Thursday, 13 April 2017


A tale of leadership failing to fulfil their obligations.
When words of goodwill are unaccompanied by action, inevitably they become hollow.  With the added weight of leadership behind them, when will an absence of action come to be perceived as an act of complicity?   

Rabbi Telsner
Over the last eighteen months, there has been much talk and repeated issuing of communal correspondence from various Yeshivah leadership groups expressing a desire to engage with, respect and find some form of recompense for the victims of sexual abuse.
Without the undertakings required by leadership, words become meaningless, as in the ongoing case of Rabbi Telsner.

In September 2015, following enormous pressure in the wake of Case 22 of the Royal Commission, Rabbi Telsner submitted a letter to the Yeshivah Centre, advising of his resignation as Head Rabbi. In his letter, Rabbi Telsner recognised that his conduct toward victims and their families did not demonstrate values or behaviour to the extent necessary of a rabbi in his position.  He went on to apologise for his conduct and urge everyone to show compassion and support toward victims and their families.
Rabbi Telsner’s presence as a communal leader, much less as Head Rabbi, was spoken of by victims of sexual abuse as a long-standing barb and cause for offence.  His resignation was accepted with alacrity by Yeshivah Centre.   This resignation certainly afforded the victims some solace and a modicum of acknowledgement and apology from Rabbi Telsner.   In it’s immediate acceptance Yeshivah conceded the pain that had been caused.  At the time, it remained only for Yeshivah to show their own commitment and sincerity, not just by accepting the resignation - but by sourcing a new Head Rabbi.
Over eighteen months have passed since Rabbi Telsner resigned. Notwithstanding, as of last week, numerous members of the community report that in the Yeshivah Synagogue and within the community, all the markers continue to exist that identify Rabbi Telsner as Head Rabbi.  
These include his being referred to as Moreh D’atrah - The ‘Master of the Place’ and most Senior Halachic Decision-maker and that he continues to officiate at life cycle events, such as weddings, of other congregants.  Within the synagogue, he regularly sits in the Head Rabbi’s seat, is waited for by the congregation at all weekly and festival prayer services and delivers the sermons on these occasions.  On special occasions such as the Farbrengen held to celebrate the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe within the community, Rabbi Telsner was seated at the Centre Seat of the Head Table.
Further, Rabbi Telsner maintains an office in the Synagogue building, is co-Head of the Chabad Kashrut Committee and as reported at the Royal Commission, continues to be the recipient of a salary from the Yeshivah Centre.
Looking at the functions that Rabbi Telsner undertakes and the interactions he has with the community it is easy to interpret that he continues in the role of Head Rabbi of Yeshivah Centre.  
While much noise was made at the time regarding the acceptance of the letter of resignation  by Yeshivah, it seems a silent choice has since been undertaken to ignore or forget about it by those who carry the authority of the organisation.
Since Rabbi Telsner’s ’resignation’, none of the five Yeshivah leadership groups with the relevant authority to complete this act of respect toward the victims, to source a new Head Rabbi for Yeshivah to replace Rabbi Telsner have as much as placed an advertisement for the role.  
These groups include the original Yeshivah Trustees; the first and second Interim Committees of Management; the Interim Board of the newly incorporated Chabad Institutions of Victoria Ltd (CIVL) and the current Board of CIVL.  
In this regard, one could certainly make a case that the leadership of Yeshivah over eighteen months have neither understood nor acted to respect  the pain of victims abused within their care, in decades past and in less distant times.  They have not chosen to act, acknowledge and step up as they should have by effecting the completion of this important matter.    In this regard, one after another, they participated in facilitating a series of repeated slaps in the face to the victims of sexual abuse.
Every day that no apparent change occurs, that no action is taken to pursue this matter, a message is sent to the victims and likewise the wider community.  
A message that the words of the leadership were and remain ineffectual.   
It speaks of the continued circling of the wagons.  It spoke of continued prioritisation and protection of the institution at the expense of those individuals who suffered.  It speaks of lack of willingness to drive that most difficult and most important of matters, cultural change.
Failure to act by the Yeshivah leadership is a continued betrayal of the victims of sexual abuse.  Redress for victims is more than just money.  They seek apologies, some of which have as yet not been provided and a cleansing of house of those who were responsible and whose continued presence remains a reminder to them of ongoing pain and suffering.
The Board of CIVL who have current oversight of the Yeshivah Synagogue are relatively new to their task and thankfully, have the opportunity to address this matter in a timely fashion, rather than become an adjunct to those in leadership that have preceded them.   They have the opportunity to send a very different message.
To once again let this matter drift, will unfortunately have them join a line of Yeshivah leadership who have failed the test of leadership.    Alternatively, the new Board of CIVL has the opportunity to display leadership in this matter, long overdue.

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