In the wake of Case Study 22 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that took place in Melbourne over the last fortnight, our community is in turmoil. How can we heal? For a start, here is the letter I would like to receive from our leadership:

Dear Member,

Over the past two weeks, the Royal Commission’s scrutiny into our community has been painful on many levels. It has given us cause to reflect on the huge impact of child sexual abuse on the lives of victims, and the important role institutions have in protecting children. The hearings have left our community exposed and in deep pain.

Looking back over the last four years since allegations of abuse became public, an “us and them” siege mentality has emerged between our community and many people outside the community. In recognizing our failures in dealing with abuse cases years ago, and with the more recent public revelations, it is also evident that many within our community feel disempowered, disaffected and disconnected from the leadership. We recognize that this must change.

We apologize both to victims of child sexual abuse and their families and to our community at large for the errors of the past. We have let you down in our leadership roles, and we want to make amends.

While our focus has been implementing best practice in child protection in our schools and in Chabad Youth, we recognize now that much more needed to be done. The Royal Commission will make findings in 6-12 months in respect of the evidence presented, but many of the issues are already quite apparent, and there is no time to waste for us to respond to them. We are committed to moving forward proactively to a new model of governance and engagement with our stakeholders.

To this end, we have established an independent advisory panel comprising A, B and C, all eminent and suitably qualified members of the Melbourne Jewish community yet not closely affiliated with Chabad, to assist us in moving forward. They have agreed to oversee a process of governance reform across the entire organisation.

The scope of this reform includes, but is not limited to:

  • Initiatives to deal with victims and their families, including formal apologies, redress and reparation.
  • Corporate structures of the schools, shuls, youth groups and other organisations, including possible structural and/or accounting separation of entities;
  • Governance, transparency and accountability, including open membership and dispute resolution processes within all organisations;

In addition, the advisory panel will, in its initial three months, accept submissions from members of the community and will hear of issues that are of concern to them.

We recognize that these changes cannot happen overnight. In making these reforms, we must also ensure that the organisation stays true to the Chabad traditions and values that have driven our centre since its formation. There is no contradiction between remaining an Orthodox Jewish organisation and adopting best practice in governance, transparency and accountability.

We have set a timeline of twelve months to implement the changes, and the advisory panel will report quarterly to the community of its progress.

We are well aware that public calls have been made for a complete spill of all leadership positions. While we agree that a break from the past is necessary, such a move would be very disruptive to the entire organisation. The mistakes we have made in the past do not wipe out entirely the good that the Yeshivah Centre have done for the Melbourne community over many years. It is important not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater”; rather to implement the necessary reforms in an orderly fashion.

I can confirm that committee of management members X and Y have tendered their resignations. The committee has further resolved that any person in a position of authority at the Yeshivah Centre in 2008 will resign during the twelve month transition period, and we will publicly announce those resignations. It is our considered view that this process will allow for a reasonable handover to a new generation of leadership.

We call on members of the community to step up and fill the vacant committee member positions on a short term basis during this process, and they are welcome to apply through the advisory panel.

The eyes of the world have been upon us, and are looking to how we will respond. As a community, it is our responsibility to be a model to Jewish institutions around the world of how to conduct the necessary transformation from closed to open governance.

Yours sincerely,

Z, Chairman
Committee of Management