"I am bitterly disappointed to share that due to the ongoing harassment, intimidation and discrimination from leaders and members of the Yeshivah Centre, which has effectively led to my parents’ excommunication from their community of almost 30 years (carried out by Yeshivah leaders and most of its members), my parents (Zephaniah and Chaya Waks) have made the difficult decision to sell their family home and relocate.…"
Manny Waks writes:
Manny explains what he means by Chabad's "racist taunts and violence":
I am bitterly disappointed to share that due to the ongoing harassment, intimidation and discrimination from leaders and members of the Yeshivah Centre, which has effectively led to my parents’ excommunication from their community of almost 30 years (carried out by Yeshivah leaders and most of its members), my parents (Zephaniah and Chaya Waks) have made the difficult decision to sell their family home and relocate. My parents will now spend half of the year in Israel, and as they own a wig business in Melbourne, they will live in an apartment near their shop (located some distance away from the Yeshivah community) for the periods they will be in Australia.
Their home, my childhood home, was officially put on the market yesterday.
It is a sad day when the bullies, especially those cloaked in religion, have had such a major impact as to force a family to leave their home. However, thankfully my parents have not given up the fight and they will continue to be vocal about the issue of child sexual abuse. Importantly, they will continue to hold the Yeshivah Centre to full account in any way they can, including through the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
After years of service to the Yeshivah community (e.g. my mother was President of N’shei Chabad “Women of Chabad” for a few years and my parents regularly hosted countless people for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays), less than a handful of community members have stood by them. This is an indictment of the Yeshivah/Chabad community.
But then again, I guess my parents’ farewell is as bright as their welcome was to the Yeshivah community some 30 years ago. It commenced with racist taunts and violence[…]and is concluding with bullying and excommunication. Sadly, the modus operandi of the Yeshivah community and its leaders seems to have remained unchanged in at least three decades.
But they will need to answer for this – to their conscience, the community, and ultimately, when they meet their Creator.
I have no doubt that justice will prevail.
…Last year I was humbled to have been asked to join other global leaders to write a chapter for a prestigious book entitled ‘The Book of Faith’, which is due to be published in the next year or so. Recent developments have prompted me to post a short but important paragraph from my draft:
‘Similarly, due to the colour of our skin, my family’s experience of ongoing outright racism targeting us children, including through the use of violence, by numerous members of the Habad community would also have impacted my attitude towards my faith.’
I was born in Israel in 1976 to a mother of Yemenite descent and an Australian-born (Ashkenazi) father who was a ba’al-teshuvah (a person who embraces Orthodox Judaism later in life). I arrived in Sydney, my dad’s hometown, with my parents and seven siblings in 1984 (at the age of seven). About 18 months later we relocated to Melbourne for my dad’s work. Along the way more children were born and there are now seventeen of us.
At that time, I cannot recall any other dark-skinned members of the Yeshivah (Chabad) community. We were it. We were different. And to a community in which yichus (lineage – in this context, preferably a Chabad ancestry) is such a central concept, boy did they let us know.
Immediately upon our arrival, still very visibly Israeli, we were referred to as “DIBs” (Dirty Israeli Bastards) and monkeys. Other profanities were constantly thrown our way. Then it became physical. I was the oldest boy with five boys immediately after me. I would have been around 9-10 years old. I vividly recall that each and every weekend on Sabbath afternoon – ironically in between and during the prayer services – we were bullied, vilified and beaten. In one particular and shocking incident, I recall that one of my younger siblings was thrown into a rubbish bin. The abuse was carried out by kids our own age and kids who were much older.
At one point we decided enough was enough and started standing up for ourselves.
Lest you think that only children were involved, I can assure you that many adults were aware of this open racism. In fact, some outrightly participated. One shocking incident has never escaped my mind. One of my younger siblings responded to the ongoing racism by fighting back and ultimately hurting a child. This child’s father, a prominent member of the Yeshivah community, grabbed my brother who was standing fairly close to me, and physically flung him over several meters to the side entrance of Yeshivah, where what I would describe as a mob was standing beneath the stairs. The father, red in the face from anger and still holding my small, defenceless brother by the scruff of the neck while shaking him, was yelling profanities about our family. I was watching all of this unfold from the side. I was mortified. I was angry. No one intervened. Not any children. Not any adults. Rather, the response was a continuous war cry against my family.
I recall subsequently sharing this incident with my dad who was inside the synagogue praying. It was later that evening that for the first time ever I witnessed my dad crying. He called my mum into a private section of our house and, as the oldest boy, he asked me to join them. In tears, we conveyed to my mother what had transpired that afternoon. My parents were aware of what was happening each weekend but this was breaking point. It was devastating to say the least. After this incident, my dad approached Rabbi Groner to try to take the person to a Din Torah (Jewish Court) but apparently Rabbi Groner refused to do anything.
At some stage, our post-army cousin came to visit us from Israel. I recall one incident in which he physically responded to a physical assault on one of my siblings. His presence and reaction gave us the additional confidence we needed to respond. Which we did, and soon after, the physical assaults stopped. Ultimately, the verbal abuse also stopped.
Years later, in discussing these experiences with my mother, she shared with us her devastation at waiting at home (which is literally across the road from Yeshivah) every Sabbath afternoon for at least one of her kids to run back home crying with an injury (physical or otherwise) or with other hurtful information. She recollected how her stomach used to turn during those long afternoons.
One sibling recalls being referred to as a teacher’s “favourite Abo”. Another was repeatedly called an “Abo” by another adult member of the community. At least two younger siblings recently shared with me how they wished they were white due to the constant racial vilification.
I recognise that aspects of my childhood were tough, but there are children in far worse situations. Perhaps it’s the resilience in me that allows me to move forward confidently. Perhaps it’s also my experiences that contributed to my level of resilience.
While I am critical of many attitudes and practices within the ultra-Orthodox community, as I’ve repeatedly mentioned elsewhere, I also respect a lot of what they have done and continue to do for the Jewish community. However, in my opinion, the fundamental issue with the ultra-Orthodox community is that there is a refusal to accept the deep flaws that exist within this community. In this context, please see this very insightful and powerful presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVhtrHE6SjE&feature=youtu.be (I recommend watching the entire clip, however especially minutes 17-21 relate to this point).
Ultimately, the main point of this post is to highlight another deep-rooted flaw within this community in order to further instigate genuine self-reflection, which will hopefully lead to fundamental and sustainable changes. When a community chooses to preach, it must also practise that which it preaches. Fundamental religious principles taught in the ultra-Orthodox classrooms were, and are, all too frequently breached. Sadly, the hypocrisies are pervasive. It is time to ensure attitudes and actions are changed in order to prevent a repeat of what has transpired here and in other places, literally for decades. It is time to live by example. The disingenuous "holier than thou" attitude must cease immediately. That’s a good place to start.