The Jewish Chronicle

More come for­ward to ac­cuse top Lon­don rabbi of bul­ly­ing

- BY ROSA DO­HERTY Society · Bullying · Judaism · Religion · London · Reformist Movement · City of Westminster · Westminster · West London · New York City · David Mitchell · Julia Neuberger, Baroness Neuberger · Helen Freeman

► MORE PEO­PLE have come for­ward to say they were vic­tims of bul­ly­ing by a rabbi who was ap­pointed to lead the flag­ship syn­a­gogue for the Re­form Move­ment — even though five peo­ple had made for­mal al­le­ga­tions to West­min­ster Coun­cil’s safe­guard­ing team about him.

Since the JC re­ported on the al­le­ga­tions in De­cem­ber, ad­di­tional for­mer mem­bers and em­ploy­ees of West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue (WLS) have come for­ward to say Rabbi Mitchell, who ran the syn­a­gogue’s ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment, bul­lied staff, re­duced col­leagues to tears and be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately in front of young peo­ple. There is no sug­ges­tion of phys­i­cal abuse.

In a fur­ther de­vel­op­ment, over 100 mem­bers and rab­bis of pro­gres­sive Ju­daism this week signed an open let­ter call­ing for the es­tab­lish­ment of in­de­pen­dent code of ethics and com­mit­tee that would hold “rab­bis and can­tors (clergy) to ac­count” in cases of fi­nan­cial mal­prac­tice, bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment, and in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual be­hav­iour.

The let­ter, which was also signed by for­mer and cur­rent mem­bers of WLS, says that a code of ethics was needed to “lay out ex­pected stan­dards of

be­hav­iour and es­tab­lishes a process for fair ad­ju­di­ca­tion when those stan­dards are not met.”

It comes af­ter the orig­i­nal whistle­blow­ers said they had “no suc­cess” rais­ing is­sues re­gard­ing Rabbi Mitchell with WLS’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, chair­man and se­nior rabbi.

The orig­i­nal com­plainants also ex­pressed anger over the shul’s re­sponse to the first JC story about Rabbi Mitchell and what it said it knew about the orig­i­nal al­le­ga­tions.

Mean­while, a new whistle­blower, a for­mer WLS mem­ber, came for­ward to say she wit­nessed be­hav­iour that left her con­cerned about young peo­ple in Rabbi Mitchell’s care.

She re­called see­ing Rabbi Mitchell make com­ments about rape while on a trip with young peo­ple.

She told the JC: “I went on a trip to New York with Rabbi Mitchell as an adult and there was a group of adults and a group of young peo­ple.”

She said as part of the trip, the adult group and young peo­ple came to­gether for meal times and dur­ing one meal at a restau­rant she heard one of the young peo­ple talk­ing to Rabbi Mitchell about be­ing scared to get home by her­self.

She said: “The young per­son was rais­ing the fact she didn’t feel safe get­ting home to the shared ho­tel alone. Rabbi David said to her, ‘Who would want to rape you?’

“That was not an ap­pro­pri­ate way of speak­ing to a young per­son or any adult.”

The WLS mem­ber said she was so shocked about the way in which Rabbi Mitchell had spo­ken to the young per­son she had told her part­ner about it. He now re­calls that she was shocked and up­set at the time by what she heard.

A num­ber of other for­mer em­ploy­ees at WLS have con­tin­ued to con­tact the JC since the story was pub­lished with fur­ther al­le­ga­tions.

One for­mer se­nior WLS staff mem­ber who worked closely with Rabbi Mitchell said: “I left be­cause of the bul­ly­ing”, adding: “A lot of what hap­pened to me was him mak­ing faces in meet­ings and mak­ing up ru­mours about my fam­ily and talk­ing about me be­hind my back.

“It was very dif­fi­cult to speak out about it be­cause there was a cul­ture of fear be­cause he was well liked and sup­ported by the se­nior rabbi.”

They said it was com­mon for peo­ple to feel like “any­thing per­sonal they said about them­selves would be used against them at a later date”.

They said Rabbi Mitchell “con­stantly sought to un­der­mine the work that I was do­ing and I was reg­u­larly ap­proached by other mem­bers of staff who were

Rabbi David said to her: ‘Who would want to rape you?’

find­ing him dif­fi­cult to deal with.” Upon hand­ing in their no­tice, the em­ployee said they ex­pressed con­cerns to the Se­nior Rabbi, Baroness Ju­lia Neu­berger, and the lead­er­ship team.

“All I was told was, ‘Sorry to hear that’ and that they ‘thought that this be­hav­iour had stopped.’ I was forced to leave a com­mu­nity I love and the fact that it re­mains an is­sue shows there is a cul­ture of fear around speak­ing out.”

An­other for­mer se­nior em­ployee of WLS, who worked with Rabbi Mitchell five years ago, came for­ward to say that they had also left be­cause of his be­hav­iour.

They said that, like an­other for­mer staff mem­ber who spoke to the JC, they wit­nessed an item on the agenda of a staff meet­ing run by Rabbi Mitchell called ‘Nud­nik of the week’, where staff mem­bers were en­cour­aged by the rabbi “to say who in the com­mu­nity had an­noyed them.

“It made peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able and I saw col­leagues, es­pe­cially those who were ju­nior, crying af­ter meet­ings with David.

“I was in nu­mer­ous man­age­ment meet­ings with him and saw how he de­mor­alised col­leagues. He would of­ten place oner­ous and un­re­al­is­tic de­mands on younger col­leagues that had noth­ing to do with their jobs.”

The for­mer em­ployee said that dur­ing their time at WLS, Baroness Neu­berger “gave me the im­pres­sion that man­age­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were taken away from David to deal with the com­plaints about him and that they would not be re-in­tro­duced.”

An email seen by the JC sent in March 2016 — be­fore the West­min­ster in­ves­ti­ga­tion — to the orig­i­nal com­plainants and for­mer em­ploy­ees who raised con­cerns ap­pears to cor­rob­o­rate this.

Robert Weiner, chair of the Re­form move­ment, wrote to for­mer em­ploy­ees to say that “as a re­sult of the orig­i­nal com­plaints man­age­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties was changed and there was coach­ing and men­tor­ing put in place by WLS to en­sure the safety and well­be­ing of all the com­mu­nity.”

Af­ter be­ing con­tacted by the JC, Rabbi Mitchell con­firmed that “since these is­sues were first raised I have learned, with coach­ing and men­tor­ing, to be­come a bet­ter man­ager of peo­ple and I am still learn­ing.”

One of the orig­i­nal com­plainants and for­mer em­ploy­ees said: “Line man­age­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were taken away at the time — he was no longer al­lowed to man­age any­one on the ed­u­ca­tion floor whilst I was still there — so why has he been pro­moted to the high­est po­si­tion in the syn­a­gogue? I’d have se­ri­ous con­cerns for em­ployee well­be­ing if he is able to line man­age once again.”

The Char­ity Com­mis­sion has de­manded to know why the syn­a­gogue, which is a reg­is­tered char­ity, did not in­form it about the al­le­ga­tions against Mr Mitchell.

A spokes­woman for the Com­mis­sion said: “We would ex­pect trus­tees to re­port al­le­ga­tions of this na­ture to us. We are assess­ing the is­sues and will make con­tact with the trus­tees im­mi­nently.

“The public quite rightly ex­pect all

char­i­ties to be safe places, and keep­ing peo­ple safe from harm must be a gov­er­nance pri­or­ity for all char­i­ties. Trus­tees of char­i­ties work­ing with chil­dren and young peo­ple have an es­sen­tial duty to take rea­son­able steps to safe­guard their ben­e­fi­cia­ries and to pro­tect them from abuse and mis­treat­ment of any kind.”

WLS has in­formed the JC that “since these his­toric com­plaints were raised and re­solved a num­ber of years ago, Rabbi Mitchell, his col­leagues and the syn­a­gogue as a whole have worked hard to im­prove man­age­ment pro­ce­dures in line with recog­nised best prac­tice.

“West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue will con­tinue to re­view and im­prove its pro­ce­dures in the New Year. This is­sue has no bear­ing on Rabbi David’s fu­ture role as a leader of this com­mu­nity.”

The shul added: “We are de­lighted that Rab­bis He­len Free­man and David Mitchell have ac­cepted the ap­point­ment as our new se­nior Rab­binic team, we are ex­cited about their vi­sion for WLS and we are look­ing for­ward to work­ing with them to con­tinue to build our wel­com­ing, in­clu­sive and sup­port­ive com­mu­nity.”

An­other se­nior for­mer em­ployee, who de­cided to come for­ward hav­ing read about oth­ers’ ac­counts, said they had worked with Rabbi Mitchell for a num­ber of years and speak­ing out about him “ter­ri­fied” them be­cause those speak­ing out about him had worked in “such small groups it is ob­vi­ous who we are”.

She said: “He put me down con­stantly, told me I was speak­ing rub­bish. I was re­duced to tears by the man when I was work­ing with him. Any time I tried to raise is­sues with him on the sub­ject he told me to shut up.”

Af­ter the JC re­ported the al­le­ga­tions, the shul’s pres­i­dent Mark Fox told con­gre­gants at a Fri­day night service on De­cem­ber 20 that “we” were “not told

He ‘con­stantly sought to un­der­mine the work I was do­ing’

The high­est tier of lead­er­ship knew the de­tails of the com­plaints

Lead­er­ship needs to share the process that led them to this ap­point­ment’

of the de­tail of any of the al­le­ga­tions that were made or who was mak­ing them, only the gen­eral out­line.”

How­ever his state­ment was not a com­plete pic­ture be­cause at the time of the com­plaints, the high­est tier of lead­er­ship in the syn­a­gogue knew the full de­tails of the al­le­ga­tions then be­ing made.

Those that knew in­cluded the se­nior rabbi, Baroness Neu­berger; the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Si­mon Myers; chair­man Jill Todd; and safe­guard­ing lead Jo Michaels.

An email seen by the JC from Leonie Bing­ham, child pro­tec­tion ad­viser of the West­min­ster Safe­guard­ing Team, thanked for­mer WLS staff for giv­ing per­mis­sion to dis­cuss the com­plaints in full with the shul.

Of the top tier present when the orig­i­nal com­plaints were made, only Baroness Neu­berger re­mained at the syn­a­gogue at the time of Rabbi Mitchell’s re­cent pro­mo­tion to se­nior rabbi.

Mr Fox told con­gre­gants: “We were in­formed it was an in­ter­nal mat­ter for West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue and that we should fol­low our own in­ter­nal man­age­ment pro­ce­dures. We did pre­cisely that and we took all ac­tion that we felt ap­pro­pri­ate given that in ac­cor­dance within the law we were not told of the de­tail of any of the al­le­ga­tions that were made or who was mak­ing them, only the gen­eral out­line.”

In an ap­par­ently con­flict­ing email sent to WLS mem­bers fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion of the JC story, signed by Baroness Neu­berger, Mr Fox and Patrick Mo­catta, the shul’s cur­rent chair, the syn­a­gogue said: “The Rab­binic Ap­point­ments Com­mit­tee and the Trus­tees were aware of this mat­ter when the ap­point­ments of Rab­bis He­len and David as co-se­nior rab­bis were made.”

For­mer staff said they were “hor­ri­fied” by the con­fus­ing mes­sages is­sued by the shul. One whistle­blower said: “Even if se­nior lead­ers [who knew the full de­tail of com­plaints] had left, Baroness Neu­berger re­mained and knew about our com­plaints.”

The JC asked the shul what Baroness Neu­berger told the ap­point­ments com­mit­tee she knew about the com­plaints. The shul did not an­swer the re­quest, nor did it an­swer a ques­tion about what pre­cisely the com­mit­tee knew of the al­le­ga­tions or who was on the com­mit­tee.

The whistle­blower said they were very con­cerned about Rabbi Mitchell’s “lack of ac­count­abil­ity”, although the shul said that the post of se­nior rabbi was di­rectly and con­trac­tu­ally re­spon­si­ble to the chair­man, the Board, and ul­ti­mately an­swer­able to the con­gre­ga­tion.

How­ever, the whistle­blower said: “If the con­gre­ga­tion are viewed as part of this sys­tem of ac­count­abil­ity then the lead­er­ship need to share the process that led them to rec­om­mend this ap­point­ment and what they knew about David’s con­duct.”

Whistle­blow­ers said they were told that the Re­form Move­ment could not do any­thing to help them “be­cause each shul has its own char­ity sta­tus and op­er­ates in­de­pen­dently.”

When they ap­proached the Assem­bly

of Re­form Rab­bis they said they were told that the um­brella body had no for­mal “pro­cesses which en­abled them to hold col­leagues to ac­count”.

The let­ter signed this week by 100 mem­bers and rab­bis of pro­gres­sive Ju­daism said a code that held rab­bis and clergy to ac­count “does not cur­rently ex­ist, nor does a process for en­sur­ing it is up­held. We call upon all rep­re­sen­ta­tive bodies of Jew­ish clergy in the UK to swiftly agree on pro­ce­dural guide­lines within which ethics com­mit­tees shall op­er­ate. These pro­ce­dures should not be in­ter­nal doc­u­ments but should in­stead be pub­lished and eas­ily avail­able to the gen­eral public.”

WLS said it had “taken great care in re­spond­ing to all rea­son­able re­quests for in­for­ma­tion put to it by the Jew­ish


“We re­peat our pre­vi­ous con­fir­ma­tion that, when these com­plaints oc­curred, the syn­a­gogue was ad­vised by the LADO [Local Au­thor­ity Des­ig­nated Of­fi­cer] that (hav­ing re­viewed them) they did not war­rant re­fer­ral and should be dealt with un­der West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue’s in­ter­nal man­age­ment pro­ce­dures, as they were. As with the terms of all em­ploy­ment re­la­tion­ships, it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to pro­vide de­tails of an in­di­vid­ual’s ap­praisal and man­age­ment to any third party.

“WLS takes any is­sues re­gard­ing any mem­ber of its staff very se­ri­ously. Se­nior Man­age­ment at WLS are con­fi­dent that all in­ter­nal pro­ce­dures were fol­lowed cor­rectly in this mat­ter and ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion was taken at the time. This mat­ter is con­sid­ered closed by WLS.”

The JC has been told by WLS: “The JC has put to the syn­a­gogue a num­ber of ques­tions about the Pres­i­dent’s state­ment, which de­lib­er­ately or mis­tak­enly con­fuse what the in­sti­tu­tion for­mally knew about the com­plaints and what the LADO had told a small num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als only, on con­di­tion of strict con­fi­den­tial­ity suf­fi­cient only to en­able them to in­ves­ti­gate the com­plaints. Un­der these con­di­tions, in­for­ma­tion pro­vided to in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cials in con­fi­dence by the LADO could not be shared with the in­sti­tu­tion as a whole nor could it be shared with Rabbi Mitchell. This in­for­ma­tion was not shared, has not been shared since and will not be shared by WLS.”

In a state­ment to the JC, Rabbi Mitchell said: “In my role as a spir­i­tual and com­mu­nity leader of WLS I strive to con­duct my­self with com­pas­sion and in­tegrity. It is an hon­our to be part of our nearly 180-year pro­gres­sive tra­di­tion. My role is to be a cham­pion and guardian for oth­ers in or­der to en­able them to feel part of our wel­com­ing, in­clu­sive and sup­port­ive com­mu­nity.

“I stren­u­ously deny that I have acted in­ap­pro­pri­ately. I want to apol­o­gise for any­thing that I have done which has in­ad­ver­tently hurt or an­gered oth­ers. Since these is­sues were first raised I have learned, with coach­ing and men­tor­ing, to be­come a bet­ter man­ager of peo­ple and I am still learn­ing.”

 ??  ?? Rabbi Mitchell (cen­tre) along­side Is­rael’s Lon­don Am­bas­sador Mark Regev (left) at an event at West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue
Rabbi Mitchell (cen­tre) along­side Is­rael’s Lon­don Am­bas­sador Mark Regev (left) at an event at West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? In­te­rior of West Lon­don shul (also bot­tom of page), es­tab­lished in 1840
In­te­rior of West Lon­don shul (also bot­tom of page), es­tab­lished in 1840
 ??  ?? Ac­cused: Rabbi David Mitchell
Ac­cused: Rabbi David Mitchell
 ??  ?? Rabbi Mitchell (sec­ond from right) with Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan
Rabbi Mitchell (sec­ond from right) with Lon­don Mayor Sadiq Khan
 ??  ?? In­te­rior of West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue
In­te­rior of West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue

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