The letter I want from our leadership…writes David Werdiger

February 16, 2015 by David Werdiger
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Following the drama played out at The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse  in Melbourne over the last two weeks, David Werdiger has penned the letter he would like to receive from Melbourne’s Jewish leadership….

From: David Werdiger

In the wake of Case Study 22 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that took place in Melbourne over the last fortnight, our community is in turmoil. How can we heal? For a start, here is the letter I would like to receive from our leadership:

Dear Member,

David Werdiger

David Werdiger

Over the past two weeks, the Royal Commission’s scrutiny into our community has been painful on many levels. It has given us cause to reflect on the huge impact of child sexual abuse on the lives of victims, and the important role institutions have in protecting children. The hearings have left our community exposed and in deep pain.

Looking back over the last four years since allegations of abuse became public, an “us and them” siege mentality has emerged between our community and many people outside the community. In recognizing our failures in dealing with abuse cases years ago, and with the more recent public revelations, it is also evident that many within our community feel disempowered, disaffected and disconnected from the leadership. We recognize that this must change.

We apologise both to victims of child sexual abuse and their families and to our community at large for the errors of the past. We have let you down in our leadership roles, and we want to make amends.

While our focus has been implementing best practice in child protection in our schools and in Chabad Youth, we recognize now that much more needed to be done. The Royal Commission will make findings in 6-12 months in respect of the evidence presented, but many of the issues are already quite apparent, and there is no time to waste for us to respond to them. We are committed to moving forward proactively to a new model of governance and engagement with our stakeholders.

To this end, we have established an independent advisory panel comprising A, B and C, all eminent and suitably qualified members of the Melbourne Jewish community yet not closely affiliated with Chabad, to assist us in moving forward. They have agreed to oversee a process of governance reform across the entire organisation.

The scope of this reform includes, but is not limited to:

  • Initiatives to deal with victims and their families, including formal apologies, redress and reparation.
  • Corporate structures of the schools, shuls, youth groups and other organisations, including possible structural and/or accounting separation of entities;
  • Governance, transparency and accountability, including open membership and dispute resolution processes within all organisations;

In addition, the advisory panel will, in its initial three months, accept submissions from members of the community and will hear of issues that are of concern to them.

We recognize that these changes cannot happen overnight. In making these reforms, we must also ensure that the organisation stays true to the Chabad traditions and values that have driven our centre since its formation. There is no contradiction between remaining an Orthodox Jewish organisation and adopting best practice in governance, transparency and accountability.

We have set a timeline of twelve months to implement the changes, and the advisory panel will report quarterly to the community of its progress.

We are well aware that public calls have been made for a complete spill of all leadership positions. While we agree that a break from the past is necessary, such a move would be very disruptive to the entire organisation. The mistakes we have made in the past do not wipe out entirely the good that the Yeshivah Centre have done for the Melbourne community over many years. It is important not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater”; rather to implement the necessary reforms in an orderly fashion.

I can confirm that committee of management members X and Y have tendered their resignation. The committee has further resolved that any person in a position of authority at the Yeshivah Centre in 2008 will resign during the twelve month transition period, and we will publicly announce those resignations. It is our considered view that this process will allow for a reasonable handover to a new generation of leadership.

We call on members of the community to step up and fill the vacant committee member positions on a short term basis during this process, and they are welcome to apply through the advisory panel.

The eyes of the world have been upon us, and are looking to how we will respond. As a community, it is our responsibility to be a model to Jewish institutions around the world of how to conduct the necessary transformation from closed to open governance.


Yours sincerely,

Z, Chairman
Committee of Management

David Werdiger is a technology entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. He’s involved in several not-for-profits at director and committee level, and has an interest in Jewish community, education, and continuity. You can connect with David on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.


21 Responses to “The letter I want from our leadership…writes David Werdiger”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    I can’t believe what I started !!
    People, people, I know you, ever so discretely, worship my words, but, please, I was only joking when I said that stuff about five thousand resignations from Chabad needed and the Sun will shine again!!
    The other thing I cannot believe is how deep is the disdain some people have for Chabad, how irrational all criticism is, mainly because, if related to the workings of the Royal Commission, Chabad is NOT being indicted as such.
    Back to basics, a few, very few Rabbis involved directly with Yeshivot, true most Rabbis also part of the Chabad fraternity, have mishandled matters AS FAR AS NON JEWISH PERCEPTION IS CONCERNED. What is regarded as insufficient alertness to certain methods of treating serious problems with child abuse were , in fact, genuine attempts by people as a GROUP responsible for administration of educational institutions, only two Yeshivot considered, to address the serious problems cited in accordance with their understanding of what they considered relevant AND effective within their concepts/methodologies thereof. A long phrase, maybe for some, but the guts of it is that, the intention of those people was not to PROTECT, encourage, perpetuate the horrible acts, but to treat them in-house. Reasons for this belief/practice are, once again, found in the well documented, justified tradition/belief that the world outside the confines of their level of dedication to their belief, is a world dominated by negative, unfriendly, excessive and inimical criticism, full of hatred toward their beliefs, and , if that particular world will get a whiff that things untoward are happening within their administration, the matters will be inflated, conflated, reach levels of objection, irrational reactions some call for good reason hatred which would intend, attempt at the ENTIRE edifice of their hard and necessary avoda, work, honestly intended to HELP the same people happy to destroy them altogether.
    By these calls of demolishing the current leadership of an institution the “muted” ( I wish )desire is to destroy the entire Chabad , because if anyone does not want the entire Chbad to be demolished ( has vshollom ), how do you people suggest Chabad should be “reformed” ( indeed has vshollom !!) if not having necessarily ONLY Chabad people lead it!!
    It stands to reason that you cannot reform the Legal or Medical or the educational structure in general WITHOUT having people of the necessarily new leadership structures from THE SAME professions, with the respective profile, inside professional training, knowledge. Chabad run by non Chabad is no longer Chabad, IT DOES NOT MAKE SANSE, it cannot happen, it is incredibly absurd. I am saying all this stuff while reminding you that the problems elicited at the Commission regard Yeshivot and those Yeshivot are NOT Chabad as such.
    Also, all those the kehilot anxious to get rid of certain Rabbis are NOT Chabad institutions either, BUT, when they agreed to appoint a certain Rabbi who also happens to belong to Chabad, they would have considered the Rabbi’s competence and moral fibre and that “consideration” was a complex and thorough process, some would have rightly said, ” if he is a Feldmann he can only be ideal, knowing that the Feldmanns have been, by far the most respectable mishpuha we have been blessed with !!” something I happen to believe with all my heart and mind that is absolutely true. How many of you critics of the “autocratic” manner of Jewish leadership have all your sons educated to become Rabbis !! How many of you taking to the cleaners anxious to destroy the life of a dedicated Rabbi, kosher vyosher, good Jews observe Jewish life the way they do !! How many of you have benefited, otherwise, from their knowledge and passion for Yidishkeit on Shabboss, yom tovim or on call if you had problems and went to the Rabbi for advice, help !!!
    I am sure that if you did all that stuff you would not join this deplorable public lynching exercise and, if you did, then you need to deal with your conscience.

  2. Shoshanna Silcove says:

    I hope and pray there will be more resignations. We need new blood. I also hope and pray there will actually be new leadership, not just a reshuffling of seats on the Titanic. Lubavitch worldwide is replete with bright, talented young Rabbis and Rebbetzins very keen and eager to serve anywhere in the world. There is no dearth of talent in Chabad. These people need to step up to the plate, show their strength and courage and start leading. There is a vacuum. This is a perfect opening for some ambitious people to make their mark.

    • Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

      Shoshanna, I sense that the sentiments expressed by David Werdiger echo the feelings of a very substantial number of our fellow Lubavitchers not only with regard to Melbourne but regarding worldwide Chabad.

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        Really, Rabbi “very substantial”, can you please demonstrate that assertion. For your edification “very substantial ” would be well in excess of 50% of a specific group.
        PROVE IT OR………. !!!

  3. Sammy says:

    David, you analogy is erroneous since some would consider the students as the baby and the CoM as the bathwater.

  4. Otto Waldmann says:

    In all fairness, how do you ladies, ben included, reckon Chabad could POSSIBLY react to the outlandish, irrational, unfair, but mostly fake charges and eitzes for “reform”, all coming from people who have accompanied all their “good intentions” about Chabad with incredibly nasty comments, NOT TO MENTION that NONE of you, ben included, have ANY association with Chabad, you people are not a part of it, for all intents and purposes YOU DO NOT EXIST for Chabad, daring Dave included !!!
    Otherwise, please DO continue your wasteful kveching, ben included, you cannot imagine how amusing it is. Exactly the same goes in as far as the Yeshivot, their respective and relevant management groups seem to have quite a fair grip on the situation, ben excluded.

  5. Schneur Naji says:

    is Rabbi Telsner resigning?
    The Rabbi need s to be elected by the membership from a group of candidates.
    is the self appointed committee of management resigning?
    is the vaad haruchni chair resigning?.
    without a total revamp, anything else will be window-dressing.

  6. Vivien Resofsky says:

    can’t believe what I have just read!! David Werdiger played a huge role in what I would call acting inhumanely to innocent victims and his family. He has offered opinions as a ‘wise person’ in relation to child sexual abuse, that were perhaps out of his depth. His action plan for reform needs to be very carefully considered. This is what I think: Why don’t you get experts from outside the community, Researchers who will analyse what went wrong. I am not an expert, but I don know that it took the Royal Commission and its powers, to expose what was really going on. This was done in a respectful manner. No emotion. No rude words. And a great deal of preparation t understand the context of what went on. Very unlike the manner in which some in the Chabad community turned against innocent victims of abuse and their families. I believe that David Werdiger was very much part of the overall problem. I would ask David Werdiger to just wait until he comes up with new ideas that place the entire blame others.

    • Mijo says:

      David Werdiger:

      How do you respond to these accusations?

    • David Werdiger says:

      Vivian’s “accusations” are personal (we’ve never even met) and without foundation. I’m happy to engage in debate with anyone who wants to discuss the issues and will play the ball, rather than the man.

    • sol says:

      Vivien – we can call for the resignation of all the rabbis.
      We can ask all those in a position of management to stand down.
      However,if we are still left with bullies of CSA victims (as those mentioned by name on more than one occasion at the RC), then we have achieved nought.

  7. Schneur Naji says:

    Chabad Lubavitch worldwide is non democratic, the Shluchim are appointed by Central office- Merkoz which is also self appointed Rabbinic oligarchs . Each Rabbi runs his own center, there are no elected committees, it is basically a feudal system with a smile.
    If there was democracy with proper oversight what happen in Sydney and Melbourne cold have been avoided.
    The whole system needs reorganizing.

  8. Otto Waldmann says:

    Let’s see; how many resignations did you say, I thing I counted 43….nisht genuch, howz about 3,255 and try to find its caballic significance, but even if not, I reckon is a much better number that your original 58.

    Also, all Chabad centres to have built in nail artistry salons and, adjacent drive-in car wash fitted with drinks dispensers under strict KA suopervision manned by at least two qualified brickies and one sparky, just realised, why not changed the name from Chabad to “Bricky and Sparky”.
    Did I mention any Rabbi, maybe yes maybe not, but how essential is that detail !!! maybe yes , maybe not…

    see David how inspiring you can be !!

  9. ben gershon says:

    chabbad starts and goes with the rabbe he sends a shaliach who gathers a community round which raises money which he decides how it is to used those that don’t agree. are pushed out

    it is a cult and therefore can not organized .only regulated by the Gov. to meet proper rules


    • Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

      The Rebbe of Righteous Memory would support openness and transparency in everything Chabad-Lubavitch undertakes.
      Every dynamic organization continuously updates its procedures and is committed to best practice.

  10. Mijo says:

    Most of this “letter” is unnecessary. Rabbi Smukler has shown he has great systems in place. Yes, way too late for Manny and AVB, but top class now.

    What is needed is for there to be free and fair elections of the board in Yeshivah. Just like the Adass and Mizrachi have.

    The way the Yeshivah board “self perpetuates” is beyond a joke and akin to Saudi Arabia.

    And if Werdiger thinks the board will allow non-chabad people to make decisions for them……

    • Shyrla Pakula says:

      Mijo, you had me until that bit about Adass and Mizrachi having ‘free and fair elections’. That made me laugh.

      • Mijo says:


        This is a serious subject, so I’d appreciate it if you could address the facts.

        I spent yesterday morning with two former members of the Adass Israel school committee, most of which was spent discussing the RC, and the exposure of the most unusual system at Chabad.

        I have learned that the Adass have regular elections for their school, shule and Chevra committees (all separate).

        My comment about Mizrachi was more of an assumption. Are you laughing about Mizrachi? Please tell us if I’m wrong.

        Speaking of unusual, self perpetuating bodies, why doesn’t the Melbourne Chevra have any elections to their board?

      • Leo says:

        Shyrla – both Mizrachi and Adass have democratic elections. Both organizations are also transparent in the financial matters of their respective organizations .
        Suggest you do some more research, and obtain a copy of Mizrachi financial statements – available to everyone.

  11. Schneur Naji says:

    You are asking for Chabad Lubavitch to completely democratize all its institutions.
    Will the Rabbis who did not fulfill their responsibilities appropriately be asked to retire during the change-over period.
    Will the new Rabbinic leaders be elected my the members of the community and the Shul.

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