Punished for speaking out
Howard Cooper on a detailed account of abuse. Anne Garvey on a lively, fatally flawed tale Who Gave You Permission?
Reviewed by Howard Cooper
MANNY WAKS, the eldest son among 17 children of a bullying, beltwielding Chabad father, has written a memoir of outrage in which the complexity of his emotions, the shame, guilt and anger, are still raw more than 25 years later.
Between the ages of 11 and 14, the author was sexually abused, first by the son of one of the rabbis teaching at the Chabad Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne, where Manny was at school, and then by the security guard employed there.
But it is not these incidents (which Waks graphically describes) that are in themselves shocking, or traumatise the victim. Aberrant sexuality is not news. It’s what happened to him and his family after the abuse stopped that leaves the deeper scars.
Rumours at school, after his best friend betrayed his secret, led to incessant bullying about him being gay: the author (or his co-writer) speaks eloquently about the closed, insular world of Lubavitch ultra-Orthodoxy in the late 1980s, which conflated male-on-male paedophilia with homosexuality.
After he told his father about these incidents, and his father confronted the centre’s rabbinic director, and then told the police, years of personal vilification and smears followed.
Ostracism is a familiar response to whistleblowers. Organisations don’t like their lives disturbed by uncomfort- Manny Waks: years of vilification directed at him and his family for revealing child sex abuse in Chabad institution
able truths. Much of the author’s animus is directed at the failure of Chabad and the Yeshivah Centre to take these allegations seriously and he is zealous in indicting their authoritarianism, lack of internal accountability, and intolerance of dissent. The halachic concept of mesirah — the so-called “sin” of reporting on another Jew to the secular authorities — was invoked, as it tends to be in the many situations in
which parts of the traditionalist Jewish community don’t want to expose their darker secrets to the public gaze.
Waks names and shames several Australian Jewish organisations and individual perpetrators. Along the way, even incidental asides can be genuinely shocking. The education he received was so unworldly, he reveals, that, until his early twenties, “I didn’t know the difference between Jesus and Hitler — I thought
they were the same person”. He has now left Chabad and a religious lifestyle and runs a global advocacy service for Jewish victims of child sexual abuse.
Yet such was the mystique around the late Lubavitcher Rebbe that his “reverence for the Rebbe remains intact”. Good fathers, it seems, can be hard to find.
Rabbi Howard Cooper is a writer and practising psychotherapist