Australian Jewish principal Malka Leifer's sexual abuse trial to begin

Malka Leifer, former principal of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls' school in Melbourne, is being charged with 74 counts of sexual abuse of students.

Malka Leifer (photo credit: MAARIV/AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Malka Leifer
(photo credit: MAARIV/AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

After six years of court sessions in Israel and a year and a half in prison in Australia, Malka Leifer, the former school principal who has been charged with 74 counts of sexual abuse of students attending the religious Jewish girls’ school that she headed in Melbourne, is finally going to trial.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin this Monday in the County Court of Victoria.

Dassi Ehrlich, who brought the case to public attention, is one of the students whom Leifer allegedly abused. She will be in court to give evidence, as will her sisters Elly Sapper and Nicole Meyer, who have also testified in the past to being abused by Leifer.

An Israeli citizen, Leifer fled back to Israel in 2008 after the allegations became public. Over the years, various Australian officials called for her extradition.

Leifer tried to avoid court hearings in Israel by feigning mental instability, but psychological evaluations indicated otherwise.

Malka Liefer - United Torah Judaism MK and Construction and Housing Minister Ya’acov Litzman (credit: Courtesy)Malka Liefer - United Torah Judaism MK and Construction and Housing Minister Ya’acov Litzman (credit: Courtesy)

Former health minister Yaakov Litzman, a Gur Hassid and head of the Agudat Yisrael faction in the United Torah Judaism alliance, tried to protect her, an act that cost him his political career. After 23 years as a legislator, Litzman resigned from the Knesset this past June as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted to obstruction of justice.

Whistleblowers in Australia's ultra-Orthodox community

Manny Waks, an Israeli Australian who was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family in Melbourne and attended the Chabad Yeshiva, where he was sexually abused in 2011, blew the whistle on both the perpetrators and the people who tried to cover up the crime.

His family, in which he was the eldest of 17 siblings, had been the poster child of the religious community. But after the revelations of sexual abuse, the family was ostracized and subjected to malicious gossip.

Pained, but undeterred, Waks started a global movement aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse and empowering those who were abused to speak out against their assailants.

He also gave assistance to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which was established in November 2012. Children in Jewish schools were just a tiny part of a pervasive phenomenon that did not differentiate between faiths or ethnic identities,

Waks, who has been extremely supportive of Ehrlich, will be in Melbourne to follow the trial and to report it, mainly on his Facebook account.