Meir Shlomo Kluwgant (Rabbi) – His Lies and Hypocrisy

2nd Nissan 5774 2 April 2014
The RCV welcomes the recent apology and retraction issued by Mr Manny Waks for posting false and inaccurate statements about an individual in our community on the Tzedek website and in the social media. Mr Waks has admitted that he believes that this individual was completely innocent of these allegations at all times. The RCV notes with concern that the publication of the defamatory matters over which he has apologised, has true capacity to cause untold harm to individuals, their family members, and to the whole of the community. The RCV would urge Mr Waks and the Board of Tzedek to give serious consideration to his position, as well as the practises that led to the publication of those damaging and defamatory comments. The RCV reiterates its long-held position that victims and individuals with credible information about child sexual abuse should take these matters to the police and other relevant authorities. END Queries to be directed to the Executive Director of the RCV at Postal Address: C/o 619 St Kilda Rd Melbourne VIC 3004 T: 0425 808 789 E: W:  Rabbinical Council of Victoria Inc. Reg. No. A0042905Y

The following is taken from the blogpost of Manny Waks. Unfortunately, we were unable to include some of the official documents included in that post. Regardless, we recommend that you read the blog in its original format:

Evil in Oz – Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner – Chabad Flippant Response

The Australian Federal Police – Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner

Media Release: Australian Federal Police asked to investigate Yeshivah’s Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner over evidence to Royal Commission

Manny Waks
19 April 2017

PictureRabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner

The Australian Federal Police have received a complaint by victims of child sexual abuse at the Yeshivah Centre in East St. Kilda that alleges Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner, a Member of the Yeshivah Board, knowingly provided false or misleading evidence to the Royal Commission last month.

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:

  • officiates at life cycle events of congregants – for example on 4 April 2017 Rabbi Telsner officiated at a wedding ceremony in which he was introduced by Rabbi Moshe Kahn (Director of Chabad Youth) as the Moreh D’atra (Head Rabbi and most senior halachic decision maker of the Yeshivah Centre);
  • together with Rabbi Groner, is the co-head of the Chabad Kashrut Committee in which they are responsible for determining the kosher status of food eaten by the Yeshivah community;
  • is seated in front of the congregation in the Head Rabbi’s seat during Synagogue services;
  • continues to be paid his regular salary as Head Rabbi;
  • maintains an office within the synagogue building; 
  • delivers sermons from the pulpit during weekly and festival prayer services;
  • is waited on by congregants and prayer leaders before prayers commence as a congregation does for its Head Rabbi.

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.

Please see:

The Hypocrisy of Defending Victims Rather than the Abusers…. Semantics



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.


If Education Were “Substantially Similar”…


Prison to Their Own Insularity – How many Ultra-Orthodox Youth Would go “Off the Derech” if Given the Choice?

Lost Messiah July 8, 2016

We have taken the following from an article shared on Facebook about a man, anonymously named Binyamin who made the difficult decision to go “off the derech.” He, like many others, explains his reasons, his difficulties, his questions and ultimately his journey.

We have postulated that the educational system within the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities is intended to bind children to their religious upbringing by denying them choices. The children grow up as prisoners to their insular community simply by virtue of their lack of education, including the language of the land in which they live. We have stated our firm belief that this is damaging both to those ultra-Orthodox children and to the taxpayers who fund an inadequate education for both the religious community and the secular non-Jewish public school community. This is true of the East Ramapo Central School District, the Toms River/Lakewood School District, the Monroe/Woodbury School District, and dozens of others both in the United States and elsewhere.

In England, they decided to crack down on this problem.

We are posting the article, as well as one of the comments, wherein the commenter suggests other sources of reading on this subject. Our takeaway from the article is to commend the courage of Binyamin and his journey.

Continue reading

Tikun Olam Reports – Sex Abuse and the Abusers who flee to Israel

Small World lyre & bird
Small World lyre & bird



“The day is short, the task is great, the master is insistent. It is not your duty to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it….”
—Pirkei Avot, 2:21



I’ve been writing Tikun Olam, one of the earliest progressive Jewish blogs, since February, 2003. It focuses on exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state.

I wrote a chapter for the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and will contribute a chapter to the upcoming, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield). I currently contribute regularly to Middle East Eye and Mint Press News. In the past, I’ve contributed to Truthout, Haaretz, Christian Science Monitor, Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, Comment Is Free and Al Jazeera English. My work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine. The NY Times featured my reporting about the Shamai Leibowitz FBI tapes on its front page.

Israel was intended to be a safe-haven for Jews of the world. By design it was a place to which Jews could return. It has become in addition to a Jewish homeland, a place of assylum  for sex abusers to flee their accusers. Richard Silverstein has taken on the task of holding the State of Israel and its judicial system accountable.  LM – June 5, 2016


Israeli Judicial System Miscarries Justice, Protects Accused Sex Abuser

.הבלוגרית לורי שם טוב נעצרה על שעשתה את עבודתה העיתונאית בפרשת חטיפת הילד יהודה כהן

Two particularly disturbing cases are roiling the Israeli judicial system this week. In the first, a court ruled that an Orthodox Jewish former school principal wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse in Australia (the account of one victim is here), should be set completely free. The Australian legal system has requested her extradition from Israel, to which she had fled in the dead of night, for almost a year.

Malka Leifer
Malka Leifer, Australian Orthodox Jewish principal accused of 74 counts of sex abuse
Malka Leifer, who was the principal of the Orthodox girl’s school in Victoria, was wanted for questioning regarding the charges. But she absconded with the likely connivance of other school staff and community members. She flew to Israel where she knew she would receive immediate asylum regardless of her criminal charges. Ever since, she’s been feigning mental illness every time a Israeli court date approaches.

She’s received psychiatric evaluations during a hospital stay in which staff reported she was completely normal except when a formal review was conducted that would impact her court case. Then she donned a different disguise entirely.

In a surprise move, the Israeli court, freed her under one condition: that she undergo a six-month psychiatric evaluation process involving a single meeting every month for six months. After that, the court plans to review her status.

The State prosecutor plans to appeal this decision. The Australian government expressed mild shock at today’s decision. Though they will have to get much tougher if they expect any movement from the Israeli political-judicial system.

An Israeli lawyer noted to me that Israeli courts are loath to approve the extradition of Jews within their jurisdiction to their home countries when facing criminal charges. My guess is that it has something to do with a taboo against Jews handing other Jews over to Christian authorities. Jews traditionally have always preferred to mete out justice internally, not knowing how severe the sentence Jews might receive in a non-Jewish system. There is also a prohibition against informing on fellow Jews to the non-Jewish authorities. Of course, in the modern era all this should be considered hocus-pocus in the face of international law and judicial precedent. But apparently not in Israel, where ancient traditions remain alive.

Leifer also plays two other powerful cards. She is a woman and an Orthodox Jew. Israeli courts, in another throwback, often tend to defer to traditional Jewish belief and practice. There is a natural inclination to believe that an Orthodox Jew could not behave in such a fashion. Hence a refusal to take the charges against her seriously.

Manny Wax, himself a victim of sexual abuse at a Chabad Jewish Day School in Australia, calls the decision an outrage. He also supports the claim that Leifer’s posture was an act and that she’d getting away with the equivalent of murder.

This case comes during a period of prolonged tension in Australian-Israel relations which began with the Mossad’s exploiting Australian passports in the assassination plot against Mahmoud al-Mabouh. That led to the expulsion of the Mossad station chief in Australia. Then, the Mossad secretly arrested Australian Jewish agent, Ben Zygier. They imprisoned him in secret isolation, which in turn drove him to suicide. Israel only barely smoothed things over with a $1-million payment to Zygier’s Australian parents and Israeli wife.

It’s hard to believe that the Israeli justice system wants to return to the strained relations that characterized these past two episodes. And how can relations not be strained when Israel is harboring an accused sex offender who preyed on so many Jewish children? Is there any possible justification for this? Given that Australia is ruled by a right-wing government it’s possible it will not fight hard to get Leifer back. If so, that would be a shame. More than that, it would be almost criminal.

In the second case, Israeli family rights activist, blogger and journalist, Lory Shem Tov was arrested by Israeli police (Hebrew; an English story here) for the crime of practicing journalism. A father who kidnapped his son after finding videotapes of his wife beating the boy (Hebrew), contacted Shem Tov, hoping to interest her and Israeli media in his case. Though their names have not been widely reported, I believe it’s important to have full and open discourse on this subject. The father’s name is Roi Cohen, the mother’s name is Batya (Mizrahi) Cohen and the child’s name is Yehudah Cohen.

My hope is that a real child with a real name will engender enough sympathy within Israel for the public and child welfare advocates to rally on his behalf.

Lory Shem Tov with her two sons, who were kidnapped by her well-connected ex-husband.

The police threatened the TV news show that planned to run a story (which cancelled the segment) and arrested Lory. It searched her home and confiscated her computer. The mother’s lawyer succeeded in getting a judge to slap a gag order on the case and no Israeli media outlet can report this outrage and name the victim. The mother claimed she did so in order to “protect her son.” Which is ironic considering that the video shows her beating him. She had earlier claimed it was the father who had beat the boy. This is yet another example of a state whose judicial system embraces opacity, rather than transparency. A state which permits miscarriages of justice on a regular basis.

In court testimony (Hebrew), Lory’s lawyer elicited from police that she was not suspected of committing any crime. She had not conspired to kidnap the child nor had she helped hide the father and son. The police believed that if she was free she might “sabotage the investigation.” Note again that this is not a crime. In fact, it is a form of preventive detention. Arresting someone because you believe they may commit a crime. Except in national security or military justice cases, there is no such concept in Israeli law. Therefore, the police are violating Israeli law. But they may do so because they are the police and the court defers to them, even when they invent it. In any western democracy observing the rule of law, this is a flagrant abuse of state power. Yet in Israel a judge extends her remand in deference to State power.

The Israeli online news portal, Walla!, notes that since former Shabak deputy chief became national police chief, the police have escalated their war against journalists. Earlier, an Army Radio journalist was arrested for requesting comment for a story from a Jerusalem municipal employee, who filed a complaint for harassment. Now here I thought municipal employees were meant to serve the public, not the other way around.😏

UPDATE: In the past few minutes, Lory was released from prison. But the police have retained her computer and other personal items.

Not to mention that Lory is a journalist. Her goal is not to commit a crime or further a criminal conspiracy, but to inform the Israeli public of a great social wrong. In well-functioning societies, the role of activist and whistleblower is valued. Such societies understand that they need reformers challenging the system if it is to transform itself for the good. A society which criminalizes such behavior is one that is dysfunctional and moribund. That is, alas Israel.

Knowledge is Power – A Child’s Quest for Literacy

Hasidic Children Fighting Their Way Towards Literacy, Education and a Future, Their Stories…

LostMessiah, April 20, 2016

We have reported many times about the illiteracy and subpar education in the ultra-Orthodox community. We make no bones about our views that limiting a child’s education limits that child’s future. We believe that there are children within the Hasidic communities throughout the world who have G-d given gifts and their limited and highly regulated education will never allow them to achieve their potential. 

We have received highly critical comments regarding the 14-16 hours that male children within these communities spend “studying.” We have been criticized for reporting that as subpar education. We do not debate the point that Hasidic children study. We question the scope of what they are studying. Hasidic children learn the Socratic method of understanding Jewish texts. They learn Yiddish. If they are lucky, they learn rudimentary math and perhaps some social sciences and few words of English. They do not learn Science, Heaven forbid. They do not learn the language of their land, not in the United States, not in England, not in Australia, not in Antwerp nor frankly in Israel (except through the religious texts). They learn Yiddish and scripture.

Then there are the courageous…

The Journal News, April 20, 2016.

Yeshiva students take BOCES path to college

“Mendel Taub perched his pocket radio on a warehouse shelf as he began his 12-hour workday packing handfuls of hard candies into cardboard boxes. The volume was set just loud enough to hear Rush Limbaugh’s latest rant.

“Knowledge…is…power,” Taub, 16, said slowly, repeating the WABC radio tag line.

Though born in New York, he was illiterate in English. Desperate to expand beyond his native Yiddish, Taub secretly turned Limbaugh into a surrogate English teacher. That was five years ago.

What he is doing was (and still is) risky because of where he is doing it.

Taub is from New Square, an all-Hasidic village of 7,500 in Rockland County. The Skverer sect there is one of the most insular religious communities in the country. Its powerful grand rabbi (or rebbe) dictates nearly every aspect of his followers’ lives. The secular world and its conduits — smart phones, televisions, Internet connections — are generally banned.

Taub dropped out of his yeshiva at age 15 without the ability to speak or read English fluently, subtract double digits or name the 50 states. Teachers and rabbis dismissed his questions about the fundamentals of his sect’s beliefs. When he persisted, he was disciplined.

“I realized I wasn’t getting an education, that nothing they taught me would ever come in handy in getting a career or bringing in money for my family,” he said. “I realized that Talmudic law wasn’t really going to help me get a job.”

So he convinced a peddler who mostly trafficked in watches and calculators in the village to sell him a radio.

“It went down like a drug deal, on a street corner, in the shadows,” he said.

If he were caught by religious authorities, he could ruin his chances of getting a desirable match in his sect’s customary arranged marriages or risk becoming ostracized from everyone he knew.

At 16, after months of low-wage manual labor, he gathered the courage to secretly call the public school administration: “I said, ‘Hello … public school … Ramapo…?’”

He believes he reached an East Ramapo school administrator. “I said, ‘I’m a kid from New Square. I want a high school education. Can I come to school? What do I have to do?’ They said, ‘You might be here the next 15 years because your English and math are like a first grader’s. Go to Rockland BOCES when you turn 17. You won’t need your parents’ permission. They’ll do the job,’” he said.

“At that point, all I wanted to do was learn English. I didn’t think I’d be able to master math, science or social studies. I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about anything,” Taub said, sitting in an ambulance where he works part-time for the Ramapo Valley Ambulance Corps.

he next day, he called Albert Moschetti, the BOCES’ adult education director at the time.

“The first time I met Mendel, I put my hand out,” Moschetti recalled. “He didn’t know what to do with it. Hand-shaking wasn’t natural for him.”

On his 17th birthday, Taub enrolled at the Board of Cooperative Educational Service. The pursuit of secular studies was so forbidden in New Square that, when Taub confessed to his older brother, Abraham, that he was about to begin at BOCES, he received a bigger shock than he delivered.

His brother had already earned his high school equivalency diploma there and was studying at Rockland Community College.

“I almost dropped dead,” Taub recalled. “I viewed my brother as a nice Hasidic man who didn’t even speak English. I looked down on him a little. I thought, ‘He doesn’t understand what I understand.’ And then there he goes. I was very proud.

“He swore me to secrecy,” said Taub, now an undergraduate student at Pace University in Pleasantville on full scholarship with his sights set on law school.

Path to success

Taub is among a growing group of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose thirst for secular knowledge has led them to an educational passageway from their deeply religious communities to the wider world: Rockland BOCES, a state-backed education program, and Rockland Community College, a State University of New York school.

In recent years, roughly 40 ultra-Orthodox students (mostly young men) attended BOCES each year, an increase from 10 years ago when there were only a handful, Moschetti said. They come from Hasidic enclaves in Monsey and Spring Valley, in addition to the most insular New Square. Many were educated in East Ramapo’s private religious schools.

What was once utter taboo has become more familiar in some Hasidic communities, if not entirely accepted.

It varies, depending on the community,” said Rabbi Mayer Schiller, a Hasidic Monsey resident and lifelong educator. “The ultra-Orthodox also have a center, a left and a right. Even in the hard-core right, if it’s done out of the limelight with no ill effect on the religion, it may be accepted.”

Pinches Dirnfeld, 30, a doctoral student in mathematics at the University of Utah, was among the first teenagers to sneak out of New Square 10 years ago to begin courses at BOCES. Shulem Deen, 42, who chronicled his own journey in his best-selling memoir “All Who Go Do Not Return,” pursued secular studies shortly after.

“Before I went, nobody did,” said Dirnfeld, who attended RCC and later earned a masters’ degree at Columbia. He has encouraged others to follow his path, including his brother, now an RCC student. “Overall, there are a lot more kids who go nowadays than 10 years ago.”

an Newhem taught English composition and journalism to many former BOCES students at RCC for 17 years. He said that, for vulnerable students seeking to step beyond their tightly knit communities, BOCES and RCC provide “a place and people who can safely and appropriately and with dignity and respect help those people out of situation they feel trapped in.”

As Taub put it, “It was kind of a tunnel to success.”

A spectrum of stringency 

Though he is not observant, Taub has remained in his parents’ home. Former friends stopped talking to him. Most people treat him as an outcast. However, he was ultimately left in peace to pursue his own life

“Mendel is remarkable. He has no bitterness toward anyone,” said Thomas Della Torre, RCC’s associate vice president for academic and community partnerships. “His attitude is: This is what’s best for me and I want others to know it’s available to them.’”

Abraham Taub, who is studying to become an emergency-room doctor, is still very much part of the New Square community, with a wife, three children, his own home and a business selling booths for security guards and parking attendants. His children attend New Square’s yeshiva. He was already married when he began sneaking to classes at BOCES, and later RCC. After winning a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for academic excellence, he became slightly more open about his doings. Mendel Taub said the community begrudgingly tolerated his brother’s pursuits.

“He wasn’t considered an instigator. He didn’t change his appearance or try to ‘corrupt’ anyone,” Taub explained.

Now commuting to NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine on Long Island, Abraham Taub has been a role model for his younger brother.

“He has helped me a lot. At first, I didn’t know what a GPA was, anything about the Greek system or what classes to take. He’s been a great brother,” Taub said.

“It’s becoming more and more acceptable to pursue a college education,” said Naftuli Moster, founder of Yaffed, an advocacy group dedicated to improving secular education in Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox schools. “Several grand rabbis have already told their constituents (just married men) to pursue such training, especially vocational training.”

Monsey resident Chaya Wagschal, an RCC student who grew up loosely affiliated with the Satmar sect of Hasidism still embraces her community’s values and practices. Her pursuit of a college degree is rare among her peers: she has enjoyed support from her parents and community.

“Being Hasidic is very much about being accepting of every fellow Jew, regardless of his or her ideals, level of religious observance, or place in society,” Wagschal said, sitting in an RCC library meeting room. “It is those ideals that I find so charming about the Hasidic culture. Being a part of a Hasidic community is like being part of a big family that looks out for you, and is there to catch you when you fall.”

Educational deficiencies

Yeshivas are non-profit religious institutions dedicated to the study of Jewish texts, particularly the Torah and Talmud. Educational standards vary tremendously among the 100 East Ramapo yeshivas that serve 24,000 students. Some offer advanced secular studies, others none at all.

In some cases, boys don’t learn the alphabet until they are 8 years old. At that point, English and math coursework is squeezed into 90 minutes, a few times a week at the end of the day. Generally, around age 13, boys begin to focus exclusively on religious studies.

“Most men graduating from Hasidic yeshivas are severely disadvantaged due to their illiteracy in basic subjects that are taught in most public and non-public schools,” Yaffed’s Moster said. “This includes being able to speak and write in English, understanding what college is or how it works, being able to prepare for a job interview and to actually qualify for most average-paying jobs outside of the community itself.”

Girls, who do not study the Talmud, receive more well-rounded studies.

Such was the case for Wagshal, who had sufficient English and other studies to skip BOCES and go straight to RCC.”

For the remainder of the article from Lohud click, here.