From my interactions with Rabbi Smukler during and since the Royal Commission public hearing into the Yeshivah Centre, I believe that he is the real deal. He is a warm, articulate and intelligent individual who is untainted by the Yeshivah Centre's scandals and wants to do the right thing. His evidence from the witness stand, which included a sincere apology to Yeshivah's many victims of child sexual abuse, was a shining light amid the horrific failings of the Yeshivah Centre which were exposed for all to see. Indeed, after his testimony he approached me and personally apologised. He subsequently engaged with the victim support and advocacy organisation I founded, Tzedek, to work with them on a number of projects.
While the Yeshivah Centre was copping a much deserved battering at the Royal Commission and some members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and Committee of Management (CoM) were giving unbelievable testimony, it was Rabbi Smukler who parents pointed to as the reason why they would keep sending their children to Yeshivah and Beth-Rivkah Colleges. He has done an amazing job despite the mess he inherited and has the clear support of most people who have had anything to do with him.
And so it is difficult to feel anything other than sorry for Rabbi Smukler at the moment. It is clear that he is caught in the middle of Yeshivah’s self-inflicted mess. How is he supposed to do his job of attracting and retaining the best students and staff while the failed BoT and CoM continue to run the Yeshivah Centre? Who in their right mind would want to work under the BoT or CoM? How can he be expected to motivate students and staff when the BoT and CoM have effectively turned their institution into a communal disgrace? And how is he supposed to teach and instill values of decency and accountability in students when the example they see from the top is one of immorality and a refusal to accept responsibility?
Only two weeks ago, in an Open Letter to the Community, Shlomo Werdiger, Michael Goldhirsch, Shimshon Yurkowitz, Chaim Raitman and Merv Adler proclaimed their roles as the members of the Yeshivah Centre CoM was to 'ensure the Centre has continued success in the future'. They committed to 'making the Centre and school better and stronger'. That could not have been further from the truth. Two weeks later, they find themselves in the middle of another controversy of their own doing, having fallen out with the one person who could actually ensure the success of the schools into the future. And we must not forget the ongoing embarrassment their most senior rabbi is continuing to inflict upon us all - it seems that Rabbi Zvi Telsner is up to his old tricks again.
If Rabbi Smukler has indeed gone to the BoT/CoM and said 'either you guys go or I do', then he is to be commended for taking the principled and moral approach and representing the interests of his students, staff and community. Sadly, it has probably meant the end of his employment at Yeshivah.
The Royal Commission provided a much needed opportunity for change. Rabbi Smukler is the man to lead that change at the Yeshivah Centre. But so long as the current BoT and CoM remain in place, nothing can ever change at Yeshivah. How much more damage will the Yeshivah Centre BoT and CoM inflict upon their community – and indeed on all of us? When will these people start placing the interests of their victims, students, parents, staff, the Chabad community and the broader community ahead of their own? From what we have seen until now, I'm not holding my breath.
In the meantime, it is our collective responsibility to not remain silent.