Debbie was Chair of the now-defunct The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV). It was shut down in mid-2017, after their board claimed that it had fulfilled its mandate. Clearly, their mission has not been completed - rather, it is safe to assume that they could no longer sustain the significant criticisms from various people/organisations. So, it was much easier to simply shut it down.
Under Debbie's leadership, the JTFAV has been responsible for causing significant damage to many in the Jewish community, mainly through their work in attempting to address the issue of child sexual abuse. Astonishingly, the JTAFV chose to stand with the perpetrating institution, Melbourne's Yeshivah Centre, rather than stand with Yeshivah's many victims/survivors.
Debbie and the JTAFV have never been held to account. They believed they could simply walk away after the significant damage they caused. As if this was not enough, Debbie apparently felt she was an appropriate candidate to join the Unchain my Heart organisation as a Board member. Unbelievable chutzpah!
Debbie's poor decision has compelled me to speak out publicly against her role there. Unchain my Heart deals with sensitive cases involving vulnerable community members - women whose lives have been left in limbo due to their husband's decision not to give them a Get. I cannot stand idly by, especially when I fear that Debbie may now be causing more pain and suffering to additional vulnerable community members.
Simply put, Debbie must immediately resign from the Board of Unchain my Heart. Alternatively, she must be sacked. Debbie and the rest of the former JTAFV Board should unequivocally apologise for the damage they caused.
I have decided to share publicly my email correspondences with Debbie to demonstrate her disgraceful past:
16 March 2015
I was hoping that you and the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV) would do the right thing voluntarily rather than compel me to write this email.
As your organisation has been implicated in some way in the child sexual abuse scandal at the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre, it is my view (and the view of many others, including victims themselves) that you need to issue a clear and unequivocal public apology on behalf of the JTAFV.
To avoid any confusion, some of the key issues have been:
- Your letter in the Australian Jewish News in mid-2011 concerning this scandal (much of which was proven inaccurate at best).
- Your offensive responses to me personally, for which you subsequently apologised. I’m raising it here again because (a) I wish to highlight the overall major issues with what’s transpired in recent years, and (b) your apology contained a contradiction (‘that I can only comment on matters about which I am personally aware’ – clearly you chose to ignore this position on occasions when it didn’t suit you).
- The fact that some of those involved with the JTAFV – including in leadership positions – were aware of at least some of the allegations at Yeshivah but did not try to address the past (as a victim support organisation, I’d expect a better response).
- The fact that a senior official within the JTAFV was reluctant to come forward to the police with information they had in relation to serious allegations of sexual abuse (ultimately they did speak to the police but only after being forced to do so).
- The fact that this same official never sought to follow up and/or to offer support, advice or assistance to a victim who disclosed serious sexual abuse to them.
- The fact that the JTAFV at no stage tried to stand up for victims and their families who were being intimidated and harassed, including by some of those involved with the JTAFV itself (some of whom have already apologised).
- The fact that some of those involved with the JTAFV were attacking my credibility (and that of my family) through a range of means.
- The fact that you and the JTAFV were either unaware or unwilling to accept and/or publicly acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children, the cover-ups and ongoing intimidation within the Yeshivah Centre was prevalent (indeed, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a statement from the JTAFV referring to Yeshivah by name in terms of its negative actions – only in the context of extolling their virtues).
- The fact that you and the JTAFV refused to acknowledge or address the clear conflict of interest that existed/exists with some of those involved.
- The lack of transparency (e.g. who your fellow board members are).
I could probably add to this vast list but I hope that my point has been made.
Based on the above, it is clear that you and the JTAFV owe me, some of the many other Yeshivah victims and indeed the community a public apology for your actions and inactions, some of which has exacerbated the pain and suffering to myself and many others.
I believe that the JTAFV still has a role to play within the community. It is my strong view that, for several reasons, this role should be only in the context of domestic violence, which I understand was your organisation’s original mission anyway. It seems clear that the issue of child sexual abuse needs to be addressed in a dedicated and specialised manner.
At this stage I am reaching out to you privately in the hope that, despite your inaction to date in rectifying the situation, you will now reflect on the recent past and address it appropriately. Please note that if you choose not to address these concerns in an appropriate and timely manner, I will be forced to consider alternative steps.
Please note that I’m willing to make myself available to work with you to resolve this matter to (ideally) everyone’s satisfaction.
25 March 2015
Thank you for your email.
I have reprinted our media release from 1 March,
Mar 01 2015
It is now 2 weeks since the conclusion of the Royal Commission hearings into Child Abuse in Melbourne, and the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence Inc. wishes to make it very clear that it commends the courage of those victims who came forward to give evidence at the hearings, whilst also acknowledging and respecting the decision of those who chose not to do so.
The victims were betrayed by organisations and people in authority at that time and those failures and omissions were categorically wrong. The victims and their families placed their trust in those organisations and people and that trust was manifestly broken. We also acknowledge and pay tribute to the courage of those whose disclosures led to the hearings themselves and bear witness to their ongoing pain.
The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence Inc. also acknowledges all other victims in our community whose abuse was not the subject of the Royal Commission’s enquiries but whose suffering and distress is also present.
We reiterate our earlier statements made during the enquiry that all institutions must have appropriate policies in place to safeguard children and all Rabbis and Rabbinical students as well as all teachers and any others with children in their care must undergo appropriate training in the area of child protection.
We have served, and will continue to serve our community in the campaign for the elimination of all forms of family violence through community awareness and provide information and referrals to those who contact us on our support line on a confidential basis. We continue to commit to the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.
Now is the time to show compassion in a positive way and allow our community to start healing.;
We otherwise consider the matter closed.
However, should you wish to meet with us next time you are in Melbourne, we are willing to do so and will endeavour to find a mutually convenient time.
As you know, Nissan was originally the first month of the Jewish Calendar, and the start of new beginnings.
We therefore take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Happy and Kosher Pesach.
This is on behalf of all the Board, namely:
Deborah Wiener, chair
Jenny Samuel Acting Vice Chair
Ruth Raitman, Treasurer,
Marianne Cooklin Secretary
25 March 2015
Thank you for your response. Thank you also for sharing with me your media release, which I had already seen.
While you may consider the matter closed, I don't. With all due respect, I will not consider this matter closed until I receive a full and unequivocal (and in my opinion, a much-deserved) apology (as outlined in my previous email).
I would like nothing more than to start afresh with you and the JTAFV. Thankfully many others have already acknowledged their past mistakes and apologised for them - with them I was indeed able to start afresh. It's a great shame that you, as a purported victim support group, haven't elected to approach me voluntarily and are still stubbornly refusing to do the right thing. I would've thought your organisation would take the lead, especially when the welfare of victims is at stake.
You still have a few weeks for this fresh start to coincide with Nissan.
If you choose to do the right thing, I will happily meet you and others from the JTAFV when I'm next in Melbourne. Alternatively, I will consider my options.
PS I note that Sheiny New is no longer on your Board (I surmise this was the main reason you elected to name all of them individually). While I think this is the right decision, I note that I never called on her (or anyone else at the JTAFV) to resign. My issue (and the issue of many other victims) has been both with Sheiny and the JTAFV, and an appropriate apology would suffice.
31 March 2015
We acknowledge receipt of your email dated 25 March 2015.
The JTAFV is able to serve the community best as a confidential and anonymous service to victims of family violence and sexual assault. We have served, and will continue to serve our community in the campaign for the elimination of all forms of family violence through community education, awareness raising and by providing information and referrals to those who contact us on our telephone support line on a confidential basis. We are committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you when you are next in Melbourne.
We otherwise consider the matter closed.
I would urge anyone with influence to address this both with the Unchain my Heart and National Council of Jewish Women (Vic) leadership, respectively. Thank you in advance.