Trigger warning: This post is about child sexual abuse and may cause distress for some readers.
The dynamics in the house were different to most families, and not only due to the fact that we were ultra-Orthodox Jews, belonging to the worldwide Chabad movement. Throughout most of my life, the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne – located literally across the road from our home – was the centre of my Jewish family’s universe.
Hear Manny tell his story to Meshel Laurie on The Nitty Gritty Committee podcast:
On the Nitty Gritty Committee
While there were many beautiful moments, often the home functioned like a large corporation or a military camp rather than a conventional family. Each older child was responsible for a younger sibling, ensuring they ate their breakfast, made their school lunch, did their homework. We even changed their nappies. The two siblings would share a room. As the second eldest, I was responsible for several of my siblings over the years. Moreover, as the eldest boy, I played a unique role in the family, commanding the special respect owed to an older brother.
Despite the militaristic discipline, it was a wonderful childhood within the home. We had no television, but watched family videos, ‘kosher’ documentaries and religious films. There were no novels lying around. We read only religious texts or stories.
Every aspect of daily life was dictated by religion. For example, it was compulsory to put on the right side of our clothing before the left, recite at least 100 blessings a day, pray three times daily and wear particular garments. We were encouraged to spit while walking past a church. Astonishingly, I was unable to distinguish between Jesus and Hitler; until well into my teenage years I had believed they were different names for the same wicked leader.
On weekends and on school holidays we would go for day trips and overnight stays. We hosted guests, for Sabbath meals and on many other occasions. Often guests would sleep over.
Then there was my life outside the home.
From the age of 11, I was groomed for sex by an adult perpetrator at the Yeshivah Centre.
I was offered attention and special treats, including the opportunity to drive a car on the grounds of Yeshivah. The perpetrator, Velvel (Zev) Serebryanski, the son of one of Australia’s most prominent Chabad leaders, sexually abused me for the first time inside the Yeshivah synagogue during the festival of Shavuot, when it is customary for men to remain awake all night to undertake religious studies. I went upstairs to the women’s section of the synagogue to rest on one of the wooden benches. Serebryanski followed me up there, sat on the bench beside me and started stroking my clothes, initially on my thighs and eventually my groin area. He undid my belt and unzipped my trousers and felt around my penis and groin over the top of my underpants with his hand.