Jewish day school apologizes to child sex abuse victims

The Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal apologized “unreservedly” to the victims.

The apology, issued Monday in a letter from the head of the Yeshivah College and the head of the Yeshivah Center, which houses the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Melbourne, said: “We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”

Outlining safety measures the college had taken, the letter said it “wants to make it absolutely clear that we condemn sexual abuse in any form.”

It comes six weeks after a judge ordered David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, to stand trial next year for multiple child sex abuse charges allegedly perpetrated over two decades ago on 12 students – three of whom now reside in America.

Manny Waks, the only Australian-based victim who has spoken publicly, said that the apology was “an important milestone.”

“The other past victims and I sought recognition of the ongoing and serious sexual abuse we suffered from the very institution that we hold partly responsible for that abuse. Today’s statement by the Yeshivah leadership is an acknowledgement of the abuse we suffered,” he said.

But the apology is “only a first step,” he continued.

“The reality is that Yeshivah has not apologized for their despicable behavior over the past year,” Waks said. He also criticized the letter’s claim that they are cooperating with police even though detectives had accused the college of a cover-up in court.

One blogger slammed the letter as a “lawyer-drafted piece of propaganda” and a “non-apology apology” that “does not include an admission of guilt.”

Moves are afoot to extradite David Kramer, a convicted pedophile in America, over allegations he committed child sexual abuse at Yeshivah College in the 1980s. Kramer taught at the college.

Denver-area Jews mourn, seek to help massacre victims

As Colorado and the nation tried to absorb the tragic massacre in a suburban Denver movie theater, local synagogues conducted special prayers and the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado launched a response fund for the victims and their families.

Early Friday morning, James Eagen Holmes allegedly walked into a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora presenting a midnight showing of the new “Batman” movie, “Dark Knight Rises,” and shot to death 12 people, wounding 58 others. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

Holmes, 24, appeared in court Monday for arraignment on murder charges. He reportedly worked one year at a summer camp operated by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. He is not Jewish.

Doug Seserman, president and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, said a fund for the victims would be launched by Wednesday. The federation also is planning a blood drive at the Bonfils Blood Center, the main facility for blood donations in Denver, he said.

[Related: Former Jewish camp staffer worked closely with James Holmes]

“As Jews, especially with our relationship with Israel, we understand terrorism very directly, and this is a way for us to show others that we understand the tragic nature of this event and want to do whatever we can to help provide some level of comfort,” Seserman told JTA.

Seserman said that after the state’s recent wildfires, the federation received about 500 donations worth about $75,000, He said 25 percent of the money came from outside the state.

“We now know that we will have the same kind of support from the Jewish world,” Seserman said. “We as a Jewish community mobilize well in times of crisis whether it is a war in Israel, Hurricane Katrina or a tsunami in Southeast Asia or a wildfire in Colorado. We have this demonstrated ability to mobilize in times of crisis, and here is another one we face and will overcome.”

Rabbi Bruce Dollin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and senior rabbi at the Congregation Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver, said that on Shabbat many area congregations recited prayers for the victims.

“It was an incredible shocking and stunning tragedy,” he said. “Everyone in the Jewish community is feeling like the rest of the community; we can’t believe it happened. Life is so fragile and can end in a split second.”

On Sunday, Congregation Beth haMedrosh Hagagdol-Beth Joseph, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Denver, plans a moment of silence for the victims to coincide with the observance of Tisha b’Av, the date on the Hebrew calendar associated with some of Jewish history’s greatest calamities.

“The message of Tisha B’av is that despite all the tragedies, the persecutions, despite all the suffering we still look forward to a brighter future and a better tomorrow,” said Rabbi Ben Greenberg, the congregation’s spiritual leader. “We see that there can be a future despite all the darkness.”

Ruth Cohen, executive director of Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation, said that in addition to having a discussion about the massacre on Friday night, parents were handed a sheet on how to speak about the incident with their younger children.

“It was emotional,” Cohen said. “There was also the bombing of the Israeli tourists and this hit home for me. I have kids who certainly have gone out to midnight movies.”

Dollin said that many people are participating in communitywide events such as donating to blood banks or attending vigils.

“I don’t think we’ve come together as a Jewish community, but as a general community,” Dollin said. “Many of us have gone to the same theater, and so we are feeling the connection to the general neighborhood. We are not just Jews here; we are fully members of our general community.” 

Greenberg attended the prayer vigil Sunday at the Aurora Municipal Center to honor the victims of the massacre.

“It was really powerful to be with crowds of people directing their anxiety, frustration and confusion to God,” Greenberg said. “As a Jewish member of society and as a rabbi, it is critical to say that we hurt also and that the loss of a life of a 6-year-old child tears our heart as much as it tears anyone’s heart.”

Jewish celebration in Rome canceled to honor earthquake victims

Roman Jews canceled an outdoor celebration at Rome’s main synagogue to honor the national day of mourning for the victims of last month’s earthquakes in northern Italy.

Quakes in the Emiglia-Romagna region on May 20 and May 30 killed at least 24 people, left thousands homeless and caused widespread damage to art and architectural heritage.

Monday’s celebration in Rome was to have marked the 68th anniversary of the 1944 reopening of Rome’s main synagogue after the liberation of Rome by allied forces. The ceremony was to have included military representatives from Italy, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Poland, France, India and Israel.

The Italian Jewish community said it was working on plans to aid quake victims possibly by opening Jewish summer camp facilities to children victims and providing counseling and other medical and health care aid.

Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation joins list of Madoff victims

Steven Spielberg suffered some losses in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal, though apparently nowhere near a rumored $300 million.

However, the famed filmmaker’s private Wunderkinder Foundation had some investments with Madoff, though Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy said he was unable to detail the assets or losses of the foundation.

The Wunderkinder Foundation (translated as child prodigies) is a relative modest one compared to Spielberg’s much better-known Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation.

According to the latest available public filing with the IRS, the Wunderkinder Foundation’s 2006 statement, covering the previous tax year, showed assets of $12,573,018 and grant distributions of $5,215,016. Spielberg gave $2 million to the foundation and is listed as the only donor.

According to press reports, Madoff managed 70 percent of the foundation’s dividend and interest income in 2006.

The lion’s share of the foundation’s grants, according to the IRS filing, went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received $3,338,000 for medical research.

The Ross School in New York City received $500,000 and the local Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services got $100,000.

Smaller grants went to some 55 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation.

From the Federation:

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been advised by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles that it, together with a number of other major philanthropic institutions, as well as individuals and for profit investment companies, is included among those which have been victimized by an alleged fraud perpetrated by the New York based firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The Jewish Federation, together with other local charitable bodies, has for decades participated in a Common Investment Pool (CIP) managed by the Jewish Community Foundation. The CIP invests, with the input of professional advisors, significant funds on behalf of the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund in a range of investment classes and vehicles. Among these has been Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

We have been informed by the Jewish Community Foundation that the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund may have sustained a loss of $6.4m as a result of the actions of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC. This constitutes approximately 11% of Federation’s endowment funds as of December 2008.

Stanley Gold, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation, stated, “We are both shocked and saddened to learn of this alleged fraud. The Jewish Federation is exploring various options to fully understand its exposure as well as how this occurred. We intend to aggressively protect and recover as much of Federation’s investment with Bernard Madoff Securities LLC, as possible. We will take all necessary actions to assure this type of action so hurtful to those who depend on our charitable organization never happens again.”

The Jewish Federation will continue to utilize the funds in the United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund to support its essential life saving work, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Los Angeles Jewish Community.

From The Jewish Community Foundation

LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2008)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today issued the following letter to the public regarding the impact of the collapse of the Bernard Madoff investment funds. The Foundation, the largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, stated:

Dear Friends,

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was shocked and outraged to learn that it is among the many victims of the massive fraud attributed to veteran Wall Street investment advisor Bernard Madoff.

The Foundation invested a total of $18 million with the Madoff firm, representing less than 5% (five percent) of the Foundation’s assets.

Donor Advised Funds were not affected by the Madoff fraud. Donor Advised Funds are held separately in Treasury notes and other government instruments.

The $18 million was part of The Foundation’s Common Investment Pool, set aside for long-term endowment-type uses.

The loss, while unprecedented in The Foundation’s 54-year history, does not threaten The Foundation’s stability, its existing commitments, or its ability to maintain its leading role in the Los Angeles philanthropic community.

Despite this loss, The Foundation has a long-term record of generating favorable returns from its investments. The Foundation’s emphasis on diversification, both of investments and of investment advisors, helped limit the impact of the Madoff collapse.

In light of the substantial recent declines in the stock market as well as the financial impact of the Madoff situation, The Foundation is re-evaluating its investment strategies and examining ways to respond to these changed market conditions. This process includes a full review of The Foundation’s policies, practices and due-diligence procedures.

The Foundation is aggressively pursuing every possible recovery and remedy related to the Madoff situation.

We are committed to a fully transparent sharing of information with our donors, supporters, grant recipients and the community, and will continue to report to The Foundation’s constituencies as we learn more. This will include updates to a dedicated page on The Foundation’s website at


Cathy Siegel Weiss Marvin I. Schotland
Chair President and CEO

Skinhead Attack in Beverlywood

Four Caucasian men, appearing to be neo-Nazi skinheads, attacked three Jewish high school boys last Shabbat shortly after midnight in Beverlywood.

The three observant students, in their midteens and wearing kippot, were walking through the quiet neighborhood on April 6, when a dark-colored car containing four men pulled up, according to a police report. Two of the men emerged from the car shouting slurs such as "Heil Hitler" and attacked the Jewish teens.

One of the Jewish boys escaped, while the other two, both 17, were beaten, despite their efforts to fend off their assailants, according to one of the victims. The Jewish boys were punched and kicked. One of the boys was held down, and the assailants shouted slurs, calling the boy "a dirty kike." No weapons were involved in the incident. At the parents’ request, the names of the Jewish teens have been withheld.

Two of the Jewish teens were set to leave that weekend on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance’s March of the Living program — an educational travel program that brings teens to Poland and Israel to observe Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut — and were walking home a third friend when the attack occurred. The only witness was a man walking his dog. However, the passerby did not come to the aid of the teens, noted one of the victims. As the attackers departed, they shouted more slurs against Jews.

One Jewish teen was rushed to Century City Hospital, where a gash above his right eye was sewn up with six stitches.

A news conference regarding the incident was held on April 9. In attendance were LAPD Deputy Chief Dave Kalish; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, and Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss. Detective Supervisor Ron Phillips of the West Los Angeles Division told The Journal that the attack appeared to be an isolated incident and that the investigation into locating the attackers is in progress.

According to police, the two suspects were in their 20s and had shaved heads. One was about 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with blue eyes. The other was about 6 feet and 150 pounds. Their vehicle was a four-door, economy-style car, possibly a Honda or Toyota Corolla.

"We’re running down some names," Phillips said.

"You have to give high grades to LAPD. They were right on top of this," Cooper said. "They did everything right. We should not take any of this for granted."

"The local community is meeting with the LAPD to figure out how to best from this point go forward," said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Orthodox Union, who coordinated a B’nai David-Judea Congregation gathering on April 10. "We just can’t sit back after this takes place in our neighborhood."

Chief among discussions will be to coordinate police and Beverlywood-area private security patrols.

Meanwhile, the injured boys are recovering. One victim was able to make the March of the Living Trip, while the boy with the gash dropped out as a result of his injury. However, the teen found some solace in joining some friends from his high school at the April 7 pro-Israel rally in Westwood.

"After what I just experienced, it’s nice to be here," he told The Journal.

"The police are aggressively pursuing this case," Cooper said. "I feel pretty confident that there will be a positive outcome here. Justice is going to be done."

Anyone having any information regarding this incident or other suspicious activity is asked to contact either the West Los Angeles police station, (310) 574-8401; or West Los Angeles Detectives, (310) 575-8441.

Yomtov Pleads Guilty

Teacher Mordechai Yomtov stood sobbing in his orange prison jumpsuit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court as he pleaded guilty to two counts of committing continuous sexual abuse on a minor and one count of lewd act on a minor.

The Feb. 4 plea follows an agreement worked out between the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel. Yomtov was sentenced to one year in County Jail, followed by five years’ probation.

Yomtov, 36, was arrested Dec. 3 and charged with 10 felony counts of committing lewd acts with three of his students, ages 8 to 10, at Cheder Menachem, an all-boys Orthodox yeshiva located in Hollywood and run under the auspices of West Coast Chabad.

Four family members of the three victims in the case were present; one mother even moved closer to force Yomtov to face her as he admitted to the crimes.

Yomtov’s attorney, Mitchell W. Egers, said he told his client it was possible to fight the charges but Yomtov declined.

"He told me he did not want to subject the children or their families to a trial or to cross-examination," Egers said, adding that his client is not a rabbi as previously reported (students traditionally call teachers there "rebbe").

The court ordered Yomtov to have no contact with the victims, their families or with any minors without an adult present, with the exception of his own three children. He must also undergo psychiatric treatment through USC for the length of his term (including probation) and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Following his jail term, he is prohibited from seeking employment in any position where he would be teaching minors.

The parents said they were satisfied with the agreement.

"Under the circumstances I think he is extremely lucky," said the father of one victim. "If we didn’t work with the district attorney, this guy would have got 25 years to life. But we understand that he is ill. He has an addiction that is not treatable."

The man said his son, one in a family of seven children, was undergoing therapy as a result of the incident.

"Only time will tell. Sometimes he acts like nothing is wrong and other times you can see it is affecting him," he said.

The boy, like the other victims, is still attending Cheder Menachem. Attorneys for two of the families say they have not ruled out a civil suit against the school.

"I’m pleased that the process of holding those accountable for the terrible crimes against these children has begun," said Gary Wittenberg, a civil litigator, adding that any further actions "depend on what develops over the next few days and weeks."

The father of the one victim said he hoped the case brought cloure not only for his son, but also for the rest of Yomtov’s victims.

"We know there were other victims who have not come forward and my prayer is for their parents to get these kids help," he said. "I also hope this clears up the rumors that the boys were making this up. there were people even last night telling me that. I hope [the plea agreement] will put those rumors to rest for good."

In response to the resolution of the case, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad, issued the following statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families that make up the Cheder Menachem community. We are very thankful to the various organizations, including Jewish Family Service and Ohel, that continue to support and guide Cheder Menachem through the healing process."

To Life!

Benjamin Kadish is a very lucky kid. The most critically injured of the five North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting victims is home and doing well. Despite his lengthy hospital stay and his often painful recovery from his wounds, he is warm and outgoing, even performing a magic trick for a visitor. He chatters happily about his ride home on a fire truck from his latest hospital stay at Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills, a gift from Engine Company 72, whose personnel were the first on the scene that terrible day last August when all hell broke loose at the JCC.

Benjamin wants to be a firefighter himself someday. On his bed hangs a helmet, courtesy of Engine Co. 72 — a real fire helmet “not a toy one,” he explains.

“All I need now is a fire jacket,” Ben said, with a grin of confidence.

Benjamin faces his next surgery on Oct. 6, his sixth birthday, to remove the colostomy bag he has needed since the shooting. Benjamin will then undergo at least one other procedure to remove the pins in his leg. Currently, he receives physical therapy at home and is visited daily during the week by a tutor from LAUSD, so he will not fall behind his first grade class at the local elementary school.

Although Benjamin will miss celebrating this very special birthday, his family wants to thank the many people who made it possible for Ben to be here for it. Toward that end, the Kadishes are planning a private party Oct. 23 — and they are asking for the community’s help. The Bell Canyon Home Owner’s Association has graciously extended the use of their social hall and Wright Graphics has agreed to provide invitations. The family now seeks donations of refreshments, decorations and other party goods.

“Until now, we have chosen to keep this a private family matter Our energies (were) focused only on Ben’s recovery,” said close family friend Maureen Chase. “Now we want to celebrate the dedication of the paramedics of the Los Angeles Fire Department and the medical staffs of Providence Holy Cross Hospital, Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and Kaiser Permanente of Woodland Hills for giving Ben his sixth birthday. We want to celebrate Ben in a manner befitting what he has overcome so far.”

Charles Kadish, Benjamin’s father, praised Rabbi Ron Herstik and the congregation of Temple Solael, for their support during this ordeal. The Temple set up a fund following the incident to help offset the cost of Benjamin’s care. Both Charles, an electrical contractor and owner of Above All Electric, and his wife Eleanor have devoted themselves full-time to their son’s recovery.

Kadish said he will never get over the miracle of his son’s survival.

“All these people coming together at just the right time (to save Ben’s life) — it was like a philharmonic orchestra, all playing in tune,” he said.

Those interested in making a donation are asked to contact Sandy Weiss of Temple Solael Sisterhood at (818) 888-1885.