"…I would like to reiterate Yeshivah Centre’s unreserved and repeated apologies for the mishandling of past cases of child abuse. Many lessons have been learned, and we continue to offer support and counselling to those affected. We encourage anyone who is in need of support to contact, in strict confidence, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner…" [the son of the man who led the decades long abuse coverup and who was awful to victims and their families. Chaim Tzvi Groner has never admitted the wrong his father did let alone repudiate it.]
Just before Shabbos, Chabad's Yeshivah College issued a deceptive but still interesting letter about the Compass TV documentary on child sex abuse in Chabad's Yeshivah Centre the aired last week, of which the Yeshivah College and Beth Rivka schools are a part.
While accepting some guilt for decades of abuse at Yeshivah College, if fails to assign blame to the leadership of Yeshivah Centre which orchestrated those coverups and unnecessarily exposed hundreds of children to danger and some to actual sexual abuse.
And while it talks about the good marks Yeshiva College and Beth Rivka recently got from the Victorian (i.e., Melbourne and vicinity) government's review of its child sex abuse policies, it fails to address the harassment of victims and their families (and by this, I mean multiple victims and multiple families, not just the Manny Waks and his family) or any of the truly awful things Chabad as a community is still doing to victims.
In its own way, that Victorian government authority is also culpable.
Giving an institution like Yeshivah College and Beth Rivka a glowing letter without taking into account what takes place in the synagogue there and in the offices and in the camp and in extra curricular youth groups is, quite frankly, asinine.
Do you think a kid who listens to teachers and community leaders badmouth victims and harass them is going to report abuse? Do you think a kid who has seen a teacher or leader act inappropriately even in a nonsexual way will report it when it means their parents and siblings will face unending harassment?
Of course not.
A government with a grasp of these issues would know that and would respond honestly but still appropriately. But as is all too common in Australia, that government (and for that matter, that judiciary) does not exist.
Here is the Yeshivah – Beth Rivkah Colleges letter followed by a response from Tzedek's Manny Waks – himself a victim of child sex abuse at Yeshivah Centre. Note that the person Yeshivah Centre wants victims to contact for counseling is Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, the son of the man who led the abuse coverup for two decades and who was awful to victims and their while he did it. Chaim Tzvi Groner has never admitted the wrongs his father did, let alone repudiate them:
Dear YBR Parents,
I am writing in reference to an important discussion, in relation to Child Protection matters, that has arisen after Tuesday night’s screening of the ABC Compass program.
I would like to reiterate Yeshivah Centre’s unreserved and repeated apologies for the mishandling of past cases of child abuse. Many lessons have been learned, and we continue to offer support and counselling to those affected. We encourage anyone who is in need of support to contact, in strict confidence, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner on: Rabbi.Groner@yeshivahcentre.org
Today YBR Colleges employ absolute best practice and prioritises child safety. Through training, we create a vigilant staff, empower our children, and partner with and increase awareness in our parent body. We also work closely with community agencies and the authorities in order to keep our children safe.
All registered school in Victoria are regulated by the VRQA – the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. The VRQA ensures Victorian Schools comply with quality assurance standards in education and management.
Below are the concluding remarks of the VRQA findings in a recent audit of our school’s handling and prevention of Child Abuse:
“Both the representative from Child Protection in the DHS and the Victoria Police SANO Taskforce officer endorsed your leadership and professionalism in the context of child protection at Yeshivah College. The representative from Child Protection found that the College liaises well and is responsive to approaches by DHS.
The senior SANO Taskforce officer contacted by the VRQA indicated that officers have visited the school to view the schools policies, procedures and educational initiatives in the area of child protection and have found them to be appropriate. He found you and the College to be excellent to deal with in such matters and has found that the College has been transparent in directly addressing past issues of abuse with the school community.
I am satisfied that the College has appropriate and effective policies and practices for ensuring that all adults who may come in contact with children in the College have either Victorian Institute of Teaching registration or a current Working With Children Check.
As a result of my enquiries I am satisfied that Yeshivah College, a registered school under the Act , is compliant with the minimum standards relating to Student Welfare , Mandatory Reporting and Working With Children checks.
I am satisfied that the College has extensive education processes in place to ensure the safety of all children within its responsibility . I am also satisfied that the current leadership of the school has explicitly acknowledged sexual abuse issues of the past and continues to work with the whole school community to strengthen child protection in the school community .
I am also satisfied that the College works actively and professionally with the Department of Human Services and Victoria Police in the interests of child protection in the College community.
Finally, thank you and your school community for your cooperation with the VRQA in the investigation of this matter.
Signed: Lynn Glover, Director (of the VRQA)”
YBR Colleges are in the forefront of keeping children safe.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our parents for your ongoing support in entrusting us with the education of your children. Our door is always open and we welcome parents to contact us at all times.
Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler
Principal Yeshivah – Beth Rivkah Colleges
Manny Waks response:
"The issues raised in the ABC Compass program ‘Code of Silence’ are in relation to the Yeshivah Centre organisation. On Friday there was a statement issued by Principal of Yeshivah College, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler. Yeshivah College and its Principal represent the College, which is only one entity of the Yeshivah Centre organisation. It is important to note that the statement, as issued by the College, is not representative of all entities that constitute the whole of the Yeshivah Centre organisation.
In response to the documentary there has been overwhelmingly supportive feedback from within the Jewish community (and the broader Australian community), including, importantly, from within the broader Chabad and Yeshivah community. I applaud and thank those many community members who have contacted me, especially those from the Yeshivah community who have, upon reflection, approached me expressing a genuine understanding for the issues at hand.
In response to the issues raised in the Compass program in relation to the Yeshivah Centre, the statement from Yeshivah College fails to address the main issues of concern, namely justice and accountability. The management that was in place at the time of the abuse and cover-ups, is still in place at the Yeshivah Centre today. It is a gross injustice, and of great concern, that people who still hold senior leadership positions within the Yeshivah Centre have not been held to account in any way, shape or form for what transpired under their watch – this includes both the ongoing abuse and the subsequent cover-ups.
The manner in which the Yeshivah Centre (including the Yeshivah College as one of its entities) chooses not to hold the leadership accountable for their damaging decisions, highlights a lack of ownership, sincerity and concern for victims and survivors. Many of the Yeshivah Centre and College victims and survivors expect to see accountability. Indeed the broader community expects this as well.
The Yeshivah Centre leadership must be the entity that addresses this issue. It would be most appropriate if any Yeshivah statement addressing this was issued by its long-standing Chairman, Mr Don Wolf, who was also present during the time of at least some of the abuse and cover-ups.
While it is a welcome development to see Yeshivah College offering support services to those who have been impacted by child sexual abuse, it is important to add that it is not ideal for victims and survivors within such a community to be directed only to a rabbi with particularly strong affiliations (and family ties) throughout the Yeshivah Centre and community, as this will deter many victims and survivors from seeking the support they require. It is of great importance that victims are also referred to independent and unaffiliated contacts.
Regarding the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) feedback referred to in the College’s statement, it is crucial to again highlight the difference between the Yeshivah Centre organisation and the Yeshivah College. It is crucial to highlight that the VRQA feedback refers only to the College (the school), not to the Yeshivah Centre organisation with its affiliated entities.
I understand that acting for the benefit of victims/survivors, justice and accountability, the Yeshivah Centre will be held to account through the ongoing work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as well as the various civil cases that are currently underway.
The Yeshivah leadership remains silent, while some of its representatives and/or members disseminate unsubstantiated private opinions and disinformation on unrelated grievances. Such silence does not do the Centre any credit.
I reiterate my long-standing willingness and desire to engage with anyone from the Yeshivah community in an honest and respectful manner. Once the civil proceedings have been concluded, I would again invite the Yeshivah Centre leadership to engage in a constructive process with me – an invitation they have declined on numerous occasions."