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In short, he has become the face of child sex abuse in the Australian Jewish community, the shoulders on which other victims lean and their primary media spokesman.
Sitting in a cafe in the heart of Jewish Melbourne last week, Waks looks nothing like the devout hasidic kid who grew up in a strictly Orthodox household with 16 siblings. Indeed, his traumatic childhood prompted Waks to sever ties with Chabad in his late teens, shave his beard and abandon his black hat. Today he is bespectacled and sports a goatee; a tattoo is visible on his left arm.
“I hate going to synagogue,” Waks says. “I feel very uncomfortable being there. I can’t even utter prayers from the siddur. But I go there for my kids.”
Since he came forward, Waks says dozens of Jewish victims of abuse have contacted him. Of those, only one – Yaakov Wolf, the son of a popular kabbalistic rabbi – has spoken publicly.
“It’s been endemic within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community – both the abuses and the cover-ups. There’s enough evidence to support that,” Waks says. “There are so many cases, so many allegations, so many perpetrators, so many victims and so many more allegations yet to be revealed.”
Waks says he has received “incredible” support from within the community. Ze’ev Smason, a St. Louis rabbi who reported the allegations against Kramer to police, congratulated Waks for helping confront “a form of spiritual toxicity” within Orthodoxy. Waks says his family also has been largely supportive.
But to others, Waks is exploiting an unfortunate situation. He has been accused of grandstanding and seeking fame and fortune while taking down the very organization that helped raise him and his siblings.
“Is it grandstanding?” Waks asks. “Maybe. But the simple rhetorical question to these individuals is this: What have you done to address the rampant child sexual abuse and cover-ups that have plagued our community for decades?”
Perhaps inevitably, the intense media coverage Waks has generated has had a polarizing effect in the Jewish community.