Last week, the Australian Jewish News reported that the Principals of 6 of the 7 Jewish Schools that make up the Association of Principals of Jewish Day Schools in Victoria, Australia, had written to Adass insisting that they 'send a representative other than Rabbi Kluwgant to the meetings of the Principals' Association'. The only principal that was not part of this was Yeshivah Principal, Rabbi Yehoshua (Shua) Smukler.
Members of the broader community, members of the Yeshivah community and particularly those who were sexually abused at Yeshivah and who were impacted by Kluwgant's conduct towards them, have a legitimate right to ask how it came to pass that Rabbi Smukler and Yeshivah were the only Jewish school principal and Jewish school that did not join with all of the others, from all streams of Judaism, in making their feelings known to Adass. Is there a difference in Rabbi Smukler's and Yeshivah's approach to child sexual abuse matters compared to every other Jewish school and principal? Is there still a propensity to protect their own at Yeshivah when you think nobody will ever find out? Whatever the case, an explanation is due. In fact, overdue.
In this context, I sent the email below to Rabbi Smukler, over a week ago. He responded by expressing a desire to clarify these matters, and suggested I call him. I tried. I followed up with an email with my number and told him he could call me any time. Over a week later, and still no response. I had hoped he would do me the courtesy of responding in the circumstances, like he told me he was going to, but unfortunately that has still not happened.
While the vast majority of the interactions I have regarding child sexual abuse matters never make it into the public domain, there are times when people need to be called out, either to encourage a response or to raise legitimate questions. As difficult as this decision may be to make, this is such a time.
I am confident Rabbi Smukler has a reasonable explanation as to why he was not on the same page as every other Jewish school principal, though his avoidance of the matter to date and the longer he takes to explain himself, does not reflect well on him or Yeshivah. Clearly a response is warranted in the circumstances.
My email to Rabbi Smukler (17 August 2017):
It's been a while - I trust you're well.
I'm disappointed and upset (although not completely surprised) that Yeshivah was the only Jewish school in Melbourne not to take a stand on the unconscionable Kluwgant appointment by Adass. To their enormous credit, all the other six schools took an unequivocal position. Yeshivah was silent.
The message this sends out to victims/survivors and the broader community is that Yeshivah doesn't see an issue with Kluwgant playing such a role in our community at this time. With what we have witnessed over the past few years, Yeshivah's (in)action regarding this matter is very concerning.
Obviously I'm not privy to the precise reasons behind Yeshivah's decision but I would appreciate if you could explain how it came to be that Yeshivah was the only school not to act. As you can imagine, this is not a good look and the community are entitled to ask questions as to whether the protection of certain individuals implicated in the child sexual abuse scandal at Yeshivah continues, despite everything that has happened.
I can't help but be reminded of your hurtful decision in 2015 to appoint Kluwgant to a teaching role at Beth Rivkah College only months after his exposure at the Royal Commission. Thankfully you eventually heeded our repeated and ongoing pleas to remove Kluwgant from his new position - but only after we were forced to go to the media and after we, and some of the Yeshivah board members, had been provided with misleading information about his role. Honestly, I was hoping that at some point you'd reach out to apologise for that deeply offensive decision. Unfortunately you never did.
So as you can imagine, Yeshivah's sole exclusion from the petition to Adass by all the other principals is yet another major slap in the face to many in our community, especially some of the many Yeshivah victims/survivors.
I'd urge you and Yeshivah to try to rectify the situation, to explain why your response is out of touch with every other school and to try to learn from your mistakes.
UPDATE (Sunday 27 August 2017):
Within around an hour of this blog post, Rabbi Smukler contacted me and we had a very productive conversation on the matters raised.
Rabbi Smukler confirmed to me that he had spoken privately to an advisor to the Adass Board prior to Kluwgant's appointment and, without making a recommendation one way or another about Kluwgant's possible appointment, indicated that there were some repairs that ought to take place first and that they should satisfy themselves that Kluwgant had indeed made amends with victims and their families.
Rabbi Smukler claims that he had no prior knowledge of any letter to Adass from the Principal's Association of which he is a member. He is currently in the process of addressing this matter with his colleagues.
Rabbi Smukler also apologised for not contacting me earlier and acknowledged that he should have done so.
In relation to allowing Kluwgant to teach at Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah on a voluntary basis in 2015, Rabbi Smukler stated that Kluwgant had mis-represented facts to him. However, after Kluwgant commenced in the role, a lot of things that Rabbi Smukler had not known about Kluwgant's involvement in the child sex abuse scandal came to light (i.e. beyond what was exposed at the Royal Commission) and upon learning of those matters, Rabbi Smukler made the decision to stand Kluwgant down.
My brief response:
1. I hope that the Adass letter matter gets clarified.
2. Kluwgant should never have been welcome to teach at Yeshivah so soon after his public exposure at the Royal Commission (I'm only re-stating this here because I raised it in my letter to Rabbi Smukler to highlight what seemed like a behavioural pattern).
3. I accept Rabbi Smukler's apology for not addressing this matter promptly and look forward to maintaining our relationship.