WLS and Reform under the spotlight

A JC report (Dec.2019) revealed that a newly appointed rabbi to West London Synagogue had been accused of bullying staff and inappropriate behaviour. Former employees of WLS claim they were forced to leave roles due to 'bullying' and 'manipulation' by the rabbi.
A cover-up is an attempt, whether successful or not, to conceal evidence of wrongdoing, error, incompetence or other embarrassing information.
They said multiple attempts to raise concerns over safeguarding of young people in his care, were ignored by the shul.

Further serious concerns were raised after a follow up report in the JC (19 Jan 2020) headlined "More come forward to accuse top London rabbi of bullying" The original complainants expressed anger over the shul’s response to the first JC story about Rabbi Mitchell and what it said it knew about the original allegations. The original whistle-blowers said they had "no success" raising issues regarding Rabbi Mitchell with WLS’s chief executive, chairman and Senior Rabbi, Baroness Julia Neuberger.

Another complainant described a “toxic atmosphere with synagogue management seeking to quash rather than respond to any complaints”. The Guardian

The JC report said that the Charity Commission has demanded to know why the synagogue, which is a registered charity, did not inform it about the allegations against Rabbi Mitchell. A spokeswoman for the Commission said: "We would expect trustees to report allegations of this nature to us. We are assessing the issues and will make contact with the trustees imminently." West London Synagogue had 17 trustees and they include Mrs Marie van der Zyl, who is currently the President of the Board of Deputies. Her late father sent malicious and offensive letters to George Rooker and threatened him with physical violence, but no statement of regret or apology for the distress caused to him and his Holocaust survivor wife, daughter of Rabbi Dr Werner van der Zyl former Senior Rabbi at WLS, has ever been made.

The JC reports that there were conflicting claims about who knew, and who didn't know, about the allegations. The shul's former president Mark Fox is quoted as saying he was not told the details, although he was one of the signatories with Baroness Neuberger and Patrick Mocatta, the shul’s current chair, to an email which said "The Rabbinic Appointments Committee and the Trustees were aware of this matter ..."

As reported by Rosa Doherty in the JC (30 Jan 2020), the accused rabbi had agreed to "take a period of time away". The shul was criticised for the length of time it took to act. Whistleblowers said "It has been hard to see them continue to deny that there was a problem" and were also demanding an apology. More of their concerns were revealed in the Jewish Chronicle (Feb 06 2020)

In response to the appalling allegations Reform Judaism (which claims to promote "a life of integrity based on a process of informed decision making") had pledged to set up a "robust and transparent" code of conduct for rabbis after an open letter called for changes to how it handled cases of misconduct. But the machers at West London Synagogue created a religious schism when it rejected the proposal and took the extraordinary step of suspending Reform Judaism membership. WLS president Mark Fox and member Madeline Young would step down as trustees of Reform Judaism. The JC (13 Feb 2020) quotes one of the whistleblowers as saying: "My fear is that this removes any accountability or transparency around their investigation, removing themselves from the positive move towards a movement-wide ethics process makes no sense."

Rabbi Mitchell's suspension was lifted after an inquiry into the alleged bullying found in his favour (JC, 31/03/2020)
But the investigation into claims of bullying and inappropriate conduct was dismissed as 'a total mess' (Jewish News, 02/04/2020)

In recent years more and more people have voiced their unease about the erosion of moral and ethical standards within the community organisations. Maybe the current crisis will be a wake up call for some long overdue introspection.

The Talmudic Dictum "Shtika Kehoda" translates as "Silence is complicity."  

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