While the disgraceful event was advertised under the auspices of Chabad Lubavitch UK, which is under the leadership of Rabbi Bentzi Sudak, the following are quotes from Rabbi Yossi Simon of Lubavitch (Chabad) of Golders Green, where the event took place:
“An individual approached us about a sefer Torah he was completing and asked us if we would house it as loan for our use when we move into our premises. He then chose to turn the completion of the sefer Torah into a public event, organizing all the details, down to the production of the flyers and post-event publicity. It’s worth noting that the people who came out to celebrate at the event were there to celebrate the Torah... not an individual.”
“That being said, we are reviewing what happened, seeing what we need to do differently in the future to always ensure that our community is safe, and set the highest standards possible for ourselves. In light of the public nature of this celebration, and how it has come to be perceived as a celebration of this individual, we have decided not to house this sefer Torah when we move into our premises. We have also asked news outlets that published the donor’s article to remove it from their sites. We can only imagine the further anguish this matter has caused the victim, and our hearts go out to her and her family.”
Shimon Cohen, a spokesman for Chabad Lubavitch UK, was quoted saying:
“Chabad Lubavitch UK has very strict and robust guidelines regarding safeguarding, and had this matter come to us, it would not have been welcomed."
- Well over 1000 people were reported to have attended the joyous event in Golders Green.
- This event was advertised widely with the logo of Chabad Lubavitch UK, who now claim they had no knowledge of the event.
- Rabbi Yossi Simon claims this was meant to be a small event, blaming the publicity on Mendel Levy.
- There are now clear photos of Rabbi Simon publicly recognising and thanking Mendel at the event.
- Numerous other senior Chabad rabbis in the UK also spoke at the event - most, if not all, would've known Mendel's criminal past, Some of these include: Rabbi Y.M. Hertz, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Gedolah Lubavitch London, Mara Deasra for Ana’sh in NW London
Rabbi Mendel Gordon: Mashpiah, Yeshiva Gedolah Lubavitch London
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Raskin, Dayan Lubavitch London
Rabbi G Lieberman, Rov of Heichal Menachem
Rabbi Chaim Rappaport
Rabbi Menachem Junik, Beis Gavriel Shul
Rabbi Dovid Katz, Chabad Lubavitch of West Hampstead
- This is the second time that Mendel has donated a major item of religious significance to Chabad.
While The Jerusalem Post's initial headline accurately reflected the disturbing developments ('Chabad house in London honors convicted child sex offender'), The Jewish Chronicle ('Golders Green Lubavitch rebuff offer of Sefer Torah donated by sex offender') and The Jewish News ('Torah completed by convicted sex offender rejected by Chabad in Golders Green') portray a much different picture.
Even more troubling is the public response by the broader UK Jewish community leadership. I personally reached out to a number of leaders. Firstly, I contacted Marie van de Zyl from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Her initial response greatly disturbed me; after she provided Yehudis Goldsobel (Mendel's victim) and I in 2015 public assurances that she would be there for us when we needed her, she simply could not understand why I was asking her and the Board to speak out publicly about this matter. I offered to speak with her to explain the issues. Suddenly, Marie is quoted in the media praising Chabad:
“Sexual offences are extremely serious and, while we should give people the opportunity to express remorse and change their behaviour, care should be taken not to honour people who have committed these sorts of terrible crimes. I am therefore reassured to note that Chabad has decided not to accept the scroll. No one in the Jewish community must ever give the impression that sexual abuse perpetrators are to be accepted until it is clear they have genuinely repented.”
As the basic facts demonstrate, Chabad was willing to accept this Sefer Torah from Menachem Mendel Levy, and were willing to host and cater for a major event with well over 1000 guests. This is precisely what transpired. And it makes no difference whether this was Chabad of Golders Green or Chabad Lubavitch UK. It was advertised far and wide (as evidenced by the 1000+ guests) as a Chabad Lubavitch UK event, and some of the participants (and speakers) were some of its most senior rabbis (including Chabad of Golders Green's senior rabbi, who spoke at the event and presented the convicted pedophile with a plaque). Chabad only addressed this outrageous behaviour after we made it a public issue (his victim and a few victim advocates). Until then there was no issue (notwithstanding that fact that someone in Chabad removed the article from their website). This is pure damage control by Chabad. That's it.
However, shockingly, some have taken the bait. Some in the UK Jewish media, and one of the most senior mainstream Jewish leaders. Sadly, we now know where Marie and the Board stand. Certainly not with Yehudis, her family and supporters. And they are certainly not working in the interests of other victims/survivors of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community, nor in the interests of children today. Simply put, in the context of child sexual abuse, they are working against the interests of the community.
Thankfully I have received a more encouraging response from a representative of the Jewish Leadership Council, who is currently traveling and was keen to discuss the issue. I will follow up in due course. I also contacted the Chief Rabbi's office - hopefully I'll receive a positive response shortly.
In this particular case, I don't really blame the perpetrator, Mendel Levy - after all, he's desperately trying to rehabilitate his reputation. I don't even fully blame Chabad - after all, they've been able to get away with murder for years (literally - they're directly responsible for the consequences of all those who were sexually abused under their care). Rather, I mostly blame the broader Jewish community leadership (and members) for largely sitting idly by while these grave injustices continue. And as we have now seen, at least one mainstream leader has come out to defend Chabad.
Unfortunately, this reminds me all too well of the Australian child sexual abuse scandal. Let's remember precisely what transpired there. Many children were sexually abused in Chabad institutions. Then there were cover-ups. And years later, when victims finally mustered the courage to pursue justice, they were intimidated and shunned. And no leader came to their aid. In fact, all the leaders turned against them. Chabad, other religious and mainstream leaders (including Australia's equivalent to the UK's Board, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, whom subsequently apologised for their behaviour).
Thankfully, the Australian Royal Commission finally exposed the truth.
And we currently have an Independent Inquiry in the UK.
The parallels are stark.
So, a public message to the Jewish community and its leadership in the UK:
Be on the right side of history. Speak up in the face of this ongoing injustice. Take the moral position, even if your leaders won't. While (sadly) there may be a price we have to pay for speaking up, if we share the load, it'll be easier on all of us. Don't leave it once again to the victims/survivors and their advocates (or to the few other courageous leaders and individuals).
The easier option for all of us is to ignore this issue, especially after we have been told by certain leaders that all is good. The reality is, it's not only about this specific case. It's about the community culture. In this case the Chabad community's culture. As was noted by the Royal Commission in it's Final Report:
‘The second factor [that the Royal Commission believes contributed to the inadequate response by Chabad Australia] relates to the beliefs and practices of insular Chabad-Lubavitch communities, including the absence of sex education or awareness about child sexual abuse, the importance of maintaining standing in the community, the application of Jewish law concepts such as loshon horo and mesirah to communication about and reporting of child sexual abuse, and the practice of shunning.'
It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to act. Now.
UPDATE (Tuesday 9 January 2018): The Jewish Leadership Council has issued a statement similar to the Board of Deputies of British Jews where they, too, praise Chabad for its response to this scandal.