Manny Waks: child sexual abuse survivor who fought back
3 October 2016
Manny Waks took a razor on the plane bound for Israel and shaved his whiskers after takeoff.
He hoped the journey and clean-shaven face would deliver him not only from his community in Melbourne but from the Ultra Orthodox sect that so reminded him of the sexual abuse he had endured as a boy.
He tried to forget Jewish holidays, customs, language. The abuse had erased his childhood innocence and taken from him his larger identity in the world.
After years of trying to deal with the perpetrators of his abuse in private, Manny Waks blew the whistle on the pedophiles who preyed on him and others at Melbourne’s Yeshiva Centre in 2011.
When the centre’s leaders were called before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, it became the most watched public hearing, jarring an international Jewish community now confronted with abuse and cover-ups, as with the Catholic Church before it.
What happened next forms the title of Mr Waks’s memoir — Who gave you permission? — co-written by journalist Michael Visontay.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner aimed a sermon at Manny’s father, saying: “Who gave you permission to tell anybody?”
“In my own experience and certainly other victims, too, we felt at least as traumatised by the response from the institution as we did by the abuse itself,” Mr Waks, 40, told The Australian.
“It was unfortunate because I became accustomed to the intimidation and the defamation that went my way.”
Long before he went public, at 18 Mr Waks boarded that flight for Israel. “I shed everything I possibly could, both physically and spiritually, from my identity. I not only removed it from my life, I fought it — I forced myself to forget Jewish holidays and practices.”
He found little solace in Israel, where he lived and served in the defence force, nor in his return to Australia. His parents still lived across the road from the Yeshiva Centre. “The difference between Judaism and many other religions, to me, is that Judaism is so much more. It is a culture, a history, a language,” he said.
“So when I came back home, I couldn’t get outside it. I wondered, where would I send my child to kindergarten?”
Mr Waks, who is married with three children, founded Tzedek, a local organisation aimed at eradicating child abuse from the Jewish community, and took his efforts global with Kol v’Oz, a foundation he oversees.
One of his abusers lives in New York, sheltered by the Ultra Orthodox Chabad and he has identified issues with Israel’s “Right of Return” for Jews.
“Israel is becoming a refuge for Jewish pedophiles and that is a big concern,” he said.
On Friday, the Yeshiva Centre apologised to Mr Waks.
Originally published at The Australian.