Yeshivah Centre sexual abuse under spotlight in documentary Breaking the Silence
24 October 2015
A Melbourne man who was sexually abused as a child by Yeshivah Centre staff has taken out intervention orders against members of the Orthodox Jewish community, alleging his family was threatened after he spoke out about his abuse.
And several people who were subjected to sexual abuse as children at Yeshivah in Melbourne have now launched civil action against the ultra-Orthodox organisation.
The revelations are contained in a new ABC documentary to be aired on Tuesday night, Breaking the Silence, by film-maker Danny Ben-Moshe. It's the sequel to Code of Silence, Ben-Moshe's Walkley-winning documentary about Manny Waks, the whistleblower who lifted the lid on child sex abuse within Melbourne's Orthodox Jewish community.
This time, Ben-Moshe has turned his sights to evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse against staff and directors from the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne and the Yeshiva in Sydney.
After the Royal Commission's hearings in February, Sydney's Yeshiva Centre leaders publicly apologised to victims and introduced training for rabbis and education programs for children.
But while the Sydney centre was praised for its response, victims said change had come too slowly in Melbourne.
A Melbourne man known only as AVB, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission in February about his abuse at the hands of two men at Yeshivah, and who features prominently in the film, told Fairfax Media that victims and their parents would be dissuaded from going to authorities by the treatment of other whistleblowers.
"The cultural issues are deeply embedded," he said. "I don't believe that a child in the community today is fundamentally safer, due to the cultural issues against reporting, than they were a decade ago."
In June, four months after the two-week hearing of the royal commission revealed cover-ups at Yeshivah stretching over years, the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre bowed to mounting pressure and dissolved the board. An independent panel was appointed to recommend ways to improve governance at the centre.
In August, Yeshivah Centre chief Rabbi Zvi Telsner stood down after it was revealed he had berated a victim during a conversation about the centre's leadership following a cover-up of sexual abuse within the centre.
While Mr Waks and his father Zephaniah have been outspoken critics of Yeshivah, it is the first time other victims have spoken publicly about their abuse there.
AVB told Ben-Moshe that "Zephaniah and Manny, you know, they've moved on. I hadn't taken that leave and the part that really bothers me is we've had all these leaders say that we've learnt a lot, and all these things have changed, but we're post-royal commission and I'm in court, fighting for protection."
One of Mr Waks' brothers, Jacob ("Yanki"), revealed he too had been abused as a boy at Yeshivah.
Yanki, who now lives in New York, said he hoped by making his abuse public he might help others come forward.
He did not want an apology from Yeshivah for the actions of his abuser, but he did want an apology for the cover ups: "Yeshivah does have blood on its hands."
- Breaking The Silence will air on Tuesday at 9:30pm on the ABC.
Originally published at The Age.