Child abuse at Jewish schools uncovered
13 February 2015
Manny Waks fought back tears as he described how it felt to be an 11-year-old boy taunted in the school yard by students who knew he'd been sexually abused.
He'd been molested by a man (named only AVP for legal reasons) and his fellow Yeshivah College students found this out.
Manny's life got even worse - when the caretaker at his school also began to prey on him, subjecting him to repeated sexual abuse.
This man, David Cyprys, assaulted Manny and at least eight other boys while he worked at Yeshivah College during the 1980s and 1990s.
'Most of the time I felt completely deserted and alone,' said Mr Waks, now 38, describing his school years to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne.
'Due to ... being bullied after disclosing the abuse by AVP I did not even consider sharing the abuse by Cyprys with anyone.
'And this time I felt that it was my own fault - after all, why would two separate well-known (Jewish) community members sexually abuse me?'
None of the adults at Yeshivah College stepped in to give him any support.
However, that's beginning to change.
It has taken almost 30 years, and a royal commission, but Yeshivah College is starting to publicly acknowledge what was done to Manny and many other boys.
The commission has been in Melbourne for two weeks examining responses by Melbourne's Yeshivah College and Yeshivah Centre, the Sydney Yeshiva Centre and Yeshiva College Bondi, to a string of child abuse cases from the 1980s to as recently as 2010.
The hearings have exposed a culture of turning a blind eye, a lack of knowledge about child abuse and reporting requirements, and dearth sympathy for the victims.
Cyprys and other men - primary school teacher Rabbi David Kramer, camp chaperone Daniel Hayman and Aaron Kestecher - were, in some cases, able to maintain contact with children despite being known child abusers, or had been suspected of the crime.
Yeshivah College management was alerted to Cyprys' sexual abuse of children as early as 1984 but he continued to work there, and abuse children, for more than a decade.
Cyprys was not convicted until 2013, when he was jailed for eight years for molesting nine boys, as young as seven years, over about a decade.
'I actually feel sickened by it,' Rabbi Abraham Glick, who was Yeshivah College principal for most of this period of abuse, told the royal commission.
Rabbi Glick maintains he was not told about the incidents involving the school until 2004, because the issue was handled - and kept confidential - by another rabbi, who has since died.
His was not the only claim of ignorance at the commission.
Rabbi Yosef Feldman controversially said pedophiles who could show they had not reoffended in decades deserved leniency before the courts.
He also revealed he did not know, about the time he was informed of a child abuse allegation in 2002, it was a crime for an adult to touch a child's genitals.
Rabbi Feldman resigned from a senior board role after giving this testimony.
On Friday, Rabbi Zvi Telsner, spiritual leader of Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne, revealed he believes pedophiles could be cured over time.
'I'm saying through therapy, and through counselling, and if you see that over the last 20 odd years the person has been able to control themselves being amongst children, the possibility (is) that he is in control of himself,' Rabbi Telsner said.
'I would say the same thing could happen to someone who was gay, I would suspect.'
However Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, former president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, expressed alarm at the testimony of some rabbis before the commission.
'I, like many of my colleagues, like many within the Jewish community, have been following the proceedings over the past two weeks,' Rabbi Glasman said.
'It would be an understatement to say that we are deeply disturbed by some of the comments that had been made by rabbis in this very box ... comments which I know the overwhelming majority of rabbinate distance themselves from emphatically.'
Manny and other victims described a backlash from the Jewish community after they went to police.
They were branded 'moser' - a Jewish insult for an informer - and their families were shunned, harassed and intimidated.
Rabbi Glick apologised to these former students.
'I would like to apologise to the students ... I can see that many mistakes were made,' he told the commission.
'We should have been more vigilant, we should have responded better.'
He was not alone.
Yeshivah Centre general manager Nechama Bendet felt compelled to say sorry to Manny when she saw him watching the proceedings.
'I hadn't planned it,' she later told the commission.
'I had been reading the victim statements, and I saw him, and I just felt that I wanted to go up to him and personally apologise.'
She thinks Manny 'absolutely' did the right thing by telling police what happened to him.
'I think we have to work very closely with the victims to try to remedy the terrible things that have happened to them,' Mrs Bendet said.
Originally published at Sky News.