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Sunday, March 01, 2015

A Bad Call on Risky Circumcisions - a circumciser, or mohel, sucks blood from a newly cut penis with his mouth - The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense....


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD - NYT

The herpes simplex virus, common and relatively harmless in adults, can be deadly to babies. Such infections in newborns are blessedly rare, but one thing is known to increase the risk significantly: the circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh, practiced by many ultra-Orthodox and some Orthodox Jews, in which a circumciser, or mohel, sucks blood from a newly cut penis with his mouth.

The New York City Health Department, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have long warned about the dangersof the practice. The Health Department has linked it to more than 12 herpes cases, and two deaths, since 2000, and has tried to get mohels to stop doing it.That is why it is distressing to see Mayor Bill de Blasio and Orthodox leaders celebrating a deal they made this week to abandon the city’s modest effort to regulate the practice, and instead leave it to the ultra-Orthodox community to help limit the damage metzitzah b’peh does — but voluntarily, and only after babies get sick, not before.

Mr. de Blasio wants to stop requiring parents to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of metzitzah b’peh. Rabbis called that policy, begun under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an unconscionable infringement on religious freedom. 

They refused to use the forms and sued the city.And so Mr. de Blasio, who has pleased the potent Orthodox voting bloc by ridiculing the policy as unenforceable while making no visible effort to enforce it, has decided simply to let the mohels do their thing, until a baby gets sick.

The plan then is to do a series of DNA tests; if the baby’s mohel has the same herpes strain as the infected baby, he will be forbidden to do circumcisions.The plan needs Board of Health approval. 

The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense. 

Otherwise, this will be a city that requires tattoo artists to take infection-control courses and use sterile tools but tolerates an amateur surgery in which infection is fought with no more than perhaps a swig of Listerine.The administration says it will ask hospitals and doctors to distribute information about the risks of metzitzah b’peh, which should include accurate descriptions, including photographs, of the lesions and brain injuries suffered by babies whose safety their rabbis — and mayor — have allowed to be jeopardized.

Friday, February 27, 2015

For years it’s been well known that many Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivas in New York fall far short of the state’s education department requirement that private school curricula be “substantially equivalent” to those in public schools....

When Yeshivas Dump 3 R's for Torah and Talmud





By Jay Michaelson

Published February 26, 2015, issue of February 27, 2015.

An innovative lawsuit in Quebec offers an intriguing model for reforming the substandard secular education provided in many Hasidic communities.

For years it’s been well known that many Hasidic yeshivas in New York fall far short of the state’s education department requirement that private school curricula be “substantially equivalent” to those in public schools. As reported in The New York Times last year, many Hasidic elementary school students receive only 90 minutes of math and English education each day, in contrast with seven and a half hours of religious education.

Such practices, the Times observed, have been going on for decades.

Lately the abuses have become even more egregious. In the East Ramapo school district, Hasidim form a supermajority of the school board, a position they have shamelessly used to their advantage. Public school budgets have been slashed, public school land has been sold at fire sale prices to Hasidic yeshivas, and funds have been diverted to religious schools, at the expense of everyone else.

Why has nothing been done?

 Simple: politics.

Hasidim vote, and they vote as blocs — both out of sincere obedience to their rebbes and with the understanding that divergence from the party line will be punished severely. As a result, Hasidic hierarchies can deliver thousands of votes to politicians. They can make or break political careers. And so no one takes them on.

That’s where the Quebec lawsuit comes in.

Yohanan Lowen was educated in the reclusive Tash enclave in Boisbriand, north of Montreal. Like similar communities in New Square and Monsey, New York, Boisbriand is a world unto itself. The Hasidic power structure controls everything and enforces its own rules. One can live in Boisbriand and never encounter a non-Hasid, let alone a non-Jew.

Lowen, represented by the not-for-profit Clinique Juridique Juripop, alleges that he was deprived of his right to a secular education. And he’s suing not just the yeshivas that left him functionally illiterate, but also the Quebec government and other public agencies that knowingly allowed this illegal activity to continue.

Now 37 and the father of four, Lowen says he’s unable to hold down meaningful employment; he currently teaches Talmud part time at a liberal synagogue and is on the dole.

Although Lowen’s claims may seem trumped-up for his lawsuit — he is seeking $1.25 million in damages — I have met many people with similar stories. They struggle to emerge out of fundamentalist ghettos, receive almost no support from the mainstream Jewish community, and often have to start from scratch as adults, learning English (or, in Israel, modern Hebrew) and basic life skills. Many find their way, but many others are lost souls, abandoned by their families and by the wider Jewish community.

There are points of light in this darkness of coercion and ignorance: small organizations like Footsteps (in the United States) and Hillel (in Israel); stirring narratives published in these pages by Frimet Goldberger and others; and stories of those who have thrived outside the ghetto walls.

But the collusion among Hasidic leadership, Jewish powerbrokers, politicians and the mainstream Jewish community has failed thousands of individuals trapped inside lives they do not wish to lead, but cannot leave, for fear of poverty and isolation.

Lowen says that many Hasidic parents have sent him secret letters (and checks) of support from around the world. They want the change he is seeking, but would risk excommunication if they tried to bring it about.
We need an American Yohanan Lowen. There have been courageous ex-Hasidim who have pushed for reform. Naftuli Moster, profiled in the Times, is one of them. He has written to the Board of Regents, met with school superintendents, talked to officials in Albany and even sponsored a billboard along the Prospect Expressway to persuade Hasidim to educate their children.

So far, he’s been stonewalled. Amazingly, rather than launch its own investigation, the city’s education department has demanded that Moster investigate his own allegations. The city and the state are passing the buck back and forth.

And don’t expect New York’s progressive mayor to do anything about it. In the last election, Bill de Blasio had the support of half the Satmar community and many leaders of Agudath Israel of America. He’s not going to challenge a critical part of his own base. On the contrary, he’s tried to pour even more money into the yeshiva system via the city’s universal pre-K program — although these efforts have so far foundered on constitutional grounds.

The efforts of reformers like Moster are noble, but unlikely to succeed. The only way politicians will challenge the Hasidic power elite is if they are forced to do so.

A lawsuit such as Lowen’s should not be understood as anti-religious or anti-Hasidic. As long as it is voluntarily chosen, the Hasidic way may be beautiful and profound. On the contrary, it is the UJA-Federation of New York, the city government and the state education department that are short-changing thousands of Hasidic children, abandoning them to an insular power elite. How exactly is the federation serving the needs of this growing segment of the New York Jewish population by allowing its leaders to starve it of knowledge, education and power?

As many have said before me, such negligence is a chillul Hashem, a profanation of the divine name. But the secular system, too, has failed. Not only have we failed to fight this coercion, we also have aided and abetted it.

Who will take up the charge, then, to fight this injustice in the courts? Who will step forward to be the American Yohanan Lowen?

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/215137/cheating-hasids-out-of-a-future/#ixzz3SslGM7jo

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Before vaccines existed, many infectious diseases killed millions of people per year. During the 1918 flu pandemic 50 million people died. That's greater than Argentina's current population. Perhaps, the older ones among you remember the polio epidemic that occurred in Argentina in 1956. At that time, there was no vaccine available against polio."






One of the first patients I had to see as a pediatrician was Sol, a beautiful month-old baby who was admitted with signs of a severe respiratory infection. Until then, I had never seen a patient worsen so fast. In just two days she was connected to a respirator and on the third day she died. Sol had whooping cough. After discussing the case in the room and after a quite distressing catharsis, I remember my chief resident said to me, "Okay, take a deep breath. Wash your face. 

 And now comes the hardest part: We have to go talk to her parents." At that time, a thousand questions came to mind, from, "How could a one-month-old baby be so unfortunate?" to, "Could we have done something about it?" Before vaccines existed, many infectious diseases killed millions of people per year. During the 1918 flu pandemic 50 million people died. That's greater than Argentina's current population. Perhaps, the older ones among you remember the polio epidemic that occurred in Argentina in 1956. At that time, there was no vaccine available against polio. People didn't know what to do. They were going crazy. They would go painting trees with caustic lime. They'd put little bags of camphor in their children's underwear, as if that could do something. During the polio epidemic, thousands of people died. And thousands of people were left with very significant neurological damage. 

 I know this because I read about it, because thanks to vaccines, my generation was lucky to not live through an epidemic as terrible as this. Vaccines are one of the great successes of the 20th century's public health. After potable water, they are the interventions that have most reduced mortality, even more than antibiotics. Vaccines eradicated terrible diseases such as smallpox from the planet and succeeded in significantly reducing mortality due to other diseases such as measles, whooping cough, polio and many more. All these diseases are considered vaccine-preventable diseases. What does this mean? That they are potentially preventable, but in order to be so, something must be done. You need to get vaccinated. I imagine that most, if not all of us here today, received a vaccine at some point in our life. 

 Now, I'm not so sure that many of us know which vaccines or boosters we should receive after adolescence. Have you ever wondered who we are protecting when we vaccinate? What do I mean by that? Is there any other effect beyond protecting ourselves? Let me show you something. Imagine for a moment that we are in a city that has never had a case of a particular disease, such as the measles. This would mean that no one in the city has ever had contact with the disease. No one has natural defenses against, nor been vaccinated against measles. If one day, a person sick with the measles appears in this city the disease won't find much resistance and will begin spreading from person to person, and in no time it will disseminate throughout the community. After a certain time a big part of the population will be ill.  

This happened when there were no vaccines. Now, imagine the complete opposite case. We are in a city where more than 90 percent of the population has defenses against the measles, which means that they either had the disease, survived, and developed natural defenses; or that they had been immunized against measles. If one day, a person sick with the measles appears in this city, the disease will find much more resistance and won't be transmitted that much from person to person. The spread will probably remain contained and a measles outbreak won't happen. I would like you to pay attention to something. People who are vaccinated are not only protecting themselves, but by blocking the dissemination of the disease within the community, they are indirectly protecting the people in this community who are not vaccinated. They create a kind of protective shield which prevents them from coming in contact with the disease, so that these people are protected. 

This indirect protection that the unvaccinated people within a community receive simply by being surrounded by vaccinated people, is called herd immunity. Many people in the community depend almost exclusively on this herd immunity to be protected against disease. The unvaccinated people you see in infographics are not just hypothetical. Those people are our nieces and nephews, our children, who may be too young to receive their first shots. They are our parents, our siblings, our acquaintances, who may have a disease, or take medication that lowers their defenses. There are also people who are allergic to a particular vaccine. They could even be among us, any of us who got vaccinated, but the vaccine didn't produce the expected effect, because not all vaccines are always 100 percent effective. 

 All these people depend almost exclusively on herd immunity to be protected against diseases. To achieve this effect of herd immunity, it is necessary that a large percentage of the population be vaccinated. This percentage is called the threshold. The threshold depends on many variables: It depends on the germ's characteristics, and those of the immune response that the vaccine generates. But they all have something in common. If the percentage of the population in a vaccinated community is below this threshold number, the disease will begin to spread more freely and may generate an outbreak of this disease within the community. Even diseases which were at some point controlled may reappear. 

 This is not just a theory. This has happened, and is still happening. In 1998, a British researcher published an article in one of the most important medical journals, saying that the MMR vaccine, which is given for measles, mumps and rubella, was associated with autism. This generated an immediate impact. People began to stop getting vaccinated, and stopped vaccinating their children. And what happened? The number of people vaccinated, in many communities around the world, fell below this threshold. And there were outbreaks of measles in many cities in the world -- in the U.S., in Europe. 

 Many people got sick. People died of measles. What happened? This article also generated a huge stir within the medical community. Dozens of researchers began to assess if this was actually true. Not only could no one find a causal association between MMR and autism at the population level, but it was also found that this article had incorrect claims. Even more, it was fraudulent. It was fraudulent. In fact, the journal publicly retracted the article in 2010. One of the main concerns and excuses for not getting vaccinated are the adverse effects. Vaccines, like other drugs, can have potential adverse effects. Most are mild and temporary. But the benefits are always greater than possible complications. When we are ill, we want to heal fast. Many of us who are here take antibiotics when we have an infection, we take anti-hypertensives when we have high blood pressure, we take cardiac medications. Why? Because we are sick and we want to heal fast. And we don't question it much.  

Why is it so difficult to think of preventing diseases, by taking care of ourselves when we are healthy? We take care of ourselves a lot when affected by an illness, or in situations of imminent danger. I imagine most of us here, remember the influenza-A pandemic which broke out in 2009 in Argentina and worldwide. When the first cases began to come to light, we, here in Argentina, were entering the winter season. We knew absolutely nothing. Everything was a mess. People wore masks on the street, ran into pharmacies to buy alcohol gel. People would line up in pharmacies to get a vaccine, without even knowing if it was the right vaccine that would protect them against this new virus. We knew absolutely nothing. At that time, in addition to doing my fellowship at the Infant Foundation, I worked as a home pediatrician for a prepaid medicine company. 

 I remember that I started my shift at 8 a.m., and by 8, I already had a list of 50 scheduled visits. It was chaos; people didn't know what to do. I remember the types of patients that I was examining. The patients were a little older than what we were used to seeing in winter, with longer fevers. And I mentioned that to my fellowship mentor, and he, for his part, had heard the same from a colleague, about the large number of pregnant women and young adults being hospitalized in intensive care, with hard-to-manage clinical profiles. At that time, we set out to understand what was happening. First thing Monday morning, we took the car and went to a hospital in Buenos Aires Province, that served as a referral hospital for cases of the new influenza virus. We arrived at the hospital; it was crowded. 

 All health staff were dressed in NASA-like bio-safety suits. We all had face masks in our pockets. I, being a hypochondriac, didn't breathe for two hours. But we could see what was happening. Immediately, we started reaching out to pediatricians from six hospitals in the city and in Buenos Aires Province. Our main goal was to find out how this new virus behaved in contact with our children, in the shortest time possible. A marathon work. In less than three months, we could see what effect this new H1N1 virus had on the 251 children hospitalized by this virus. We could see which children got more seriously ill: children under four, especially those less than one year old; patients with neurological diseases; and young children with chronic pulmonary diseases. Identifying these at-risk groups was important to include them as priority groups in the recommendations for getting the influenza vaccine, not only here in Argentina, but also in other countries which the pandemic not yet reached. 

A year later, when a vaccine against the pandemic H1N1 virus became available, we wanted to see what happened. After a huge vaccination campaign aimed at protecting at-risk groups, these hospitals, with 93 percent of the at-risk groups vaccinated, had not hospitalized a single patient for the pandemic H1N1 virus. (Applause) In 2009: 251. In 2010: zero. Vaccination is an act of individual responsibility, but it has a huge collective impact. If I get vaccinated, not only am I protecting myself, but I am also protecting others. Sol had whooping cough. Sol was very young, and she hadn't yet received her first vaccine against whooping cough. I still wonder what would have happened if everyone around Sol had been vaccinated. 


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The statistics for both abuse cases and drug overdoses in the Jewish community are staggering, with dozens of known cases reported since Rosh Hashana and over three dozen deaths of people under age 35 in the Jewish community in that same time period, underscoring the need for serious and immediate intervention. "....

The milestone event was hosted by Amudim and included 25 private practice clinicians as well as rabbis, educators, therapists, clinical directors, heads of major organizations, social workers, philanthropists and many others who spent two days analyzing these rarely discussed problems and formulating a five point strategy for tackling these complex issues head on.
“This was the first ever conference of this type within the Orthodox Jewish community,” said Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim. “This was a collaborative effort by many people and many organizations and is just the beginning of what will be an all out effort to effect crucial changes to benefit our precious children.”
The statistics for both abuse cases and drug overdoses in the Jewish community are staggering, with dozens of known cases reported since Rosh Hashana and over three dozen deaths of people under age 35 in the Jewish community in that same time period, underscoring the need for serious and immediate intervention. The workshop-based event divided participants into four separate groups, each of which identified both short term goals to help those who have been victimized, as well as possible impediments to those solutions, and devised a set of protocols that would allow them to effectively and practically achieve those objectives. While each of the four groups worked individually, in different rooms, all came up with a set of similar goals which were then boiled down into five distinct strategies: centralizing information and access to resources, creating grass roots efforts to change the status quo, developing evidenced based support services, engaging rabbanim, educators and parents to promote child safety and creating funding strategies. Numerous participants volunteered to begin taking leadership roles in implementing the strategies identified during the two day conference.
“It is incredible to realize that 220 people from different backgrounds in this industry all came up with the same common denominators, making it obvious that we are past the point where there are just one or two people saying there is a problem,” said Gluck. “Change is in the air and the momentum is clearly visible, with people already discussing which areas of this new initiative they plan to be involved in.”
A key component of dramatic change was also put into play at the Amudim conference with the announcement of a $1 million fund to treat abuse victims, created by philanthropists Mendy Klein, Nancy Friedberg and others. The new fund is an initiative of ASAP www.ASAP.care and provides therapy to Orthodox Jewish abuse victims who live in the tri-state area through qualifying non-profit organizations and is hopefully the first of many more programs dedicated to treating abuse in the Jewish community.
“I’m hoping that the people who are here and participated have left here with an increased positive feeling that together everyone can make a difference, that there is support out there for their efforts,” said Mrs. Friedberg. “They are doing the difficult groundwork, but if we work together we can change paradigms.”
Participants were inspired by divrei Torah from Rabbi YY Jacobson, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein and Rabbi Elya Brudny, rosh yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, who spoke about the impact of saving even one individual. Rabbi Brudny observed that a single Auschwitz survivor could today have well over 200 descendants, highlighting the importance of helping each and every child in need.
“Each one is a bais hamikdash, a world,” said Rabbi Brudny.
 It was noted that the simple act of gathering a large number of people who deal with the issues of trauma, risk and abuse for a conference of this nature was an empowering experience that has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change.
“You get the sense of togetherness, the sense of standing at each other’s side and that feeling of support gave us the ability to take what is really a seemingly insurmountable problem and break it down into small, doable pieces, which to me creates a workable reality. “It crystallized our thinking in terms of very specific goals.”
Including a variety people of different backgrounds was one of the keys to the conference’s success, according to Magen Yeladim Child Safety Institute and founder and creator of the Safety Kid program.
“I think the real strength is that this is multi-disciplinary so there seems to be lots of different types of organizations that are all working with the same theme of helping kids,” said Mrs. Fox. “It means that you all learn to work together and you learn what the gaps are, which is very important.”
“It means that additional victims will come out and seek support” . “It means that they feel that they will be empathized with. It means that it will give them strength about not feeling that they were ruined or tainted and they can’t get a shidduch and it will strengthen other people to do this work.”
“I see an amazing movement in moving forward and empowering parents, rabbonim and the community to protect our children,” added Ruchama Clapman, founder and executive director of MASK. “We waited so many years and we’ve seen so many cases over the years, not hundreds, but thousands and we can say are going to be able to, as a result of this conference, get so much help in so many different ways just by us getting together, networking and coming up with special policies which will give support to parents and empower victims to be able to get help, get the therapy they need and be able to then move on to lead healthy lives.”
To find out more about Amudim visit them online at www.amudim.org or contact them at 646-517-0222

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Book of Leviticus: 'You shall not stand idly by wrong-doing...you shall speak out against those who commit evil, otherwise you share in their guilt' (19. 16-17)

No Faith Is Free From Child Abuse Scandals or Cover-Ups




What has been happening in Sydney and Melbourne is doubly shocking. First, there have been revelations over a rabbi who abused children at a yeshivah, Jewish learning seminary over many years, which was then followed by a cover-up when allegations surfaced.
Second, it is a wake-up call to Jewish communities in the UK to be vigilant about a problem from which, until now, we thought we were immune. It was all too easy to think that paedophile ministers were rife in the Church of England and the Catholics, but not really an issue for us.
Almost as disturbing as the crimes are the cover-up by others in the hierarchy, across all faiths, who certainly regard the offender with disapproval but are motivated by fear that if one person is exposed, then that will tarnish the rest of the group - be it the church, synagogue or mosque. In fact, the opposite is true: colluding with a perpetrator is what really tarnishes the group at large, while it also denies justice to the victim, which should have been the prime concern.
What causes such warped responses? Is it the naivety of hoping they could handle the problem and so there was no need to bring in outside authorities; or is it the nervousness of thinking that if one crack was exposed in the faith-group, then the entire edifice would collapse; or is it the hubris of reckoning that on balance the faith-group do more good than evil and so should be excused any failings; or is it that they felt under attack already, battling so many secular enemies, that they could not afford to show any weak spots, especially clerical failings?
There is another big question: but how to keep going despite the child abuses scandals - because actually there are plenty of vicars, priests and rabbis that do not abuse children, but are being stymied because of the suspicion that surrounds every inter-personal action.
It is good practice for classrooms or offices in religious buildings to have windows put into the doors, so that anyone passing by can check that nothing untoward is going on inside. Personally, I always leave my study door open whenever doing one to one interviews, so that there can be no suggestion of any impropriety. But I dislike the implication that being alone with someone is now potentially dangerous for them.
It is certainly been a long time, since I patted a child on the back at the Religion School, lest a gesture of encouragement or warmth be seen as 'touching up'. But I resent having to stop, as it is giving in to a culture of fear, and letting the evil committed by child abusers poison the minds of the overwhelming majority that abhor it.
Yes, we have to be aware of abuse and guard against it, but we also have to protect values such as trust and friendship - be vigilant but also maintain a generosity of spirit - and getting that balance right is difficult for civil society, but is especially problematic for faith groups as a religious approach tries to assume the best in people.
But there is no doubt that religious whistleblowers are to be admired rather than ostracised, as so often happens. The Book of Leviticus does not use that word, but certainly backs the cause: 'You shall not stand idly by wrong-doing...you shall speak out against those who commit evil, otherwise you share in their guilt' (19. 16-17)
The problem is not that we lack religious guidance, but that individuals do not always follow it, and religious institutions sometimes put self-interest above their own principles. What has happened to the Jewish community in Australia is an important warning that none of us can ignore.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"All this time, he was a sex offender, a fraud and a pervert.".....


How Could We Have Trusted Rabbi Barry Freundel?

 

Mikveh Pervert Soul-Searching Should Start With Powerful


Now that Rabbi Barry Freundel has pleaded guilty to peeping at 52 women while they went to the mikveh — prosecutors say he spied on 100 more women, but outside the statute of limitations — we finally can take off the qualifiers and accept that he is guilty. And that means we can begin some much-needed, and largely absent, soul-searching.

One hopes that it is only the delay in legally establishing Freundel’s guilt that has caused some of his most ardent supporters (prior to the scandal) to remain so uncharacteristically silent.

There are, I think, two categories of such people: those with institutional positions, and those who considered Freundel their teacher and friend.

Among those in the former category are the Orthodox rabbinic umbrella organization the Rabbinical Council of America, and those in leadership positions at Kesher Israel. Here, the discourse is like that of other scandals: who knew what, when; what could have been done differently; what policies are being changed.

Because these are familiar dynamics, and because others have written about them already, they are of secondary interest to me. Soon after the allegations surfaced, the RCA provided a (hopefully exhaustive) account of complaints it had received about Freundel.

 If that account is complete, it doesn’t amount to much.

To be sure, there are still unanswered questions. It is rumored that Freundel had several external hard drives filled with videos of women from the mikveh who are visible in his office at Towson University.

 Is it really plausible that no one ever noticed or asked about them? Has the RCA really done enough [[http://www.rabbis.org/index_with_RCA_response%20.cfm]] to protect women in the conversion process? Really — did no one suspect, investigate or ask? But at this moment, I’m more interested in the high-wattage men who regarded Freundel as a friend, teacher and leader.

When I lived in Washington, I attended Kesher Israel regularly. It was a thrill to sit behind Senator Joseph Lieberman, Leon Wieseltier and other luminaries of the American Jewish scene. They and many others took pride in articulating a literate, intelligent Modern Orthodox Jewish sensibility – and Freundel was an exemplar of it.

And whether or not Freundel really coined the phrase “family values,”,his was also a powerful voice among neoconservatives and moderates.

All this time, he was a sex offender, a fraud and a pervert.

How can some of our community’s leading (if self-appointed) cultural sages lionize and valorize someone who, in fact, they didn’t really know that well?

Spiritual leaders are not like political or business leaders, with private lives sequestered from their public personae (if that is even true for politicians anymore). They are meant to walk the walk and talk the talk. Think of those Hasidic tales where the Hasid wants to learn how the rebbe ties his shoes. Or of the racier talmudic version,where Rabbi Nachman Kahana hides under Rav’s bed, saying “This, too, is Torah I need to learn.”

That story of rabbinic voyeurism leaves an uncomfortable taste today, but part of its meaning, I think, is that a rabbi’s character counts, that the rabbi’s teachings are not confined to the pulpit, that his entire life is his Torah.

I suppose Freundel was a very good liar. It’s easy to look at a bad photo of him today (especially one that makes light of his partial facial paralysis — a cheap shot that editors should be ashamed of) and see a pervert. But many good people were duped by him, and, rightly, feel betrayed.

Yet I also wonder what criteria we use to evaluate our spiritual leaders when a serial sex offender can sneak past them.

To me, the Freundel scandal looks a lot like the Madoff scandal. There are questions that should have been asked, suspicions that should have been raised. But the self-reinforcing loops of elite power — X likes him, X is powerful, therefore I should like him — blinded those entrusted to keep watch.

And then there are the nonsexual allegations. One of Freundel’s victims, Bethany Mandel, told The Daily Beast that we’ve gotten Freundel wrong. “People keep calling him a pervert and yes, he’s a pervert, but he’s also a power hungry sociopath,” Mandel said. “It wasn’t about porn. It was about power, and this was additional power no one knew he had.”

This, too, should have been visible in plain view to anyone who worked closely with Freundel.

One wonders if the highly self-congratulatory nature of the D.C. Jewish intelligentsia — which prides itself on saying important things, generally to other old straight white men — enabled the selective blindness that, in turn, enabled Freundel. This small circle of elites is an echo chamber — one with access to power, but an echo chamber nonetheless, in which elites anointed other elites. There is some original thinking in this community, but there’s also a lot of old, rich, straight, white male bloviating, as the rest of us watched in the New Republic debacle. There’s more privilege than quality.

Giving erudite speeches about conservative moral values does not a spiritual hero make. Nor do the layers of posturing and rhetoric that squat, like painted facades, atop an unknown interior. Nor does the intoxicating aroma of power that wafts through Kesher Israel and places like it. It can seem, downing a shot of whiskey with someone of influence, that you are in the presence of greatness. Really, you are only in the presence of power.

Yes, Freundel had secrets, but if his followers really had no inkling of them, they must not have been looking in the right place.

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward. Contact him on Twitter @jaymichaelson

Friday, February 20, 2015

"The cast is Jewish, yet the bones of this story are familiar to anyone who has followed the scandal of child abuse in Christian schools and parishes. Rabbis and bishops have shown over the years much the same failings when faced with a choice between guarding the prestige of their faiths and the safety of children. This story is about the dangers in any cult of blind obedience to holy men."



Rabbis' absolute power: how sex abuse tore apart Australia's Orthodox Jewish community


Yeshivah leaders in Sydney and Melbourne chose to preserve the prestige of their faith over the safety of children. A national inquiry that reverberated around the world painted a devastating picture of how individuals were abandoned and ostracised as they fought to end the code of silence

Orthodox Judaism has never been exposed to such scrutiny. From a Melbourne courtroom, the torment of the Chabad rabbis was streamed live to the world as the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse probed the city’s secretive and powerful Yeshivah community.

Sharp divisions in the Jewish world have been exposed. Two rabbis, including one of the nation’s most prominent, have been forced from their posts. Whistleblowers, humiliated and ostracised for years by Yeshivah, have been dramatically vindicated. More victims have come forward. More criminal charges may follow. Yeshivah schools face a nightmare of civil litigation.

The cast is Jewish, yet the bones of this story are familiar to anyone who has followed the scandal of child abuse in Christian schools and parishes. Rabbis and bishops have shown over the years much the same failings when faced with a choice between guarding the prestige of their faiths and the safety of children. This story is about the dangers in any cult of blind obedience to holy men.

Rabbi Yitzchok Groner died just in time. He was a dominating figure in Melbourne’s Jewish world, a mountain of a man with inexhaustible energy, deep religious learning and a stare that stopped grown men in their tracks.

Rabbi Yitzchok Groner
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Rabbi Yitzchok Groner
As the Melbourne emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Groner’s authority was absolute. He spent 50 years building the Yeshivah sect into a wealthy, powerful and very private community of several hundred families living around a busy synagogue and thriving schools at a campus on Hotham Street, East St Kilda.

Yeshivah is ultra Orthodox: fundamentalist, intellectual and charismatic. God created the world in six days. Families are big. Sex is never discussed. Modesty is everything. Men and women mark their days with prayer and ritual. Instead of dying in the face of the modern world, old-fashioned, rule-bound Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism flourished.

Groner died in the winter of 2008, but his power didn’t die with him. To question his authority – indeed his saintliness – after his death, was considered a particularly grave sin among the Chabad. Protecting his memory were the rabbis he had trained and sent out into the wider Jewish world, and the interlocking mesh of Chabad families that seemed to make everyone at Yeshivah the son-in-law, nephew or sister of everyone else.

A couple of months after Groner’s death, news broke that David Kramer had been sentenced to seven years in prison in St Louis, Missouri, for molesting children at a youth camp where he was supposed to be teaching “Hot topics for Jewish teens”. The story died in Australia for the time being, but from this point, a number of Chabad leaders, teachers and parents knew an appalling scandal threatened Yeshivah.

Kramer had taught at the Yeshivah primary school in late 1989. The young American rabbi was immediately popular and immediately began molesting children. The number of his victims is not known, perhaps dozens, including two of the sons of Zephaniah Waks.

Waks was a most unwise man to cross. The Waks name is all through this story. Tenacity runs in the family. Half measures aren’t in their DNA. Their sense of right and wrong is strong and personal. As the father of 17 children, Zephaniah Waks had more than proved his dedication to Chabad. But in the end those children would mean more to him than any obligations to the sect.

Waks discovered the abuse in 1992. He says he complained to the principal of the Yeshivah school, Rabbi Abraham Glick. Within hours, Waks learned that Kramer had admitted the abuse. When he wasn’t fired, Waks says, he confronted Glick again, only to be told: “There is a danger of self-harm. So we can’t fire him.”

Glick doesn’t deny learning about Kramer at this point, but can’t recall discussing the teacher’s fate with Waks. He told the royal commission: “I think he had that conversation or a similar conversation most probably with someone else.”

Manny Waks
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Manny Waks and his father Zephaniah leave the county court in Melbourne. Photograph: Mal Fairclough/AAP
Waks was outraged by the failure to act. He didn’t call the police because at this time he had no doubt that doing so “would be in breach of the Jewish principle of mesirah”. This ancient rule, still alive among the followers of many faiths including Judaism, threatens believers with expulsion if they take crimes within the faith to the civil authorities.


Waks called a meeting of parents hoping to pressure the school to sack Kramer. Hours before it was due to begin, he was told Kramer had been dismissed. What he did not discover until years later was that Groner had given Kramer an air ticket to Israel, on condition he leave Australia immediately.

Another threat was looming at Yeshivah in those weeks. Police had discovered another paedophile active on the campus, a man whose abuse of Chabad children Groner appears to have known about for nearly a decade.

David Cyprys had been to school at St Kilda and never left. He hung around Yeshivah in various guises: as a helper at youth camps, security guard, locksmith and martial arts instructor. He had keys to the ritual bath, the mikveh, where he abused boys. He abused them in one-on-one kung fu lessons. He abused them at youth camps. He raped them in his van.


The earliest known complaint about Cyprys was in 1984. One victim and the father of another complained to the head of Chabad Youth. The father also confronted Groner, who promised to look after the matter and assured him his son was so young he wouldn’t need counselling. Years later the father would give evidence that from that time he didn’t hear another word from Groner.

Complaints about Cyprys kept coming. In 1986 Groner told a 30-year-old mother whose son was being abused: “Oh, no, I thought we cured him [Cyprys].” She trusted the rabbi’s assurances that all would now be well. A long time later she discovered the abuse of her son continued for another two years.

At the start of the summer holidays in late 1990, a scholarship boy with ambitions to be a rabbi arrived at St Kilda from interstate. He was 15 and very vulnerable. His mother was dying of leukaemia. There was no father in his life. This lonely kid, known at the royal commission as AVR, welcomed attention from Cyprys. “I thought he was a really cool guy,” he said. “He seemed genuinely interested in me.”

Cyprys repeatedly abused the boy for nine months. Found crying one day in the playground, AVR was taken home by a kindly family. His mother flew immediately to Melbourne. The boy told her something of the abuse but couldn’t mention the rapes. “She was quite sick and I thought that would push her over the edge.”

She rang Groner. AVR remembers them seeing the headmaster, Glick, next day and also telling him about Cyprys. But Glick would assure the royal commission he had no memory of the boy at the school at all; no memory of this exchange with him and his mother; and no knowledge of the allegations against Cyprys for something like a decade.


AVR was expelled from the school that day. “They did not want me there any more,” he told the commission. “They did not offer to help me or provide me with any counselling. From the time of the disclosure, no one associated with Yeshivah would speak to us or help us. Even our family members would not help us and we had a lot of trouble getting back to the airport and getting home.”

AVR and his mother went to the police. The case was looming over the St Kilda community as Kramer was given his air ticket to Israel. Cyprys was charged only with indecent assault, for the boy was still unable to talk about the rapes. Cyprys pleaded guilty in September 1992 and was fined $1,500. No conviction was recorded. Newspapers carried no reports of the case. Cyprys returned to his old stamping ground and his old ways.

‘I was lost in the only world I knew’

The wall of secrecy around the St Kilda community would not be breached for nearly 20 years. But witnesses told the royal commission that within the walls Cyprys’s brush with the law was common knowledge at the time.

Even so, no surviving Chabad leader has admitted knowing in the 1990s that the man they still trusted to help out at youth camps and give private kung fu lessons to 12-year-olds, had confessed to sexual assaults in a Melbourne court. This was despite Yeshivah being, in the words of Rabbi Glick, “so small that you can’t sneeze without everyone knowing it”.

The royal commission discovered another peculiarity: not a scrap of paper survived at the Yeshivah centre recording the allegations against Kramer, or his flight to Israel, or the multiple complaints against Cyprys which continued to land on Groner’s desk.

In 1996, Zephaniah Waks was appalled to discover another of his sons had been abused. Back from Israel for his sister’s wedding, Manny Waks had heard about Operation Paradox, the hotline for abuse victims run each year by Victoria police. In the history of combating abuse in many institutions and many faiths, Operation Paradox was to play an honoured role.

Manny told his father he had been abused for many years at Yeshivah, first by the son of a senior Chabad rabbi and then by Cyprys. He believes the abuse ruined his childhood. It was known in the playground, and he was mocked for being gay. He became wild and alienated from his schooling and his family. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah he had come to loathe the Chabad way of life. “I was lost,” he told the commission, “in the only world I knew.”

The police were called. Cyprys denied everything.

With the pluck so typical of his family, Manny confronted Groner in the street and told him of his abuse. “The conversation was a brief one,” he told the royal commission. “It seemed clear to me that Rabbi Groner was aware of the circumstances so there was very little I had to say. He said that Yeshivah was dealing with Cyprys and that I should not do anything of my own accord.”

Having finished his military service in Israel, Manny brought his wife home with him to Melbourne in 2000. They lived apart from the Chabad community but visits to his parents’ house for Sabbath took him past the Yeshivah centre, where it infuriated him to see Cyprys still on duty as a security officer
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“I recall many occasions when our eyes met while I was walking past,” he told the commission. “He seemed to deliberately smirk at me. Often he fixed his eyes on me and continued to smirk until I was forced to look away. To me his facial expression said: ‘We both know what I did, and I got away with it.’ ”

Once again, the young man confronted Groner. “How can you have this person here providing him access to children when you know what you know?” he asked the rabbi. In his evidence to the commission, Waks recalled Groner pleading with him not to pursue the matter.

“He said that he was taking care of it; Cyprys was getting professional help and, according to these professionals, was making improvements. My final question to Rabbi Groner was: ‘Can you assure me that Cyprys is not currently reoffending or that he will not reoffend in the future?’ To which Rabbi Groner responded: ‘No’. At this point I said I had to go, and I left.”

How many complaints Groner received about Cyprys will never be known. The last the commission examined was particularly heartbreaking. It came from the mother who first complained to the rabbi in 1986. Her son, now 30, had just told her his abuse continued for years after her meeting with Groner.

“You promised me you would take care of the matter and you didn’t and my son is suicidal,” she told the rabbi on the phone in 2002. According to the evidence she gave at the royal commission, Groner asked if her son was planning to go police. “I said: ‘Probably.’ And Rabbi Groner then said: ‘Well, what do you need me for?’ And I think we both hung up. I don’t recall who hung up first.”

Her son did go to the police, but his allegations were vague. He was coming down from years of heavy marijuana use and was, by his own account, all over the shop. The police case against Cyprys wasn’t closed but by 2003 it seemed to be getting nowhere.

That was the year Yeshivah says it cut its formal links with Cyprys. His security licence would say he was still employed there for many years, but Yeshivah says his services were terminated in 2003, not because of allegations of abuse, but late bills, illegible invoices and high prices. He was not shunned in the Orthodox community. On the contrary: he remained on the board of the Elwood synagogue and in 2006 became a director of the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria.


Groner was, by this time, very old but his immense authority in the Chabad community was unchallenged. He had determined that his successor would be his son-in-law, Zvi Telsner. When Groner died in 2008, honoured in the secular and religious press, Telsner inherited the post of chief rabbi.

He could not be sacked or directed or disciplined. He was in charge because Groner had put him there. His authority depended on the continued and unquestioned dedication of the sect to the memory of a man whose achievement would be questioned over the following years in the most mortifying way.

Not that Telsner, even today, has any doubts about the fundamental goodness of Rabbi Yitzchok Groner. “His sensitivity to every child was something which cannot be described,” he told the royal commission. “His whole life was taking care of children. Anyone who could think that he would want to harm any child in my estimation would be not only erroneous but just not acceptable, totally.”

A loathing for the exposure a police investigation might bring

With David Kramer due to be released from his St Louis prison in 2012, someone in Melbourne kept reminding the police about Yeshivah’s role in spiriting this paedophile out of the country years before.
For the first time, Victorian police began investigating Kramer and turned to Yeshivah for help. The school provided police with names and addresses of students at the school in Kramer’s time, and in the middle of June 2011, Telsner put a brief notice up on the wall of the synagogue urging parents to co-operate with the investigation.

The Chabad community was in an uncomfortable position. Only months before, the Orthodox rabbis of Victoria had made it clear that the old prohibition of mesirah did not apply to child abuse. Jews were not only free to take allegations of abuse to the police but the Rabbinical Council of Victoria declared that as a matter of Jewish law it was “obligatory to make such reports”.

Events would prove the Chabad community deeply divided over this fresh development. Some simply could not accept the right of the secular world to interfere in the affairs of the community. Others saw it was impossible to keep the police out but had little appetite for helping them. Widely felt in this private world was a loathing for the public exposure that investigation might bring.

For a time it was not known in the community that one of their own was helping the police. AVB finished his schooling in St Kilda, but had grown up in the sister Yeshivah community in Bondi. There as a boy in the 1980s he was abused by Daniel “Gug” Hayman, a major donor to that community. But AVB had also been abused by a youth leader who brought a party of Yeshivah students up from Melbourne, David Cyprys.

daniel gug hayman
Daniel Hayman leaves court in Sydney in June 2014 after pleading guilty to indecent assault. Photograph: AAP
AVB was puzzled by the list of students Yeshivah had given the police. “My name and address, my brothers’ names and addresses, and the names and addresses of many of my friends and classmates was not on it.” So he emailed his contacts within the Melbourne Chabad community, urging them to encourage and support victims who might be willing to speak to the police.


“Many in the community have been aware of these allegations for an extended period of time,” he wrote. “As parents and community members, we have a duty to confront sexual abuse in our community. Only this way, can we ensure that it never happens again.” He ended: “Ongoing silence is NOT an option.”

Retribution was swift. The day after the email went out, Telsner delivered a fiery sermon reminding his congregation of the false spies who condemned the people of Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness. AVB was not there. He soon heard about it. He assumed, and many in the community assumed, that Telsner was attacking him.

A few days later, Manny Waks was shocked to read in the Age a story that began: “Police are trying to breach a wall of secrecy at a private boys school in St Kilda East over allegations of sex crimes by a former teacher who is now in jail in the United States.”

The paper’s education editor, Jewel Topsfield, wrote of a community afraid to speak. One former student told her: “If you are labelled an informer it gives the family a bad name and makes it hard for children to get married … the issue is not just about the sexual abuse investigation, it is about the culture that enables it.”
Waks had his life back under control. At the age of 35 he was married, working in Canberra and a vice-president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He rang Topsfield. He knew this could be very difficult for his family. But he felt he had no choice but to take a leadership role in bringing this impasse to an end. He detailed Groner’s failures to act. He identified himself as a victim.

This blew the lid off the story and Chabad’s response was everything Waks feared. Zephaniah was attacked in the street. He and his father were denounced around the world in blogs and on Facebook. The terrible accusation moser – betrayer – was levelled against them. Documents that emerged at the royal commission suggest the accusation was also being made in email exchanges between rabbis and at meetings of the Yeshivah centre’s committee of management.

Zephaniah begged the Chabad leadership for help. He supported his son. He wanted a statement from them that neither Manny nor his family was to be blamed for him going public. “I am sick of being smeared, along with my family,” he wrote. “I attribute a lot of the problem to Yeshivah’s inaction, or worse, in this matter.”
No protection was offered.

Zephaniah sat in the synagogue as Telsner delivered another slashing sermon. “Who gave you permission to talk to anyone, which rabbi gave you permission?” Telsner asked. It was a week after Manny’s revelations in the Age. Victims must go to the police, said the rabbi, but the congregation must cease spreading loshen horah – false rumours – that Yeshivah and his father-in-law had failed to act. Accusations, he said, should first be brought to him, the rabbi.

Telsner named no names, but Zephaniah Waks had no doubt the rabbi was attacking his son. He and his wife, supported by a few friends, walked out of the synagogue. He then made notes of what he had just heard Telsner preaching: “The rabbis have the power to excommunicate people when they disobey the rabbis … the worst sin is besmirching the name of Rabbi Groner.” And: “In the last few weeks, people have argued about who I meant in my sermons. Now I am saying clearly: if you think it refers to you, it does. Don’t think it means someone else ... “

Telsner would admit in the witness box of the royal commission that he delivered this sermon at a time when many members of the Chabad community were reluctant to talk to the police. He would deny mentioning his father-in-law. He denied using the word excommunication. Above all, he denied his sermon was a personal attack on Manny Waks.


Honours previously shown to Zephaniah in the synagogue were withdrawn. He and the rabbi would sit there side by side for years, but Telsner never said anything that might reassure Waks that he and his family were not the target of that attack. “We had a very, shall we say, cool relationship,” the rabbi told the royal commission. “Therefore I didn’t think that actually speaking to him would clear up matters.”

As the shunning intensified, AVB and the Waks father and son made futile appeals to a number of Jewish organisations for support. Years later, senior Orthodox rabbis would say what AVB and Manny Waks had done was correct, even admirable. But at the time, none spoke out on their behalf. There was no one to condemn loshen horah when the targets were victims of abuse who had defied Chabad’s old code of silence.
The grip of that code still seemed strong in Sydney, where the Bondi Yeshivah was grappling with its parallel scandal: the failure to act on old allegations about the activities of Gug Hayman and a rabbinical student known at the commission as AVL.

One of Hayman’s many friends was the Sydney rabbi Yosef Feldman, son of Pinchus, the chief rabbi at Bondi, and Pnina, sister of both the legendary diamond explorer Joe Gutnick and one of the heroes of this story, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman
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Rabbi Yosef Feldman: ‘This was very wrong of me.’
Yosef emailed colleagues: “I really don’t understand why as soon as something of serious loshen horah is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities.”
When those emails were leaked to the Australian Jewish News, Feldman issued a statement that he did, indeed, support the official ruling that abuse must be reported to the police, and then stepped down as president of the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales.

He was furious with the paper. After meeting executives of the Jewish News, Feldman emailed a number of fellow rabbis to explain why the public attention being given to the troubles in Chabad caused him such disquiet: “I felt that the hype has been causing phoney attention seekers to come forward like Manny Waks and this should be stopped.”

Drowning in the witness box as he tried to explain that email, Feldman assured the commissioners he didn’t doubt Waks had been abused. “Phoney didn’t mean he’s not a genuine article.” The thing was, he hadn’t been raped. Before he left the box, the rabbi said: “This was very wrong of me.”

‘There is a tradition ... that you do not assist against Abraham’

Cyprys was charged a mere seven weeks after Waks went to the Age. He faced 16 counts of indecent assault and 13 counts of gross indecency involving 12 victims. At his bail hearing, Detective Senior Constable Lisa Metcher spoke of lies and cover-ups. She accused “high-standing members of the Jewish community” of protecting the accused paedophile. Police feared Cyprys’s supporters would help him flee the country.

AVB was there in court. He was seen talking to the police. The attacks on him in Chabad blogs redoubled. He was accused of lying, of inventing his abuse, of welcoming his abuse, of setting out to destroy the Yeshivah community. There were calls for his wife to be burnt as a witch.


“I was gut wrenched,” he told the royal commission. His boss was told. He feared losing his job. He heard that Cyprys’s lawyer at the bail hearing, Alex Lewenberg, was complaining about the help he was giving police. AVB rang the man and an authorised recording was made of a conversation in which Lewenberg accused AVB of being a moser.

“I am not exactly delighted,” said the lawyer, “that another Yid would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of. That is the reason why I was very disappointed, because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement, that you do not assist against Abraham.”

The charge list against Cyprys kept growing. He was eventually committed for trial on 41 charges – including rape – committed between 1982 and 1991. The magistrate took the opportunity to say the claim by the school’s headmaster, Rabbi Glick, that he had not known sexual abuse was occurring in his school in the 1980s was “unfathomable”.

Cyprys compelled his victims to give evidence of their rapes before a jury. He was found guilty of rape and subsequently pleaded guilty to 12 further charges and was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. Manny Waks was granted permission by the court to identify himself as a victim.

The Australian Jewish News carried a full page ad demanding Glick be stood down by Yeshivah. It didn’t happen. On advice from senior counsel, Yeshivah issued a very carefully worded apology: “We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologise for any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”

That’s as far as they were willing to go at that point: “May have occurred …”

Kramer was extradited from the US and pleaded guilty in July 2013 to molesting four boys at Yeshivah back in the early 1990s. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His own lawyer accused the school of covering up these crimes and helping his client flee the country. Yeshivah issued an unreserved apology “for not informing the police at the time the allegations arose”.

The parents of one of Kramer’s American victims alerted to Kramer’s fate by the Melbourne Herald Sun, were not impressed. They told the paper: “We arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the blood of our child . . . rests upon the head of those complicit in Kramer’s escape from justice.

“We call upon the Yeshivah centre to do the right thing: not by offering hollow, meaningless platitudes of ‘we’re sorry’, but to take concrete action by releasing from its employ all who were responsible for Kramer’s escape from justice.”


Telsner remains the spiritual leader

The witness stand of a royal commission is a cruel place for men of any faith. Cardinals and preachers are not used to being held to account. In their world, facts don’t necessarily matter. Belief is everything. Up against the law, compelled to answer, they find themselves trapped in daylight.
Over 10 long days of hearings in Melbourne, rabbi after rabbi apologised for the failings of the Chabad-Lubavitcher communities of St Kilda and Bondi. Some did so bluntly. Some only when they were cornered by tough questioning. Only Rabbi Moshe Gutnick seized the opportunity with gusto.
“I and many of my so-called ultra-Orthodox friends and colleagues share the outrage as to what has gone on here,” he told the commissioners. “I believe that the true tenets of Chabad, Judaism and Orthodoxy require that I and all Jews stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with, and in absolute full support of, the victims.”
He called those who went to the police heroes. Demands that dealing with child abuse should be left to rabbis he rejected as “a gross misuse of rabbinical power”. He condemned mesirah as a mechanism for maintaining control. “You threaten people with mesirah and they become intimidated and they stay underfoot.”

When he left the box, he embraced Manny Waks.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant made smooth headway in the witness stand until almost the end. The most senior rabbi in Australia said all the right things. His downfall came when he was read a message he had sent while watching online as Zephaniah Waks gave evidence a few days earlier.

“Zephaniah is killing us,” he messaged the editor of the Australian Jewish News. “Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?”

Pnina Feldman
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Pnina Feldman Photograph: AAP
Kluwgant resigned three days later as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia. He is also no longer chaplain to the Victorian police.


Gutnick’s nephew, Yosef Feldman, made such a hash of his appearance in the witness box that he lost yet another post. At one point he said he didn’t “have a clue” if an adult touching a child’s genitals might be a crime. His attempts to square the old prerogatives of the rabbis with modern demands for reporting to police were condemned by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry as repugnant. He resigned next day as a director of Yeshivah Sydney.

Feldman’s mother, Pnina, emailed Manny Waks last October: “Why do you keep highlighting Yeshiva?! … You need counselling! I haven’t met a person yet with one nice word to say about you. Most people consider you a lowlife – not because of any molestation, which wasn’t your fault, but because of your malicious blame game, which is unjust, unwarranted, undeserved and wicked.” She was not called to the commission to give evidence.

This week, Rabbi Glick resigned from his positions at Yeshivah College. He told the Age he felt the victims would want him to break all his links with his old school. “That’s where the abuse took place and it was under my leadership. I haven’t taken this lightly.”

But Zvi Telsner is still the spiritual leader of Melbourne’s Chabad community in St Kilda despite calls from many quarters in the Jewish community that he resign. To the end, he manfully claimed those famous sermons were not attacks on AVB and Manny Waks. It was all a misapprehension. Yes, he could have corrected that any time in the past three years in a heartbeat. No, he didn’t. For that failure and for any pain it caused, he wished to apologise.


Counsel for the Waks family, Melinda Richards, finished her withering examination of Telsner with a long question: “Rabbi, if the evidence of Zephaniah Waks and AVB is accepted in relation to the shunning, even if you didn’t do the shunning but you stood by whilst it was occurring, do you accept that you were complicit in the process of shunning that was undertaken by other members of your community?” Telsner replied: “I do.”
AVB remains, despite everything, a member of Telsner’s St Kilda community. He holds to his faith. He will not be budged.

Alex Lewenberg is practising law in Melbourne. The legal services commissioner, Michael McGarvie, will not comment on any disciplinary proceedings a lawyer may or may not be facing. He told Guardian Australia: “It is impermissible for lawyers to intimidate witnesses. That goes to the heart of the justice system and the role a lawyer plays as an officer of the court.”

Zephaniah Waks has broken with Chabad, trimmed his beard and put the St Kilda family home on the market. But how many Melbourne families need a house with 13 bedrooms and six kitchens? The target market is Yeshivah, directly over the road. They aren’t buying. Zephaniah and his wife are dividing their time between Israel and Australia, living outside the sect that was their shelter, their world for most of their lives.

Once the hearings were done, Manny Waks flew to his new home in France. “If it was up to my wife,” he told the commissioners as he fought his tears, “we would have left a long time ago.” Before he flew out he met, at their invitation, five of Rabbi Groner’s children who wished to apologise to him for the abuse and the cover-ups in their father’s time at Yeshivah.


That last meeting capped a fortnight of remarkable victories that have left Waks feeling profoundly vindicated. But he does not believe the saga is over. He is calling for the complete renewal of the leadership of Yeshivah in St Kilda and Bondi – starting with Telsner: “For the pain and suffering he has caused to so many people over the years he must resign. He has brought the entire Jewish community into disrepute.”
And Waks is still waiting for an apology from the peak Jewish bodies which did not stand up for him and the other victims. “They must apologise not just for the abuse, not just for the cover-ups. They left us out to dry.”

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/feb/19/rabbis-absolute-power-how-sex-abuse-tore-apart-australias-orthodox-jewish-community