RABBI Meir Shlomo Kluwgant this week resigned as Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) president, as an executive member of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and as Jewish Care Victoria general manager of cultural and spiritual services. It was also announced that the long serving Victoria Police chaplain no longer has an association with the force.
The sweeping resignations came after it was revealed at the Royal Commission last Friday that Rabbi Kluwgant had communicated via text with AJN editor Zeddy Lawrence while Zephaniah Waks, the father of child abuse victim Manny Waks, was giving testimony the previous week.
In a series of messages, Rabbi Kluwgant wrote that Zephaniah was “attacking Chabad”, “a lunatic on the fringe” and “guilty of neglect of his own children”.
During the Commission, Rabbi Kluwgant was also criticised for how he dealt with victims of child sexual abuse.
In 2011, a victim known as AVB sent an email to the community calling for victims to come forward. Rabbi Kluwgant confirmed that he told AVB that he should not have sent the email.
“What [AVB] was not aware of was that I had done significant work with Victoria Police and the leadership of the Yeshivah to ensure that there was cooperation between the Yeshivah and Victoria Police in gathering the information that they required,” he told the Commission.
“I did not know he was a victim at that time, and you mentioned I know now that he is a victim and, knowing now that he’s a victim, I absolutely would not have made that comment to him. I would in fact have encouraged him and been prepared to co-sign, if he would have been interested.”
But The AJN can reveal that documents tendered to the Royal Commission suggest he was already aware that AVB was a victim before reiterating his opinions in an email sent on June 20, 2014.
“I maintain my view that the matter of child sexual abuse should be left in the hands of Victoria Police and that individuals (victims or otherwise) should allow the police to do their work and not interfere with the process by going to the media or publishing or widely distributing emails,” Rabbi Kluwgant wrote.
In an email to ORA members, Rabbi Kluwgant this week said that he was standing down in the best interests of the victims because it would help their healing process.
“I have always had the best interests of the individual and the community at heart, and my track record speaks for itself,” Rabbi Kluwgant said.
Accepting his resignation, ORA paid tribute to their former president. “ORA acknowledges Rabbi Kluwgant’s many years of dedicated communal service in a number of senior leadership roles within the Jewish community, particularly in the area of support for child victims of abuse.”
The sentiment was echoed in a statement from the RCV, which wrote, “The RCV recognises Rabbi Kluwgant’s dedicated contribution to the RCV and other communal organisations over many years and in particular his work in helping to foster proper methods of dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse and the RCV is pained at this unfortunate development.”
Jewish Care Victoria chief executive Bill Appleby also expressed his thanks to Rabbi Kluwgant “for his service over the last 26 years” with the organisation.
Appleby said, “Jewish Care Victoria has a strong record of supporting victims of abuse … Jewish Care Victoria’s actions show that it supports not only practical help but legal redress for people who have experienced abuse.”
Rabbi Kluwgant was approached for comment but did not respond by press time.
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant.