|Anton Block (Pres.)|
Executive Council Australian Jewry
On Monday evening, in the wake of the impact of the Royal Commission members of the community gathered at the invitation of TZEDEK, a victim advocacy group with a focus on the prevention of child sexual abuse in our community.
Under the steerage of CEO, Michele Meyer, a spectrum of community members came together to reflect and engage on where we are, what there is to be learnt and what it means for us to find ourselves in this position. Obviously in a brief evening these matters could barely be addressed in full, but the thoughtfulness of those selected to address the audience, the sensitivity of the speakers and their heartfelt sincerity would have been a boon to many in the audience.
I want to say a few words about the presence and words that distinguished Anton Block, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry on Monday night.
Two years ago, during Case Study 22 there was next to no-one present other than victims, those summoned to provide testimony by the Commission, counsel for various individuals and organisations, officers of the Commission, support staff and media. I was shocked at the absence of our communal leadership, the JCCV, the ECAJ and leaders of other major communal organisations religious and/or secular. Our Jewish community leaders commonly seen bumping each other sideways for space at the podium during communal events were nowhere to be found. The community had disappeared and only a few individuals were present to provide support - overwhelmingly it seemed for those whom the Royal Commission were taking to task.
Who was there for the victims of abuse? To witness? To acknowledge? To support? I could count them on the fingers of one hand.
Numerous other communal organisations that should have had a presence in that room from beginning to end to witness and fortify those most in need, to provide them with validation and assurance were entirely absent. When I took this absence up with those in leadership I spoke to over the following weeks I heard common themes; "We listened on-line"; "We weren't asked to be there"; "We were too busy". Repeated refrains from the same excuse book. Pitiful and shameful.
To be honest over the last two years it has been difficult to see much of anyone in leadership step up and be prepared to stand by the victims, articulate their rights and fight for their entitlements in our community.
On Monday night Anton acknowledged these failings of leadership. He reflected on his own experiences at the Royal Commission last week as part of a Jewish Community Leadership Panel. On his own profound shock to find the Jewish community in such a position - leader after leader of the Jewish community asked whether shunning of a victim could ever be considered appropriate - and being asked again, leader after leader, whether there could there be any ambiguity to the question.
On Monday night Anton apologised for our leadership, apologised for their absence, apologised for failures to our children and apologised to the victims. A long overdue and heartfelt apology that brought me to tears.
I hope the victims, those present on the night and those who will hear his words later, begin to find some measure of solace in his words.
Most importantly, I hope Anton's apology is owned by all community leaders, by all to whom they must be an example. The time for excuses is over.