(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)
Public hearings into the response of Jewish community leaders to allegations of child sexual abuse have begun in Melbourne.
The hearings are expected to run for two weeks.
Ron Sutton has the story.
(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)
Menachem, or Manny, Waks took a long pause.
He managed a few more words, paused a long while again, sipped from a water bottle, then wiped his eyes.
But when the counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse offered to take over reading his statement for him, he declined.
"I'm sorry. I just ... I feel like I need to read it. So, I'm sorry."
With that, Mr Waks slowly spilled out his story on the first day of public hearings in Melbourne into the response of Jewish community leaders to alleged abuse.
Around age 11, he says, as a student at Yeshiva College in Melbourne, he suffered sexual abuse over several months from a man at the Yeshiva Centre identified as ABP.
When he confided in a classmate, a close friend at the time, the friend told other students, and he was taunted, bullied and called gay in front of teachers and other authorities.
Mr Waks says no one intervened and then, from age 12 to 14, he was abused by college employee David Cyprys, convicted in 2013 for the abuse of nine boys in all.
Mr Waks, raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family, has offered pain-filled detail of the abuse and told the hearing it left him in deep despair.
"I felt lost in the only world I knew. It is very hard to explain the depth of this despair, given my background. I was essentially questioning my very existence. At home, I became a very difficult child. I rebelled openly against religion. I removed my religious attire at every opportunity. I regularly committed some of the gravest sins possible within our religious lifestyle. I desecrated the Sabbath. I ate non kosher food. I didn't pray, I didn't fast, among many other things. I was also regularly consuming large quantities of alcohol. This was the start of a long-term substance abuse problem for me."
Another victim at the hearings, identified only as AVA, spoke of similar despair and says he has spent years contemplating suicide until it is almost a part of him.
He says, all these decades later, he still cannot sleep an hour a night without medication, and, even then, can manage no more than three to six hours.
AVA says the sexual abuse deeply affected his social and intimate life, leaving him afraid to get close to people, then feeling guilty for keeping them at a distance.
He says it has also had a serious financial impact, from a one time $250 a week marijuana habit to the missed career opportunities because of drug and anger problems.
He says he understands he was one of David Cyprys's earlier victims and that carries an extra burden.
"Part of me feels responsible for not doing all I could to remove David from the Yeshiva Centre, especially for the period between 2003 and 2011. I'm now involved with Neighbourhood Watch. I'm a very big believer in having a safe community."
But AVA told the hearing the damage does not stop with the victim himself, that his family members have suffered in many different ways.
"My brother holds a lot of anger for what happened to me. I think that he feels negligent in his older brother duties. My father is empathetic, but I think he feels a bit helpless because he doesn't quite understand. I think he'd prefer it to all be brushed under the carpet, because he worries that it hurts the yeshiva community. My mother feels somewhat responsible and quite betrayed by the yeshiva community. My wife has had to put up with some ups and downs from me. She's stood by me, and I really appreciate that, because, sometimes, I'm not the easiest person to live with. Occasionally, I have strong depressive moods where I want to be left alone."
AVA's mother, referred to only as AVQ, is in hospital but had her statement read in court.
She says, around 1986, either AVA or another son told her David Cyprys was acting sexually with AVA and she contacted the rabbi.
She says she remembers his response.
"'Oh, no, I thought we cured him.' And then he said, 'Don't worry about it, I will take care of it. It will be fine.' I was only in my 30s, and I believed him -- stupidly -- and I'm still trying to forgive myself for that."
The royal commission plans to examine when yeshivas in Melbourne and Sydney's east-suburban Bondi first knew of allegations against three people, including David Cyprys.
And it says it will examine the response of leaders and management to that information.