Sexual-abuse accusation of Hebrew teacher rocks community
Shockwaves have ripped through the community following the allegation on social media last week of a popular Hebrew teacher in Johannesburg who has been implicated in the alleged sexual abuse of adolescents.
The alleged perpetrator, a 57-year-old man, cannot be named in terms of the Sexual Offences Act until charges have been formally laid and he has pleaded to them.
The allegations have divided the tight-knit community into different camps, some feeling shock and disbelief and others disgust. Some were even relieved that this had come to light after years of speculation. Many have this week been made aware of the allegations that an extra lesson Hebrew teacher who resides in Glenhazel has been reported to the authorities.
Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack, who head up Koleinu, an organisation that offers a helpline to victims of all forms of abuse in the Jewish community, say that concerns have been brought to their attention. “We urge people to wait patiently and allow authorities to work through the allegations,” they say.
It’s alleged that the man has been on the radar for some time for systematically grooming adolescents and their families. Multiple stories of alleged inappropriate behaviour have been whispered for years, said insiders this week. It has been a case of rumour, hearsay, and “knowing without knowing”, they said.
He is known to administer a chesed (kindness) WhatsApp group and to be extremely helpful, especially to young, vulnerable adolescent males, offering them lifts, money, his credit card, and generally looking out for their well-being.
One severely traumatised victim confided in a rabbi more than two years ago about horrific abuse allegedly involving the teacher. The rabbi contacted another rabbi, and the two men encouraged the victim to report the incident to the Chevrah Kadisha Community Social Services (CKCSS) which he did in front of a social worker and the two rabbis. He didn’t sign his statement out of fear and shame.
The victim is still in therapy, petrified of exposure and desperately trying to pick up the pieces and move on with his life, say those he confided in.
Dissatisfied and frustrated with communal and civil institutions and the seemingly slow pace at which cases of this nature progress, members of the community have turned to social media in a bid to spur things on.
Several high-profile cases of abusers in Israel have encouraged members of the community to expose the Glenhazel Hebrew teacher.
Outspoken lawyer David Swartz took to social media to vent his frustrations. He said, “I have kids and a wife, and friends and family I love dearly. Nothing in this world matters more to me. I won’t stop until I know everything has been done to protect them. I have also met many victims of abuse, and the fact that they feel so alone and their safety, security, and well-being isn’t made priority number one is a disgrace, to put it mildly. I also cannot accept our institutions failing us and [showing] no accountability. When offenders and predators are protected and issues swept under the rug, it leaves my family, friends, and all our children and the community even more vulnerable. This isn’t just me. There is a wave coming. Change is coming. We have had enough, and we will do everything we can.”
Meanwhile, the Hebrew teacher has vehemently denied all allegations.
“I was absolutely shocked and horrified to read the post as the allegations about me are completely false. Until the publication of the post, not one person has ever made these allegations about me or accused me of doing anything improper or inappropriate. I have also not been contacted by the police in spite of the claim on the post that I’ve been ‘reported to the police’. I have most certainly never abused or molested anyone, on any level, physically, emotionally, or otherwise,” he said.
“Any abuse, of any person, is totally unacceptable, particularly vulnerable children. There is no question that I fully support all and any efforts to protect people from sexual or any other abuse.”
The teacher said he had always endeavoured to “uplift and assist people” in any way he could.
“I’m deeply concerned for other innocent victims of ostensibly well-intentioned but hugely destructive forces in the community who use social media to try and convict others without substance or even being given an opportunity to deal with allegations that have been made against them,” he said.
It was “regrettably part of this awful cancel culture which has gripped the world. It’s time now for an organisation to be created to support the innocent victims of cancel culture who also deserve protection.
“It goes without saying that this vicious and unfounded post has caused me and my family immeasurable pain and reputational damage. What has been said is clearly defamatory, and I’m seeking legal advice as to the way forward.”
At this point, there have been no arrests or police investigations into this case.
Advocate Liza Segal, the head of the Abuse Review Board set up several years ago by Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, told the SA Jewish Report that victims were often afraid of the consequences of coming forward and of their identity being revealed. “This is one of the unfortunate and tragic consequences of sexual abuse, and one which the perpetrator exploits,” she said.
“The victim has to decide, without any pressure being placed on them, to lay a criminal complaint,” said Segal. “As a board, we are painfully aware of the needs and wishes of the victims and that disclosing their identity without their permission would be a further betrayal of them.”
However, she said, in the absence of a victim or witness being prepared to disclose their identity formally by making a statement in writing which is signed by them and which would be handed to the police for a criminal case to be opened, the Abuse Review Board was legally constrained from taking any action, criminal or otherwise.
“It’s simply not possible to lay an anonymous criminal charge or for any legal steps to be taken in the absence of a formal written and signed complaint by a victim or witness,” she said.
To date, the board still had not received a formal written complaint about this man. “In the circumstances, we’re hamstrung in the performance of our duties. We’re unable to act outside of the confines of our law and in spite of having met senior police officers who deal with cases involving sexual abuse of minors and advising them of the facts of this case, we have been advised that no steps can be taken on the basis of allegations made anonymously. We have been assured by them that as soon as we are able to provide a formal statement signed by the victim or witness, the SAPS will act swiftly and we will assist them in doing so”.
Please see the Chev’s statement on page 2.
All cases of abuse or suspected abuse can be reported to the CKCSS by contacting the intake line 011 532 9701, or the Chevrah Kadisha emergency helpline 082 499 1010 after hours. An anonymous sexual abuse reporting hotline has also been set up on 011 264 0341.
Koleinu has an anonymous and confidential hotline 011 264 0341 in Johannesburg or 074 180 5687 in Cape Town. There is also a confidential WhatsApp line on 082 443 6703/061 975 8473.