Child sex abuse scandals roil Australia’s Jewish community

Manny Waks as a student at Yeshivah College in Melbourne in 1988. (Creative Commons)

Manny Waks as a student at Yeshivah College in Melbourne in 1988. (Creative Commons)

Manny Waks claiming in 2011 that he was molested at Melbourne's Yeshivah College more than two decades ago when he was a student there.  (Tony Fink)

Manny Waks claiming in 2011 that he was molested at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College more than two decades ago when he was a student there. (Tony Fink)

SYDNEY (JTA) — Another major Jewish organization in Australia is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal, adding to the trauma triggered by recent revelations of similar cases involving students at schools in Melbourne run by Chabad-Lubavitch and Adass Israel.

The name of the latest organization, alleged sexual abuser and alleged victims cannot be disclosed because of a suppression order issued by an Australian court. The case involves a man facing more than 25 counts of child sex abuse, including indecent acts with a minor and sexual intercourse with a child.

The defendant, who is not believed to be Jewish, has entered a not guilty plea in Melbourne Magistrates Court. He is scheduled to return to court in December, with a trial date expected to be set for next year. The alleged sexual abuse is understood to have taken place during an overseas trip about a decade ago.

A representative of the Office of Public Prosecutions confirmed to the Forward newspaper, which first reported this story on Saturday, that there are multiple complainants. Not all of them are believed to be Jewish.

Manny Waks, who broke his silence last year about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered two decades ago as a student at Chabad’s Yeshivah College, said, “It’s devastating to learn of the additional serious allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-up within our community. These new revelations highlight that instances of child sexual abuse are not unique to one segment within our community.”

News of the latest scandal came just days after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for a royal commission of inquiry into the “insidious evil acts” of institutional child sexual abuse across religious denominations in Australia. Royal commissions are established in Australia when the judicial system is deemed to have failed. Although the terms of reference have yet to be finalized, they have powers of subpoena.

While the Catholic Church has borne the brunt of the media’s spotlight here, news broke in 2008 of sexual abuse in the Jewish community with allegations against Malka Leifer, former principal of the Adass Israel girls’ school. The chief rabbi of Adass Israel, Avraham Zvi Beck, and other officials have been accused of helping Leifer flee Australia for her native Israel as soon as the allegations emerged that year within the tightly knit, non-Zionist, Yiddish-speaking community. Leifer denies the charges.

Last year, claims also emerged of alleged child sex abuse in the 1980s involving 12 Yeshivah College students, three of whom now reside in the United States.

David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, will stand trial in July on 41 counts of child sex abuse, including child rape. He has pleaded not guilty.

Another alleged perpetrator, David Kramer, is a former teacher at Yeshivah College, which is part of the Chabad movement’s Yeshivah Centre. Kramer is awaiting extradition from America, where he was jailed in 2008 for molesting a 12-year-old boy in a St. Louis synagogue. In October, a U.S. judge approved the extradition order to Melbourne, where he is wanted by police investigating claims that he molested four boys attending Yeshivah College between 1989 and 1992.

“We understand why Julia Gillard made that decision, but we are nervous for certain people in our community,” said Timmy Rubin, a Lubavitcher who runs a mikvah in Melbourne that some Adass women attend. “Some people are really nervous because 25 years ago, they probably did the wrong thing.

“With Adass, the problem is that nobody pressed charges, and that’s why she got away with it. People whose daughters were mucked around with were furious, but they were scared to press charges because they didn’t want their girls to be shamed in the community — that’s the real tragedy.”

Shlomo Boruch Abelesz, a former secretary of the Adass Israel community, said, “The fact that there don’t seem to have been any abuse claims for a number of years now shows that the Jewish schools have tackled it and cleaned up their act.”

In the Yeshivah College case, it is alleged that Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the Brooklyn-born chief rabbi of Chabad in Melbourne until his death in 2008, helped cover up allegations of child sex abuse and gave alleged perpetrators the option to flee the country or be reported to authorities.

Many inside the Chabad community say that Groner’s reputation has been besmirched by the sex abuse scandal, especially since he cannot defend himself. Groner was sent by the Lubavitcher rebbe to Melbourne in 1958 and is widely credited with putting Chabad on the map in Australia, building a network of educational, religious and outreach institutions.

The royal commission may summon Rabbi Avrohom Glick, the principal of Yeshivah College at the time of most of the alleged offenses. In his original statement, Glick said he had only recently become aware of the accusations about Cyprys, but in May he changed his story under oath, admitting that he was in fact aware of rumors in the early 2000s.

Magistrate Luisa Bazzani sharply questioned even Glick’s revised position, saying it was “unfathomable” that he was not aware of the alleged abuses in the 1980s.

A senior member of the Orthodox community in Melbourne who spoke on condition of anonymity said the rabbis in Chabad and Adass “who knew of cases and turned a blind eye, or didn’t bring them to the attention of the authorities, will be named and shamed. It’s absolutely inexcusable.”

The current Yeshivah College principal, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, issued a statement commending Gillard’s appointment of a commission.

“Child abuse is abhorrent and has traumatic consequences for victims and their families,” he said. “Yeshivah takes child protection very seriously and will fully cooperate with the royal commission and continue to act vigilantly to eradicate abuse.”

But Waks, who has become an unofficial spokesman for the alleged victims, was underwhelmed.

“The Yeshivah leadership has excelled in doublespeak: They inform the public that they are cooperating fully with the relevant authorities, yet in private they are engaged in the most vile and irreligious acts,” he told the media.

Waks, who claims that his family has been victimized by fellow Lubavitchers critical of his public exposure, said that more alleged victims have come forward.

“I’m receiving more and more allegations of child sexual abuse coming from the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth Jewish communities,” he said.

The sexual abuse scandals have triggered a flurry of online debate. In one post, a blogger wrote, “In each case, the rabbis of the respective [Chabad and Adass] community were approached by victims. In each case, there was discussion by the victims about going to the police. In each case, the respective rabbi said the victims and their families are prohibited from doing so.”

But in a Nov. 14 statement, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria backed the commission, saying that it “reminds the community that alleged halachic reasons to refrain from reporting abuse to the police or other relevant authorities are completely without foundation.”

NEXT STORY