A senior religious figure within the orthodox Jewish community, rabbi Baruch Lesches, told a child sex abuse victim that “the proper, clever thing to do” about the abuse “would be to let it go”.
The victim, identified only as AVB, told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse about that Lesches also told him that if he spoke up about the Yeshiva Centre Sydney and Melbourne staff who had abused him, he would ruin their lives.
Lesches said: “If you are going to do something to them at a certain stage in their life, you are destroying their whole life and their children and therefore, this is like something ridiculous.”
The conversation happened in 2011 when, as an adult, AVB phoned Lesches to confront him about what he knew about the extent of the abuse that had occurred within the orthodox Yeshivah community.
Lesches told AVB he had confronted a known abuser, former Yeshivah Centre Bondi director Daniel Hayman, about his abuse of children several times, but had never gone to the police.
Lesches told AVB teachers within the centre often spoke about abusing children, implying that it was widespread and therefore not an issue.
“You can hear it from the teachers,” Lesches told AVB.
“They are speaking about how to do it, where to go and which place to go, and when the parents will not know.”
Lesches then told AVB that Hayman had told him many of the young boys he abused had agreed to it.
“I responded ‘No, what are you talking about? How can a kid that is 12 or 13 years old agree? It doesn’t even come into the imagination,’ ” AVB told the commission, to which he said Lesches responded: “You will be surprised.”
AVB was brought to tears at several points as he gave his testimony at Melbourne’s county court.
He said he had not been able to mention the abuse to anyone until 1998, when he was an adult, and even then he could only share his story by writing it down.
AVB was abused when he was 11 years old at the Yeshivah College Bondi by Yeshivah Centre Melbourne security guard David Cyprys, who was visiting.
A few years later he was abused by Hayman during a Yeshiva-run camp. Shortly after, AVB’s father had an accident and his parents could no longer care for him, and he moved to Melbourne where he became involved with the Yeshivah Centre there, where Cyprys still worked.
AVB told the commission that even after Hayman was convicted last year of indecently assaulting him and was sentenced to jail, no one from the Yeshivah Bondi had contacted him to apologise.
“I feel my soul has been taken away,” AVB said.
“[Child abuse is] the most violent, destructive thing you can do to a child. You rip away their innocence, then you put them through a court process where they sit there and have to prove something happened to them.
“Bring back my soul by treating me like a person, acknowledging what happened to me was wrong, that failures were made. Give me back what was taken by embracing and accepting – I have done nothing wrong.”
He told the commission speaking up was extremely difficult, because within the Yeshivah community talking about sex was taboo and children did not receive sex education.
“If you can’t talk about consensual relationships, how are you going to talk about something that is just subhuman,” he said.
“That’s why I still don’t want to talk about it.”
On Tuesday, AVB’s wife gave evidence and described how the orthodox and insular Yeshivah community in Melbourne and Sydney had turned on her family after the abuse became known.
She described how her family had been shunned at the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre, and of malicious blog posts and emails written about her husband that aimed to discredit him. People accused him of breaching mesirah, which prohibits a Jewish person handing over, or informing on, another Jewish person to a secular authority.
It is an accusation that can lead to excommunication from the orthodox Chabad community of which they were a part, the commission heard.
AVB also told the commission that when, in 2011, police asked the Yeshivah Centre Bondi for a list of names of all students who attended the school while Hayman worked there, he realised his name and the names of most of his friends had been omitted.
It prompted him to inform his friends and acquaintances in the community of the police investigation via email, because he feared many victims would never otherwise know about the investigation, or how to come forward.
He also included in that email a statement from the Rabbinical Council of Victoria which said: “The prohibitions of mesirah (reporting crimes to the civil authorities) … do not apply in cases of abuse.”
AVB said he received a backlash from senior religious leaders after sending the email, and was warned against speaking out further.
Note from JCW: Rabbi Baruch Lesches was asked to testify at the royal commission, where he would have had the opportunity to present his version of events, but he did not reply. We are therefore publishing this article with testimony from the victim without his response. If Rabbi Lesches wishes to send us a response, we will post it on this site.