with their lives. They are disappointed that the Jewish community, donors and the Government continue to support and provide funding to Yeshivah despite its failure to hold these individuals to account over their roles in the child sexual abuse scandal.
Rabbi Groner was a Trustee of Yeshivah during the period in which victims were bullied and ostracised for speaking out. He is one of only two members of the old guard who did not resign in the wake of the Royal Commission’s revelations and instead, implemented a new governance structure in which he was given a permanent seat on the Board. Rabbi Groner is the son of the late Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the long-time leader of Yeshivah, who was found by the Royal Commission to have ‘failed in his obligation to the students of Yeshivah’ by not acting upon complaints of child sexual abuse.
UPDATE: The AFP has responded – in part it reads:
I would like to advise you that further discussion has occurred between the AFP and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission) regarding your allegations about false evidence provided to the Royal Commission by Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner. As a result of these discussions your information has been sent to the relevant area for assessment.
A Brooklyn dad claims the borough’s former district attorney Charles Hynes targeted him while cutting a sweetheart deal with a prominent rabbi accused of sexually abusing boys.
Samuel Kellner says in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Hynes falsely charged him with extortion after he led an effort to lock up Baruch Lebovits.
“The ‘investigation’ by Hynes into [Kellner] deviated so egregiously from acceptable law enforcement activity as to demonstrate an intentional or reckless disregard for proper procedures,” reads the lawsuit targeting Hynes and the city.
The sordid saga began in 2008 when Lebovits allegedly molested Kellner’s son.
A prosecutor told Kellner that the district attorney’s office wasn’t going to open an investigation because the alleged offense was a misdemeanor and there were no other known victims, the suit says.
But Kellner, working with a detective, found other boys who were preyed upon by Lebovits.
Hynes’ office launched a probe but Kellner claims the former DA did nothing when Lebovits’ supporters succeeded in convincing one of his victims to drop the case.
“Hynes’ deliberate indifference towards [the boy’s] plight and failure to protect him was part of a policy, custom and practice of deliberate indifference towards witness tampering and intimidation of victims of pedophiles and their families within the ultra-Orthodox community,” says the suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Lebovits was ultimately convicted in March 2010 of multiple counts of sexual assault and sentenced to serve up to 32 years.
Kellner’s joy was short-lived.
He claims in the suit that Hynes quietly dismissed his son’s case against Lebovits in October 2010.
“The suffering and courage of a victim in coming forward to report his abuse meant nothing to Hynes,” Kellner’s attorney Niall Macgiollabhui wrote in the suit.
Things got worse for Kellner in April 2011 when he was charged with trying to blackmail Lebovits’ wealthy family and paying a man to falsely accuse the rabbi.
Hynes held a news conference trumpeting Kellner’s arrest.
Lebovits was sprung from jail the next day. His conviction was overturned in 2012.
“What is truly shocking is that instead of locking up pedophiles and protecting children, Hynes was instrumental in securing the release of a notorious predator from prison and dismissing the cases of two victims he and his office knew to have been abused,” Macgiollabhui told the Daily News.
“At some point Hynes will have to explain why he conspired in the shadows with the family of a convicted child rapist to undermine the conviction his own office had just secured.”
The criminal charges against Kellner were dropped in March 2014 after a prosecutor re-examining the case found inconsistencies in the accounts of two key witnesses.
Lebovits pleaded guilty to reduced charges in May 2014 and was sentenced to serve another year.
He was released after just 86 days.
Hynes’ lawyer did not return a request for comment.
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said it will review the complaint.
Kellner filed a defamation suit against the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper in November 2014. That case was settled in January under a confidentiality agreement.
The royal commission has delivered its findings into child abuse at Jewish institutions in Melbourne and Sydney, saying that abuse victims were let down by rabbis and their “confused” adherence to the Jewish law Mesirah, leaving them vulnerable to paedophiles.
The commission found many of the lead rabbis at Yeshiva Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi, as well as synagogues and schools in Sydney and Melbourne followed “a pattern of total inaction” that was wholly inadequate.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s findings vindicate whistle blower Manny Waks, who first exposed abuse within the strictly orthodox and insular sect.
Three commissioners found a “marked absence of supportive leadership for survivors of abuse” and the incorrect application of Jewish law left those who spoke out criticised and isolated.
Mesirah is the religious concept stopping a Jewish person informing upon another to a secular authority. To do so would make them a “Moser”.
Those who spoke out where strongly criticised and confusion reigned about whether reporting abuse to police was forbidden, the report found.
“If anything, the mixed messages were likely to have produced inaction,” the report said.
Four victims of sexual abuse, along with leading rabbis within the Chabad movement, gave evidence about child abuse in Yeshiva Colleges and centres in Melbourne and Bondi last year.
Convicted paedophiles David Cyprys, Rabbi David Kramer and Daniel Hayman were all the subjects of allegations of abuse by parents and students between 1984 and 2000.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that a community described in the evidence as being insular, would be concerned by communication with those external to the community about child sexual abuse reportedly perpetrated by Jews,” the report said.
“We are satisfied that, for the period from 1984 to 2007, the Yeshiva College Melbourne did not have adequate policies, processes and practices for responding to complaints.”
Senior Sydney rabbi Yosef Feldman provoked controversy when he told the royal commission he would be “asking for more leniency” for reformed or inactive paedophiles
In its findings, the commission was critical of his ignorance about what constituted child abuse.
“Rabbi Feldman freely admitted to a lack of technical knowledge about child sexual abuse but expressed the belief that his ignorance was unimportant,” the report said.
He told the commission he believed child abuse to be “uncommon”.
“He did not hear of child sexual abuse or complaints of child sexual abuse ‘much’ and believed that ‘only’ 5 to 10 per cent of the community ‘are involved’ in child sexual abuse,” the report said.
Rabbi Feldman misunderstood what grooming was, describing it as “just talking to the child and trying to get close to him”, the commission found.
He also regarded the age of a victim to be important when assessing any allegation.
“The older you get, the less innocent you become and there could be a possibility,” he told the hearings.
“I could imagine that there could be false accusations with regards to teenagers, who are not so innocent.”
The commission found Rabbi Feldman believed that the conviction of a child abuser who was repentant would be unfair.
To read the article in its entirety click, here.
YESHIVA CENTER RESPONSE FROM THE PAGES OF MANNY WAKS:
30 November 2016
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: Report of Case Study No. 22. The response of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne to allegations of child sexual abuse made against people associated with those institutions
The Executive of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ), The Rabbinical Council of New South Wales (RCNSW) and the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) are grateful for yesterday’s report by the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, and deeply distressed by its contents.
Child sexual abuse has caused unimaginable suffering to the victims in our community, and RCANZ, RCNSW and RCV and their members are totally committed to removing this scourge from our community and from our institutions. We offer our deepest sympathies to the victims and commit ourselves to learning from the failures of the past.
As the Royal Commission has made clear, child sexual abuse was allowed to continue because of actions and inaction by some rabbis and community leaders. Victims were not always believed or supported, adding to the trauma.
We restate a ruling that has been made many times before, that Jewish law requires all allegations of child sexual abuse to be reported immediately to the police and other relevant government authorities. We encourage all professionals working in the Jewish community whose work brings them into any contact with young people to receive specific and detailed training in child protection. We urge all synagogues and schools in our community to ensure proper governance procedures to oversee the work of their staff, to ensure that failings are identified and corrected.
We call on those who have been identified in the report as not fulfilling their legal obligations to protect children to stand down from their public positions. We believe that those who denigrated or undermined the victims have lost their moral right to serve as leaders in our communities. The Rabbinate must demonstrate that Judaism and the Jewish community will not tolerate child sexual abuse and those who perpetrate it, and must support those who have suffered.
We hope and pray that this report will help our community and others to keep children safe, and ensure that no child in the Jewish community, or throughout Australia, will ever again suffer the horrors of sexual abuse.
No member of the signatory bodies with a conflict of interest took part in the drafting of this statement. For further information please contact Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Secretary of RCANZ via email@example.com.
FOR FURTHER READING:
29 November 2016
28 Cheshvan 5777
29th November, 2016
Dear Community Members
Today, the ‘Report of Case Study No. 22’ was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament. The Yeshivah Centre is currently reviewing the Report and expects to make a more detailed statement in the near future.
As you are aware, in February 2015, the Yeshivah Centre was the subject of a Royal Commission into ‘Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’. This followed the incarceration of two perpetrators of child sexual abuse, both of whom held roles in different capacities at the Centre. The Commission focussed on the institutional response to these crimes.
The Yeshivah Centre deeply regrets its failure to protect those who were victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools. We condemn any form of abuse and acknowledge the serious harm it causes, both at the time of the abuse and later in life, for victims and their families.
The Yeshivah Centre Board and staff have been working hard to properly respond to these issues and ensure that we embed policies and processes of the highest standards to create a safe environment for our children, and to support and show compassion for victims and their families. The Yeshivah Centre’s number one priority is the safety of the children in its care, and we will continue to take all possible steps to maintain and continually raise this standard. We also need to ensure that we continue to support and show compassion for victims and their families.
In September this year, the Commission invited us to present our current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child-safe standards and the steps taken across the Centre following the Royal Commission hearing. We submitted information in relation to:
- The newly established governance framework (with elections closing 7 December 2016);
- Our accreditation from the Australian Childhood Foundation (Chabad Youth in 2014 and YeshivahBeth Rivkah Colleges in March 2016); and
- The establishment of an independently operated Redress Scheme for past victims of Child Sexual Abuse.
In its executive summary and media release the Report notes that:
The evidence identified that Yeshivah Melbourne has taken significant steps in implementing structured child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving training to children, parents and staff.
We are aware that the process of growth and change that the Centre has embraced over the past few years will continue to present us with some challenges along the way. However, we firmly believe that this process of change and the new representative governance structures now being established will bring us forward towards a stronger, brighter and safer future.
The Boards of Directors of:
Yeshivah Centre Limited
Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools Limited
Chabad Institutions Victoria Limited.
The Report of Case Study No. 22 has been made publicly available on the Royal Commission’s website at: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/2016-11/report-released-intoyeshiva-bondi-and-yeshivah-me
The Yeshivah Centre encourages anyone who has experienced sexual abuse at Yeshivah Centre (Melbourne) to contact the independently operated redress scheme via the confidential email firstname.lastname@example.org or the police (contact the Moorabbin SOCIT unit on 9556-6124).
Dear Rabbi Leibel Groner:
Will you, the keynote speaker, oblige us by telling us why the Rebbe never mentioned the topic of Child Sexual Abuse?
It is the stuff of legend that the Rebbe answered all manner of questions put to him, be they asked when followers went for $’s or when they wrote to him.
Thousands of questions were asked of the Rebbe on a monthly basis, possibly even weekly and who knows, possibly even more frequently.
The Rebbe was revered for his ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration) and his care and love for all Jews be they observant or not yet observant.
Stories aplenty tell of such times when the Rebbe knew through his ruach hakodesh that a Jew who was alone in a far flung place was about to fry out, perhaps even convert.
The Rebbe would send an emissary to save the hapless Jew just in time.
The child sexual abuse that occurred on the Rebbe’s watch, not just in Melbourne Australia but worldwide and very often in the Rebbe’s own institutions cannot be sidestepped and ignored.
Did the Rebbe have ruach hakodesh or did he not?
If he did not, so be it.
If he did, why did he do and say nothing?
Realistically how could the Rebbe not have known about the DESPICABLE GOINGS ON given that he was the recipient of the thousands of requests from his followers on an almost daily basis for decades?
It just does not pass the smell test.
So Rabbi Leibel Groner,will you please explain?
Kollel Menachem invites you to Partners in Torah – A Tribute to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a fundraiser for our Kollel,
ו׳ שבט תשע״ז
We look forward to welcoming Rabbi Leibel Groner, Personal Secretary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe for over forty years, as our distinguished keynote speaker.
Rabbi Groner will share with us first hand stories and insights of the Rebbe, including the Rebbe’s special relationship with Melbourne.
Please join us in support of Kollel Menachem and participate in the dissemination of Torah throughout the community by booking your seats and sponsorship today.
Tickets are $50 person and seating is separate with a Mechitzah. Sponsorship of Torah Learning is available in support of a specific day, week, or month of your choice and all sponsors will be acknowledged during the sponsorship period. It’s a wonderful way to commemorate a Yahrzeit or celebrate a birthday or other special occasion and foster Torah study. Sponsorship is tax deductible. To book your tickets and sponsorships, please visit www.trybooking.com/NENC
“And those who support it are fortunate.”
For any questions, please call 9522 8221 or email email@example.com.
He has held the secret of that summer for more than 40 years.
He was a 13-year-old in 1972, away at Camp Ramah in the foothills of the Taconic Mountains when, he says, a counselor lured him into the woods and forced him to perform oral sex.
The self-loathing smoldered inside, worsening each time a memory came flashing back.
Then earlier this year, the victim — a Westchester businessman and now a John Doe in legal papers — was fishing on the internet. What he found took his breath away.
His alleged abuser — Harvey Erlich — had gone on to sexually abuse four other boys.
Finally, he was forced to take a stand.
“This is what enrages me more than anything else,” the father of three told the Daily News in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “The fact is this went on for years and nobody stopped it.”
The businessman struck back Wednesday by filing a bombshell lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court that claims camp officials knew Erlich, then an 18-year-old counselor at the Conservative Jewish camp in Wingdale, N.Y., was a sexual predator but failed to protect him and other children.
The businessman, now in his 50s said he has struggled with alcoholism, drug abuse, anger management and trust issues. Unable to cope with depression, he attempted suicide several times.
“I got f—ed over this,” he said, showing scars on his forearms. “I was trying to punish myself for putting myself in this position and not doing anything about it.”
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $20 million in damages, names the Jewish Theological Seminary. It also names the National Ramah Commission — the JTS subsidiary that operates Camp Ramah and other summer camps dedicated to teaching Jewish traditions.
“In 1972, Camp Ramah was an extremely dangerous place where a vicious, malicious and sadistic predator roamed free to pick off his innocent prey by relying upon the respect and reverence he commanded by virtue of his position of authority at the camp,” the lawsuit says.
The seminary and commission did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
The complaint also says that National Ramah Commission officials, including then-assistant camp director David Soloff and Kenneth Greene, the division head for campers in John Doe’s age group, had been told that Erlich abused several boys just weeks before he assaulted John Doe.
Soloff, Greene and other officials failed to call police, notify parents or terminate the counselor, the lawsuit says.
The News was unable to reach Soloff and Greene for comment.
A coverup by camp officials and their failure to stop Erlich, the lawsuit says, allowed Erlich to sexually abuse four boys during the 1970s and 1980s in Toronto, where he worked as a dentist and served as a choir conductor.
One of those victims, an 11-year-old boy, was sexually assaulted in a Toronto synagogue, according to Canadian police.
Erlich was arrested on sex abuse charges in 2012 in Canada, which does not have a statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases.
He pleaded guilty last year to three counts of gross indecency and was sentenced to 18 months’ house arrest.
The strict statute of limitations in New York — which the Daily News has pressured officeholders to change — bars sex abuse survivors from pursuing criminal charges or civil damages after their 23rd birthday.
The businessman’s attorney, Kevin Mulhearn, is trying a different approach to circumvent the restrictive law. Instead, he is arguing that camp officials violated Title IX, the 1972 federal law best known for enforcing equality for women in college sports.
Title IX also prohibits sexual abuse and harassment in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance.
The Second Court of Appeals recently ruled that the clock on the Title IX statute of limitations does not begin ticking until a plaintiff knows or should have known about the coverup, Mulhearn said.
The businessman told The News he did not know Erlich had abused other boys until he read accounts about his arrest and sentencing earlier this year.
He reported his abuse to Toronto police, but authorities told him there was nothing they could do because Erlich had assaulted him in New York, not Canada.
To read the article in its entirety click here.
FOR FURTHER READING:
|Dr. Harvey Erlich|
The Toronto Police this morning arrested Harvey Erlich. Erlich was the conductor of the Toronto Pirchei (Agudath Israel) Choir. This was the same choir with which Heshy Nussbaum was involved.
Nov 15, 2012, 05:00 pm Man Charged In Historical Sexual Assault Investigation, Harvey Erlich, 58, Police Believe There May Be More Victims
Danny Wool has left a new comment on your post “Another Arrest In The Toronto Jewish Community For…”:
Let me be clear here. No one is talking about “commenc[ing] the destruction of a man and [I agree] more importantly, his family.” I believe that a press release is forthcoming, and it is only a matter of time.
At the same time, I wish you would consider the lives that were already destroyed because of what happened, even if it was so long ago. Those scars are real.
In my yeshiva days I learned that chataim bein adam lehaveiro, Yom Kippur eino mechaper” (Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between people). As one of the victims (yes, I said it), I cannot even begin to think of forgiveness unless there is a full public confession of what happened, not just to me, but to everyone else who was victimized. I expect that from both the perpetrators yimach shemam (may their names be erased) because only then will I be able to begin the process of yimach zichram (may the memory of them and what they did be erased).
When I was in the choir we used to sing, Ivdu et Hashem besimha, bo’u lefanav birnana. These are words every Orthodox kid knows. They come from Psalms 100, and are recited every weekday as part of the morning prayer service. When I used to pray, I found them ironic. They tell us to serve God with happiness, but they always reminded me of the choir, and that always left me depressed.
As I grew older, I learned that this is what is called a trigger (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trauma_trigger). What a horrible realization that was–the very invocation to be happy, especially when serving God, actually evoked one of the most traumatic events of my life. By extension, the very act of prayer becomes a trigger–the very kind of thing that survivors learn to avoid.
To put matters into perspective, prayer was one of the things that was stolen from me by those two animals. And there was much, much more–things that can never be returned.
As for the silence from the community, shetika kehoda’a (silence is the equivalent of admission). I regard the Jewish community’s silence as their admission of what happened and, by extension, of their acceptance of what happened too.
You asked, How can we know that the charges are true? There is one simple way. Ask the perpetrators. Demand that they tell you the truth, regardless of the consequences. The truth will come out anyway. They will be recognized for what they did. Maybe by admitting it now, they can, at least, begin to show the first signs of remorse.
While Yosef Feldman has chosen to file suit against numerous institutions, with the “help of a benefactor,” “philanthropist” or whatever word Feldman chose, Nechama Bendet has chosen to toss her hat in the ring for a little financial compensation from one person, Bruce J. Cooke.
At issue? Did Bendet discourage reporting of abuse to authorities? Did she call those who reported abuse “Moser”for reporting abuse? In other words, did she use seemingly Halachic arguments and commands to silence the abused and their families?
Our opinion, absolutely. That was the culture of her institution at the time. It was a culture of sweeping abuse under the rug. She was and is certainly no revolutionary. She is not the mother who cries for all of the children whose lives have been forever altered. Were she to be that mother, there would be no lawsuit.
In reality, Ms. Bendet, why does it even matter? Why do the words of Mr. Cooke on his Facebook page even have any real relevance in your life? You were not nor have you been outcast? You still hold the same position in the higher echelons of the Chabad institution. Where have you been harmed?
From our perspective, you were doing what everyone else was doing; silencing victims.
Bendet claimed during her Royal Commission interview that there had never been discussions of payment to be made to victims (presumably to silence them). Letters dated before her testimony indicated that there were such discussions. Money was offered to some of the victims and their families.
Bendet claimed to the Royal Commission that the meetings that were taking place were taking place at her institution were “general meetings.” Documents from the time indicate that the meeting were specifically intended to be discussions regarding abuse and how to deal with it. She cannot honestly claim that she did not know the abuse was happening? Continue reading