Thursday, February 20, 2003

Summary of the Case of Rabbi Ephraim Bryks

(© 2003) The Awareness Center
The Awareness Center - Feb. 20, 2003 

For more information on this case CLICK HERE

Rabbi Ephraim Boruch Bryks is a native of Denver, Colorado. In 1971, following the suicide of his father, Lejzor (also an Orthodox rabbi) amid financial scandal, Rabbi Bryks was sent away to study at yeshiva. In 1978, at age 24 he came to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he was hired by the Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun synagogue. A charismatic personality he enlarged the synagogue's membership base and established many new programs, an NCSY chapter called Ohr Hagolah, Herzlia Academy night school, a pre-school, a nursery, a kindergarten, a Girl Guide troop, a Brownie troop and his own rabbinical court. He worked as a teacher at the community-run Jewish high-school, Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate and applied for the position of Vice-Principal. After the position went to another rabbi, he left the school and started his most ambitious project, an independently run Orthodox Jewish school. This school synagogue started with a few dozen elementary students and quickly expanded to over 150 students and a small junior high-school program.
Rabbi Bryks criticized other rabbis in Winnipeg's Jewish community over the validity of the city's eruv (a structure which allows Orthodox jews to carry items on the Sabbath) and its kosher food. Questions began to surface regarding Rabbi Bryks' credentials.

Keefler: In a community journal, Bryks boasted a degree there of law from the state of Israel, that he sat as a member of a religious court in Israel, and had a court room. The truth is, he was a rabbinical student, not a judge. And the state doesn't give out law degrees. <1>
In 1987, the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis wrote a letter to the editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Post & News alleging that Rabbi Bryks plagiarized several articles in his Weekly Torah commentaries from a book by Ottawa Rabbi Bulka's called Torah Therapy. Rabbi Bryks' lawyer threatened the newspaper with a lawsuit if the letter were published. It was never printed.
Diane Keefler: What people didn't see, many didn't believe. Bryks counseled women, studied with teenage girls, all behind his closed office door. Orthodox Jewish law forbids men from touching or even being alone with a female over the age of three who isn't family. A 14-year-old complained the rabbi often sat on her lap, touched her, tickled her, and talked about sex. Once, she says, he even licked her face. <1>
Additional women came forward, accusing Rabbi Bryks of making unwanted sexual advances. These women and the mother of the young girl took their allegations to Rabbi Avraham Altein, the leader of the local Lubavich community and a supporter of the positions Rabbi Bryks had taken in the past against the city's eruv and kosher food. After hearing their allegations, he counseled them not to go to the police or child family services. He told them to deal with the allegations internally with the synagogue board.
Keefler: The board didn't go to the police. Didn't contact child welfare agencies. Instead, board members set up their own private inquiry.
Judy Silver: We were trying to try him without it going public. We were trying to protect the synagogue.
Keefler: That December 1987, the board, Bryks and his lawyer heard the evidence. The teenager repeated her story. Two women also came forward, accused Bryks of making unwanted sexual advances. They weren't believed.
Nathan Kobrinsky: The people who brought forth these concerns against the rabbi were publicly humiliated and insulted and called liars. It was at this point that I felt that the whole process that I was participating in was a sham. <1>
During the board's deliberations about Rabbi Bryks, those not seen as loyal to Bryks suffered abuse from other congregants, shunning and were even spat at in the shul. Rabbi Bryks continued to teach at the school and run religious services.
Keefler: For three nights, accusations, legal threats, personal attacks.
Kobrinsky: We were being threatened collectively for taking a position against the rabbi, that would result in a legal suit. And second of all, we were being threatened individually, because of information that the rabbi had about us and our personal lives, that would be used against us.
Silver: He said quite clearly, I have secrets on all of you.
Keefler: On New Years Day 1988, a final board meeting. Word got out, more than a hundred people rushed to the synagogue. They feared Bryks would be fired. <1>

Over a hundred of Rabbi Bryks' supporters swarmed outside the boardroom, screaming threats against those who opposed Bryks. Ten board members voted to keep Rabbi Bryks, nine voted to fire him. The nine members who voted to fire him immediately quit in protest. The vacancies were filled with supporters and the new board voted unanimously to support Rabbi Bryks.
Wishing to put the controversy to rest, the new Board contacted Jewish Child and Family Services (JCFS), an organization Rabbi Bryks had sat on as a member of the Board of Directors, to investigate the allegations. JCFS could not investigate Rabbi Bryks due to a conflict of interest. The allegations were forwarded by JCFS to Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS) to investigate. For two months, social workers interviewed 45 students, teachers and parents. One of Bryks' lawyers sat in open sight outside their offices presumably keeping track of who went in to their offices. The WCFS issued a report in March 1988: 
With respect to the behaviour of Rabbi Bryks regarding the teenage girls in the school, the findings of the investigation, on review by the Winnipeg City Police, indicated that there was no evidence which would support charges of criminal wrongdoing. Further, there is insufficient evidence to pursue any proceeding under The Child and Family Services Act against Rabbi Bryks.
Nothwithstanding the above findings, on review of the report, this writer is in agreement with the investigative team that the acknowledged interactions of Rabbi Bryks with his female students involving tickling at the waist, kissing on the head, hugging, and students sitting on his lap were neither appropriate nor professional behaviour.

At the time, there was no compulsory reporting of alleged child abuse by teachers in Manitoba:

Immediate reporting of alleged child abuse by teachers and other caregivers became compulsory in Manitoba following a 1989 amendment to the province's Child and Family Services Act. But Keith Cooper, the executive Director of Winnipeg South Child and Family Services, says that this amendment was passed because "at that time a lot of organizations handled these issues in the same kind of way." However Cooper still had concerns about the way the synagogues's board responded to the allegations.
"The process the synagogue took, rightly or wrongly--and they thought they were doing things in everyone's best interest--created circumstances within the synagogue community and school staff to choose sides and to let kids know that parents were on one side or another. And that kind of thing is not helpful to pursuing that sort of investigation because all sorts of other factors intrude."
Cooper added that when his office investigates child abuse complaints, investigators talk to children without subjecting them to any kind of outside pressure from anyone else to get a first sense of the allegations. When questioned about the impact of his office's finding that a poisoned environment against disclosing child abuse was inadvertently in effect at the school as a result of the board's initial response, Cooper thought it was possible that during a professional investigation at the outset, "other children might have come forward if there was something to come forward about."
Barney Yellen, Winnipeg's Jewish Child and Family Service's Executive Director, is also quite critical of the board's decision to conduct its own investigation and the board's subsequent decision to support Rabbi Bryks. "Regardless of the child abuse issue, there was a questionable professional conduct in his role as a teacher. It surprised me that he wasn't terminated." <2>
After the 1988 findings of the Winnipeg South Child Family Services, a new allegation in 1989 was brought to the police and Winnipeg Child and Family Services.
Keefler: She wasn 't the only student who kept a secret. We found another child who claimed he was victimized. In 1989, a year after the Child and Family Services investigation, a seven-year-old boy went to the Winnipeg police. His parents watched from the next room, listened, as the boy, using a doll, alleged Rabbi Bryks molested him in grade I. The couple is disguised to protect their son's identity.
Disguised mother: He showed on the doll ... that he had been basically, I guess, fondled, masturbated ... rubbed ... he used the word "tickled".
Disguised father: The Rabbi would come and get him out of the classroom during a session in class, take him up to the office. And he threatened him that if he were to say this to anyone the big boys would come and beat him up. <1>
Winnipeg Child and Family Services refused to investigate.
"The case was sent to the Crown," Inspector Lou Spado of the Winnipeg police said, "but no charge was laid because there was no corroboration. You have to be very careful in an investigation like that. It becomes the word of an 8 year old against that of an adult. We brought the rabbi in for questioning, but he refused comment." Asked why Winnipeg Child and Family Services didn't investigate that boy's allegations, Ken Cooper, the agency's chief executive officer, claimed the atmosphere in the school and shul at the time was so "emotionally charged" that any investigation would necessarily be "contaminated". <3>
Over the months both enrollment and membership fell. In 1990, after being offered a position as principal of a Montreal Jewish day school, Rabbi Bryks announced he would be leaving Winnipeg. The Torah Academy school closed down. However, the allegations followed him to Montreal. A group of irate parents informed the school of the investigations of Rabbi Bryks by Winnipeg Police and Family and Child Services. The job offer was withdrawn. Rabbi Bryks showed up in Montreal demanded the offer be reinstated and was given a hearing before a rabbinical court in Montreal. After the rabbinical court made some inquiries, the offer was to be reinstated. However, parents made it clear that if Rabbi Bryks were hired, there would be no students at the school. Rabbi Bryks was not hired.
Rabbi Bryks moved to New York. In Queens, he built another Torah Academy from scratch into a 400-student grade 7 to 12 Orthodox school. This was a new school for immigrant youth from the former Soviet Union. Irving Laub, a board member of the New York Torah Academy, said "He has singlehandedly built our school and held it together". "His rapport with the students and staff is everything we hoped for. I know how difficult his task was in integrating newly-arrived Russian teenagers into the Hebrew day school system. I'm a fan of his." <3>
The allegations against Rabbi Bryks were brought to the fore again in September 1993 after the suicide of 17-year-old Daniel Levin and a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documentary in 1994. Daniel, a former Torah Academy student had gone to the Toronto police with charges of sexual abuse against Bryks which had been tormenting him.
Keefler: Daniel went to the school from kindergarten to Grade 2. Then the Levins moved away to Montreal, later to Toronto. As a teenager, Daniel's smile masked his pain. His parents had separated. The boy was in distress, unable to concentrate in school, prone to explosive fits of rage. At 14, he started therapy. Three years later, he stunned his mother and father.
Sara Levin: Last May, he started having -- May '93, he started having memories of being sexually abused by the rabbi and principal at Torah Academy. He was sitting on his lap, and the rabbi -- in his office in the rabbi's office, and the rabbi was -- it's so hard for me to say this --
Martin Levin: He was fondling.
Sara: He was fondling his genitals first over his clothes, and then he opened his pants. And afterwards, he gave him a candy. It was a peppermint one, with the blue wrapper, I think it says "Elite" on it. He even remembered the candy.
Martin: The internal mechanism for a flash second said, "It's got to be a mistake here, I'm not hearing this." But instantly, I knew that he was telling me the truth.
Sara: And then he said he had a memory, and he started coughing and spitting out mucous, and he sat up, and we got tissues for him. And he was coughing and spitting up and spitting up, and he started crying. And he said that he was in the office, and Rabbi Bryks put his penis in Daniel's mouth. And he kept coughing, and I encouraged him to spit it up, spit everything up. That was another memory.
Martin: He did say that Bryks said things. I wondered why he kept quiet. And then he said, "Well, Bryks said to me, God will punish you if you speak." <1>
Daniel Levin committed suicide on Yom Kippur after Metro Police asked the Oakwood Collegiate Grade 12 student to re-record a statement he had made in June 1993. The police tape machine had been faulty at the first recording. With the complainant dead and his testimony erroneously not recorded, Toronto Police were forced to drop the case.
The CBC documentary report, titled "Unorthodox Conduct", aired on local CBC TV's "24 Hours" and the national "Prime Time News", and dealt with the allegations of sexual abuse against Bryks. It also raised new allegations:
Keefler: [The March 1988 report] warned "if there is a child in the school that is currently being abused, the dynamics of the reaction of staff, fellow students and other adults over the past couple of months might prevent any child from coming forth with disclosure." That is exactly what happened to one girl., who didn't want to be interviewed on camera. A former student told us what she didn't tell Child and Family Services. ... that Rabbi Bryks fondled her breasts, once lay completely on top of her, touched her and tickled her all the time. When the social worker asked questions, the girl kept quiet.
Keefler: [We] found another student, who can't close that chapter of her life. A fourth student, this couple's daughter, claims she was molested.
Disguised mother: It's horrifying, and its unbelievable.Unbelievably numb.
Keefler: Last November, this couple's daughter told them she was molested by Rabbi Bryks in grade 2. They are disguised to protect the girl's identity.
Disguised father: Rabbi Bryks would take her out of class and would take her into his office during school time, and he would make her take off her underwear and stockings and then he would fondle her, her genitalia. She remembers it happening many times. She told me that he told her that if she ever told anybody that God would punish her.
Disguised father: The most painful recent event since her disclosure for me was going up to see how she was, in her bedroom, it 's just quiet and I just wanted to see how she was, going into her bedroom, she was sitting in her closet, curled up in a fetal ball, listening to Barney tapes with a little Barney book in her hand. I couldn't deal with that.
Keefler: The fourteen, year-old is in counseling to the police. Her parents say she isn't ready to go in the police.
Disguised mother: She is so fragile that this has to be in her own time.
Disguised father: She also knows about another boy who did go to the Police and nothing happened. Rabbi Bryks is still out there, still teaching school. <1>

When the broadcast was seen by school officials at the Queens Torah Academy in 1994 and the allegations were passed on to the New Russian World, the city's Russian daily newspaper, parents went "berserk," said a Brooklyn rabbi. <4>
"School-board members knew about his past and, regardless, gave him the position," said the rabbi, who didn't want his name published. <4>
Rabbi Bryks was "fired" according to Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, a teacher at Bryks' current school Yeshiva Berachel David in Queens. <4>
Unable to find employment in the education field, Rabbi Bryks found work with his in-laws at Astor Brokerage Limited. During this time he filed lawsuits against CBC and CNN (rebroadcast parts of CBC documentary on its Headline News Network) claiming defamation and damages. He abandoned the lawsuit in Canada and his lawsuit in the U.S. was dismissed. Within 2 years, Rabbi Bryks once again found employment as principal of a Russian elementary boys Yeshiva in Brooklyn called She'aris Israel. During this time Rabbi Bryks started his own rabbinical court in Queens and became active in the Agunah movement (movement to help women get religious divorces). Around 1999 Rabbi Bryks left She'aris Israel for reasons which are not known. He then started his own yeshiva for boys in Queens called Berachel David with the help of Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, Vice-President of the Queens Vaad Harabonim. The yeshiva is run out of Nisanov's synagogue Kehilat Sephardim.
In the summer of 2001, a group of Queens rabbis took the allegations against Rabbi Bryks to the Vaad Harabonim of Queens. There were several meetings, including a screening of the 1994 CBC documentary feature.
Rabbi Simcha Krauss of Young Israel of Hillcrest congregation led that effort. And he said he remains distressed that Bryks is still in Jewish education.
"To make a long story short, any pressure brought that he should resign would be welcome," Krauss said. <5>
"Unfortunately, there wasn't a tremendous reaction - it was hard for them to believe that he could do it," said a Queens rabbi who didn't want his name published. <4>
On March 31, 2002 The New York Post published an article entitled Queens Yeshiva Boss is a Molester: Boy's Mom by Douglas Montero about allegations concerning Rabbi Bryks. The story was re-broadcast on WCBS radio in New York. Once again, there wasn't a tremendous reaction within the Rabbinical or Jewish community.
On May 26, 2003 Stephanie Saul, journalist at Newsday (NY) began a series on sexual abuse in the Jewish community. An article published along with that series dealt with allegations concerning Rabbi Bryks. Rabbi Bryks was quoted:
"How do you battle a ghost?" says Bryks, sitting in the cramped office of the small yeshiva he runs in Kew Gardens Hills. He has done nothing wrong, he says. "I would love to have that case fully investigated." <6>
It should be noted that despite this claim Rabbi Bryks continues to exercise his legal rights and refuses to allow the Winnipeg police to question him or cooperate in their investigation.
"We brought the rabbi in for questioning, but he refused comment." <3>
Two days after the initial Newsday article was published, a follow up article was printed:
A Queens rabbi who had been dogged by old sexual abuse allegations from Canada this week resigned his membership in a prestigious rabbinical organization and agreed to leave Jewish education, officials of the group said Wednesday night.
The Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of Orthodox rabbis, was believed to be considering ousting Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Kew Gardens Hills as a result of the lingering abuse allegations, which arose when he was the pulpit rabbi and yeshiva administrator in a Winnipeg congregation during the 1980s.
Bryks has always denied those claims and continued the denial in submitting his resignation. <6>
Efforts to reach Rabbi Bryks were unsuccessful. But Rabbi Heshie Billet, immediate past president of the RCA, spoke with him at the convention and told The Jewish Week that Rabbi Bryks "is leaving Jewish education. The school is closing and since he no longer will have a formal rabbinic position he feels it's not necessary to belong to a professional rabbinic body.
"He told me his resignation should in no way be construed as an admission of guilt. He denies all the allegations against him," said Rabbi Billet. "I don't know what he'll be doing next. I just accepted his resignation at face value." <7>
By resigning Rabbi Bryks has avoided his case potentially being brought to the Rabbinical Council of America disciplinary committee. He avoids being subject as well to any enhancements in the Rabbinical Council of America code of conduct (any related discipline), any investigation of complaints and any process involving potential complaints. He also avoids the public scrutiny he was attracting as a member of the Rabbinical Council of America with his particular history of allegations.
Billet also said Bryks plans to leave his post as principal at Yeshiva Berachel David on 78th Road at the end of the school year.
"He's just going to be a private citizen," said Billet, the leader of Young Israel of Woodmere congregation. <6>
This marks the third time in Rabbi Bryks' close to three decades in Jewish education that he has taken a public break from his profession as a Jewish educator. In 1990, there was a very short break resulting from an offer of principalship at a Montreal Jewish school being withdrawn. There was also a break in 1995 after he left Queens Torah Academy. Other than current adverse publicity, there is no impediment to Rabbi Bryks re-entering the private Jewish educational field at some future time. Adverse publicity has not kept Rabbi Bryks out of the Jewish educational field for long in the past.
There have been several inaccurate statements in the press concerning the status of the Winnipeg criminal investigations, in particular: 
  1. Canadian civil authorities investigated charges there and found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing. <7> 
  3. and authorities declined to charge another because there was no evidence to do so. <8>
There in fact has been no final disposition to these charges or the investigation.
The case in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in fact remains open. To date Rabbi Bryks has not cooperated with the Winnipeg police or made himself available to answer the charges against him. There is no Statute of Limitations in Canada on criminal charges regarding the sexual assault of children.
In 1994, after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a documentary regarding further serious allegations against Rabbi Bryks a second police investigation was opened. Again the police sent the case to the Crown. Almost 2 years later, the Manitoba Crown (equivalent of the DA in the U.S.), announced in December of 1995 that it would not be pressing charges against Rabbi Ephraim Bryks at the time. It did not issue its reasons for doing so. There may have been numerous reason for doing so. <9>
The Crown prosecutors have not issued a closing document and the file on Bryks remains open. The Winnipeg police have also not closed their file on this matter and the file is currently assigned to a member of the police force.
Anyone with relevant information is encouraged to contact the Winnipeg Police at their main phone number 204-986-6037 (their website is located at: The following officers have worked on the file in the past and should be able to help refer you to those currently handling the files: Inspector Lou Spado (may be retired) and Sgt. Robin Parker.
Anyone with relevant information in the U.S. is encouraged to contact their local police department and their local District Attorney's office.
The numbers in Queens are:
  1. New York Police Department: NYPD Switchboard: 646-610-5000 website: Queens Precinct Addresses and Direct phone numbers can be found at:
  2. Queens District Attorney's office at: (718) 286-6000 website:
49 year-old Rabbi Ephraim Boruch Bryks will continue to run Yeshiva Berachel David in Queens until the end of the 2003 school year. No public statement has been made concerning his membership on the Vaad Harabonim of Queens. Rabbi Bryks was a member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) for over a quarter of a century before his May 27, 2003 resignation. Ads in The Jewish Press indicate that Rabbi Bryks is currently working as a mortgage broker for a company he runs out of his home called REB International LLC.
<1> Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Program Prime Time News, February 28 1994, Time 21:00:00 ET
<2> Jewish Tribune – B'nai Brith Canada, August 4, 1994, More Allegations of Sexual Abuse Involving Rabbi: Police Probe Resumes At School "Jews need to know that this can happen to us" by Marc Huber
<3> The Jewish Post & News (Winnipeg), March 9, 1994, CBC report re-opens Bryks controversy by Myron Love
<4> The New York Post, March 31, 2002, Queens Yeshiva Boss is a Molester: Boy's Mom by Douglas Montero
<5> Newsday (NY), May 26, 2003, Battling a 'Ghost' From Past by Stephanie Saul
<6> Newsday (NY), May 28, 2003, Dogged By Allegations, Rabbi Quits - Rabbi Maintains Denial Of Any Wrongdoing by Stephanie Saul
<7> The Jewish Week (NY), June 6, 2003 Orthodox Rabbis To Report Abuse by Debra Nussbaum
<8> The Jewish Press (NY), June 4, 2003 Newsday And Abuse In The Jewish Community by Editorial Board
<9> The Jewish Post and News (Winnipeg), Wednesday, January 10, 1996 Editorial comment - A Second look at "Unorthodox Conduct"

For more information on this case CLICK HERE

No comments: