[ The two stories below should be read in conjunction. ]
18 May 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
PETER KOHN AND TIMNA JACKS
“My understanding is that homosexuality can be cured … my understanding is that in most situations, the answer is yes.”
Rabbi Avrohom Glick
Head of Jewish studies and
MAGISTRATE Luisa Bazzani will announce on Monday whether the case against alleged rapist David Samuel Cyprys will proceed to trial.
In the Melbourne Magistrates Court last week, Rabbi Avrohom Glick, Yeshivah principal from 1986 to 2007 and presently a teacher and head of Jewish studies and student wellbeing at Yeshivah, gave evidence at a committal hearing for Cyprys, who was charged with 53 offences, including rape, against 12 boys, during his long association with the college and the Chabad community.
Before Rabbi Glick began his testimony on Monday, prosecutor Andrew Grant told the court the rabbi wanted to change a key point in a written statement he made to police late last year, in which he had stated: “Rabbi [Yitzchok Dovid] Groner never divulged to me the names of individuals that brought complaints to him.”
However, asked by Grant to set the record straight, Rabbi Glick said in court that Rabbi Groner had in fact told him Cyprys was the subject of a complaint by a parent regarding molestation.
Rabbi Glick said that in “the early 2000s”, Rabbi Groner told him of a complaint by a parent of one of the alleged victims and, although Cyprys’s name did not come up at that time, he “suspected” he was the individual Rabbi Groner was talking about.
Around that time, Rabbi Glick said he had become aware of rumours in the Yeshivah community that Cyprys was homosexual, which led him to suspect it was he the rabbi had alluded to.
But shortly before his death in 2008, Rabbi Groner had divulged Cyprys’s identity to him, Rabbi Glick told the court. “He called me and said to me that he had been approached by a mother who advised that her child had been molested by David Cyprys. She was agitated, threatening to take police action. He called me to ask if I had knowledge of that. I said I had no knowledge of that.”
Rabbi Glick said Cyprys became a youth leader and teacher and may have been involved with transporting students who attended the Gan Yisrael camps until the 1990s. As a security guard and locksmith who ran a security firm, Cyprys was also “subcontracted” for maintenance jobs on campus, he said. He was also a martial arts enthusiast who ran classes for boys.
Around the time the rumours started, Rabbi Glick was approached by the father of a student, urging him that Cyprys should not be employed at the college because of his sexual orientation. Rabbi Glick recalled responding to the parent that Cyprys did not work for the school and he was not his employer. Rabbi Glick added, “I told him Rabbi Groner would not permit Cyprys to work as a security guard if he was a threat to anyone.”
Asked by Bazzani if the rumours resulted in precautions being taken to protect students, Rabbi Glick said Cyprys was no longer involved with the school at that time.
Rabbi Glick had become Yeshivah principal in 1986, the year after Cyprys ended his studies at Yeshivah College and had “not very much” contact with Cyprys and “very little” contact with Jocelyn Searby, a consulting psychologist at the school, with whom Rabbi Groner had close ties.
Questioned by Cyprys’s barrister Marcus Dempsey about procedures in the 1980s to deal with young teenage students who believed they might be gay, Rabbi Glick said they were told “it was not Jewish practice” but they would not be asked to leave the school unless they were “promoting those practices”.
Rabbi Glick said he knew of no student at Yeshivah in the 1980s and 1990s who was openly gay. Asked by Dempsey: “Was homosexuality something to be cured from?”, he responded: “My understanding is that homosexuality can be cured … my understanding is that in most situations, the answer is yes.”
He said students had recourse to shluchim [mentors] to discuss these problems and could go to a religious studies teacher, to Rabbi Groner or to himself for counselling. Asked if he knew whether Cyprys had been counselled by Rabbi Groner, he said he suspected so, but Rabbi Groner “did not keep meticulous records”.
When questioned by Dempsey on Tuesday, Senior Detective Lisa Metcher said she had found no evidence in her search of Yeshivah records that Cyprys had been counselled.
On Tuesday, the court heard police testimony about two alleged rape incidents involving one of the boys.
Detective Senior Constable Tamara Annette Cornelissen gave evidence about one of the alleged victims, who had mentioned the act of “penetration” in a police interview. Two such incidents were identified in the interview.
Cornelissen confirmed the victim’s claim in his statement that the accused “covered my mouth to stop me screaming”.
18 May 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
Further cause for concern
OVER the past two weeks, the claims and allegations that have surfaced in the Cyprys hearing have shocked the community. That such abuse may have occurred in the first place is alarming enough; that the school seems to have failed to take appropriate measures when fears were raised is equally disturbing.
But these are not the only concerns that have emerged and that will doubtless be discussed over the coming days.
One is the issue of attitudes towards homosexuality, in particular that it can somehow be “cured” as if it were an illness or abnormality. Such a claim is an affront to the gay and lesbian community, and indeed to all those who believe in equality irrespective of sexual orientation. In this day and age, that a teacher responsible for student welfare at a school could hold such a view will no doubt raise eyebrows and prompt debate about his suitability for the role.
On the subject of homosexuality, it should also be made clear that such a sexual orientation has nothing to do with paedophilia. The two are quite distinct and it would be wrong for anyone to draw the impression from reports of the case that being gay and being a potential child abuser are in any way connected.
24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
HOW does one reconcile iron-clad laws laid down in the Torah with the shifting moralities of any given age? Indeed, should one even try? When one’s deeply held religious convictions come into conflict with prevailing attitudes, preaching the word of God is branded by mainstream society as Taliban-style fundamentalism … racist, sexist, homophobic, even anti-semitic.
In some cases, as with the aforementioned Taliban or the Charedi extremists in Beit Shemesh, clearly a line has been crossed. In others, those holding such views maintain a dignified silence, recognising full well that their opinions are at odds with contemporary mores and that to voice them vociferously will fuel fires of hostility and hatred. At the very least, it’s recognised that if such views are to be expressed, they should be qualified with a diplomatic and respectful statement of tolerance: “I believe this, but insofar as you don’t seek to impose your views on me, I shan’t impose mine on you.” A case of ‘live and let live’ or indeed ‘live and let love’. How then to view the treatise penned by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen about the anti-bullying initiative of the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV)?
On its website, SSCV urges teachers to ask themselves how they can help “celebrate diversity” in sexual preferences. In Rabbi Cowen’s eyes, the concepts of celebration and diversity are out of place when it comes to homosexuality, which he correctly describes as violating the Noahide laws underpinning the three monotheistic faiths.
To be sure, Rabbi Cowen does not support bullying in any form, nor does he encourage ostracising any young person who feels they are or might be gay. He emphasises that his is a message of compassion, but at the same time, of personal self-discipline in adhering to Old Testament values. He is, of course, entitled to his halachic view. But in practical terms, where does that leave a student bullied because they think they are, or are seen as being gay?
Ultimately, just as we expect every effort to be made to stamp out racism and anti-semitism in the schoolyard, so too we must ensure students are not abused or assaulted because of their sexuality.
Will specific initiatives targeting homophobia encourage a perception that being gay is “normative”? Very possibly. But only when it is accepted as a norm, will young gay students have nothing to fear from their peers.
The Torah is the timeless centrepiece of Judaism. Interpreted dynamically, its enduring message is one of humanity and compassion. Exposing a youngster to risk, and in some cases, placing their very lives in peril surely does not fit into that picture.
24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
PETER KOHN AND ZEDDY LAWRENCE
“I’m a thousand per cent behind stopping bullying of homosexual children.”
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen
A LEADING Australian rabbi has come under fire for attacking programs that aim to prevent gay children being bullied at school.
Writing in the journal of the Australian Family Association, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, convenor of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, claimed, “Our society and societies around the world are in the grip of a major social struggle over whether society will accept and teach homosexual behaviour as normative.”
While stating, “it is totally and unmistakably clear that the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped,” Rabbi Cowen added, “this must be radically separated from the moral agenda of the homosexual ‘anti-bullying’ program for schools,” which he claimed “is seeking to legitimate homosexual behaviour in the earliest stages of child education”.
Referring to the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV), which is funded by the Department of Education and trains teachers in combating bullying of students for their sexual orientation, he said, “It requires schools to teach (‘celebrate’) the acceptability of homosexual behaviour as a norm. By so doing, it flies in the face of over 3000 years of religious and cultural tradition since Sinai. In terms of the world religions and world civilisation, it is teaching something which is a moral wrong and fundamentally unethical.”
In a further criticism of the program, he said it encouraged students “to lock themselves into a sexual identity in early or pre-adolescence”.
Rabbi Cowen’s attack on SSCV made headlines in Melbourne commuter newspaper mx, drawing criticism from SSCV coordinator Roz Ward, who described his views as “offensive”.’
Fellow academics at Monash University also weighed in, with Monash Education Faculty Members Against Homophobia penning a letter in which they called the views “uninformed” and “profoundly damaging”.
Meanwhile, writing in this week’s AJN, Rabbi Fred Morgan said Rabbi Cowen failed to realise that such programs “do not seek to lay down how people should behave.they are about reality – how people are in fact.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry distanced itself from Rabbi Cowen’s views, stating it “welcomes any government program designed to counteract bullying that has the support of victims and educators”. It described Rabbi Cowen as “highly respected in our community”, adding “that does not mean that his views on any subject are representative”.
Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia president Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, however, defended Rabbi Cowen’s view of the program. “While bullying in any form is abhorrent , including the bullying of someone because of their sexual orientation, the solution is not to ‘celebrate’ an orientation that is against Torah teaching.
“In the absurd, would one expect of an Orthodox school, where perhaps someone was being bullied for not observing the laws of kashrut, to combat that bullying by‘celebrating’ the eating of non-kosher food?”
He stressed that the Orthodox viewpoint was not homophobic. While “there is no doubt that the Torah forbids male homosexual acts,” he said those who may choose to engage in a prohibited act “must always be made to feel welcome and they must never be made to feel that they lose their Jewish identity or ability to worship as Jews”.
Dr Jonathan Barnett,convenor of Keshet, a group which plans to provide training for teachers in Jewish schools in protecting gay adolescents from bullying, said of Rabbbi Cowen’s views:“it may be one way of interpreting Torah, although I don’t think it’s the correct way, [but] I’m worried about today’s children. Do we turn our backs on them? I don’t think Rabbi Cowen means to turn our backs on them either, but it’s an issue of how we help the kids.”
Stressing that “I’m a thousand per cent behind stopping bullying of homosexual children,” and insisting “I am absolutely not homophobic,” Rabbi Cowen told The AJN this week,“our tradition teaches us that every person possesses a soul made in the image of God, and we must have respect for persons for that reason alone.”
He added, “I most certainly do think that bullying of all children, including homosexually inclined children should be tackled in schools. The way this should be done is in ways taught by experts in the area of bullying such as Evelyn Field. She teaches the bullied child methods of ‘bully blocking’and taking the wind ‘out of the bully’s sails’, which works for all pretexts of bullying. If, in conjunction with this, some reinforcing ethic is to be taught which is universally acceptable, it would be that every human deserves respect as possessing a special potential.”