SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - The tightly knit Chabad Lubavitch community in Melbourne has been rocked by claims about the role of the community's rabbi in alleged instances of child abuse at an Orthodox boys school.
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At the center of the crisis is David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted by Melbourne's Yeshivah College, which also houses the headquarters of the local Chabad movement.
Cyprys, 44, appeared at Melbourne Magistrates Court last week, contesting 53 charges of gross indecency toward minors, including six counts of rape allegedly committed between 1982 and 1991.
There are at least 12 alleged victims, including two who now live in America.
Court documents state they were assaulted at various locations, including Cyprys' van, Yeshivah College, Gan Yisrael youth camps and ritual baths.
In a dramatic week in court, testimonies were made public about the alleged role of New York-born Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the spiritual leader of Melbourne's Yeshivah College and head of the Chabad movement in the city, who died in 2008.
Rumors have long been circulating that Rabbi Groner, who was sent here by the late Lubavitcher rebbe in the 1950s to spearhead Chabad in Melbourne, had failed to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities. Last year, police accused Yeshivah College leaders of "lying to police" and "trying to cover up sex abuse claims."
The allegations against Groner, one of Australia's best-known rabbis, echo similar charges currently being leveled thousands of miles away against leaders and rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, New York. In both places, ultra-Orthodox rabbis stand accused of covering up cases of sexual abuse and molestation, and of harassing victims who complain to secular courts.
The New York Times this week accused Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes of collaborating with Haredi rabbis in shielding some sex offenders from prosecution and public exposure. At the same time, New York television stations on Tuesday broadcast scenes from a well-attended, ultra-Orthodox fund-raiser for a therapist accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, while the girl's relatives maintained a vigil and protest outside the building where the fund-raiser was being held.
Rabbi Avrohom Glick, Yeshivah College principal between 1986 and 2007, changed his testimony under oath last week to say that Rabbi Groner had told him on two occasions the names of individuals who were allegedly molested.
Rabbi Glick, who still teaches at the college, also said that an alleged victim reported his story to him. Previously, Glick had said he had not heard any claims by alleged victims.
Court documents released last week revealed that parents of alleged victims confronted Rabbi Groner in the 1980s. One mother said in a witness statement that when she called Groner to tell him of her son's alleged abuse, he replied, "'Oh no, I thought we cured him.' By this I was sure that Rabbi Groner meant this sort of thing had happened before with David Cyprys."
Rabbi Groner, whose brother Leib was the Lubavitcher rebbe's personal secretary, was widely credited with "putting Chabad on the map in Australia," according to Yossi Aron, an Orthodox historian who is writing a book on Yeshivah.
While he did not defend Rabbi Groner's alleged actions, Aron told Haaretz: "It's a great shame his legacy is being besmirched in this way. It was a different era back then. In those days he thought that sending him [the alleged pedophile] to a psychologist was the end of the story."
One of the alleged victims, Manny Waks, a former student at Yeshivah College, went public last year claiming he was molested by two separate perpetrators, including one incident inside Yeshivah's synagogue and another in the adjacent mikveh, a ritual purification bath. He said he wanted to help end the "code of silence" that had become customary in the ultra-Orthodox world.
Waks, a former president of the Jewish community in Canberra, told Haaretz that the allegations have enraged many in Melbourne's 50,000-strong Jewish community.
"People are disgusted with the Yeshivah leadership and are very angry about their unconscionable, immoral and irreligious approach in dealing with this crisis," he said.
He also told of his "absolute shock" at the victimization of his family. "My parents are going through hell," he said. His father, Zephaniah Waks, said some Lubavitch members had shunned him. "There have been attempts to make us feel as if we are the criminals," he said.
When the story of Cyprys' alleged actions first broke last year, Yeshivah principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler wrote to parents urging them to contact authorities about any suspected molestation cases. College officials say they have implemented protocols to safeguard children.
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria also passed a resolution stating that the law of mesirah, which prohibits turning in a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, does not apply in cases of child abuse.
Chabad is a major force in Melbourne's Jewish community, boasting a girls school, a kollel - a yeshiva for married men, a women's seminary, mikveh baths, a slew of Chabad houses and many Chabad rabbis who hold pulpits in non-Chabad synagogues.
This is not the only scandal to embroil the Chabad community in Melbourne. Last year, Ezriel Kestecher, a 26-year-old former Chabad Youth leader, was charged with four counts of indecent acts on a minor. Allegations also surfaced last year against David Kramer, a former Yeshivah College teacher who was jailed for seven years for molesting a minor at a synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2007. Moves are afoot to extradite him to Australia to face charges of abuse at Yeshivah. News of these scandals sent shock waves through the Jewish world, especially in Orthodox communities.
Magistrate Luisa Bazzani is expected to decide on Monday whether there is enough evidence to warrant Cyprys going to trial.