The culture of the frum (orthodox Jewish) community makes it hard to publicly challenge abuse let alone bring charges to the civil justice system. Sometimes those who leave orthodoxy are less inhibited and more effective in fighting abuse.
For example, Manny Waks grew up in Chabad in Melbourne, Australia. During his school years he was abused. As an adult, when he was no longer orthodox, he became an anti-abuse activist, founding and leading Australia’s highly effective Tzedek. He also pressed charges and gave an important statement at the sentencing of his abuser, David Cyprys.
No good deed goes unpunished. He was beyond the reach of Chabad. But his parents who supported him and remained committed ultra-orthodox Jews were shunned in the community in which they built their lives. Eventually they gave up and moved out of that community but not out of orthodoxy. Instead they moved to another neighborhood and synagogue and spend part of their year in Israel.
As part of Manny’s anti-abuse activism he personally supports a petition campaign organized by Jews for Justice for Yeshivah’s Victims asking Rabbi Avrohom Glick and Mr. Don Wolf, the leadership of Melbourne’s Chabad Yeshivah Centre, to “Apologise to the innocent victims who were sexually abused as children on your watch and resign from all positions of leadership.” This initiative got coverage in the Australian paper, The Age.
Some people use the Days of Awe (The period leading up to Yom Kippur) to improve themselves. Then there are others like Mrs. Pnina Feldman, principal of the Chabad girls’ high school in Sydney whose husband, Pinchos Feldman, dominates Chabad in Sydney. Pninah Feldman couldn’t abide the thought of being asked to behave like a good Jew, and have Chabad leadership in Melbourne admit its sins and apologize. So she used the season’s motif to play the frum card and instead chastise Manny Waks. In her sloppiness she addressed the message below to the sheitel business owned by Manny’s orthodox parents. (It was posted last week in Failed Messiah but without the reply by Manny’s father.)
Why do you keep highlighting Yeshiva?! Before the pedophile issues you went running to The Age re BER issues. There’s always something with you and Yeshiva. Get over it already- whatever it is that makes you think that attacking Yeshiva justifies your not being frum. There is something very ugly and personal about your antiYeshiva campaign. Just because a security guard molested you don’t blame Yeshiva! A principal in Moriah College (not Jewish) once molested nearly half the girls in the school! NONE of whom have ever blamed the school! Get over it! You need counselling! I haven’t met a person yet with one nice word to say about you. Most people consider you a lowlife- not because of
any molestation, which wasn’t your fault, but because of your malicious blame game which is unjust, unwarranted, undeserved and wicked. The person you hurt most by that is yourself and your own psyche and spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I realise you may go on hate campaign against me now, but like yourself, I have no fear in saying it as it is when I feel passionate about something.
Erev Yom Kippur. Get the pedophiles. That’s fine. But get the hate out of your heart or at least try to control it. That hate is very bad for you personally as it doesn’t allow you peace of mind or any form of internal harmony or happiness.
Words from the heart.
A Gmar Tov to you and yours,
Rebzn Pnina Feldman
There you have it. According to Pninah Feldman, everything is fine at Yeshivah Centre which still won’t admit its past misdeeds or apologize. The only problem is that anti-abuse advocates are angry.
Manny’s Father, Zephaniah Waks replied:
From: Zephaniah Waks
Sent: Friday, October 3, 2014
To: Pnina Feldman
Cc: Rabbi Moshe Gutnick ; Manny Waks
Subject: Re: Grassroots petition
I am Zephaniah, not Manny. I am actually much harder line than him on these issues, even though I am shomer shabbes [Sabbath observant] etc (I cringe at the words “Orthodox” or “observant”), which demolishes your claim about him that “you think that attacking Yeshiva justifies your not being frum”.
I am harder on Yeshivah than Manny: they claim moral superiority, so I do hold them to a higher standard than Moriah (for example), & I know nothing about the knowledge of the leadership in the Moriah case.
“A principal in Moriah College (not Jewish) once molested nearly half the girls in the school!”. I’m speechless that you try to use this fact to bolster an argument against Manny. Perhaps he should have been allowed to continue as principal, just as those leaders in Yeshivah Centre Melbourne were allowed to remain in their positions even after their criminal conspiracy became known? Paying for a self-confessed felon to leave Australia was a serious crime 20 years ago as well.
“NONE of whom have ever blamed the school!” Problem is, Groner & others knew about the criminal actions of the “security guard” [David Cyprys] for years, including multiple victims & rape, & did nothing (in fact, he was helped to have no conviction recorded in the 1 case that came to court then). I personally asked Groner & Glick to restrict his presence on Yeshivah grounds to prayer times only, & they refused, even though they knew at least some of his crimes.
Etc, etc. I just couldn’t be bothered refuting any more of your nonsense, since I feel that you are purposely pretending not to understand.
PS I CC’d your brother [Rabbi Moshe Gutnick], because he is the only Chabad Rabbi to have taken a genuine public stance on this issue.
ACTION: I urge all my readers to sign the petition. If you have any connection to Chabad, ask those you know to sign. It is time to demand accountability. If you are not satisfied with the responses you get, remember, you can send messages by your decision to donate, or to withhold donations and other forms of support.
Update – 10/7/14: Feldman, under pressure by rabbis concerned about the bad PR issued a public apology to Manny Waks. But since it was a PR move, not a sincere gesture, she did not bother sending it directly to him, just to the media. Manny Waks replied on his personal page on FaceBook:
I’m pleased that Rebbetzin Feldman has now publicly apologised for her vile and offensive email. I accept her apology despite the fact that:
• she’s a repeat offender (she has previously publicly attacked my family as “massers” – collaborators by cooperating with the police regarding these matters);
• the apology was reportedly made due to rabbinic pressure; and
• she has not sent the apology directly to me (although she has my contact details).
I do not intend to address some of the falsehoods and inaccuracies contained in her public statement. As I said, I accept her apology and we can now move on.
I note that her email was a trigger for a subsequent attack which I received from another prominent Chabad-Yeshivah (Melbourne) figure (Dr Shyrla Pakula Werdiger) and suggest a public apology would also be warranted in that instance.
I’m particularly pleased, grateful and buoyed by the report in The Australian Jewish News that Rabbis in Melbourne were involved behind the scenes in procuring the apology. This intervention is most welcome.
I would welcome the opportunity to personally meet both Rebbetzin Feldman and Dr Werdiger to try to address their grievances and to possibly work together constructively to obtain justice for the past and to ensure the safety of our children into the future.