I am one of the 15 victims who had a private session with the Royal Commission and told them of the abuse I suffered at the hands of Chabad, initially more than 20 years ago and then again over the last few years. As the Commission comes to a close, I find myself wondering how I will deal with my old wounds which have been reopened as well as the fresh scars I bear. I ask myself whether it was all worth it and sadly, I don’t think it was.
I came to the Commission with two goals. First, to make sure that what happened to me would never happen to anyone else again. Second, to achieve justice and accountability in respect of the Chabad Rabbis, leaders and community members who made life hell for me and fellow victims. Some people still do not seem to understand that the Commission was less about our abusers than it was about the response of the institutions and the individuals within them who either enabled abuse or magnified our suffering. My two goals were dependent on one another, for without people being held to account, there was nothing to stop them behaving the same way or to deter others.
For decades I had blamed myself for my abuse. As a 12 year old I had ignored the instructions of my mother and gotten myself into a situation where David Cyprys could abuse me. Once he had done it the first time, I couldn’t stop him doing it again and again until by luck, circumstances changed and he no longer had the opportunity. When I met one-on-one with Commissioner Murray in 2015, he listened to my story and told me that I was only a child and I had not done anything to bring about my abuse. I had been preyed upon by a skilled perpetrator. The Commission’s report confirmed that Rabbi Yitzchok Groner was directly to blame for my abuse. They found that ‘Rabbi Groner’s response to reported incidents of child sexual abuse, including those involving Cyprys, was wholly inadequate’ and that it amounted to ‘a pattern of total inaction’.
But while it was Rabbi Groner who had caused my abuse for reasons which I will never know, it is his children and the Chabad community who destroyed my soul, my faith and my mind. While the Commission exposed all of this, the Yeshivah community do not seem to have listened and have thereby denied me the accountability that I need from them in order to move on with my life.
The Commission demonstrated that Rabbi Telsner had demonised victims from the pulpit and inspired an entire community to turn against us and our families. The Commission’s report is replete with his horrific failures, yet he has never faced any consequences from Yeshivah for his conduct.
The Commission found that ‘rather than supporting survivors…community leaders of Yeshivah Melbourne made efforts to silence survivors and to condemn those who would not be silent. Members of the relevant communities shunned survivors and their families, which added to their suffering and may also have deterred other survivors from coming forward.’ Rabbi Chaim-Tsvi Groner was a Trustee of Yeshivah during this time which, by any reasonable standard, makes him unfit to serve in a position of management at a school. And yet, he now sits on the Board of Yeshivah for life under a ‘new’ governance structure.
A year after the 2015 public hearing, concerned that my once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve accountability was going to expire once the Commission closed, I went back to the Commission with other victims and asked that Yeshivah be called to a follow up hearing. We highlighted the bullying and harassment of victims which was ongoing and the failure of Yeshivah to hold to account those whose failures were exposed by the Commission. That resulted in a second public hearing of Yeshivah in 2017. Although we only managed to get them back for one day, we hoped that would be enough of a wake-up call, but it still didn’t result in the change we needed.
I told the Commission about my personal experience with the Yeshivah redress scheme and that they couldn’t even get that right. I told them that I had met with the redress scheme coordinator and informed him that I didn’t want Yeshivah’s money but I wanted a plaque to be placed in the school and the synagogue acknowledging what had happened and an apology from Rabbi Chaim-Tsvi Groner accepting personal responsibility for his failings as a member of Yeshivah’s management. I was told that wasn’t available via the scheme and was instead given a cheque for around $40,000 which I have since donated to organisations that work to prevent child sexual abuse.
The Commission asked Rabbi Chaim-Tsvi Groner about the redress scheme and in particular, why it had remained open for a period of only 13 months. According to the Commission’s final report, Rabbi Groner ‘undertook to reconsider the length of the scheme.’ That was almost a year ago and still victims are denied redress.
As the Commission wraps up, I feel as though I did everything I could. I helped get the gentiles to shine a light on the darkness within Chabad and Yeshivah and showed that they were every bit as bad as the Catholics and others, more concerned with power than the philosophy they supposedly followed. But I feel as though I failed. To this day, Yeshivah and Chabad have not held a single person to account for the events revealed at the Commission. The Commission gave me an amazing platform to tell my story. But it did not deliver the closure that I have craved for more than 20 years. Only the Yeshivah administration and community can do that by holding Rabbis Telsner and Chaim-Tsvi Groner to account.