A CIVIL case against the Adass Israel School over allegations the plaintiff was sexually abused by the school’s former principal Malka Leifer was settled hours before it was due to begin in the Supreme Court of Victoria on Tuesday.
The female plaintiff, a former Adass student, named in the court list as “Jamie Hart”, a pseudonym, settled the claim. Reports circulated that members of the Adass community were planning protests outside the claimant’s home.
In March this year, a jury in Leifer’s criminal trial in the County Court of Victoria found the former Adass principal guilty of six out of 11 charges of rape against sisters Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper, with guilty verdicts on 18 of the 27 charges against Leifer, including rape, indecent assault and sexual penetration of a child aged 16 or 17. However, the jury found her not guilty of all charges relating to a third complainant, Nicole Meyer, a sister of Erlich and Sapper. Leifer is awaiting sentencing.
After the settlement of the civil case was announced, the plaintiff’s lawyer said, “I am pleased to indicate that the parties have largely resolved the matter.” Had the case been heard, it would have brought fresh focus on the Adass School’s hiring of Leifer and its failure to stop her committing abuse.
Spirited out of Australia in 2008, Leifer was extradited to face criminal charges in 2021. Police investigating the role of Adass members who helped her return to Israel ended their probe in 2018, citing “insufficient evidence”.
Dassi Erlich posted, “Only two months post a guilty verdict and another brave survivor of Malka Leifer coming forward in the civil courts against the school, only to face increasing intimidation. So wrong. So so wrong.”
Manny Waks, a child survivor of sexual abuse and CEO of support group VoiCSA, sent The AJN screenshots of texts allegedly sent between Adass members planning protest action outside the claimant’s home on Monday night. “We are organising a protest outside the house tonight 9pm,” one text exclaimed. “Trying to get at least 20 people … Please! It’s a serious situation! We have 15 people but need much more!” However, another text, signed “AIS”, countered, “Such behaviour does not help the school, the community or the plaintiff.”
New VoiCSA chair Philip Dalidakis added, “If this settlement helps the child sex abuse victim in even the smallest way, then it’s an important step forward.”
But he slammed the “continued and appalling actions by those who are more concerned with defending indefensible conduct within their organisations rather than protecting and defending victim survivors in their midst”, adding such actions “bring shame to all who believe in and practise Judaism”.
Michelle Meyer, president of sexual abuse support group Maoz, said her organisation “commends the courage of the latest survivor in pursuing the civil case against the Adass Israel School regarding allegations of sexual abuse by former principal Malka Leifer. We welcome that the parties settled the case before proceeding to trial.”
However, she said, “It was alarming that some members of the Adass community had planned to protest outside the survivor’s house. Such intimidation and shunning of survivors and their families defy Jewish and secular law. This behaviour has no place in our community.”
Adass school principal and CEO Aaron Strasser confirmed to The AJN, “The school has recently settled a claim for damages brought by a former student and the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties. We hope that with the resolution of this matter, the former student can begin the process of healing. The safety and wellbeing of students are our highest priorities, and we have zero tolerance for abuse of any kind.
“In response to rumours of a planned protest, the school appealed to our wider community to respect the legal process and not take any such action,” he said.