Shabbat Shalom from Oz


I am writing today from Melbourne, Australia, where I have come on a little holiday. By little of course mean I am here for 48 hours. I left Los Angeles on Wednesday night and arrived Friday morning. It is now Saturday morning in Oz, and I leave tomorrow at 9:00 am. It is a bit insane to travel for two days to spend only two days, but I am so happy I did it. I love it here and love the people I am with.

I’m staying with my friend Gamble in a glorious part of the country. Yesterday we ran errands and got caught up. Had lunch with her family and sat by the ocean as I tried my first oyster while having the best Cosmo I’ve had in a long time. It was a perfect day. This group is like family and I feel blessed to spend time here, even if just for a couple of days. I love Australia and have a real connection to this place.

When I was recovering from cancer, Gamble swept in like an angel and saved me from myself. I was either going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself, or was going to get up and live my life. Not just live it, but be brave. Her kindness and nudging forced me to not waste my time thinking about what had happened, but rather what was still possible. Gamble made me brave and gave me Australia.

She attached herself to my heart and I am thankful. I get a lot of perspective on my life through knowing Gamble. I am able to see myself differently through her eyes, and able to see George differently through mine. I am in a very happy and settled place in my life, and Gamble has helped with that. Not only Gamble, but also her sister Tempest, who I love very much. These two remarkable ladies  are family.

I am in Melbourne for two days and it is perfection. The weather is divine, there are a million birds singing in the garden, and while I am sad to be leaving so quickly, am happy that I came and know I will be back soon, for a proper vacation and enough time to see everything this amazing country has to offer.  Tonight we will mark a milestone birthday, have too many cocktails, and celebrate friendship.

If you have an opportunity to visit Australia, you must. If you can spend more than two days, you REALLY must! I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Shabbat. I hope you all have friends like I do, women who inspire you to not only be better, but be happy with exactly who you are. Have a wonderful weekend and be safe out there. Remember that life is always better when you are keeping the faith.

 

Sex-offender teacher fled with help of Jewish school, prosecutor alleges


An American-born teacher who pleaded guilty to child molestation at a Jewish school in Melbourne was assisted in fleeing to Israel by his employer, a prosecutor alleged.

In a pre-sentencing hearing Wednesday at the County Court of Victoria, the prosecution argued that David Kramer should receive the maximum sentence of five years in prison when he is sentenced on July 24.

Prosecutor Brett Sennett told the court that Rabbi Avrohom Glick, the then-principal of the Chabad-run boys’ school in Melbourne, did not report allegations about Kramer to police because he was “concerned for his welfare.” Instead, Sennett told the court, the college paid for Kramer to flee to Israel in 1993 before he returned to America, where he offended again.

Kramer’s attorney, Tim Marsh, attempted to shift blame from his client to the college.

“There could have been an investigation, there should have been an investigation, but instead there was a cover-up,” he said.

In April, Kramer pleaded guilty to five charges of indecent assault and one charge of committing an indecent act with a minor at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College in the early 1990s. Of the four victims, two now reside in the United States.

Kramer, 52, was extradited from America to Australia last year after he had served a four-year jail sentence for sodomizing a 12-year-old child at a St. Louis synagogue.

Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, a support group for Jewish victims of child sex abuse, said outside court that the revelations about Glick were “absolutely astounding” and called on him to resign from his post at the college.

“It’s clear that the Yeshivah leadership cared solely for the welfare of the perpetrator,” he said. “It seems no consideration whatsoever was given to the welfare of the victims. Yeshivah and its leadership need to be held to full account.”

Last year, Yeshivah apologized “unreservedly” to victims for “any historical wrongs that may have occurred.”

Kramer’s sentencing next week will bring to a close the first in a series of child sex abuse cases that have rocked the Jewish community in Australia.

Australian Jew donates stem cells to unknown recipient


An Australian Jewish man donated his stem cells to a Jewish patient who is believed to be dying of a rare blood disorder.

Craig Rosen, 42, of Melbourne began donating his stem cells three months ago and underwent procedures until May 20, Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper reported. The stem cells were called a perfect match.

“It is rare for a complete stranger to match someone they’ve never met,” said Yehuda Kaplan of the Gift of Life Australia.

Usually a genetic match is easiest to find from blood relatives or within the same ethnic group.

“This patient I helped was overseas somewhere and there was no match from his family,” Rosen told the Herald Sun. “I know when they reach out around the world it’s because the person has no other chance for survival.”

He added, “I’m very humbled by the fact that I was given the opportunity to save someone. This is somebody’s child, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s parent … a few days of discomfort for me, big deal.”

The recipient’s personal details remain confidential, but if the stem cell donation is successful, Rosen may meet his recipient.

Fired gay day school principal settles with school out of court


The fired principal of a major Jewish school in Melbourne reached an out-of-court settlement on the eve of his unfair dismissal case in the Federal Court.

Joseph Gerassi, who is gay, sued Bialik College for millions of dollars in damages to his reputation and for lost income after he was dismissed by the board in 2011. The two parties settled for an undisclosed sum, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In a letter, Bialik President Graham Goldsmith said the relationship between Gerassi and the college’s board “had irretrievably broken down” but that his termination was not due to “any dishonesty or misconduct on his part whatsoever.”

There is no evidence that Gerassi, who is believed to be the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia, was fired because of his sexuality, according to the Herald.

Gerassi, a former teacher at the King David School in Johannesburg,South Africa, was ordered to resign or his employment would be terminated immediately.

Goldsmith acknowledged in his letter that the board could have handled the “manner in which his dismissal was carried out” differently.

“I don't know of any private schools in Australia where there are openly gay principals,” the newspaper quoted Gerassi as saying. “Boards of schools are quite conservative and would prefer not to have to deal with the issue. I'm not saying they are homophobic — it's just easier having someone who is not gay heading up a school.”

Israel denies mystery 2010 detainee spied for Australia


Israel denied on Tuesday that an Australian immigrant who committed suicide in 2010 while jailed for security offenses had spied for his native country.

The statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, which oversees Israel's intelligence services, was the first to confirm the affair concerned Ben Zygier, who was named in an Australian TV expose last week.

One of Zygier's lawyers has since linked him to Mossad, fanning speculation the 34-year-old Jewish man from Melbourne had been arrested and held in isolation on suspicion of betraying the Israeli spy agency's secrets – perhaps to Australia.

“Following many reports, the prime minister's office emphasises that Mr. Zygier had no connection to the Australian security services and organizations,” the statement said.

It said that Israel and Australia shared “excellent cooperation, full coordination and full transparency in dealing with the issues on the agenda”.

Zygier was held under alias to stem serious harm to national interests, Israel says, but has not given any other details.

In a separate measure to douse speculation of foul play, an Israeli court allowed the publication of a judge's inquiry, completed two months ago, that said Zygier hanged himself in his cell.

The investigation showed the prisoner looped a wet sheet around his neck, tied it to the bars of a bathroom window in his cell and hanged himself, choking to death.

Israeli media reported the bathroom area was not covered, for privacy reasons, by closed-circuit television cameras that transmitted images from other parts of the isolation cell.

Ruling out foul play on the basis of medical and physical evidence, Judge Dafna Blatman-Kardai said entry to the cell was monitored by cameras and examination of their footage showed no one “intervened in causing the death of the deceased.”

She said his family – which has not commented publicly on the case – agreed with the findings.

“A small amount of sedative was found in his blood. There was no alcohol or drugs. This does not change my determination … about the cause of death,” a forensic medical expert was quoted as saying in the judge's report.

Civil liberties groups and some lawmakers in Israel, protesting at the state censorship restricting local reporting on the case, have demanded to know whether Zygier's rights were violated by his months of incarceration, isolated from other inmates, and whether his death could have been prevented.

Those calls were echoed in Australia, where media suggested Zygier had been suspected of betraying Mossad missions to Canberra's spy services. Australia was angered in 2010 by the fraudulent use of its passports in the assassination of a Hamas arms procurer in Dubai, which the Gulf emirate blamed on Israel.

NEGLIGENCE IN QUESTION

In her report, the judge said there was prima facie evidence that the Prisons Authority had been negligent, noting that it had received special instructions on supervising the prisoner to prevent a possible suicide.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said state prosecutors would decide whether charges would be brought.

A source briefed on the affair told Reuters that Israel has since installed biometric detectors in the toilet stalls of high-risk prisoners, designed to summon guards within seconds should they stop breathing or display other signs of distress.

Responding to the media reports about Zygier, Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told parliament on Monday that the detainee had received frequent family visits and been “supervised by mental-health support and treatment systems, both external and those of the Prisons Service”.

Zygier also consulted with Israeli lawyers, one of whom, Avigdor Feldman, said he saw the married father of two shortly before his death to discuss “grave charges” on which he had been indicted, and the possibility of a plea bargain.

“I met with a balanced person … who was rationally weighing his legal options,” Feldman told Israeli television last week, adding Zygier had denied the charges against him.

“His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail time and be ostracised from his family and the Jewish community. There was no heart string they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end.”

Feldman declined to comment on an Israeli newspaper report that Zygier faced between 10-and-20 years in prison.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor on Saturday called Zygier's death a “tragedy” but said his treatment was justified.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Michael Roddy

Melbourne sex abuse probes spread to Sydney Jewish community


Allegations of child sex abuse, rampant in Melbourne’s Jewish community, have spread to Sydney, with police mounting investigations into two individuals.

Police in New South Wales state said at least one of the alleged perpetrators under investigation is believed to be a former employee of a religious institution associated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Neither of the men have been publicly named.

The allegations date back to the late 1970s or 1980s, a police spokesperson said.

Rabbi Eli Feldman, a spokesperson for the Yeshiva Center, the headquarters of Chabad in NSW, said in a statement Thursday that police had not contacted them.

“Yeshiva unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, including child sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We welcome any police investigation to uncover any improprieties, especially regarding alleged crimes against children.”

Child abuse victim Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for Jewish survivors and victims in Australia, welcomed the news.

“This is yet a further positive development,” he said. “The Sydney Yeshiva Center has made its position crystal clear: that it does not tolerate any forms of abuse, it encourages victims to go to the police, it commits to fully cooperating with the police, it offers victims and survivors an acknowledgement of what they may have experienced, and importantly, it offers them support and assistance in a practical and sensitive manner.”

Yeshivah College, the Chabad-run school in Melbourne, has been at the center of multiple child sex abuse allegations. Two former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – face multiple charges, including indecent acts on minors and child rape.

On Friday, a magistrate set April 23-24 as the dates for Kramer’s committal hearing, which will determine whether his case goes to trial. Kramer appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video-link from jail.

Waks also said a new victim had come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused as a child by a congregant of a synagogue in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Principal at Aussie school under fire sees child sex abuse inquiry as ‘welcome step’


The launch of a commission to investigate child sex abuse was welcomed by the principal of an Australian Jewish school whose students allegedly were victimized.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Monday that the royal commission — or public inquiry — would look into children under the care of religious organizations and focus on the response of the institutions to the alleged sex abuse cases. She called child sex abuse “vile and evil.”

Yeshivah College, an Orthodox school run by Chabad in Melbourne, has been at the center of controversy since allegations broke last year that its students had been victims of sexual abuse.

Its principal, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, issued a statement Wednesday saying that “Child abuse is abhorrent and has a traumatic consequences for victims and their families. Victims of abuse deserve support and closure, and a royal commission is a very positive and welcome step.”

Manny Waks, a spokesman for alleged victims who claims he was abused as a student at Yeshivah College, said that “I’m receiving more and more allegations of child sexual abuse coming from the Melbourne, Sydney and Perth Jewish communities. Some are alleged to have occurred years ago, while others as recent as the past few years.”

One alleged perpetrator, David Cyprys, is standing trial next year on numerous counts of child sex abuse against former students of Yeshivah College from the 1980s. Another alleged perpetrator, David Kramer, is awaiting extradition from America to Australia, where he is wanted by police who are investigating allegations that he also committed child sex abuse while he taught at Yeshivah College between 1989 and 1993.

Malka Leifer, a former principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, fled the country for Israel in 2008 amid allegations that she sexually abused female students.

Gay ex-principal sues Jewish school over dismissal


One of Australia's largest Jewish schools is being sued by a former principal who claims he was the victim of unfair dismissal.

Documents filed in Federal Court allege Joseph Gerassi's dismissal last year from Bialik College in Melbourne was in breach of the Fair Work Act.

He is suing the school for millions of dollars over his firing, according to a report in The Age newspaper Tuesday.

The report said Gerassi is believed to have been the first openly gay principal of a Jewish school in Australia.

He was told in August of last year that the school board had unanimously decided they had ''lost confidence in his ability to lead the school,'' according to a letter from school president Graham Goldsmith to parents following the school board's decision.

“There is no suggestion whatsoever of any impropriety or misconduct on Joseph's part,” Goldsmith wrote.

Gerassi is seeking compensation for loss of income and damage to his reputation. He was principal at Bialik College – one of the top-rated schools in the state – from 2009, moving from the King David School in Johannesburg to take up the post. But last year he was told to resign or his employment would be terminated almost immediately.

The college declined to comment since the case is before the court. “The school community has been kept informed of the situation throughout,'' a spokesperson was quoted as saying in The Age.

Bialik College, which boasts more than 1,000 pupils, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Its website describes it as “Australia’s only cross-communal Jewish school embracing the entire Jewish community regardless of affiliation or practice and with a strong and positive relationship with Israel.”

Melbourne radio host suspended for shouting ‘Sieg Heil’


A Melbourne radio host who claims Jewish descent was suspended for one month for shouting “Sieg Heil” three times at the mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

John Michael Howson, 76, a talk-back host on 3AW Radio, reacted angrily with the Nazi taunts after Assange’s mother, Christine, said she would not conduct an interview on Sunday morning after the way Howson had treated the previous caller.

“I won’t be doing an interview with you because you’re acting like a pig,” Christine Assange said before hanging up.

Howson immediately responded by shouting, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”

The network aired a pre-recorded apology by Howson Tuesday as the station announced his suspension.

Howson rejected accusations he was anti-Semitic, telling the Herald Sun newspaper his great-grandmother was Jewish and that he had participated at fundraisers for Temple Beth Israel, the city’s largest Reform synagogue.

But on Tuesday he said he was “thrilled” that he had become a “cause célèbre.”

“In fact, thanks for the publicity,” he told a Sydney radio station.

“Somebody said that saying ‘Sieg Heil’ meant I was anti-Semitic,” the Australian Associated Press reported him as saying. “I have a Jewish great-grandmother, I have a mezuzah hanging on the wall at my front door, I have a yarmulke in the wardrobe … and if you go into my pantry you will see matzah.”

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.

Pro-Palestinian protests mar Israel celebration in Melbourne


A crowd of angry pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Melbourne marred the annual celebration of Israel’s independence.

Attendees at Tuesday night’s high-profile gathering of politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats and Jewish leaders were forced to walk past the 100-strong crowd that was held back by police, the Australian Jewish News reported.

Among the banners brandished by the protesters were “Israel – an apartheid state” and “Free Palestine.” At one point the protesters burned an effigy of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.

Inside the hotel, Baillieu defended the protesters’ right to express their views, but retorted by saying: “The wonderful thing in this country is that you can have your view. The even better thing is I can stand here and say, ‘You’re wrong.’”

BDS, which stands for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, should be re-named “Bigoted, Dangerous and Shameful,” the newspaper quoted Baillieu as saying.

His counterpart, Labor’s Daniel Andrews, said of the protests outside: “If we have to come through those scenes again [next year], then we’ll all do it with pride.”

In his address, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem offered an olive branch to the Palestinians: “We want to live with you and not die with you,” he said. “We want to respect you as good neighbors and not fear you as a dreaded enemy.”

Day school security guard to face rape charges


An Orthodox Jewish man who worked as a security guard at a Jewish boys’ school in Melbourne, Australia was committed to stand trial on charges of sexually abusing children.

In the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court Monday, magistrate Luisa Bazzani ordered David Cyprys to face 40 charges of child molestation – including multiple counts of rape – against 12 students at Yeshivah College in the 1980s.

Cyprys, 44, who runs a company called Shomer Security, pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In her ruling, Bazzani, who presided over the two-week committal hearing, also chastised Yeshivah’s former principal, Rabbi Avrohom Glick, saying his claim that he was unaware of claims of molestation until the early 2000s was “unfathomable.” Yeshivah College is part of a complex that houses the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Cyprys was released on bail; he will return to court next month.

Massive flooding damages Jewish infrastructure in Melbourne


Mass flash flooding triggered by Cyclone Yasi caused severe damage to Jewish community buildings in Melbourne.

Floods stormed through several suburbs heavily populated by Melbourne’s Jewish community of 50,000 on the evening of Feb. 4, prompting the closure of the Sephardi Synagogue on Shabbat.

At least two Jewish schools also were flooded, with Bialik College—one of the largest Jewish schools in the country—reportedly closing for two days last week due to damage. The offices of the Australian Jewish News also were partially flooded, according to Yossi Aron, the newspaper’s religious affairs editor.

“The streets were like rivers,” Aron told JTA.

One house in a low-lying area of his street was completely flooded, he said, adding that “The water was waist high.”

Driving rain and wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour battered Victoria, ripping roofs from buildings, felling trees, and closing roads, schools and other premises. Some suburbs received more than 5.9 inches of rain in 24 hours, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The flash flooding was caused by the tail end of Yasi, a category 5 storm that ripped through Queensland on Feb. 3, just weeks after rampant floods deluged the state, claiming at least 35 lives.