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Yeshivah Episode IV – A New Hope

By ReligionDecember, 2016December 13th, 20235 min read

The drawn out process of governance reform at Yeshivah over the last few years has not concluded, rather has reached an important step. If it were a construction project, we could say that we’ve done our share of demolition and excavation, and the foundation is largely complete. Now it begins in earnest.

With a new organisational structure, broad membership, and boards with elected representatives, we have the basis for a fresh start – a new hope for the future.

While the process was instigated by the public allegations of child sexual abuse and the subsequent Royal Commission case study, it uncovered far more: deficiencies in governance, and a community with deep fractures. The divisions and ruptures came to the surface as our community was held up to public scrutiny. The deep distrust between the incumbent leadership and the community continued throughout the reform process.

The foundation (structure, constitution) we now have is not perfect, but it has the mechanisms for any adjustments that may be needed. Call it a foundation of a foundation if you like. Importantly, it is what puts us – the people – in control of our own destiny.

Moving forward, the most important thing we need from the directors of CIVL, YBRSL and YCL – our directors – is to lead. Our community has been bereft of effective leadership for over twenty years. The void has been filled by machlokes, angst, and in more recent times, near-anarchy. The culture change we need – indeed any organisational culture change – happens from the top down. We look toward our directors/leaders to drive that change, and to show us by their actions that we have indeed entered a new phase in the way Yeshivah Centre operates.

Some difficult decisions will need to be made, and all of us – leaders, staff, and members of the community – need to adapt to a new way of operating. All of us need to give each other some latitude and allow this to happen, rather than instantly reverting to negative behaviour in response to the first decision we don’t like.

The directors will make mistakes; last time I checked humans are still fallible. I look forward to seeing a new approach to failure – one that acknowledges and takes responsibility, and then is able to move on quickly rather than digging bigger holes as we have seen in the past.

The election process itself – the first of its kind in our community – has been difficult. In the YBRSL ‘town hall’ meeting, Rabbi Dickshtein quoted the adage from Talmud Yerushalmi: “העולה לגדולה מוחלין לו על כל עוונותיו” – “whoever ascends to greatness/leadership is forgiven of all their sins”. This juncture is one where we can and should draw a line in the sand, forgive the actions of the past, and move forward.

The unity that our community so desperately needs has to start from the newly formed boards themselves. They are a diverse group with different skills and areas of interest. They cannot hope to unite the community if they are not themselves united. Showing they can work together effectively will surely flow down to a greater sense of common purpose and unity in our community.

On a personal note, I have been a vocal critic of Yeshivah Centre for many years and was always prepared to present my views on the issues. The last few years have left me despondent and withdrawn, but in recent months I’m feeling more positive. I have been encouraging and assisting the process, and suggested the town hall meetings, and offered to moderate them. As a first attempt to facilitate open discussion and build a bridge between the leadership and the people, I consider them a success, and look forward to future such meetings as a platform for engagement and debate on issues important to us.

I acknowledge that it’s not all bright and rosy and the journey has been a difficult one, particularly for victims of abuse such as Manny Waks.

I have taken legal action in the past over statements Manny has made about me on social media and justifiably so. Manny has, through his blog, singled me out for comment – most recently regarding my participation in the town hall meetings. He has also done this in his book.

His purpose is unclear. I am not and was not a public leader at the Yeshivah Centre.

Unfortunately, the accounts about me in his book are not always a true and fair reflection of my involvement (if any) in the events about which he writes. They are based on assumptions and half-truths. Some are sourced from private correspondence we have had and from which he selectively quotes. On one occasion he refers to confidential matters. It seems to be simply mudslinging for the sake of it, and casting a very wide net.

It saddens me that such negativity prevails.

I hope that we can now as a community start to move forward together, to heal the bitterness and to learn from the past. After all this, there genuinely is a new hope.

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