(photo credit: Courtesy)
Following revelations that senior rabbinic figures in Australia were complicit in covering up sexual abuse, 11 molestation victims have written an open letter demanding the resignation of the Board of Trustees and Committee of Management of a Melbourne Yeshiva.
Four of the signatories, including victims’ activist Manny Waks, recently testified about what some have termed a cover- up culture within the Jewish community at a royal commission dealing with institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Waks, who later went on to found the organization Tzedek (“Justice”), was abused on several occasions by two different men while attending the Melbourne Yeshiva Center, a Chabad institution. During the course of the government probe, he and his father Zephaniah recalled both the yeshiva’s reluctance to deal with the issue as well as the social ostracism their family faced after Manny went public with his story.
Another student, identified both in the letter and before the commission as AVR, testified that he lost his scholarship to the yeshiva after coming forward.
Most of the abuse took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In their letter to the yeshiva’s board of trustees and management committee, the victims said that it “is astounding and a further indictment on the Yeshiva Center that no genuine public action has been taken to date by your institution in response to the Royal Commission public hearing.”
They accused the yeshiva of “merely issued a carefully crafted public statement” as part of a “public relations strategy designed to deflect responsibility,” and of refusing to confront the “significant failures of leadership” at the institution.
“As those who have suffered most at your institution’s hands, we would like to once again register our shock and pain at the Yeshiva Center’s continued mishandling of this ongoing scandal. It seems to us that at least some of the Yeshiva leadership continue to place Yeshiva’s reputation well above any other consideration,” they wrote.
Asserting that the abuse and subsequent cover-ups stemmed from a leadership failure rather than “an express policy or process issue,” they explained their position that “the removal of yourselves, as well as key staff and volunteers from the Yeshiva Center who have been implicated in any way in this ongoing scandal, is now required.“ As long as the current leadership remains in place, they continued, the yeshiva “remains susceptible to repetition of these unspeakable acts in the future.”
Following the conclusion of the commission’s probe into the Jewish community, the yeshiva issued a statement in which it encouraged victims to come forward and announced that it was establishing “a discreet and confidential process through which Yeshiva Center will provide victims and their families with our full support, professional counseling and personal apologies.”
“We are appointing an eminent and independent committee with expertise in providing support to victims of child sex abuse to assist us in managing this process. Of course, this will not affect victims’ rights in any way. Further details will be provided once the process is finalized,” the yeshiva wrote in a statement published on J-Wire.
In an email exchange published on Failed Messiah, a blog extremely critical of ultra-Orthodoxy, Zephaniah Waks wrote the yeshiva on behalf of a victim’s family seeking help and stating that the “person wishes to go to a professional for treatment immediately.”
While Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, the principal of Yeshivah- Beth Rivkah Colleges, initially promised that he would pass on the message to the committee, Waks wrote another yeshiva official on March 9, nine days later, to complain that he had not received any response.