Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner: 'I wondered if I would stay alive'

The Reform rabbi spoke of the impact of the allegations against her father at a Limmud event on Sunday


Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner wondered if she would stay alive as she tried to cope with the “false allegations” of child abuse against her father, Lord Janner, she revealed this week.

Speaking at a session of Limmud Together UK on Sunday, the Reform movement’s Senior Rabbi spoke openly about the trauma endured by his family.

For her, her brother Daniel and sister Marion, staying sane was the first aim, she said. “There were times when I didn’t think I would stay alive.”

What she learned from her experiences of that difficult time she has now distilled into a new book, Bitesize Resilience, which is due to be published later this week.

Opening with the shehechyanu blessing, she said it was “for having reached this point alive. Because it was touch and go some of the time.”

Lord Janner died aged 87 at the end of 2017, two years ago after he was ruled unfit owing to his dementia to stand trial on charges of historic sexual abuse.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner recalled the day in 2013 when 18 policeman entered her father’s house at 7 in the morning. “He went to each policeman and shook their hand and thanked them for looking after him. He didn’t really understand what was going on,” she said.

Reading an extract from the book, she said the family’s immediate concern was for “Dad’s physical safety. We had seen similarly accused people vilified and physically attacked. And we were scared.

“When the accusations were made public, we chose to take him into hiding in a safe place away from his home. We protected Dad, till he died, at my sister Marion’s home, where we continued to campaign to clear his name.”

The months of media coverage of the charges “opened the opportunity for anyone to accuse him of anything, knowing that no journalist or politician seemed to feel safe enough even to question the accusations, or to defend the foundation stone of British justice, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty.”

The experience felt like “the infamous 17th-century witch trials in Salem and it brought it with a continual bombardment of hatred through social media and consequent emotional danger for our family.”

Her Reform role meant she could not avoid being seen in public, however much she may have wanted to. The allegations against her father were “present in the room and in comments and looks of accusation but also hearteningly in expressions of love and support. More than an elephant in the room, the case felt like a scorpion. It was waiting and hidden initially in the corner to poison any place I was.”

The book, she told her large online audience, was not about the “false allegations” against her father but what she had learned in order to grow and make peace with the world. The experience of hatred had toughened her, she confided.

And now with the challenge of the coronavirus, she said, “What I need, what we all need… is resilience every day.”

Around 3,000 people from the UK and abroad registered for the one-day event which offered 80 sessions ranging from mindfulness or Israeli dance under lockdown to Israel’s response to coronavirus. Speakers included the Shadow Cabinet spokesman on mental health, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who apart from her political role has recently been doing shifts at the emergency Nightingale hospital in London.

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