SYDNEY – The body of a former Chabad-Lubavitch youth leader, who died last week in a suspected suicide, will be buried in Israel.
- Australian court drops sex abuse charges against former Chabad youth leader
- Former Chabad youth leader found dead in apparent suicide
- Australian-Jewish community rocked and shocked by ongoing abuse scandals
Hundreds of mourners packed Melbourne’s Chevra Kadisha on Sunday evening to pay tribute to Aron “Ezzy” Kestecher, who was facing charges of child sexual abuse.
An “extensive operation” was underway to fly the coffin to Israel for burial, according to Raphael Aron, a close associate of Kestecher’s who delivered the eulogy at the prayer service.
Kestecher’s father, Rabbi Moshe Kestecher of London, will be in Israel to retrieve his son’s coffin for burial alongside other extended family members, according to Aron.
Kestecher, 28, was found in his apartment last Thursday. The precise cause of death is still under investigation by the coroner, with the results of an autopsy likely to take up to 12 weeks, a spokeswoman told Haaretz.
Kestecher was due to face court in June on five charges of child sex abuse, police confirmed on Tuesday. An alleged victim took claims against Kestecher to police in 2011, leading to four charges of indecent acts on a child under 16. But those charges were dropped in 2012.
However, two other alleged victims came forward last year, according to police. One withdrew his claims but the other pursued and police pressed charges, which would have been contested in court in June.
“I knew him extremely well,” said Aron, who is a member of Chabad. “He had a meal at our home each week, he was extremely welcome.
“It was a huge crowd – people from all ends of society. The frum crowd and the barefooted, tattooed people with earrings.”
But Aron said the blame game being vented on the Internet “is divisive and corrosive.”
“There’s much more to this story that meets the eye. It’s very damaging.
“There’s misinformation about this whole issue of abuse,” added Aron, the director of Gateway Family Counselling, which specializes in drug and alcohol counselling. “Trial by media is really an anathema to what truth is all about.”
Facebook was still rife this week with debate about what caused Kestecher’s death, with some of his friends fuming at the innuendo and speculation. “I write this with tears pouring down because I met this kid and he was a very nice young man and the fact that we are harping at each other like crows and eagles over a child’s carcass hurts me unbelievably,” Ilana Leeds wrote.
“Stop ripping a dead person down … remember he has family.”
Meyer Rafael agreed: “It seems this young man was specifically hounded during a witch-hunt environment.”
Jacqueline Rozenfeld, a close friend of Kestecher, accused the Orthodox community of marginalizing him. “Ezzy was judged for being gay. He was judged for being less frum. He was judged because of the vitriolic allegations made against him,” she wrote.
“Many in the frum community shunned him, lost him his job and requested he keep away with fears his drop in religiosity and being gay might be a bad influence on the youth of the community.
“He then suffered a series of break-ins and serious assaults by those he had helped over the years, and during all of this his family was overseas and he suffered severe depression and insomnia. Is it any wonder he is no longer alive?”
He was never convicted of any crimes, she added. “He was nothing short of a genius and was one of the most honest, gentle and huge-hearted people I have ever had the fortune of knowing.”
But Reuven Segal wrote: “Everyone gets blamed but the guilty party. Perhaps they should look into a mirror for someone to blame. All they have done is to cover up and threaten anyone who has ever worked to fight them for what is right. They are cowards.”
Friends established a “RIP Ezzy Kestecher” Facebook page where they could share memories free of the vitriol.
Kestecher also worked as a substitute teacher at Yeshivah College, which has been at the center of the child sex abuse scandal in Melbourne. Two Orthodox former employees of the college were jailed last year for multiple sex crimes against pupils.