Friday, November 14, 2003

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations

Rabbi's visit canceled amid abuse allegations
The Jewish community in D.M. received e-mails accusing the man of a history of child abuse.
By SHIRLEY RAGSDALE, Register Religion Editor
Des Moines Register - November 14, 2003

A Des Moines orthodox synagogue has canceled the appearance of a prominent New York rabbi scheduled to speak this weekend, after the Des Moines Jewish community was barraged with e-mails suggesting the guest speaker had a history of child abuse. 

Rabbi Ari Sytner of Beth El Jacob Synagogue had invited Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Richmond Hill, N.Y., to speak at an event today. Bryks had spoken twice before in Des Moines at Sytner's invitation. 

Members of a victims advocacy network found the announcement on and sent messages to the newspaper and members of the Iowa Jewish community, said a member of that network. 

Bryks would not speak to a Register reporter Thursday, but in a May article in a New York newspaper denied the allegations, which are more than 20 years old. Despite the fact that he's never been charged with child abuse, Bryks said in the article that the allegations are like a ghost trailing him from city to city, school to school. 

And to Des Moines. 

"Rabbi and Mrs. Bryks have visited our community twice before in the last few years (before we knew of the allegations), and they were welcomed, loved and respected by all that met them," Sytner said Wednesday in a written statement. 

"Nonetheless, I still have absolutely no basis for determining this man's guilt or innocence, and unfortunately with the program scheduled for this weekend, time is not on our side to further investigate. As a result, I have decided to cancel Rabbi Bryks' trip to Des Moines until we can further clarify the matter." 

When approached about the e-mail messages earlier this week, Sytner said he believed it was a case of mistaken identity, noting that Ephraim Bryks is a common Jewish name. After Sytner received forwarded e-mails from "all over the country," he decided to cancel Bryks' trip. 

One of the early e-mails came from the executive director and founder of The Awareness Center, an international organization dedicated to advocacy and education on sexual abuse in Jewish communities. Founder Victoria Polin said Bryks is one of about 100 alleged abusers whose names are posted on the center's Web site. 

"Pedophilia has no religion," Polin said. "Some Jewish communities are 30 years behind the times in terms of addressing sexual abuse. In some Orthodox communities, they do not watch TV or read the newspapers. All they know is what the rabbi tells them. Someone has to speak out because nobody listens to the victims." 

The allegations stem from a period in the late 1980s when Bryks was the leader at a Winnipeg, Canada, Jewish day school and congregation, according to The Jewish Tribune, a publication of B'nai Brith Canada. 

According to various media reports, Bryks was accused of abusing five Winnipeg students, including a 17-year-old boy who committed suicide in 1994 after talking about the alleged abuse with his parents and police. 

A 1988 report by the government agency, Winnipeg South Child and Family Services on a 14-year-old girl's allegations, said there was no evidence to support a finding of criminal wrongdoing, but said Bryks' interaction with female students was inappropriate. A year later, parents of a young boy took a sex abuse complaint to Winnipeg police. The allegations were investigated, but there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. 

Bryks left Canada in 1990, relocating in New York, where the allegations blocked his hiring by at least one congregation and forced his ouster from at least one other, according to the New York newspaper. 

Attempts have been made to remove Bryks from the Queens, N.Y., Va'ad Harabonim, a council of rabbis that makes important decisions in the borough. 

Earlier this year, Bryks resigned from the Rabbinical Council of America under criticism. In June, the 1,200-member Rabbinical Council voted to report acts or suspicions of child abuse to the police, a break from a longstanding practice of protecting errant rabbis rather than reporting them to civil authorities, according to reports in The Jewish Week newspaper.

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