Intervention of World Headquarters of Jewish movement angers sexual assault victims

By Simon Lauder (The World Today)
February 4, 2016

ELEANOR HALL: An advocate for Austalians who were abused at a Melbourne Jewish school is expressing outrage that the global headquarters of the orthodox Jewish movement is trying to intervene in the Australian school's response to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

The New York-based office of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has written to the trustees of the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre, warning that it won't accept any change to the authority under which the centre was established.

In Melbourne, Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Manny Waks was sexually abused at Melbourne's ultra-orthodox Yeshivah College over several years in the 1980s and '90s.

He has criticised the New York based Chabad headquarters for its lack of response to the sexual abuse revelations.

Now he's furious that a senior Rabbi from headquarters has written to the Yeshivah Centre trustees with a stern warning about its plans for reform.

MANNY WAKS: They are saying that this is their institution. They call the shots. That's what they're saying.

They're saying 'You guys, Yeshiva centre in Melbourne, stop what you're doing now. We're coming to take over. You have no authority to make any changes. We will come and we will set up a subcommittee to address everything and we will work with you but ultimately, we are the ones that call the shots.'

SIMON LAUDER: The letter, which was sent last week, says a proposed restructure of the Yeshivah Centre has caused considerable alarm.

It warns there can't be any change to the overarching authority and asks the centre to delay any formal decisions until a group of Rabbis appointed by international headquarters have their say.

Manny Waks says that's unacceptable.

MANNY WAKS: To me and to many others that I've spoken to, quite a few victims over the last 24 hours, and we are all in agreement that this is completely unacceptable and there's a lot of anger and hurt over what is happening, this endless turmoil that is happening with the Yeshiva Center.

Finally we saw it after the royal commission and after some of the reforms that were being announced that we would see the changes that we so desperately sought over many years but now it's all coming unstuck again.

SIMON LAUDER: Are you actually worried it's going to lead to a material difference, to any reforms which happened or is it more about the principle?

MANNY WAKS: Well, it's both about the principle but my concern is really that there will be no reforms because Chabad International will want to keep control over this institution and will appoint Rabbis who will have final say.

The shift being so urgently required is going to be hampered, if not completely not happen.

SIMON LAUDER: A spokesman for the Melbourne Yeshiva Centre says the trustees will adopt a corporate structure that reflects good governance and the principles of Chabad-Lubavitch.

He also says the centre's review of its governance is open, transparent and collaborative.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting. And the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters has also been approached for comment.