FACING CHALLENGES, REPORTING ABUSE, AVOIDING HARM…
We are surprised by this. You may be too.
“Don’t Stand Back. Don’t Withhold Yourself.”
The following is a link to a video regarding the obligation to report abuse.
We are surprised by this. You may be too.
The following is a link to a video regarding the obligation to report abuse.
A CHILD sexual abuse victim of Rabbi David Kramer has gone public for the first time, claiming his negotiations with Yeshivah Centre for compensation have hit a roadblock.
Shimon Walles, who was sexually abused by Kramer when he was a Yeshivah student in 1990, spoke to police for the first time in 2008.
In 2013, Kramer pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting Walles among others, and received a jail sentence.
“When Kramer was convicted I was more traumatised by the re-victimisation,” Walles exclusively told The AJN this week, referring to his treatment by some members of the Yeshivah community.
“At the time, the retribution was so bad that I couldn’t live in Australia.
“I was just trying to move on with my life and at the time I never thought of civil action.”
According to Walles, when he returned to Australia in 2014 the victimisation and intimidation continued.
He said he felt like he was being driven out of the country ahead of the Royal Commission. He then contacted Yeshivah for the first time to seek compensation through mediation.
He claimed that over the course of two years Yeshivah failed to adequately respond, and that earlier this year his lawyer told him to start proceedings in court.
“I told my lawyer that I want to keep things civil with Yeshivah, and instead of going to court to write them another letter and try and go to mediation again.
“I wasn’t looking for a war with Yeshivah, I just wanted to be peaceful.”
But last week, after another round of negotiations with Yeshivah, Walles finally gave up and decided to take legal action.
“I’m very frustrated and unfortunately it has come to this, but if they can’t wake up after everything that has happened what choice do I have?
“I am now ready to start exposing it for what it is.”
Walles said that deciding to publicly reveal himself as a victim was difficult, but made easier given his treatment by the community.
“I know they speak about me behind my back and do terrible things behind my back, so at this point in time what do I have to lose?”
In a statement to The AJN the Yeshivah’s management said that ensuring that survivors of child sexual abuse are treated with respect and dignity has the highest priority.
“Measures have been put in place through education and training to try to ensure that survivors are treated with sensitivity and compassion,” the statement said.
“In recognition of past abuse, the centre also established a redress scheme offering redress including monetary payments and access to counselling which is available to survivors in a respectful confidential manner outside the legal framework.
“The centre takes all such claims seriously but is understandably not in a position to make public comment in relation to a particular claim or individual making a claim.”
A SENIOR administrator of Yeshivah College is suing for libel, claiming she had been accused of pressuring child sex abuse victims not to pursue their complaints with police.
The orthodox Jewish school’s former general manager, Nechama Bendet, has lodged a writ in the Supreme Court seeking damages over five Facebook posts by Bruce James Cooke, whom she describes as a “vocal member of the Jewish community”.
Now the school’s director of development, she claims Mr Cooke suggested she had sought to ostracise two victims by calling them “mosers” for going to police and had thereby tried to pressure them not to pursue their complaints.
“Moser” is an offensive Hebrew term for one who breaks a code banning Jews from informing on one another to secular authorities.
This year, Ms Bendet told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse that the college had never discussed investigating claims of a cover-up after a former Yeshivah guard, David Cyprys, was accused of child sex crimes.
In 2011, it approached Robert Richter, QC, who advised it on public relations and dealing with victims, she said.
In her statement of claim, she says Mr Cooke’s posts suggested that she knew of abuse but did not report it to police; that she had shown complete disregard for victims by asserting the school had no legal obligation to report their abuse; that she condoned not reporting child sex abuse and rape to police unless there was a legal requirement to do so; and that there were reasonable grounds for police to investigate whether she had engaged in criminal conduct in relation to abuse.
Ms Bendet claims he also suggested she bullied and intimidated teachers and staff at Yeshivah and at Beth Rivkah Ladies College; that she abused her position by terminating a security contract for personal reasons; and that by her behaviour she was destroying the Yeshivah Centre and must be immediately removed.
She claims the posts were published without an honest belief in their truth or with reckless indifference, that her feelings, credit and personal and business reputation had been gravely injured, and that she had been humiliated and embarrassed.
Ms Bendet is also seeking a permanent injunction restraining Mr Cook from making such publications.
Mr Cooke’s lawyer, Chris Stakis, said his client would defend the case because he believed the publications were part of a legitimate debate on matters of importance.
Manny Waks, August 9, 2016
-Since its appearance before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse one and a half years ago, the Yeshivah leadership has tried to manufacture an image that things have changed. The reality is that very little seems to have changed. Some of the same leaders whose conduct was exposed at the Royal Commission, remain in positions of authority at Yeshivah. Despite the representations made by Yeshivah to the Royal Commission, attacks on Yeshivah’s victims and advocates continue unabated and with the implicit support of the Yeshivah leadership. Unsurprisingly, some of the attacks have come from the family members of paedophiles and those who helped protect them.
Last Friday (5 August), an e-mail from a frustrated member of the Yeshivah community was sent to around 100 other community members, complaining of the behaviour of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, the son of the late Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner (the founder and director of the Yeshivah Centre during much of the period of the abuse and cover-ups there). Rabbi Groner was one of the trustees of Yeshivah who essentially led it to the Royal Commission. Despite the promise that all trustees would resign their leadership of Yeshivah following the Royal Commission, Rabbi Groner was recently appointed by the Trustees (i.e. including himself) to the Board of Yeshivah for life as part of the ‘new’ Yeshivah governance structure.
The email in question referred to stonewalling by Rabbi Groner and communications which the author had with various media outlets. Now, I know from personal experience, that people rarely involve the media without first trying to resolve things internally. Before I went public with my story of abuse through The Age, I repeatedly tried to engage with the Yeshivah leadership (Rabbi Groner senior) but they refused, leaving me with no alternative. Even after the initial media coverage, I repeatedly tried to engage with the Yeshivah leadership, but again they refused. Had I not gone to the media, the huge strides forward in child protection that have occurred in recent years in the Jewish community – in Australia and beyond – would not have happened. It goes without saying that the only people that really fear media exposure are those with something to hide.
And so it was no surprise when the Yeshivah leadership went on the attack in response to the email. Rabbi Yonason Johnson, Head of the Yeshivah Kollel (male adult education), responded that the email was ‘unacceptable both halachically and morally’. He reminded his community that ‘the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdosh (Temple) and the Golus (exile) which we still find ourselves in came about because of ‘Sinas Chinam – baseless hatred’ and urged ‘everyone to maintain civility and respect at all times’. He emphasised that this included ‘refraining from any form of Loshon Hora’ (literally the evil tongue). He called on the author to publicly apologise to Rabbi Groner, who he noted was ‘a Rov (rabbi) and the (late Lubavitcher) Rebbe’s Head Shaliach (emissary) in Melbourne.
Rabbi Moshe Kahn, Director of Chabad Youth and son in law of ex-Yeshivah Chairman Don Wolf was quick to endorse Johnson’s comments. Moments later, Nechama Bendet, the sister of ex-Yeshivah Principal Rabbi Avrohom Glick and who remains a trustee of Yeshivah despite also allegedly labelling victims as ‘moserim’ (collaborators), chimed in with her support. This was quickly followed by Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, the Principal of Yeshivah who put on such an excellent performance at the Royal Commission and who now proudly displays the Australian Childhood Foundation’s Safeguarding Children Accreditation logo in his email signature. All felt it appropriate to support Rabbi Johnson and castigate the author of the original email for daring to criticise Rabbi Groner and communicate with the media.
Then, as so often happens at Yeshivah, they turned on victims. Belinda ‘Baila’ Cyprys, sister in law of convicted paedophile David Cyprys (who is currently serving a jail term for sexually abusing me and many others), member of the Yeshivah Synagogue Committee and involved in the running of N’shei Chabad (the Chabad Women’s group), responded to the original email, in part, as follows:
‘Threatening to go to the media is not the way to do things, that brings you down to the level of those that caused alot of this angst in the first place. And I know you are way above that.’
It is unarguable that this was a reference to the actions of victims who, like myself, engaged with the media to expose the paedophiles at Yeshivah and the disgraceful behaviour of members of the Yeshivah leadership and community.
She did make sure to conclude her email by encouraging others to pray for the coming of Moshiach (Messiah). As Chabadniks (Chabad followers) like to tell us, it is our kindness to others and good deeds which will bring about the coming of the Moshiach.
What followed was silence.
We waited and waited and waited for Rabbis Johnson, Kahn, Smukler and Mrs. Bendet – the same people who within minutes of each other (and within three hours of receiving the original email) had felt compelled to lecture everyone else that it was ‘unacceptable both halachically and morally’ to talk to the media or bad-mouth their colleague – to make it clear that it was also ‘unacceptable both halachically and morally’ to blame victims and victim advocates for the mess that is Yeshivah. Did their call for ‘civility and respect at all times’ and for ‘refraining from any form of Loshon Hara’ apply to victims/victim advocates or only to the Yeshivah leadership?
To give them every chance, we emailed and spoke to them all. Concerns were raised with Rabbis Smukler and Johnson last Friday and with Rabbi Kahn on Shabbat. We urged them to speak out strongly against this public act of victim blaming, in the same way as they came out forcefully and instinctively in calling for an apology to their colleague. But we heard nothing.
Last night I emailed all of them as well as some media organisations. I reminded them of the submission of Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission:
‘The Yeshivah Centre, the Committee of Management and Rabbi Telsner had an opportunity to unequivocally show their support for the victims of child sexual abuse, advocates and their families, but they did not. It is submitted that their omissions implicitly condoned the actions of others in the community who criticised and shunned the victims, advocates and their families.”
Then finally today, we got something:
It has come to our attention that some of the comments made in this email chain have caused offence to victims of child sexual abuse. We do not suggest that such hurt was intended, nor that the comments causing offence were necessarily directed towards victims of child sexual abuse. Notwithstanding, now that we are aware of the hurt caused, we believe it is important to ensure that a safe space is created for victims of child sexual abuse free from criticism for coming forward. We therefore ask that contributors to this email chain to be mindful and show greater sensitivity towards victims, advocates and their families. Rabbis Johnson, Rabbi Smukler, Moshe Kahn, and Nechama Bendet.
Contrast this with their forceful response to the initial email, laden with religious references and justifications, and it is clear that the Yeshivah leadership do not consider public attacks on victims/victim advocates to be as serious as speaking to the media or criticising their colleagues. In my view and that of others to whom I have spoken (including other victims), the above response is completely inadequate. We continue to expect the Yeshivah leadership to clarify that the victim blaming email from Cyprys is ‘unacceptable both halachically and morally’ and also requires an apology. And at the same time, perhaps these Yeshivah leaders would like to explain to whom Cyprys may have been referring when she wrote her offensive comments.
As I and others have found out along our journey, the only way to effect change at Yeshivah is to involve the media and external parties. Had I not brought this matter to the attention of the media, it is doubtful that any response would have been forthcoming. It should be apparent to all members of the Yeshivah community that for so long as the ‘leadership’ refuses to be accountable, those seeking change have no alternative but to take their grievances outside of the organisation. This includes referring matters of concern to groups such as the Royal Commission, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, State and Federal Governments and communal donors, all of whom are more than happy to listen.
We view this latest incident, combined with Yeshivah’s ongoing failures to deal with attacks on victims since the Royal Commission, as evidence of the continuing hypocrisy of the Yeshivah institution and its various offshoots. It shows that religion continues to be used selectively and as a tool to quieten dissent but that leaders do not practice what they preach. It shows that Yeshivah has made representations to the Royal Commission and to the broader community which are at best misleading and at worst blatant lies. It shows that Yeshivah are not serious about protecting children and atoning for their mistakes. It shows that the Australian Childhood Foundation erred in bestowing their Safeguarding Children Accreditation on Yeshivah (which I hope they will revoke given what we are seeing). It shows that Yeshivah is not deserving of financial support from Government or communal donors. And it shows that the place is incapable of reform from within – at least not in the near-term.