Menachem (Manny) Waks was on a leadership training program in Israel in June 2011 when he made a decision that would radically change his life.
Flicking through Melbourne’s The Age newspaper on his laptop one morning, he spotted an article about David Kramer, who was convicted of pedophilia in Missouri in 2008 and now was wanted in Melbourne on allegations of child sex abuse dating to his stint as a teacher at Chabad’s Yeshivah College in the late 1980s.
Waks, a former vice president of the Executive Council of Australian Jews, studied at the all-boys college. He was not one of Kramer’s alleged victims, but the article stirred nightmarish flashbacks.
“When I saw that article, I thought this is the right opportunity,” Waks, 36, told JTA. “I knew there were other perpetrators and victims within the Jewish community. Someone needed to shatter the wall of silence, and I realized it needed to be me.”
The wall was decimated on the morning of July 8, 2011, when Waks’ story was published on the front page of The Age.
Under the headline “Jewish community leader tells of sex abuse,” Waks revealed he had been molested as a student – not once, but several times. Not by one official, but by two – one of whom he claims is the son of a venerated Chabad emissary.
Waks said he was molested in a synagogue and in a ritual bath, where he was lured to bathe in the nude by his alleged assailant.
His revelations landed like a bomb in Balaclava, a leafy Melbourne suburb that is home to a large proportion of the 50,000-strong Jewish community, including many affiliated with the Chabad hasidic movement. The explosive accusations by Waks – in particular his claim that senior Chabad rabbis covered up complaints by parents and even helped alleged perpetrators flee the country – triggered a sequence of dramatic events that has shaken the Jewish community.
Nearly two years on, the aftershocks are still reverberating.
In December, Waks testified before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse. Next month, he is expected to be called before the royal commission into institutional child sex abuse in Australia. And he has taken leave from his job as a public servant to work as the full-time director of Tzedek, an advocacy group he founded last year for Jewish victims of child sexual abuse.