The Royal Commission – Assisting Abraham

This week, The Royal Commission into Child Abuse, Case Study 22, saw leading figures of the Chabad-Jewish world of Melbourne, Australia forced to step down from their roles; To finally be held accountable for decades of what can lightly be called ‘poor judgement’ and harshly described as gross misuse of power and neglegence in a childcare setting.

From a generation of new parents, unsure where to put their trust and their children, to the people who make ignorant, damaging remarks, everyone is affected.

‘He asked for it.’ ‘It’s in the past’ and ‘Stop harming our community’ are remarks thrown around all too calously. The people who suggest such hurtful remarks are speaking from fear. They live in a society of their own making where you are tainted by association. They wonder who will walk in the street with them when anyone finds out that they are supporting a victim.

This society breeds paranoia not only between victims and those who should have been their advocators, but also between victims and civil authorities. Through threats and intimidation victims were robbed of any chance of dignity while from the inside a community collapsed.

With the ongoing invstigation surrounding David Cyprus, former security for Yeshiva College, and his involvement in pedaphelia within the school, an annonymous victim, AVB, has cautiously and responsibly led a new wave of justice. And what is he met with?

 The Guardian’s David Marr documents, (19/02),

 “Cyprys’s  lawyer at the bail hearing, Alex Lewenberg, was complaining about the help he (AVB) was giving police.

 “I am not exactly delighted,” said the lawyer, “that another Yid would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of. That is the reason why I was very disappointed, because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement, that you do not assist against Abraham.”

 No, this is not a religious requirement. There is a religious requirement to protect the hurt and advocate for the disenfranchised. Although there is no precedent set for ‘Assisting Against Abraham’ on this scale, even the concept begs the question, who is Abraham?

It seems to follow that when a Jew has information on another Jew, he keeps quite out of solidarity. Standard pack mentality. It seems to suggest the notion that Assisting Against Abraham, dobbing in a wrong-doer, is throwing ‘One of Us’ under the bus. If that is the message ‘Assisting Against Abraham’ stands for, where does the onus for protection lie? Seemingly with the perpetrator. Throwing a perpetrator under the bus is not traitorous, it’s retribution. By not speaking up it is the victim who is thrown under the bus by default. Is he or she not Abraham?

In the times of the Ir’ai Miklat,  the cities of refuge for those who had committed crimes perpetrators were kept outside of society and yet still afforded life. It’s a kibbutz style prison. There is no Ir Mikla to send these perpetrators to, to protect our community. Instead, we exiled the victims to live in their own world of isolation. The decision making process is more than flawed, we have been burnt by our board.

The popular Yiddish phrase Tracht Gut Ven Zein Gut, Think good and it will be good, has become bastardised over time. ‘Think good, and it will be good.’ It’s premise being straightforward, it’s message highlighting the power of thought. Somehow the concept of  Tracht gut ven Zein gut became redefined as Out of sight, Out of mind; It’s all going to work out in the end; Someone else will take care of it. This simple saying  inadvertently allowed a generation of people to turn the other cheek and place all their faith, and their vulnerable, in the hands of people they should have been able to trust ,who, in hindsight, were out of their depth. We let the ‘thinking good’ fester into a deluded false sense of security and it’s come back to bite us in the behind. But another Chabad-Jewish principle is that the thought must eventually lead to action, otherwise what is a thought?

Listening to a story tape for kids, a teacher tells a story of The Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the story, as in most of these stories from Russia, A Simple Jew (capitalised because this is actually his name for emphasis) is wrongly accused of theft. His friends warn him that his judge is not Jewish, and this foreshadows great peril for said Simple Jew.

This story is an accurate depiction of life in pre 1989 Russia. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain things were not only bleak, they were vehemently hostile. A Jewish person going before a judge of any kind for the most minute of crimes would result in some kind of jail time at best. Think pre civil rights America. But thankfully, unlike post civil rights America, that is not a reality we are faced with today. So why are our children being told stories still depicting that life? As a lesson in history is somewhat understandable. To understand where you are going, you must know where you come from. But as a soothing story over rest time? There is a wound in the fabric of our society and  continually breeding distrust of the authorities will only tear it apart further. It’s not just a children’s story, It’s our children.

This is an example of subconscious truths we raise our children with. Our society is evolving, and has been for generations and generations, our relationships to greater society need to change. The paranoia of the authorities that we so rightfully developed over generations is now superfluous and has instead created a new threat much closer to home.

As the old adage goes: Absolute power corrupts, Absolutely. When put on the stand, the mindset that allowed room for  ‘trucht gut ven zein gut’ to represent a community that forfeited their say to powers that be, and cultivated an attitude of complacency rather than affirmative action, has been found wanting. It’s time for the thought to become an action. To create new, trusted ties and demand results when they are promised.

In light of the allegations, before the royal commission was even a glimmer in anyone’s nightmare, the community has been changing. As the first story broke in 2012, just as parents were sending their children to camp, a viral video came out presenting a string of Rabbis, heads of camps and Directors, supporting staff and safety. The clip was released in anticipation of the upcoming summer camps. For the first time people were standing up and saying ‘We’re looking out for you, We won’t ignore this.You are our priority, Honestly.’ The entire bureaucratic system has been remodeled within schools from creche to high school. More than PR for the schools, the community itself is under construction.

When one belongs to a community so small that, even after being afforded a pseudonym through the court, you are still recognisable, and make no mistake, when he got on the stand, we all knew who AVB was – voice masking and all, speaking out is understandably terrifying. The families that have come forward are heros simply for setting the precedent of honesty. We now have the opportunity to create a partnership, a meeting ground between our communities values and the civil authorities. If we breed mistrust, we will reap mistrust.

These are crimes that we can no longer hide from. And finally, we aren’t trying to. That is the only way that our thoughts and intentions will lead to real, lasting action.

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