Sexual abuse victim Yehudis now supports other sufferers

YEHUDIS Fletcher is much more than a survivor of child sexual abuse. The woman who was partly responsible for bringing the notorious charedi paedophile Todros Grynhaus to justice is now dedicating her life to supporting other charedi victims and raising awareness of the issue in the general Jewish community.

Grynhaus was not Yehudis’ only abuser.

Yehudis says she was also abused by members of Manchester’s charedi community, who covered up for Grynhaus and tried to prevent him being brought to justice.

Her harrowing story — not only of sexual grooming and abuse but also of lack of support from Manchester’s religious community — would be enough to make anyone bitter and want to turn her back on her community.

But Yehudis is one of the least bitter people I have ever met.

She told me: “I am not bitter. That would be a real waste. I don’t want to waste my energy on things like that.

“They have taken that much from me, I am not going to let them take my energy now.”

And three years ago, despite all her horrific memories of Manchester, Yehudis chose to return there with her three children.

She said: “It was really important for me to reclaim Manchester. Both my sets of my grandparents were very well established in the community — Gloria and Moshe Beigel and June and Ellis Fletcher.

“It is really important to me not to give that up just because people treated me really badly.

“I will not allow anyone to exclude me or make me feel excluded. It is my community as much as anyone else’s.”

And even though she is now the UK ambassador for JOFA — the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance — Yehudis still regards herself as charedi.

She says: “I grew up in the charedi community. I am not prepared to reject that label. They are my family.

“Often, people who have negative experiences in the frum community deal with it in one of two ways. They either shut down and don’t think about it, don’t process it and have a difficult life.

“They become numb. Some people slam the door on the way out and say this community is terrible. It is not for me.

“I am not taking either of these paths. Manchester is made up of people. People are people everywhere. It is really about challenging stereotypes and trying to bring diversity.”

Yehudis was born in Glasgow, where her father Rabbi Michoel Fletcher was minister of Queens Park Hebrew Congregation.

When she was 14, her family emigrated to Israel. Yehudis could not settle in her new country so she was sent to Manchester to study at Yavneh in 2003.

She stayed with the Grynhaus family, who had advertised for a female lodger. That was when Todros began grooming her, distancing her from her family, buying her gifts and making her feel special so that she craved his affection.

Then, Todros transferred his affections to Yehudis’ best friend and took the two of them on a Sunday outing in the Pennines.

Upset, Yehudis lost her way walking on the moors, where she was stranded overnight. When Todros found her the next day, he put his arms around her, breaching for the first time the charedi no-touching boundary between men and women.

Soon afterwards, he sent his wife to London for a break and, when he was alone in the house with her, assaulted Yehudis for the first time.

After that, he assaulted her at every opportunity. Eventually, Mrs Grynhaus found them together and phoned a rabbi in America, who told Todros that Yehudis should leave the Grynhaus household.

Todros found her somewhere else to stay.

A few months later, Yehudis went to Israel on a visit where she saw a rabbi who said he would deal with the situation.

Back in the UK, Yehudis’ friend told her that Todros had also touched her inappropriately.

Yehudis was worried about the safety of Todros’ own daughters. She told the manager of the Jewish company she worked for, who in turn told the Beth Din.

Yehudis gave Manchester Beth Din evidence from her diaries and objects which could have contained evidence of his DNA. She says that the Beth Din did nothing and would not return her evidence to her.

After some time in a seminary in Israel, Yehudis went to stay with her married brother in Gateshead.

Still worried about Todros’ daughters, she once again complained to the Manchester Beth Din, which offered her financial compensation from Todros.

At the age of 18, Yehudis became engaged. But she still kept telling people about Todros. No one wanted to know.

In 2012, pregnant with her third child, she told a London rabbi that she was worried about Todros’ young niece, who lived near her in London. That Rosh Hashana, Todros was still able to lead the prayers in a London Federation synagogue, although a police investigation had already begun.

When Yehudis’ youngest child was three weeks old, her brother told her that another of Todros’ victims had gone to the police.

He asked her if she would do the same. Although it was intensely painful, she did and more victims came forward.

Todros was charged with multiple counts.

Yehudis discovered that Todros had been accused of sexual assault in his youth. An American rabbi had told him to solve the problem by marrying, which he did.

He was employed as a teacher in Gibraltar. After a few years, he was asked to leave after being accused of inappropriate handling of children.

He moved to Manchester where again he was given a communal teaching position. He was sacked for a similar reason from that school, after which he was given another position in a more religious school.

Meanwhile, the rabbis in America and Israel who knew about the situation refused to co-operate with the police. Manchester Beth Din denied to the police that they had any evidence.

Todros had skipped bail, provided with a passport by a charedi man with a beard. He escaped to Israel.

Todros was arrested by chance after he was recognised by a Mancunian in Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

The UK was waiting for Israel to deport him on the immigration offences of travelling on someone else’s passport. But Todros applied for Israeli citizenship, which was refused as he was considered a danger to the public — a very rare ruling.

He was deported on February 9, 2013. Grynhaus faced seven counts of sexual assault against Yehudis and another female. The trial was on February 23, 2015.

Yehudis said that she felt no fear. She endured two days of cross-examination, including about her most intimate bodily details, and then, agonised, had to return to London to her family and work.

The police later told her that the Manchester Beth Din representative had denied remembering anything about the case although he had recently met with her, her father and a dayan on the subject.

The verdict was a hung jury. A new trial was set for April 27.

Gateshead Rav Shraga Zimmerman had given supportive evidence in the first trial and a second Gateshead rabbi did so at the second trial.

Others, who had been disappointed at the first verdict, came forward, as well as another victim.

On May 19, 2015, Todros was found guilty on all counts.

The Manchester Beth Din representative died soon afterwards.

Yehudis received support from Migdal Emunah, which supports Jewish victims of sexual abuse and their families. She is now employed by them as an independent sexual violence adviser.

Her experience naturally led her to feminism.

She told me: “Breaching someone’s boundaries in sexual assault ignores their autonomy. I was looking at other areas in which women’s autonomy could be strengthened.”

Yehudis added: “I am refusing to compromise on my frum upbringing.

“Feminism is also an integral part of my outlook. I don’t see that as a contradiction at all. My frumkeit does not demand of me that I allow people to take control of my autonomy. It is really important for me to manage that line.”

After attending some JOFA UK events, Yehudis wrote the poem Kina on the organisation’s blog. Kinot are poems of lamentation recited on Tisha b’Av.

Yehudis’ poem described her experience of sexual abuse and the Jewish community’s lack of response. It won an American award and JOFA UK nominated her their ambassador.

JOFA UK promotes halachic feminism. She has just finished a university tour promoting the organisation.

Yehudis, who took a London School of Jewish Studies Susi Bradfield leadership course as well as a Manchester UJIA leadership course, says: “It is not a zero-sum game between halacha and feminism. It is about starting conversations.”

In September, Yehudis plans to study social policy at Salford University.

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