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It’s time: Why Manny Should Step Down and an Apology to Zephania Waks.

December 22, 2013 – 2:39 pm115 Comments

By Alex Fein:

fresh start2The Yeshiva abuse story has exposed the ugliest elements of our community. Victim blaming and accusations of mesirah compete with the most horrible rumours of who is a paedophile and who is a victim.

People from each camp seem to be participating in a horrific game of one upmanship: points are scored and lost and there are those from either side – supporters of Yeshiva versus supporters of Manny Waks – who will crow at the misfortunes of the other.

Personally, I have been privy to much information – from people in both camps – that I simply should not know. I was made aware months before it became public knowledge that it was Rabbi Glick who stood accused of the bimah rape. At the time, this was nothing more than the propagation of vicious rumour.

I have been given the names of victims who have not come forward publicly – at least one of whom most certainly does not wish to be identified. This man told someone about his abuse for the first time and in the strictest confidence.  This man’s story was subsequently told to me by the person who was supposed to maintain that confidence.

This man was horribly betrayed for no good reason. I was also made aware of the person who supposedly perpetrated the abuse against that man. The accused is now deceased and his name is potentially circulating through the rumour mill.

I know the name of a very vulnerable man who is also making accusations. I should not know his name, but he too is grist for that ugly mill. There is much more – a sickening trove of innuendo and unsubstantiated information.

This is toxic. Cruelty and callousness have enveloped our community. This poisonous environment can not be one that is conducive to victims coming forward.

In 2011 Manny Waks did something incredibly courageous. He spoke out publicly. After years of being given the runaround by Yeshiva, he felt compelled to take action that would force Yeshiva’s hand. A huge cultural shift ensued. The new culture of child safety that Yeshiva has now embraced came about in large part due to Manny Waks’s advocacy.

In 2011, Manny spoke to The Age about his experiences. This infuriated Yeshivah members and supporters who saw this as a betrayal; however, Manny had tried numerous other avenues, seeking redress and was rebuffed at every turn. That initial Age  interview – and Manny’s tireless work afterwards – forced a crucial shift. Our children will be safer because of it. This alone is sufficient reason to thank Manny.

Manny also established Tzedek. It’s no small thing to set up a communal institution from scratch. We now have a body that is devoted to the safety of our children and we must thank Manny for this as well.

Many are furious with Manny because they believe he has a vendetta against Yeshiva. Whether he does or doesn’t is immaterial. Manny is entitled to seek redress from an institution that was supposed to protect him and failed to do so.

So why am I calling for Manny to step down?

There are four primary reasons:

1) The initial work of exposing and changing a problematic culture has been completed and Manny’s presence may no longer facilitate positive outcomes in certain sectors.

Yeshivah has implemented numerous policies and safeguards as have other schools and communal institutions. As a community our awareness has been well and truly raised.

Unfortunately, because of the extreme animus between Manny’s camp and those opposed to him, Manny’s continued involvement with Tzedek can only serve to detract from the organisation’s focus.

2) While the initial blaze of publicity was crucial in encouraging victims to come forward, many people I’ve spoken to recently now worry that the environment has become so adversarial and so toxic, that any remaining victims who have not yet come forward may be reluctant to do so lest they be caught up in the extreme nastiness that characterises the current discourse.

3) We can not know why 5 Tedek board members resigned within 4 weeks. It may be coincidence, or it may indicate profound problems with the organisation’s management. Whatever the reason, many people in the community perceive these resignations as evidence that Tzedek isn’t working. That perception is deeply problematic: Tzedek needs to appear rock solid and not mired in controversy if it is going to feel like a safe place for victims.

4) The community needs a circuit breaker. We’ve become obsessed with the fight between the Manny and Yeshivah camps. It dominates conversation and it’s deeply unhealthy. We’re not discussing ways to keep our children safe: we’re discussing rumours and the very worst aspects of our community quite compulsively. This detracts from the crucial conversations our community needs to be having. Discussion of continuity, generational change, engagement, education, and of course, child safety, have receded. These issues need to be front and centre in order for our community to begin the process of repairing itself.

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The Apology

Galus Australis and Alex Fein unreservedly apologise to Zephania Waks for any offense caused to him by a comment made by an anonymous reader on December 5 2013.

We have since changed our moderation policy to one of pre-moderation in order to ensure no defamatory material is posted.

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