Australia’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is being shaken by revelations of child sexual abuse at two yeshivas, efforts to cover up such crimes and retaliation against those who dare to go public.
The revelations are coming out at hearings by a government commission that has been looking into the abuse of children in a range of religious institutions, and turned its attention this week to the Yeshiva centers in Sydney and Melbourne.
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The first three days of the commission’s latest inquiry “have been heartbreaking, horrifying and, critically, have presented a harsh reality that the community must hear”, the Australian Jewish News said.
During their testimony before the commission, victims broke down in tears as they explained the impact that the abuse and the community’s reaction have had on their lives, ranging from drug addiction to thoughts of suicide, the News said.
A victim of abuse at the Yeshiva Center in Bondi said the center’s leaders knew at least one of his attackers had a history of abuse but failed to stop him, and that many in the community, including senior leaders, turned on him when he reported his abuse as an adult, according to Australia’s ABC Radio.
The witness who has only been identified as AVB said he was sexually assaulted by two men associated with the center. One was the now jailed pedophile David Cyprys, who abused AVB when he was about 11 in a classroom at the centre, while the other was Daniel Hayman, who AVB said organised youth activities at Yeshiva Bondi, the report said.
AVB said that he didn’t tell anyone about the abuse for 20 years, but he decided to report it to police after discovering there were other victims. However, he said that has been bullied, intimidated and ostracized by many in the Yeshivah community for reporting his abuse, ABC said.
David Cyprys is in jail for offences he committed against Yeshivah children, while Daniel Hayman was given a suspended 19 month sentence last year for his aggravated assault on AVB.
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, a senior Chabad leader in Sydney and the head of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, told the commission that “a culture of cover-up, often couched in religious terms, pervaded our thinking and our actions.” He added that those who reported abuse were labeled mosers (“informers”), and subjected to social ostracism, according to The Guardian.
Gutnick said that he’s always been of the view that child sexual abuse allegations must be reported to the police and the Jewish belief of “Mesirah” – that Jews can’t report fellow Jews to the police – didn’t apply in such cases.
“Those who do so should be considered heroes and should have the full and complete absolute support of every single member of the community”, he said.
Testifying before the commission earlier this week, victim’s rights advocate Manny Waks, who was himself sexually abused as a student in a Chabad school, recounted how his parents were pushed out of the community for supporting his decision to go to the media with his story, the Jerusalem Post said.
The wife of another victim told the commission that “as a spouse of a victim and whistle blower, I feel hated and isolated” and that she had “lost faith in the leadership of the Jewish community, ” the Australian Jewish News reported.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria, meanwhile, issued a statement saying, “We are following the proceedings of the Royal Commission closely by livestream and we are all devastated by any and every case of child abuse”, the News said.
The latest hearings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began on Monday and are scheduled to last until the end of next week.