With the recent conclusion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I thought this would be a good opportunity to publicly list those remaining individuals and institutions who, in my view, played a role in the Australian Jewish community’s child sexual abuse scandal and have still not accepted responsibility for their actions and/or inaction or been held to account by others. Over the years, I have named them all in various fora, but this is a good opportunity to list them on a new Wall of Shame. Based on my personal interactions with these individuals/institutions, and/or based on their public comments, in my opinion, it would be appropriate that they publicly acknowledge their offensive behaviour and apologise. They have all been provided with numerous opportunities to take responsibility for their behaviour, so I’m hoping that listing them here will hold them to account in one way or another. All of them have caused significant pain and suffering to me personally and to other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse (and in many cases, to others within the community). It is my view, and that of others, that none of the individuals named should be in any leadership position. If anything, the shunning that so many of us experienced (partly due to most, if not all, of these individuals) should be directed at them. So, now that the Royal Commission has concluded, it is up to each and every one of us to do the right thing. We can take the easier option of ignoring this issue, and hope it will just go away. Unfortunately, this approach has proved counter-productive and ultimately destructive for the entire community. Alternatively, we can do the right thing and ensure full accountability.
Media Release: Yeshivah victims alarmed at Yeshivah statement on Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner
28 April 2017
Yeshivah victims note with alarm that Rabbi Chaim Tsvi Groner continues to serve as a Director of the three entities comprising Yeshivah despite being under police investigation.
We are also gravely concerned with the response issued by the Chabad Institutions of Victoria Limited (‘CIVL’) Board on 26 April 2017 and in particular, their statement that ‘the Board is of the view that Rabbi Groner did not mislead the Royal Commission’.
Yeshivah’s view as to whether or not Rabbi Groner is guilty of the serious crime for which he is being investigated is irrelevant to the question of whether he should remain on the boards at this time. If Yeshivah has learned nothing else from its past failures, it should be that it is never appropriate to supplant their decision-making over the role of police.
Moreover, it is extraordinary that Yeshivah would express such a view concerning Rabbi Groner’s evidence about the role of Rabbi Telsner while in the very next sentence, admitting that they are still ‘working through the various considerations’ and unable to clarify Rabbi Telsner’s position.
This should serve as a reminder to the community that crimes must be reported directly to the police and that Yeshivah is not only ill-equipped to investigate crimes but remains unable or unwilling to judge the conduct of particular members of their community objectively.
In our view, the fact that Rabbi Groner has not yet stood down raises questions over whether he is capable of separating his own interests from those of Yeshivah. Additionally, the fact that the other Board members have not stood him down raises questions over their commitment to normal governance practices and accountability. It must be obvious to Yeshivah that the past practice of protecting their own at all costs has no place today and will only lead to another avoidable and drawn out Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) in which their entire community suffers.
We call on Rabbi Groner to immediately do the right thing and take responsibility for his conduct by standing down from the Boards of Yeshivah. Failing that, Yeshivah should take the only proper course of action and stand down Rabbi Groner without delay.
We have heard some of the new Board members speak of a desire to implement the good governance and accountability which has been lacking in the past. Now is their opportunity. In our view, any board of Yeshivah that counts Rabbi Groner as a member has no credibility and is no different to its predecessor.
Child abuse royal commission: Rabbi inaction failed abuse victims within Yeshiva community
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.
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”.
Mixed messages produced inaction
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.”
Child abuse ‘uncommon’
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.
Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand public statement in response to the Royal Commission Report
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.
Melbourne Yeshivah Centre public statement in response to the Royal Commission Report
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 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).
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.”
Diminishing all of the Lies that were Swept Under the Chabad-Lubavitch Carpet
An Editorial: Lost Messiah, 22 August 2016
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 →
Jewish college director sues over sex abuse claims on Facebook
Peter Mickelburough, Herald Sun
August 22, 2016 5:03am
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.
The Hasidic teachers in court, Tel Aviv, August 2, 2016.
It’s Time for the ultra-Orthodox Community to Tackle Sex Abuse Head-on
A society that refuses to rally against its own criminals at least with same roar as it rallies against other sectors of society is indeed doing a lot of harm to itself.
Last week in a bold and unprecedented move, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau penned an open letter to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) educators cautioning them to “deal seriously” with instances of child abuse that have been reported at educational institutions and in some homes. “Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer to these difficult and painful issues,” Lau wrote, urging members of the community to take responsibility for the atrocities.
Lau’s letter came in the wake of a report that as many as six teachers from a Hasidic school in Tel Aviv have been charged with abusing almost two dozen preschool and elementary school students. This is by no means an isolated incident: In the last few months at least three Israeli Torah scholars have been accused of sexually abusing women and girls, and in two of these cases the victims involved close members of the perpetrators’ families.
To make matters worse, such abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community has not been confined to Israel. Similar abuse cases, in which rabbis preyed on naïve young women, have been reported in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Australia has established a royal commission to investigate why a school had concealed the abuse of its students for 20 years. We know about these cases because the authorities have managed to prosecute and punish these criminals. There are other cases where offenders have evaded punishment by exploiting the Law of Return and escaping to Israel. Sadly, there are some rabbinical miscreants who not only go unpunished – they continue to occupy their pulpits owing to the victims refusing to press charges and the communities that wish to sweep such allegations under the rug.
This shocking situation obviously does not mean that the ultra-Orthodox community is uniquely guilty of sexual abuse. A community as large and diverse as this one surely deserves the presumption that most of its adherents are decent individuals who strictly uphold religious law. Indeed, the overwhelming majority frowns upon any sexual impropriety, and barriers are set up to avoid such eventualities. Men and women are rarely on a first name basis and meetings between the sexes are always held with open doors to prevent any hint of intimacy. Children, from a young age are not placed in close confines with relatives of their extended families of the opposite sex, and religious teachers are trained to spot and report suspicious signs of child abuse.
The problem is that the community often fails to report and publicly protest crimes such as child and sexual abuse – a failure that may be traced to Haredi culture. From a young age, the Haredi child is taught that emunat hakhamim, belief in Torah sages and rabbis, is such an important principle that it renders many sages infallible in their eyes. They are also familiar with the dictum that the Torah serves as an antidote to one’s evil inclination. These combined beliefs place Haredi children in a double bind, so that not only are their teachers “incapable” of erring, they have also been “immunized” from committing evil acts.
Given such a framework, what is a Haredi child (or naive adult) with personal knowledge of sexual crimes meant to think when he knows the perpetrators are Torah scholars? How can he contemplate that his teachers or mentors are sexual deviants? And if these perpetrators are so evil, why is it only the Chief Rabbinate that reacts? The only body that counts within this community is the Council of Torah Sages; while it regularly calls for mass protests when it feels its religious lifestyle is under threat, the council has remained eerily silent on the subject of abuse. How are these children to know that such actions are intolerable and that any Torah taught by such offenders is worth very little?
Sadly, they probably won’t. A child growing up in an insular Haredi neighborhood will learn by the ever-present posters he sees, and by the demonstrations he attends, that sexual deviancy is not all that important. It certainly does not trump the issue of dead bones being exhumed to make way for a highway or hospital. It is no more important than secular Jews wishing to enjoy themselves at the cinema on a Friday night, and is probably no less evil than a Haredi traitor who dares put on an army uniform.
In such an environment, why should there be any incentive to report sexual offenses? This is especially true where reporting comes at a cost: whistleblowers and victims are keenly aware that any exposure severely harms their own and their progeny’s marriage prospects. Is it any wonder then that abuse continues as long as it does until one courageous man or woman has the guts to go to the police?
Unfortunately, this situation is not mitigated by the argument that the Haredi sector’s individual members and organizations have done much to benefit society as a whole. And yet a society that ignores its own internal problems, that refuses to rally against its own criminals at least with same roar as it rallies against other sectors of society, and that steadfastly conceals its misdeeds, is indeed doing a lot of harm to itself.
If the Haredi community in Israel and abroad is to reclaim the public’s trust it must shun all acts of sexual abuse. It must act seriously and it must act now. The time has come for the community to demonstrate to itself as well as to others that there is zero tolerance for harming the sexual integrity of anyone created in G-d’s image, especially children.