Yeshiva, Chabad boards urged to take action

THE new boards of Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools Ltd (YBRSL) and Chabad Institutions Victoria Ltd (CIVL) were urged this week to “act decisively and expeditiously to address those issues emanating from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse … so that the community can truly move forward from this stain”.

The elections of the boards – the first ever held, after a new constitution was adopted this year – are seen as a move towards transparency in the wake of the scathing findings of the Royal Commission, which slammed the way key Yeshivah leadership figures handled the crisis.

Welcoming the conclusion of the election process, child sexual abuse victims’ advocate Manny Waks called for the new boards to “take immediate and decisive action to end their association” with three individuals in particular, who he claimed had failed the victims: Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner, who resigned as the Yeshivah Centre’s senior rabbi last year after admitting that his conduct towards victims and their families had not been in line with the values of Yeshivah, but who still performs religious leadership functions; Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, the only member of the former board who did not resign and who holds a seat on both of the new boards; and Nechama Bendet, the former Yeshivah general manager and board member who remains in a senior management role.

Responding to Waks’s call, Bendet yesterday told The AJN, “I vehemently deny that I breached any legal or moral obligation to victims of child sex abuse.

“The Royal Commission made no such finding about me. I have personally apologised and reached out to victims of child sexual abuse. I have also worked tirelessly with the Yeshivah Centre to give recognition to victims and to improve child protection practices. This includes supporting the implementation of the Redress Scheme and the Silent No More Panel, child protection policies, the Safeguarding Children Accreditation, and a comprehensive review of the governance structures which has resulted in all the trustees standing down and elections of boards.”

Rabbis Groner and Telsner did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the future of Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler seems a little less doubtful despite the election of Dr Debbie Herbst, a Yeshivah grandparent who earlier this year sent an email claiming there was a “systematic, endemic culture of bullying and workplace harassment” at the schools.

YBRSL denied the claims, and in the lead-up to the elections, concerns were expressed by a member of the YBRSL board that Herbst wanted Rabbi Smukler removed as principal.

However, this week, Herbst released a statement that appeared supportive of Rabbi Smukler, noting that over the past six years of his principalship, enrolments have grown. “As with any organisation that grows, issues arise, and it is our job as a board to work hard to ensure the best working and learning environment for all staff and students and to support the principal and the school leadership in every way that we can.”

Also elected to the YBRSL board were Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum, Rabbi Yonason Johnson, Dr Shana Reuben and Devora Herszberg.

PETER KOHN