Dr Debbie Herbst
Erev Pesach 5778
For those of us who love and belong to the Yeshivah community, the last few years have been difficult and often painful. Our community has been on a journey of revelation, recovery, healing and growth that has at times not been easy. Tomorrow night when we will all sit down at the Seder we will begin telling the story of our collective journey out of Mitzrayim. Pesach is about freedom not only from physical slavery but freedom from limitations and constraints. We are enjoined to transcend the limitations, the metzarim, that hold us back and limit growth. It is a time for individual as well as communal growth and escape from that which has been holding us back.
Leadership and children are two essential themes of Seder night and of Pesach. Moshe Rabbeinu is the quintessential and archetypical leader chosen for his care of every one of his flock whilst carrying the responsibility of the entire nation. The Seder puts children very much front and centre to the point that most of what we do at the Seder is predicated on arousing the interest of the children and engaging our youth.
Leadership and children.
When I stood for election to the Board of Yeshivah Beth Rivkah Schools in 2016, I did so because I wanted to be a part of another journey. I wanted to serve on the Board, not because it is easy; I knew it would be hard. Some of you will recall that I promised, if elected, to be part of ‘A Board that Cares’ and I have tried my utmost since taking a seat on the Board to live up to that commitment.
An intrinsic part of Yeshivah’s growth and healing requires us to honestly address our past mistakes as a community and learn from them. We have done well to engage with processes such as the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and to listen to their findings. As a member and Co-Chair of the Board I tried to make it a high priority to ensure we continued to work towards best practice in governance, child protection and complaints handling.
I personally sat and listened to Justice Jennifer Coates as she spoke about the centrality of governance and leadership in child safety. The first of the child safe standards overseen by the Commission for Children and Young People relates to governance. Strong and clear governance arrangements allow leaders to ensure child safety is a focus within their organisation. I believe that this includes leading from the top and embedding a culture that makes child safety paramount. I believe that a culture of child safety is more than having a set of policies and procedures in place. It’s an attitude that is built into everyday thinking and practice within an organisation and is the best defence against abuse. Of note the last of the standards relates to the involvement and empowerment of children.
Leadership and children.
After serious reflection, it is now my belief that I will better be able to advocate for Yeshivah’s advance towards these goals from outside of the Board. It is this conclusion which led me to resign my Board positions last week.
I remain absolutely committed to the well-being of our Yeshivah community and to the welfare of each individual within it. My resignation from the Board in no way signals the end of my involvement in, advocacy for and service to Yeshivah and I look forward to doing so for many years to come.
I will continue to advocate for Yeshivah to apply the recommendations in the final Report of the Royal Commission, in conjunction with the ten Child Safe Standards that were developed by the Royal Commission for use in all institutions dealing with children throughout Australia.
Included among those recommendations are the following:
“...each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry”.
“All religious institutions’ complaint handling policies should require that, upon receiving a complaint of child sexual abuse, an initial risk assessment is conducted to identify and minimise any risks to children”
“All Jewish institutions in Australia should ensure that their complaint handling policies explicitly state that the halachic concepts of mesirah, moser and loshon horo do not apply to the communication and reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to police and other civil authorities”
In light of the trauma and violation experienced throughout our community in recent years - by children, parents, staff and whistleblowers - and also in light of the journey of healing and growth our community is now undertaking, I hope that Yeshivah strives not just to meet, but to exceed, the recommendations and requirements of the Royal Commission and of the law. We should aim for best practice governance, and a culture, that serves as a model for others.
I would like to thank all the dedicated staff and volunteers and parents who give of themselves for the benefit of our children. To those of you who have supported me with your votes, your advice, your mentoring and your kindness during this time, thank you. I trust I have not given you any cause to feel it was misplaced.
Chag Kasher VSameach, A Kosher n Freilichen Pesach.
We should all merit true freedom and redemption this Pesach.
Dr Debbie Herbst
‘[I]n light of the journey of healing and growth our community is now undertaking...’. Really? Doesn’t look to me like there’s much healing or growth, no matter how many times people within Yeshivah speak about it. There is no ‘healing’ if the people who have been hurt don’t feel it and no ‘growth’ if (Rabbis) Chaim Zvi Groner and Telsner are still involved in the Yeshivah leadership.
As I recently noted on my personal Facebook page:
Let no one forget that Melbourne's Yeshivah Centre continues to behave in the most disgusting ways. Just because it's no longer being constantly highlighted publicly, doesn't mean they've changed their immoral ways. Despite their repeated public pronouncements, their disgraced (Rabbi) Telsner is still their senior rabbi. He continues to be the religious leader of this community - just last weekend he gave the traditional Shabbat HaGadol sermon, an honour given to the head rabbi. This disgraceful institution continues to wreak havoc in the lives of their innumerable victims. And by repeatedly lying and keeping him in his role, they continue to put children in harm's way (by his words and deeds, he is an enabler of abuse). I'm now convinced that this institution should just be shut down.
It is my view that any Yeshivah board that continues to employ the services of (Rabbi) Telsner is illegitimate. Moreover, (Rabbi) Groner's life tenure on their Board is also untenable. This is why, months ago, I severed all ties with the Yeshivah Centre and College leadership.