When has a purpose been served?

An event is advertised as follows:

What: On July 8 2011, Jewel Topsfield wrote a story naming prominent Community leader, Manny Waks as a victim of sexual abuse at a Melbourne Jewish school. The report gave a name and a face to the victims of the abuse, and was instrumental in enabling other victims to come forward with their stories. Inevitably the coverage also ignited debate about the way the Jewish Community handles sexual abuse and about Manny’s decision to take his story to the press.Shira is pleased to be hosting a forum with Manny

Waks and Jewel Topsfield where they will explain their roles in the breaking of the story and issues surrounding the treatment of child sexual abuse in the Jewish Community and the media. The session will be facilitated by Ashley Browne.When: Lunch will be held following the conclusion of Services at 12pm and the forum will begin at 12:30pm.—-
Manny Waks was born in Israel but raised mostly in Melbourne, Australia. He is the second oldest of 17 children in a Chabad family. Manny voluntarily served in an elite unit in the Israel Defence Forces and subsequently returned to Australia where he obtained a degree in international relations. In 2006 he was appointed Executive Officer at the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission. He commenced his current position in the Australian Government’s Office of Transport Security in 2009.Manny is Immediate Past President of the Canberra Jewish Community, former Vice President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and former Governor of the New South Wales Jewish Communal Appeal Board of Governors. Manny is the Founder and President of the Capital Jewish Forum and a Director of the Online Hate Prevention Institute. He is also a member of the PresenTense 2012 Global Institute Committee, He is a public campaigner against child sexual abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community. Manny is married and has three children.Jewel Topsfield is the education editor at The Age. She has been a journalist at The Age since 2004, reporting on education, immigration, the environment and Indigenous affairs. She also spent three years in the Press Gallery in Canberra reporting on federal politics. Prior to The Age, Jewel worked as a journalist for Australian Associated Press, the Melbourne Times and various publications in South Australia.Ashley Browne has worked as a journalist and editor in newspapers, online media, books and magazines for more than twenty years. He was national editor of the Australian Jewish News from March 2007 until August 2009. Ashley is now a senior writer with AFL Media and is a teaching associate at the journalism school at Monash University’s Caulfield campus.

Now, I have some credibility on the issue of Jewish Abuse. Manny certainly is aware of my work behind the scenes in attempting to make sure that
  • (most importantly) children are safe(r)
  • perpetrators of abuse are brought to justice
  • all those in a supervisory position are (re)educated about the importance of immediately referring alleged abuse to the correct authorities
  • the community is desensitised to the stigma that is inevitably attached to both victims and those who are brave enough to refer perpetrators to the authorities
  • all support and encouragement is given to those who have been victims and indeed those (very few) who have been accused but cleared of wrongdoing

All those points aside, my opinion is simply just that; an opinion. You can take it or leave it, as always.

I am confident that our community has reached a cross-road. When I say, our community, I refer to all groups with the possible exception of two related Charedi sub-groups, in the sense that they have not yet been able to face the demons created by the despicable Malka Laufer. The word on the street is that the police are very much pursuing this woman, and one would hope that she is brought to justice soon(er).
I have witnessed incredible change within the Yeshivah Centre. Here I am not referring to issues of formal apologies and the disenfranchisement of people/families. Those issues are complex and most certainly will not be addressed or helped by such forums. As important as those issues are, my number one concern is that Schools, all schools, now have proper procedures in place, and that they educate and re-educate all their staff and students about dangers of potential child molestation. Having personally been privy to programs put in place by Rabbi Smukler, for example, I am confident that a new broom has been inaugurated, and as a parent (and soon grandparent) of children attending those Schools, a repeat of the type of incident currently before the courts is most unlikely to recur.
It’s important that we focus on the main issue. It isn’t just an issue with one perpetrator, as heinous as his alleged crimes would indicate. It’s about the future, and ensuring that those accused who have not been brought to justice, face their demons. Sadly, in the case before the courts, and of which Manny is one of the victims, the alleged perpetrator still lives in a fool’s paradise and still doesn’t realise the gravity of the allegations. His poor parents and wider family unnecessarily suffer because of his single-minded Akshanus. I’m no expert, but I wonder whether this is also part of his illness. The first step towards dealing with one’s sins is being able to give voice, formal voice, to the wrongs one has done. That is embodied in Hilchos T’Shuva in the Rambam, and as we have started blowing Shofar today on Rosh Chodesh Ellul, it is particularly timely and germane.
To be fair, there is a purpose to airing dirty linen. The purpose should be, in my view, to allow the aforementioned bullet points become a reality. When abuse remains hidden, many of those bullet points cannot adequately be addressed. Of course, it’s certainly not a “feature” of one group alone.
What about other types of dirty linen?
How many mothers and fathers have had extra-marital affairs which have resulted in the children of such marriages suffering for the rest of their lives because those marriages have decomposed? Will these forums also highlight the grave and current problem we have dealing with one of the ten commandments? I’m decidedly not saying that indirect abuse is the same as direct abuse, but such sexual encounters
  • cause life changing, and immeasurable pain
  • are a scourge that must be addressed

Will we see forums which encourage children whose lives have been subject to upheaval because one or both of their parents succumbed to moments of weakness resulting in the destruction of their previously safe, happy and nurturing family life? Will a set of men and women who have perpetrated such sins be named? Will their dirty linen be aired? I think not. Furthermore, I don’t think it would serve any positive purpose. Note: that’s not to say all forums don’t have a purpose, a useful purpose. I’m just asking whether in this particular instance, whether that purpose has been served many times over, in the press and on radio.

In a different way, I do not think forums like this, especially given the state of where we are at, will serve the most useful outcome. Education, education and more education: I mean formal programs. These are the challenges that we must now confront. Each School, each Shule, each youth movement, and of course each home must ensure that educators, children and leaders are empowered to “do the right thing” and if and when God forbid, some low life attempts to do harm, we have a well-oiled mechanism created by educational programs which will deal with the issue quickly and fairly.
Groups such as the Jewish Taskforce against Violence to Women (whose job encompasses education as a major mantra) are fantastic, and they should be praised for their hard and thankless work. It is these groups, and others like them, that ought to be our focus. Join them. Donate to them. Support them.
Our dirty linen has been aired. We now await justice. Justice from the courts will have an enormous impact, and our linen will be aired once more as a side effect.
FInally, be warned if you comment on this issue. I am unlikely to allow names to be mentioned. Be respectful.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

8 thoughts on “When has a purpose been served?”

  1. Dear Isaac,
    I beg to differ with you on the matter of……….. witnessing incredible change……..
    Children pick up from their parents when the parents are “fair dinkum” & when they are not “fair dinkum”.It is not so much what is said but how it is said.Words spoken from the heart touch the heart.I have heard heartfelt passionate & compelling drashas on the subjects of kashrut,tzedaka, & many other themes.I have not yet heard such on this subject at hand.The community “picks up” what is what by listening to passionate “words spoken from the heart” as I said above.
    No Isaac there is no meeting of the minds yet & I do not see it happening any time soon.I hope to be proven wrong

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  2. While you have made clear your belief that the forthcoming forum will serve little purpose, I fail to understand its relevance to your “discomfort” of Shira Chadasha as an Orthodox kehillah. While I also perceive issues with the adherence of this Shule to Torah Judaism, this has nothing to do with a forum it is holding on sexual abuse in the community. Many other shuls also hold “secular” fora on controversial issues, none of which impacts on their modus operandi as traditional shuls.

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    1. There is no connection. I’m just discomfited by a non Mesorah manifestation of Judaism. I should have left that out. Expectedly, people will focus on it. Actually I’ll remove the reference now so they focus.

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  3. Bruce,
    You are well aware of what Rabbi Smukler is doing and are impressed by it. Enough said.

    Yes Isaac.However R Smukler does not give drashas in the main Shul on Shabbat or any other time.It is the Rabbi who gives the drasha on Holy days in the main Shul who is the face of the Yeshiva.It is that Rabbi who needs to get the correct message across.It is that Rabbi I was referring to.

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    1. Bruce, it’s what happens that counts. The policy counts. Imagine the other way around. A figurehead says have sound policies and the person responsible for policy implementation ignores it.
      I know which is important,

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  4. The issue of sexual violence is being discussed and debated in every orthodox community around the world.Victims are coming forward on a near daily basis.
    Here in the United States some communities are addressing the issue more openly than others.
    We in Lubavitcher need to be actively involved in assisting the victims and ostracizing the perpetrators.
    Further when necessary we should help the victims financially so they can access the best therapists in the field and retain the best lawyers to help them in prosecute their assailant.

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    1. There are many closed communities that haven’t confronted their demons.

      As I said a few nights ago to Rabbi Reichik at a Sheva Brachos, perhaps one of the prime reasons Hashem oversaw the manifestation of the Internet was to protect children from the psychologically disturbed and evil perpetrators. We have a long way to go however and we need more awareness and education. My comments however in my blog post are decidedly on the specifics of our local issue. I’m informed that curiously some respondents have chosen to comment on a forum which I don’t use rather than my blog. Pity.

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