Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM on child protection

On July 16 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum hosted a high-level panel at the Sydney Jewish Museum on the topic ‘Child protection in the Jewish community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress‘.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM

One of the panelists was Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM, CEO of Jewish House and National Mental Health Commissioner. Below are the notes on which he based his address to the plenum.

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Trigger warning.

Acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eorah nation its elders past present and emerging.

Thanks to Bettina and all on the panel.

I stand before you today as a Chabad rabbi who has served the Sydney Jewish community for more than 30 years.

As someone who has run many camps and youth programs within synagogues and other religious institutions and as a Jew in this wonderful community.

I stand here knowing that over the years there were children who were abused in our community –  in synagogues, schools and youth programs.

I have in some cases reported cases to the police.

I have sat with victims/survivors who did not want to go to the police.

I have seen firsthand the devastation for the person who has been sexually abused.

Whether it’s the person who says I wake up every day and wish I was dead or supporting others to survive their pain.

Whether it is trying to help the person who turns to drugs to survive or the person who talks about the number of friends who have taken their lives because they could not cope – I have seen it all.

Some would ask does this really happen in our Jewish community, in our schools, synagogues and youth institutions.

The answer is unfortunately yes.

Today, standing in front of the formally elected members of our communal roof body I believe it is an appropriate time to say – I am deeply and sincerely sorry.

We let these children down.

It is our communal duty to commit to doing everything in our power to make sure that children are safe in our institutions and that those who have been abused are provided with appropriate redress which includes an apology, compensation and funding for their treatment.

While we could talk about what people thought 20-30 years ago on how to report etc. today there is no question.

If there is a suspicion of such a matter it must be immediately reported to the police and then guidance must be sought as to how to handle it within your institution.

As part of my work at Jewish house where we have seen and supported a number of survivors, I believe strongly that we as a community must show leadership and address these issues in our institutions and community.

I will highlight some of the work already done but there is much more to do.

We have facilitated the training rabbis with the NSW Ombudsman and Children’s Guardian, Cathy Kezelman, FACS.

We have advocated for synagogues and religious institutions to be included in the reportable conduct scheme and have been part of the reference group to help standardise best practice across all religious institutions with the ombudsman’s office.

We have worked with a number of camps and other organisations including Synagogues to implement and standardise procedures for reporting.

We have worked closely with the board of deputies and ECAJ to see that this is put on the agenda as well as working with Tzedek to share with them how to help the communities around Australia.

We have participated in a number of community forums and conferences to discuss child safety.

All of the above is important and is a good start, but we need to stay vigilant and ensure the safety of our children as our number one priority.

I think its important that organisation sign up or have a redress program in place.

We need to hold organisation to the highest standard and ask them if they have their policies in place and up to date, their Venue Audit and signage, latest training for their staff, appropriate communication with their members.

Together we will make sure our kids are safe and supported.

Thank you