Jewish Community in Turmoil Over Sex Assault Probe

by Kate Legge (The Australian)
July 21, 2011

Jewish community leaders are distancing themselves from a security guard who continued to perform duties at Melbourne's Yeshivah College years after he pleaded guilty to a charge of indecent assault against a teenage student.

Victoria Police are investigating fresh allegations that the guard molested other former students on the Yeshivah campus in St Kilda East, where he led youth programs and was popular for his martial arts expertise. He pleaded guilty to indecent assault in September 1992. No conviction was recorded.

The guard's current security licence names the Yeshivah Centre, which runs the college, as his employer. The school insisted last week that the latest police inquiries did not concern any member of its staff.

Several leading Jewish organisations with links to the man have urged him to stand aside while police investigate new accusations that have come to light since police called for alleged victims and witnesses of sexual abuse in the early 1990s to come forward.

The Council of Orthodox Synagogues in Victoria confirmed yesterday his ongoing membership of its board of directors was non-negotiable in the current environment.

The man is also under pressure to remove himself from the board of the Elwood synagogue where he performs voluntary security duties.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president John Searle yesterday warned community leaders against attempts to intimidate and punish alleged victims and their families. Several orthodox worshippers at the Yeshivah synagogue walked out of the sermon on Saturday in protest at comments from the pulpit.

The worshippers believe Rabbi Telsner, the spiritual head of Yeshivah, was questioning the right of individuals to ventilate their concerns. One worshipper felt "outraged and threatened" when the rabbi asked the congregation "who gave you permission to talk?" Rabbi Telsner declined to clarify his remarks yesterday.

"If there is sexual abuse, victims must be encouraged to make reports and must not be made to feel that they're going to be ostracised or punished in any way whatsoever," Mr Searle said.

The current police inquiry was triggered by complaints against a former Yeshivah teacher, David Kramer, who is serving a jail sentence in the US for sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy. Kramer taught at Yeshivah between 1989 and 1993. When parents raised concerns about Kramer, the school's executive paid for him to leave Australia and fly to Israel.

The guard was first investigated by police in 1991. The teenager who made the complaint says he also informed the school.

A second allegation was reported to police in 1996 by former student Manny Waks who recalls notifying the school of his accusation.