Limmud Oz and Me…writes Vivien Resofsky

June 15, 2014 by Vivien Resofsky
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Limmud Oz, is an annual weekend festival of Jewish learning that provides an opportunity to learn, discuss and debate a broad spectrum of topics such as Israeli politics, history, religion, film, culture. Limmud Oz also provides for the exchange of new ideas about change and reform.

Vivien Resofsky

Vivien Resofsky

By the end of the second day l was heartened by the myriad of possibilities for positive social change in the Melbourne Jewish community.  From the two concentrated days of learning, I realised there was a commonality of themes in the sessions I chose to attend.  As the world changes, we need to change things as well: we must confront current social issues with honesty and transparency.  Limmud Oz allowed members of our diverse community to voice their opinions.

Peter Seidel, a lawyer and partner with Arnold Bloch Leibler [ABL], a firm originally established by Jewish lawyers, spoke about change that stems back decades.  Seidel is a public interest lawyer who has worked with communities including the Yorta Yorta people in establishing the existence of Native Title and with Sudanese youth to address the discrimination against them by the Flemington police.

Both cases were ground breaking in terms of vulnerable communities standing up to injustice. Mr Seidel spoke with humility and passion. He told us that the principals of ABL agreed to support and fund these costly cases simply because:  ‘it was the right thing to do.’

Mark Light –the principal of the King David School – highlighted profound changes that the internet has had on the way we are. He talked about the internet ‘revolution’ with opportunities for global learning.  Three twelve year olds presented Jewish Aid Australia’s Stand Up ABC program.  It lived up to the title: “The world is theirs: the next generation tackles social justice.

But it was with the moderated discussion panel entitled ‘Who speaks for the community and who should?’ that drew me back to the reality in Melbourne today.

The status quo was represented as desirable by Nina Bassat, representing the Jewish Community Councils of Victoria (JCCV).  In answering the same questions put by Ashley Brown (moderator) Nina Bassat gave the impression that there is no need for change.  She highlighted ‘good work in child sexual abuse’ that the JCCV has done.  She added that a lack the resources limited change. Jeremy Jones from the Australia/ Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) agreed with more of the same. 

Gary Samowitz did not get the opportunity to say much but what he said was very powerful. He told the audience that he researched the issue by asking children their opinion. He found that the children he spoke to did not know what the JCCV was and what it stood for.  

The next day the energy for change from Limmud Oz was totally dissipated.  The challenge of implementing cultural change was reinforced by Sydney Yeshiva Centre’s comments yesterday in relation to the issue of child sexual abuse (J-Wire, 10/6/2014).  The Yeshiva Centre’s response to sentencing of Hayman, according to J-Wire (10/6/2014) is that “We stand by our original statement.  Mr Hayman did not have responsibility for children”. They explain that the child abuser only “attended to pray or for classes.” 

My opinion is formed from responses to child sexual abuse, where our community leadership has not in my view adhered to best practice.  Best practice measures have recently been introduced at Yeshiva University’s Centre for the Jewish Future [see Keeping Our Communities Safe).

There is much that an organization can and should do to protect children from those who attend to pray or for classes.   What was in place to minimize the risk of ANYONE abusing this child? Was an older person allowed unsupervised access to younger children? Are interaction between children and others always visible?   Did anyone see signs of grooming?  Were fellow community members trained to recognize signs of abuse? If so did they have the knowledge and confidence to do something?  I can go on and on.  A child was abused.  Although Yeshiva Sydney unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, I believe that it is morally wrong to shirk responsibility for the children that spend time in that organisation from all those who could harm a child. 

The message I took from Limmud Oz is that we still need to break the barriers of those who resist change.  Whether it is in the area of sexual abuse prevention or any other issue, change is essential simply because “It’s the right thing to do.”



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