Adass School : ‘we Weren’t Leifer’s Employer’

Australian Jewish News
May 11, 2015

Adass Israel school will not contest allegations of sexual abuse by its former principal, the Supreme Court of Victoria heard today.

Barrister Christopher Blanden SC, representing the school in a lawsuit by a former pupil, told Justice Jack Rush in court this morning that the school will argue that it is not liable for the conduct of Malka Leifer, an Israeli educator hired by Adass in 2000 until her quick departure from Australia in 2008 after accusations surfaced she had molested several students, including the plaintiff.

In testimony today, Adass’s current principal Israel Herszberg said Leifer was hired by the congregation in 2000.

He said a group including three rabbis decided to stand her down after the allegations arose in 2008 and she subsequently resigned.

He said the congregation board had no choice except to pay her and her family’s air fares and costs of her move back to Israel as these were stipulated in her contract.

Asked by the claimant’s barrister Dyson Hore Lacy SC why her contract was printed on letterhead stating “Adass School Inc”, if as he said, she was not employed by that entity, Herszberg said administrative practices at the time were different from today and there was no Adass congregational letterhead that could be used.

Herszberg also said Leifer was never a full principal of the Adass girls school, a claim strongly contested by the plaintiff’s barrister.

He said she had a 2008 Victorian certificate authorising her to work with children and her contract had been conditional on a routine police check for any criminal record.

Herszberg said that although police were later notified of the accusations, as Adass principal since 2009, three years before the lawsuit was launched, he had not alerted police because he had not been advised that he had any obligation to report the matter under Victorian mandatory reporting legislation.

It emerged that Leifer was not registered in Victoria as a teacher because she was technically employed by the congregation, not the school.

In a tense exchange, Hore Lacy said to Herszberg that Adass “got her into the school under subterfuge and got her a temporary visa under subterfuge”.

Hore Lacy said to Herszberg: “Are you serious about that? She was headmistress at the school, but was not a teacher?”

Herszberg said a company owned by Adass president Shmuel Benedykt was one of the sources of the funds used to cover the Leifers’ March 2008 air fares to Israel and Benedykt and Robert Klein, another congregant, were later reimbursed.

The court heard last week that a hastily convened meeting of the congregation board decided to arrange the Leifers’ rapid exit from Australia.

Hadassah Ernst, who worked for travel agency Breakaway International, organised the tickets on instruction from her husband Mark (Mair) Ernst, then a board member of the Adass congregation.

Leifer and her family flew via Hong Kong to Israel on a night time flight only hours after she denied the sex allegations for which she was stood down and then quit.

Extradition proceedings by Victoria are underway in Israel, where Leifer is under house arrest. She is expected to face criminal charges in Victoria.

The trial continues.








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