We had many incredible achievements, and due to the nature of our work, we obviously attracted some controversy and criticism.
I ended my involvement with Tzedek in 2014 after the Board of Directors that I had appointed felt that the organisation would be better off without me – apparently I was causing them too many headaches. They felt that the hard work had already been done, and all they now needed to do was to focus on educating the community. Admittedly, I was offended and I vehemently disagreed with the Board but nevertheless, decided to depart for the benefit of the organisation and community. (And my now ex-wife and I felt that it was time to leave the toxic environment in Melbourne.)
I left the organisation in the hands of then President Josh Bornstein and his replacement Danny Schwarz, essentially the two architects of my departure.
As many of those around me could attest, it was very clear to us that it was sadly, the beginning of the end for Tzedek. This is despite the fact that I handed over Tzedek to them in a very healthy state – it was a serious player in the national and international scene, and I secured significant funding from both government and philanthropists.
Over the years, I have watched from afar Tzedek’s horrific demise. They managed to kick numerous own-goals, lost the respect of the community and became completely ineffective and irrelevant.
Eventually, Tzedek announced a merger with SECASA (South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault), an amazing organisation that I admire and respect, and with whom I had previously worked. But as I noted at the time, I did not agree with the move, as I believed the Jewish community needed to have its own, unique organisation so it could deal with matters appropriately by people from within (rather than to provide support through another organisation, which may receive some cultural sensitivity training and the like).
In the past year, Tzedek has published a single Facebook post. That is, until last week, where Tzedek published the following post:
Recently the Department of Social Services ceased funding Tzedek for the National Redress Scheme. As a result the Tzedek name will be returned to the Jewish Community, ceasing to exist as a separate service within Monash Health SECASA. SECASA will continue to provide a culturally appropriate and sensitive service to the Jewish Community through our existing programs.
This has shocked and angered me to my core. Besides from the blood, sweat and tears that I personally invested in founding and leading this critical organisation, the Jewish community has lost an institution it never should have lost. Moreover, the content of their statement is absurd.
Firstly, I initially secured Tzedek a three-year funding arrangement, which was later extended for at least another two years. I also secured Tzedek significant funds from philanthropists and donors. To essentially blame the Federal Government for shutting down Tzedek is disingenuous at best. What has the organisation leadership – under the presidency of Danny Schwarz – been doing for the past six+ years since my departure in terms of raising funds? And as the Royal Commission concluded a few years ago, when was the last bit of funding Tzedek received from the Government?
As an aside, I’m also not sure whether they have a right to state that ‘the Tzedek name will be returned to the Jewish community’, whatever this actually means. (It wasn’t really the Jewish community’s name to begin with, as I chose and registered it.)
So we now have a situation where we know that around 1 in 10 children in our community will be sexually abused before the age of 18, multiple perpetrators have been jailed for abusing children within several Jewish communal institutions and there is no communal organisation providing support to victims or working with institutions to prevent child sexual abuse.
Despite the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria being called to the Royal Commission around six years ago, there is a very limited community response to addressing this issue. At the same time, some communal organisations continue to operate without child safe policies in breach of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act (2005). Child sexual abuse is the single most prevalent health problem facing our community and relatively nothing is being done about it and victims/survivors are once again, alone.
While I travelled to Australia mainly for the forthcoming Malka Leifer hearing, I am also here for other VoiCSA work.
Around a year ago, when it became apparent that Tzedek had failed, my colleagues and I decided to launch a local Australian arm of our Israel-based international organisation, VoiCSA.
I am pleased to share that we have already taken many steps to progress our work here in Australia. With the incredible and generous pro bono assistance from our lawyers Arnold Bloch Leibler and our accountants/auditors Grant Thornton, we are already registered in Australia, including with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. We are currently in the process of applying for tax-deductible status. And, most importantly, we are already on the ground working and planning ahead.
As was the case when I founded Tzedek around 10 years ago, it is again left to victims/survivors and our supporters to address the issue of child sexual abuse in our community. We will build up VoiCSA in Australia, as we have done internationally, and be there to support victims/survivors, raise awareness, educate, advocate and anything else that needs to be done.