By Jane Lee (The Age)
February 14, 2015
Australia's most senior rabbi last week sent a text message calling the father of three child sexual abuse victims, including prominent victims' advocate Manny Waks, a "lunatic" who had neglected his own children.
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, gave evidence on the last day of the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Abuse's Melbourne hearing.
Zephaniah Waks, Manny's father, has told the Commission he felt forced to move to Israel with his wife after being ostracised the ultra-orthodox Jewish Chabad community for supporting Manny in publicly discussing his abuse.
Rabbi Kluwgant told the Commission that he only watched parts of Mr Waks' testimony to the inquiry last Tuesday.
Asked by the Waks' lawyer, Melinda Richards, SC, whether he sent a text message to Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence about Mr Waks' evidence that day, he said "I don't recall."
Ms Richards asked: "Did you, Rabbi, send a text message to Mr Lawrence saying, "'Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe. Guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?'"
"I may have said that, yes," he replied.
Earlier, the Rabbi had agreed with a number of statements Ms Richards put to him, including that "too many people" had indulged in personal attacks rather than looking at Jewish institution Yeshivah's response to child sexual abuse. He also agreed it was "wrong and in fact destructive to ever seek to shift responsibility from the abuser and the institution within which a child is abused to a parent who has entrusted a child to that institution."
The Commission has concluded a two-week hearing on major Jewish institutions Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Sydney's response to child sexual abuse allegations against sex offenders David Cyprys, David Kramer and Daniel Hayman.
Outside court, Manny Waks - who founded Jewish victims' support group Tzedek - called for Rabbi Kluwgant to resign from "every public position he currently holds" including as a voluntary chaplain of Victoria Police, saying he was "not fit to lead".
"There is no other way. He has got zero credibility, he has been involved in an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment of me and my family for so long," he said. "He got caught out and finally his true colours have been exposed for the community to see."
Manny has also moved overseas with his family, saying his family needed time to heal. He said the revelation vindicated a previous description of the Jewish rabbinate as "rotten to the core."
All Jewish leaders at Yeshivah who were involved in covering up sexual abuse crimes must also apologise to victims and resign, he said.
Under cross-examination, Rabbi Kluwgant also sent a message to anyone who had ever shamed or shunned victims for going to the police: "I would say to them shame shame on you and you should learn from your mistakes and never repeat them."
In a statement to the Royal Commission, the Rabbi said that when he was a president at the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and general manager of Cultural and spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria, the organisations had no direct knowledge of child sexual abuse at Yeshivah, other than media reports.
He declined to comment further outside court: "Not really, I said everything at the Royal Commission."
Mr Lawrence could not respond by deadline.