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Rabbi Bryks


Noah Erenberg, producer of Winnipeg produced CBC documentary re: Rabbi Bryks case.


Rabbi Henry Balser

 
THE STORY THAT CONTINUES TO HAUNT OUR COMMUNITY: RABBI BRYKS TO BE SUBJECT MATTER OF EPISODE OF NEW DOCUMENTARY SERIES FOR VISION T.V.

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER RABBI HENRY BALSER GOES ON THE RECORD RE: HIS ROLE IN THIS SAGA- READ IT HERE

By Rhonda J. Spivak, B.A., L.L.B., January 5, 2011

The case of Rabbi Ephraim Bryks who has been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse against children, but never charged with a crime will be the subject matter of part of an episode in a documentary series currently being produced by Apocryphal Productions for Vision Television.
According to the  Jewish Week, [New York] June 29, 2010, "Rabbi Bryks, who was investigated by police in Winnipeg, on suspicion of inappropriate contact with children at Winnipeg’s Torah Academy where he was principal, resigned from the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinical Council of America in 2003 without admitting any wrongdoing. Bryks, "reached a negotiated agreement to leave the Rabbinical Board of Queens in the fall of 2009," as indicated in the Jewish Week.

"Rabbi Bryks, as principal of the Torah Academy in Winnipeg was found in 1988 to have tickled and hugged some students, but denied more serious charges of sexual molestation, according to press reports. While the more serious charges were not substantiated by an investigation by Winnipeg social workers, the substantiated contact was deemed inappropriate and the Winnipeg Child and Family Services agency recommended that the school adopt guidelines against such behavior,"according th the Jewish Week.

The school closed in 1991, about a year after Rabbi Bryks left Winnipeg.

Allan Levine in  his recent book “Coming of Age,” on p.420, refers to "the agency issuing a report that concluded that Bryks' behavior of having children sit on his lap while he tickled them was "neither appropriate nor professional",  but not illegal." 

Tanya Fleet of Apocryphal Productions, who is researching visual material for the documentary series, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the series will consider “the issue of sexual abuse or allegations thereof pertaining to children in religious communities… The themes to be examined are why it is prevalent, why is it kept quiet, and what is now being done to try and stop potential abuse. We will talk to experts in the fields, activists, survivors and their families.”
According to Fleet, the series which is being produced by Christopher Sumpton and Robin Benger, will deal with these issues in the Catholic community, the Evangelical Christian community, as well as in Judaism and Islam.
The painful saga relating to Rabbi Bryks in Winnipeg will be part of an episode that will focus on orthodoxy in Judaism, and will also deal with the orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

In 1993, after Rabbi Bryks moved to New York, a former student in Winnipeg accused him of having fondled him at the school when the student was 8, but prosecutors reportedly declined to file criminal charges, citing lack of corroboration. When the boy, Daniel Leven. at age 17, was asked to re-record a statement he had given earlier, he committed suicide. 

Martin Levin [Daniel’s father] has been interviewed for the upcoming documentary series.
Levin, currently lives in Toronto and is the book editor of the Globe and Mail.
Former Winnipegger Alan Mendelsohn is the producer of the episode of the series relating to the Jewish community. Mendelsohn has previously worked at the CBC as a producer at The Journal.

Herzlia Adas Yeshurun Synagogue in Winnipeg, where Rabbi Bryks served, took down the plaques in his honour on the Tree of Life in the lobby of the synagogue in September, 2010. Herzlia's actions, close to 17 years after  Levin's suicide, occurred less than two months after members of the Jewish community in Winnipeg had a full opportunity to read the article by Adam Dickter, Assistant Managing Editor of the Jewish Week (New York), June 29, 2010 , which was posted in the latter part of July, 2010 on this website and elsewhere. To read this article click on Rabbi  Ephraim Bryks Leaves Rabbinical Board of Queens Under A  Cloud.

In the email sent to Herzlia membership days before Yom Kippur this past year, Dr. Earl Hershfield, President of the Board of Herzlia wrote:

 “In response to repeated requests, and after much deliberation, the Board of Directors of Herzlia – Adas Yeshurun has decided to remove all plaques on the Tree of Life in the Shul lobby dedicated in honour of [Rabbi] Ephraim Bryks”[emphasis added].

He also wrote “As a Shul, we have a responsibility to provide moral and ethical leadership for our community.”
In the same email, he wrote “In accordance with a recent resolution taken by the Rabbinical Council of America, Herzlia – Adas Yeshurun condemns all forms of abuse in the strongest terms. Policies and procedures are being developed by your Board to direct future action. Reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities does not violate the Torah’s prohibition of mesirah (turning a fellow Jew over to a non-Jewish authority) or arka’ot (adjudicating cases in a secular court). We are obligated by Jewish law to do so as the concern for saving a life and respecting the law of land are paramount.”
Levine in  his recent book “ Coming of Age,” on p.420 writes that “Daniel Levin alleged that Bryks molested him." He further wrote "According to Sarah Levin, [Daniel’s mother] Bryks had given Daniel candy to keep him quiet and told him that God would punish him if he ever told anyone what had transpired. This threat of retribution was echoed by other children who came forward.”
A previous documentary was made on the case of Rabbi Bryks by CBC Television and produced by Noah Erenberg, a member of our Jewish community and a graduate of the Joseph Wolinsky class of 1982. The documentary was hosted by the late Danielle Keefler and aired nationally in February 1994.

Levine’s book says on page 421, “Attempts by Rabby Bryks to sue CBC and CNN, which also broadcast the documentary, were discontinued for lack of funds.”

Noah Erenberg's name is not mentioned in Levine's book on pages 419-421.

The Winnipeg Jewish Review has spoken to Rabbi Henry Balser who is now living in Florida.

Rabbi Balser told the Winnipeg Jewish Review “I almost broke into tears when I read [in the Winnipeg Jewish Review] that Herzlia Synagogue finally took down the plaques in honour of Rabbi Bryks.”

In his book, Levine writes on page 420 “Bryks was nearly hired to head a Jewish school in Montreal until parents there learned of the allegations in Winnipeg.”

Rabbi Balser told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he was giving spiritual advice and comfort to a family who came to him, alleging their child had been molested by Rabbi Bryks.

Rabbi Balser told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “the vice principal from the Montreal [school] contacted me on the advice of an orthodox Rabbi.”
Rabbi Balser said, “I relied not just on the word of the family that I spoke with. I also did some investigation of my own, and decided then that I was on solid ground in telling the Rabbi in Montreal that I would not  recommend Bryks.”
Rabbi Balser told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he told the Montreal Rabbi this even though he feared potentially being sued by Bryks.
Balser also told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that he was thankful that Shaarey Zedek Synagogue backed him up and was willing to pay any related legal fees he may have had to incur in so doing.

The Winnipeg Jewish Review will report on further details of the upcoming documentary series to be aired on Vision Television in due course.

In his book on page 419, Levine writes that the "biggest controversy in the Herzlia's history-in fact, arguably the most controverisal matter in the annals of the Winnipeg Jewish community-involved Rabbi Bryk's..." [emphasis added].

 In his book on page 420  Levine refers to the Winnipeg-produced CBC television documentary about Bryks as "controversial."

Below is the article by  Adam Dickter in the Jewish Week.

See also: Rhonda Spivak's editorial of September 5, 2010.

 RABBI EPHRAIM BRYKS LEAVES RABINICAL BOARD OF QUEENS UNDER A CLOUD


By Adam Dickter, Assistant Managing Editor The Jewish Week (New York),June 29,2010

[Reprinted with Permission]  A Queens rabbi who has been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse against children, but never charged with a crime, has reached a negotiated agreement to leave the Rabbinical Board of Queens in the fall, The Jewish Week has learned.

Rabbi Ephraim Bryks, who was investigated by police in Winnipeg, Canada, on suspicion of inappropriate contact with children at a yeshiva where he was principal, resigned from the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinical Council of America in 2003 without admitting any wrongdoing. 

Sources told The Jewish Week that the Queens board, known as the Vaad Harabonim, had long sought to have Rabbi Bryks removed as allegations against him persisted but was advised by lawyers that doing so was complicated because there has been no formal legal or halachic proceeding against him. Rabbi Bryks has been a member of the Vaad since the early ‘90s.  Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, co-president of the Vaad, would tell The Jewish Week only that “we reached an agreement with an individual that will take full effect in October.”

The October date, coming at the start of the new Jewish year, appears to coincide with the time when membership renewals are considered.
The board’s other president, Rabbi Richard Weiss, declined to comment and would not confirm or deny that the person involved in the agreement was Rabbi Bryks.

Last June, the same Vaad ordered Queens Pita, a bakery that it certifies kosher, to terminate the ownership interest of a man, Isaac Ebstein, who had pled guilty to abuse charges involving a 10-year-old boy. The bakery’s co-owner reportedly complied in order to maintain the kosher certification.

Rabbi Bryks has held leadership positions at two Queens yeshivas, but left for unspecified reasons. He now makes his living as a mortgage broker, has a blog seeking to field questions on halachic issues and is said to involve himself in marriage counseling, advocacy for women seeking religious divorces and in a rabbinical court, the Queens Beth Din, which he convenes with other rabbis.

Asher Lipner, a clinical psychologist who counsels sex abuse victims and, in a Jewish Week op-ed last week accused the Vaad of Queens of “protecting one of their own,” without mentioning Rabbi Bryks by name, said the Vaad had a responsibility to publicize the circumstances of Rabbi Bryks’ departure from the Vaad if it has to do with the past allegations.

“If the agreement was due to some other reason that is personal and does not affect the community and they are not telling anyone, that is fine with me,” said Lipner. “But if the reason the agreement was reached is because they suspect him of being a danger to the community, it’s their responsibility to let people know why they reached that agreement in order that he doesn’t join another organization.

“They gave a heksher and made this rabbi kosher,” Lipner continued. “If they are removing their heksher, they have to tell people he is not kosher. If they don’t, it leads to more people getting hurt.”

Religious organizations generally have a free hand in expelling members as they see fit, but must be careful how they do it, said Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, an expert on matters of religion and law.

“The internal workings of clergy organizations are beyond the scrutiny of the court,” said Stern. But he added that leveling a specific charge of illegal conduct against an individual in the process of severing ties to him could open the organization to legal action.

“Clergy are not exempt from slander suits or defamation,” said Stern. “In general, one of the reasons for throwing people out or taking action against a member of the clergy is to alert members of the faith that X’s conduct is not acceptable and they need to be aware.”

Rabbi Bryks did not respond to two messages left at his home or to e-mails sent via his blog and Facebook.

Rabbi Schonfeld said Rabbi Bryks was never involved in any kashrut certification work, a key function of the Vaad, and never held any leadership positions in the organization. In 2008, he was reported in the Jewish Star of Long Island to be acting as an advocate on behalf of a woman trying to obtain a religious divorce, with a notation that he was a Vaad member.

Rabbi Bryks’ resignation from the RCA after 25 years of membership came at the same time the group, at its annual convention, adopted policies and procedures to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct, The Jewish Week reported at the time. But the rabbi told the council’s leadership then that the resignation should in no way be taken as admission of wrongdoing. Since he was no longer working in Jewish education, he did not need to belong to a national rabbinical council, Rabbi Hershel Billet, then the council’s immediate past president, quoted Rabbi Bryks as saying then.

A Denver native, Rabbi Bryks, as principal of the Torah Academy in Winnipeg was found in 1988 to have tickled and hugged some students but denied more serious charges of sexual molestation, according to press reports. While the more serious charges were not substantiated by an investigation by Winnipeg social workers, the substantiated contact was deemed inappropriate and the Winnipeg Child and Family Services agency recommended that the school adopt guidelines against such behavior. The school has since closed.

In 1993, after Rabbi Bryks had moved to New York, a former student in Winnipeg accused him of having fondled him at the school when the student was 8, but prosecutors reportedly declined to press charges, citing lack of corroboration. When the boy, Daniel Leven, at age 17, was asked to re-record a statement he had given earlier, he committed suicide.

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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