Earlier this morning I read an article in The Guardian entitled “What does depression feel like? Trust me – you really don’t want to know”. Much of it resonated with me, perhaps more than any other article I’ve read about depression. I set off for my therapy session feeling empowered, positive and happy.
Just before entering my session, a friend forwarded me an email from the Board of Trustees of Yeshivah, which included the updated recommendations of their Governance Review Panel (GRP) and the proposed governance restructure at Yeshivah. I couldn’t get myself to read it at that stage; I preferred to push it off a little. I’ve become accustomed to the negative impact these emails have on me so I try to read them when I’m in a safe space.
As I lay on the treatment bed and commenced my session, I spoke to my therapist about how uplifted I had felt this morning, mainly as a result of reading The Guardian article. I then mentioned the Yeshivah email. What happened next was quite unexpected. My heart started beating uncontrollably, my legs were shaking and I was overcome with emotion. All indications had been that the GRP were going to recommend the ongoing involvement of the Trustees in the new governance structure and I knew when I got this email that my worst fears were being confirmed. My body reacted involuntarily to the realisation that after everything that had happened over the last few years, and despite the pleas of so many victims, the seven remaining Trustees of Yeshivah are still refusing to simply go. Rather, they are proposing to formally embed themselves in the running of the Yeshivah Centre for the next few years, and in the case of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, for life (as per the previous GRP recommendations, which I didn’t expect would change).
As the session continued I found myself needing to get up, sit on the bed and then walk around to try to calm down. Despite arriving the most relaxed I’ve ever come to any therapy session, this was the most stressed I had ever become. Eventually I returned to the sitting position, the way I sat when I first started these sessions, and I continued talking. Before long I said that I needed to face my fears and I lay down again. My therapist asked why I felt like lying down and instinctively, I said that “I don’t want to let them win”. “They’ve caused me enough pain and suffering that I wanted to fight it and do things on my terms”. I stayed lying down for the rest of the session. I forced myself to proceed the way I wanted to do things as opposed to being emotionally influenced by their actions.
This (re)traumatising experience prompted me to think about and then discuss with my therapist the Redress Scheme that Yeshivah had introduced for victims and the words spoken at the launch of the Scheme which I attended only a few months ago – the words ‘we are sorry’ which victims had waited so long to hear.
I recounted how I had received some of the token ex gratia payment offered under the Redress Scheme and a few months of therapy paid for by Yeshivah but that they had failed to deliver the third important element of redress which they had offered to me and which I had gratefully accepted, namely to provide a personal apology from a member of the Board of Trustees. It struck me that the Yeshivah leadership was happy to give the appearance of addressing the issues exposed at the Royal Commission but this now seems that it was for show. This does not mean that the person reading the apology – or that some of the Yeshivah leaders – didn’t mean what they said. However, when it came to saying sorry without the media watching, the fact is that the Yeshivah leadership (yet again) did not follow through on its commitment. The last I heard about my personal apology was around six weeks ago; that they’d be in touch. Since then, and as noted above, I have received two modest payments but heard nothing about the apology.
After the session I read the Yeshivah email and my intuition was right: the Trustees will continue to play a leadership role at Yeshivah by appointing board members (including conceivably themselves) for the next few years. I suspect that three of the Trustees who currently employ themselves in senior management positions at the Centre plan to continue in those roles too where, as has always been the case, they will account to themselves and their nominees.
I am writing this difficult, very personal piece, not only to demonstrate the trauma which the Trustees continue to cause me as a result of their continued involvement with the running of Yeshivah, but to stand up for the other victims, some of whom have shared with me that they continue to suffer enormous hurt, pain and suffering as a direct result of the Trustees and their ongoing involvement with Yeshivah.
The Trustees must understand and acknowledge that victims cannot heal while they continue to be involved in any official capacity in the administration or senior management of Yeshivah. Many of us can only really move on when these Trustees, the same people who oversaw Yeshivah throughout much of the period of our abuse, the cover-ups and/or the bullying and shunning of victims, are no longer in positions of authority at Yeshivah. We cannot deal with our suffering while the Trustees carry on as though they do not bear any responsibility in our painful past.
But it is not only victims who are suffering because of the Trustees. It is their entire community who are effectively being held hostage and selfishly denied the opportunity to rebuild from the mess the Trustees have created and to create an environment of which they and their children can be proud.
The proposed preamble to the constitutions of the new Yeshivah entities states that ‘these institutions were established under the direct auspices of the Rebbe, and shall continue to be committed to and inspired by the philosophy and teachings of the Rebbe, who emphasised the vital importance of true love of fellow Jews and having real care and compassion for every individual’. I trust that the irony is clear.
There can be no two ways about it. Whenever elections are ultimately held, the Trustees of Yeshivah must do the right thing – unequivocally apologise to their victims and their community, and undertake to immediately cease their involvement in any official leadership capacity with the Yeshivah Centre. Only then, will many of those concerned be able to move forward – not only the Yeshivah victims but the Yeshivah community itself.
Who are the Trustees of Yeshivah?
Rabbi Shimshon Jurkowicz
Rabbi Sholom Mendel Kluwgant
Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner